The next time you hear your favourite song on the radio, listen closely.
Beneath the whomp of bass and the trill of guitar strings, you might just catch a snippet of a blues ballad, or the end of an early-era jazz track.
What you’ll be hearing is music manipulation at its finest. A producer or songwriter has selectively chopped up bits and pieces of another song and layered it onto the track you’re listening to.
The music industry calls this sampling.
Sampling is perfectly legal so long as the producer has permission from the original copyright holder. And it’s by no means a digital-era-only invention.
The great Jimi Hendrix used a Frank Sinatra riff in his 1970 track “Wild Thing”. In “All You Need Is Love”, the Beatles included a hook from a 1500s folk tune. The Rolling Stones based their 1965 single “The Last Time” on a 1961 swing song.
Things get particularly interesting when you explore music in the new millennium. Who doesn’t know “Toxic” by Britney Spears? The smash hit track is one of Spears’ best-remembered songs. Yet if you know what to listen out for, a cookie-cutter dance number is transformed into something much more layered, much more impressive.
The distinctive hook is lifted from a Bollywood track, “Good Sign, Bad Sign”. Go back to “Toxic” with this in mind and suddenly the Indian influences are hard to miss. It’s then that you discover that the writer of “Good Sign, Bad Sign” also helped compose the original 1962 James Bond theme song. By sampling a relatively unknown Bollywood track, “Toxic” unintentionally channels the spirit of Bond.
When you dig beneath the surface, there’s a story everywhere you look. With its disarmingly simple beat and catchy chorus, Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” is hard to get out of your head. But did you know that the original hook upon which the song rests was originally in a folk tune, “Seville?”
Dozens of stories abound and Music Samples Through Time, an initiative between Currys PC World and the Bose SoundLink Micro Bluetooth speaker, explores these stories in greater depth. Tracing sampling’s roots, its rise and its highlights, the campaign serves to illustrate just how widespread the practice is.
Take, for example, the Billboard Top 100. Of the last six year-end number one songs, four have used sampling in some way:
- 2017 - “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran samples “No Scrubs” (1999).
- 2015 – “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars samples two songs: “All Gold Everything” (2012) and “I Don’t Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance” (1979).
- 2013 - “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore samples the B-side version of “Change the Beat” (1982).
- 2012 – “Somebody That I Used to Know” uses “Seville” (1967) as the basis of the track.
Music Samples Through Time is brought to you by the Bose SoundLink Micro speaker, which works whether you’re at home or on-the-move. It fits snugly into a purse, into the palm of your hand, next to a campsite, or surrounded by plush furniture. Weighing just over a quarter of a kilogram, it’s lightweight and easy to transport, lasts up to 6 hours per charge and syncs up to your phone over Bluetooth.
This adaptability dovetails nicely with the malleability of music. Songs can be cut up and repurposed and manipulated, and more than anything, they’re best enjoyed in full fidelity - volume cranked skywards - wherever you might be.
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