The Art of Sampling

Sometime late last year, I was looking through the new releases when I came across a sincere tragedy. Hilary Duff was back, and THIS time, it was personal… “Personal Jesus”-personal. It seemed that, for her “Best Of” album, she needed a new song and thus decided to sample Depeche Mode’s 1989 hit “Personal Jesus” for her single, “Reach Out.”

At first I couldn’t believe it because I consider Depeche Mode music sacred ground, but then I found a link to the music video and decided to see if it was true. For those of you that have been lucky enough to miss this, consider yourself very unlucky right now:

This song brings up a musical practice that, unfortunately, is apparently here to stay: sampling. According to Wikipedia, sampling is “the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a different sound recording of a song.” To me, “sampling” is another word for “ripping off.” I understand that in most cases the original artist gives their approval for the sample, but in some cases, the artist goes uncredited. Famous songs that have exercised this practice are Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” (Queen/David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” uncredited), Ton-Loc’s “Wild Thing” (Van Halen’s “Jamie’s Cryin,” uncredited), and MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” (Rick James“Super Freak”).

What was first a novelty (as with those songs mentioned) has become commonplace to the point where I honestly don’t believe people think twice about it anymore. For me, though, I think it’s a sad, sad message that the music industry is sending: WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF IDEAS.

To emphasize this point, I’m going to step away from Hilary Duff for a bit and focus on a song that has angered me to the bone: Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long”.

This absolute abomination of a song samples two classic songs that SHOULD forever remain untouched: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”. If you are SUCH a fan of the music, then you should respect it enough to LEAVE IT ALONE.

I can recall the first time I heard this song… I was driving down the 210E here in Cali… I swear I almost killed myself because I was in such a rage. The whole song is just the same three chords anyway, so how hard would it be to figure out a different way to play it? Bands do it ALL the time, EVERY SINGLE DAY. In fact, right now, there’s a garage band somewhere that is writing a song with those three exact chords (D, C, and G), played in the exact same progression… and amazingly enough, it sounds completely different than “Sweet Home Alabama”.

No, in my opinion, sampling is just laziness and lack of creativity. It’s a poor excuse for “song writing,” especially when the whole song sounds exactly like the original. I mean, come on… you write lyrics, a melody, everything… but then you can’t go that extra step and make the music underneath your own? LAZY… and trying to make a quick buck. It’s one thing to sample a drum beat, but it’s a whole new ball game when you take the exact structure of a song and put your name on it to claim it as your own.

A nice argument in favor of sampling is that it gives a “second life” to the sampled songs. Take “Personal Jesus”, for example. It’s been almost twenty years since that song’s release, and Duff’s reworking of it presents it to a new generation. Perhaps this new generation will enjoy Duff’s reworking and go seek out the original. Sure, that may be a nice argument, but why not just cover the bloomin’ song? She’s basically covering the song anyway, so why not find other ways to get exposure that would retain the integrity of the song? Show your fans that you REALLY respect the music… wouldn’t THAT be a novel idea????

And while I’m on this point, is “Sweet Home Alabama” SO obscure now that it NEEDS to be sampled and introduced to a new generation??? I think not.

Another argument can be that sampling is “paying tribute” to the sampled song, but THAT can be thrown out the window because if you want to “pay tribute” to a song, then do as I mentioned above: COVER the song, don’t tear it apart and then slap your name on it. There is no shame in recreating a song and making it your own, like what Joe Cocker did with “With A Little Help From My Friends”, or “Feelin’ Alright”. He did such a fine job with those covers that his versions have become the quintessential recordings of that song.

Just for a moment, let’s give these two arguments a leg to stand on. If what they say is true, then wouldn’t it make sense that everyone would know James Brown’s song, “Funky Drummer”? What? You don’t know that song? It just happens to be the most sampled song in history.

So that pretty much kills the arguments… which brings me to the question of whether there is ever a good reason to sample that does not end up being “Cuz I’m lazy.”

Sure, one may say that if the original artists didn’t sign off on allowing the sample, then sampling wouldn’t be allowed… but there are those cases (as explained before) that those artists weren’t even recognized for their work. No wonder they allow it right now… of course they want to lay claim to their legacy. I don’t blame them for laughing all the way to the bank.

What’s really sad is that, like I said before, sampling is here to stay. I’ll admit that bands that I love are guilty of sampling, most notably The Beastie Boys. Some may argue that Rick Rubin (one of my favorite producers) built his entire career on sampling… and many rap artists that I respect as well have sampled their way into the charts. I absolutely HATE saying anything negative about these artists because I usually buy whatever they release, but I must take a stand here.

I still say it’s a clear message that some artists are running out of original ideas. As a music listener, I can say that I would have much more respect for artists if they would spend the time to create a new sound, a new groove, a new SONG, instead of ripping another one off. If you’re truly an artist, then be original… or at least TRY to be original. Good or bad, it’s ok… just show me that you’re trying.

Maybe that’s the bigger issue, though, that “originality” is not welcome in the current state of the music industry. Gone are the days of artist development. Gone are the days of giving an artist a few albums to find their voice, their stride… in today’s need for the immediate hit, all we hear are artists trying to jump on the current bandwagon. How many Nickelback-like rock bands are out there now? Country radio is just the same song done over and over and over and over again to the point that all you really need to do is hear the top 10 songs and you’ll get the gist of what country music is about.

And now Hilary Duff jumps in the pool to add her stamp on the sad state of music.

Understand, I am not saying that there are no original artists out there… I am just saying that what the big labels are shoving down our throats are the same nonsense over and over again. Indie labels and DIY artists are presenting us with some compelling music that, given the chance on radio, could reshape what is popular… but that’s not going to happen as long as we keep getting material like Duff’s “Reach Out” or Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long”. Both of these songs hit the Billboard charts. Wow.

It would have been so much better if the original songs recharted.

So after all that, I’m presenting you with the top 5 songs that have pissed me off because of sampling.

All Summer Long (Kid Rock) [Amazon] [iTunesicon]

I’ll Be Missing You (P. Diddy featuring Faith Evans) [Amazon] [iTunesicon]

Come With Me (P. Diddy featuring Jimmy Page) [Amazon] [iTunesicon]

Reach Out (Hilary Duff) [Amazon] [iTunesicon]

Right Round (Flo Rida featuring Kesha) [Amazon] [iTunesicon]

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