Do you ever happen to hear a few songs in a row that all fit together, like the universe has created a playlist for you? That happened to me this morning.
Many mornings, I get coffee from a place near home that I like to call “Hipster Coffee”. They don’t serve chai (but other teas are okay), their WiFi never works, and their outdoor benches are full of retired 30-somethings. (Although, let’s be honest, I like this place enough to buy coffee there a few times a week. The baristas are nice and the coffee is good.) I’m always interested in knowing what record they’re listening to. This morning it was the Talking Heads album Remain In Light. The 1980 hit “Once in a Lifetime” was playing when I walked in, setting the scene for a new-wave morning.
After I got back into my car, KEXP played Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen”. It’s from their July 2015 album Currents. That track has been getting a lot of play on KEXP, and I have to say, it has grown on me quite a bit. Its sound lies at the intersection of ’70s disco, ’80s new wave, and current house music. KEXP plays music from all different decades on various media, so when I first heard it, I wasn’t sure whether I was listening to something old or new. Then, in the middle of the song, it started glitching out like a badly-scratched CD. I’ve heard CD skips that station before (as recently as this evening), usually followed by an apologetic DJ frantically digging for something else to play. I expected to hear that sort of interlude, but instead, it came as a shock to realize (spoiler alert?) that the skipping-CD-sound is actually part of the song. A warm entrance in the low strings brings a nice contrast to the digital CD-skip sound. The glitch then gets worked into a new groove to finish out the song. I encourage you to listen to it, though anyone who remembers the ’90s will have to fight the urge to stop the imagined CD player to clean it.
After that, KEXP played Cut Copy’s “Lights & Color” from their 2008 album In Ghost Colours. It has that same new-wave sound as the others in my mini-playlist. It was fun to hear how three songs written over the course of 35 years fit together so perfectly.
For your listening pleasure, here are all three songs.
My local independent radio station, KEXP, is doing a neat thing tomorrow: they’re going to be playing the 1989 Beastie Boys album Paul’s Boutique in its entirety, and then playing every identified song which is sampled on the album. Throughout, they’ll be talking with the producers, the Dust Brothers. It will last 12 hours , from 6 AM to 6 PM PST (with a brief break for an unrelated in-studio live session), and it will be awesome.
I have to admit that I haven’t given that album enough listens over the years, but I’m sure this approach will give me a new appreciation. Though I won’t listen to the whole 12 hours, I love this as an academic exercise. This isn’t the most sample-heavy album of all time (I can’t seem to find it through a cursory search, but I’m guessing Girl Talk holds that honor); it’s not the most infamous sample; and since sampling had already been around for decades, it certainly isn’t the earliest use. But the album may be one of the most cohesive, well-crafted, and iconic end-products of sampled music.
Hearing about KEXP’s show got me thinking about “Amen, Brother” by The Winstons. The B-side to their hit “Color Him Father”, “Amen, Brother” became arguably the most sampled song ever. It’s the origin of a drum break, now known as the “Amen break“, which spawned entire subgenres of music and dance. It’s immediately recognizable and it’s everywhere. I highly recommend spending 20 minutes listening to Nate Harrison’s history & usage of the sample.
So – does Paul’s Boutique contain a direct sample of “Amen, Brother”? As far as I can tell, no. The funny thing about the Amen break is that it has become such an ingrained part of our musical lexicon that some of the samples on the album contain imitations or samples of the break. For example, “Shake Your Rump” has a sample from “Super Mellow” by drummers Louis Bellson, Shelly Manne, Willie Bobo and Paul Humphrey (and their backing band). The sampled section imitates “Amen, Brother”. One can appreciate how difficult it would be to map the reach of the Amen Break – as Nate Harrison says in his mini-lecture, that drum fill has basically become part of the public domain.
KEXP’s show on Paul’s Boutique will be available to stream from their website for two weeks after it airs. After that, it will come down – they (understandably!) can’t afford to license the album and all 100+ of the sampled songs. EDIT (Feb 2016): They must have secured the proper licensing, because it now appears that the whole show is available in segments on their blog. Yay!