Readers recommend: songs that sample recycle reinvent | Peter Kimpton

Heard it somewhere before? It’s time to name songs that lift the specific sounds or ideas of others into a new time or context

“The words are the important thing. Don’t worry about tunes. Take a tune, sing high when they sing low, sing fast when they sing slow, and you’ve got a new tune.” Some legendary words of wisdom from an aging Woody Guthrie to a young Bob Dylan on the art of songwriting, and Zimmerman, who once described himself as a Woody Guthrie dukebox, certainly followed this advice to extraordinary success.

Music’s history is very much like any other form of creativity - influences and ideas taken, reshaped and reinvented. So much of innovation is simply reinterpretation. “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” said Pablo Picasso. “In the end all bands influence each other and there are only 12 notes, so there’s is only so much that can be done,” said Joe Strummer. “We are all feeding from each other, all the time, every day,” said author Dave Eggers. “An original idea? That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them,” remarked Stephen Fry, trying to sound a bit Oscar Wilde.

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination … Authenticity is invaluable”, said the highly original film director Jim Jarmusch. “Only those with no memory insist on their originality,” said fashion designer Coco Channel. And car pioneer Henry Ford summed it up with: “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work.”

Isn’t all music borrowed, to a certain extent? Yes - and it is very rare to listen to any song and not say to yourself “that sounds a bit like”, but this topic is not so much sounding a bit like, but having elements that sound exactly like something else, simply because they are that source, and we can find identify it.

So this week the subject is songs that have, by using sampled recordings, re-recordings or other methods or copying or reproduction, identified elements from other songs and transplanted them into new style, era or genre. At first glance this might seem like the entire history of music, and in a general sense it is, but this topic is all about specific identifiable musical elements - riffs or melodies, or phrases or styles of playing or singing. Sampling can also include tunes or voices from other sources, such as TV programmes, films, or computer games, brought into the mix. The key thing is that they are recognisably from another place.

Normally I’d steer away from song or artist examples in the RR topic launch, but to help focus nominations but here are some general examples. In the 19th century and long before it, many classical musicians took traditional folk music melodies and fused them into their larger grander works. In the 20th century, arguably the entire blues tradition was a spur for rock’n’roll, with white musicians copying and reinventing from black musicians, with the Beatles, or Rolling Stones, for example, heavily influenced by Muddy Waters, Little Richard and many more. Blues-inspired 1960s garage bands also in turn inspired hard rock and, in the case of the Kinks, arguably punk. And so it continued, with line of influence twisting and turning to the present and onwards.

But what songs specifically illustrate that art of reinventing? Kraftwerk have inspired generations of keyboard bands, of which there is a whole new wave around today. But what particular elements have later artists taken and reproduced? Another lineage can be traced from the 40s and 50s dancehall bands of Louis Jordan, who in turn influenced James Brown, who influenced George Clinton and Parliament who in turn influenced Prince. Brown is perhaps one of the most sampled artists of all time, and that brings us neatly to one of the greatest genres of sampling - hip-hop, which may also feature heavily in this week’s topic.

Many hip-hop artists, arguably their at the height of the genre in the 1980s and early 1990s, sampled and lifted sounds, rhythms and melodies, without re-recording, into new tracks. But they, from Grandmaster Flash to Public Enemy and beyond, mixed these with apparently incompatible new elements, and created work of powerful originality, beats from soul and screams from gospel taking on entirely new meanings. Some hip-hop artists borrowed not only from Brown or early soul, but also many white artists too, such as Lou Reed. Breakbeat songs such as Amen Brother by the Winstons, are among the most sampled ever tracks.

Birth of a beat: Incredible Bongo Band’s Apache - also known as Bongo Rock, or The Rock.

Dance music too also contains many inspiring forms of sampling, with certain tracks pumping up a volume of sounds into an entirely new artform. And further back, in one of the most interesting twists in musical history, one song that inspired hip-hop’s birth came from four grinning British white men in suits - Apache by the Shadows - remixed in 1973 The Incredible Bongo Band, also known as Bongo Rock or simply The Rock. This then led to huge hits a decade later from further sampling. Who then would have thought Hank Marvin could be a hip-hop hero?

To free up song choices that may have previously been listed, it’s fine to nominate songs that are the original tracks, as well as those that lifted from them. Now for a couple of caveats. This topic is not about cover versions (covered on RR before) even though they may be mentioned in the context of sampling. This week is much more about reinvention. Also if you come across a track that seems to have unofficially taken elements from another song, and would like to nominate it, please avoid using the word “stolen” in comments for legal reasons - but comparisons are always interesting.

So this topic will perhaps take us on a journey in all kinds of directions, from the distant folk and medieval sounds of Europe to classical grandeur from post-slavery blues to the dustbowls of central America, from early rock’n’roll to Northern soul, from dance bands to funk, from garage to punk and soul to hip-hop, from disco to electronica. But wherever you start in your musical libraries, I have every faith that through the collective wit, wisdom and knowledge of Readers Recommend, the scenery will be be magnificent.

This week’s steady hand on the ship sailing through the shoals of musical history belongs to RR maestro magicman. He will skilfully sample your suggestions, and, by a magical process of distillation, recreate an A-list of songs published next Thursday 27 November. Please place all your song samples in comments below and optionally in the Spotify playlist by last orders 11pm on Monday 24 November. Now let’s reinvent!

Add your sample or sampled songs the Spotify playlist

To increase the likelihood of your nomination being considered, please:

• Tell us why it’s a worthy contender.
• Quote lyrics if helpful, but for copyright reasons no more than a third of a song’s words.
• Provide a link to the song. We prefer Muzu or YouTube, but Spotify, SoundCloud or Grooveshark are fine.
• Listen to others people’s suggestions and add yours to a collaborative Spotify playlist.
• If you have a good theme for Readers recommend, or if you’d like to volunteer to compile a playlist, please email
• There’s a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are “zedded”, at the Marconium. It also tells you the meaning of “zedded”, “donds” and other strange words used by RR regulars.
• Many RR regulars also congregate at the ‘Spill blog.


Peter Kimpton

The GuardianTramp

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