Skip to main content

16 songs that became famous samples

Songs that became famous samples
(Image credit: James Brown/ King records)

When Grandmaster Flash took What Hi-Fi? back to his teenage years with tales of stitching hooks, riffs, or other scraps of tracks into big quilts of music, it got us thinking: most of our favourite hip-hop tracks – and hits from other genres – wouldn’t exist without the technique.

Many of the tracks used became more famous as samples than in their full, original form, so we decided to trace some of them back for you here and give them their dues. 

Incredible Bongo Band - Apache

“When Kool Herc found Apache, he was under heavy guard,” Flash told What Hi-Fi?. “You would never see the album cover of where it came from.” Such was the competition between hip-hop’s early DJs to find that special break.

The Incredible Bongo Band track has since sired perhaps more tracks than any other piece of contemporary music, and in 2012 its influence was documented in the film Sample This.

Buy Bongo Rock by Incredible Bongo Band from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Bob James - Take Me To The Mardi Gras

Finding Bob James's Take Me To The Mardi Gras was Flash's own 'Apache' moment.

"I too was under heavy guard, so you wouldn't know what that was", he told us. "It's an extremely joyful thing, especially when you find a few and you are like the Don for a couple of weeks because all your competition doesn't know what it is that you have."

Flash took the sample to the studio for his track Freelance (opens in new tab), with that iconic drum break later used by hundreds of artists from N.W.A. (opens in new tab) to The Chemical Brothers (opens in new tab).

Buy Two by Bob James from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Roy Ayers - The Boogie Back

N.W.A’s F**k Tha Police (opens in new tab) wasn’t just censored upon its release in the late 1980s, it also led to communication between the group’s record company and the FBI for its perceived misrepresentation of and incitement of violence towards the police.

The seminal track, which protests police brutality and racial profiling, was built on a sample of Roy Ayers’ The Boogie Back.

Buy Change Up the Groove by Roy Ayers on vinyl from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. on vinyl from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Michael McDonald - I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)

Afrika Bambaataa used I Keep Forgettin' for his track Cosmic Punk Jam (opens in new tab) in 1982, but by far its most famous use is by Warren G and Nate Dogg in Regulate (opens in new tab) a dozen years later.

Though the former Doobie Brothers singer's original achieved its own success, peaking at No4 in the Billboard charts, Regulate – which also samples Bob James's Sign of The Times and Let Me Ride (opens in new tab) by Dr Dre – actually beat it by two places.

Buy If That's What It Takes by Michael McDonald from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy Regulate...G Funk Era by Warren G from Amazon (opens in new tab)

George Clinton - Atomic Dog

Another track that has lent itself to multiple samplings, George Clinton's Atomic Dog is most famously referenced in Snoop Dogg's Who Am I (What's My Name)? (opens in new tab)

The song is sampled throughout, with the chorus re-imagined to become "Snoop Doggy Dogg", but it isn't the only Clinton track present: Parliament's Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (opens in new tab)) and P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up) (opens in new tab), and Funkadelic's (Not Just) Knee Deep (opens in new tab) all stamp their mark.

Buy Computer Games by George Clinton on vinyl from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy Doggystyle by Snoop Dogg on vinyl from Amazon (opens in new tab)

ABBA - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)

Sometimes a song becomes famous as a sample because of its repeated use. And sometimes, it gains notoriety for quite the opposite reason. According to Lucy O’Brien’s 2009 book Madonna: Like an Icon, in 2004 Madonna told producer Stuart Price she wanted him to concentrate on creating songs that sound like "ABBA on drugs". The problem is that as a rule, ABBA's Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus don’t like that. 

Hung Up (opens in new tab) was one of the first songs written for Madonna’s 2005 album Confessions on a Dance Floor. ABBA’s 1979 hit always formed the basis of the track, but getting the go ahead to sample it was anything but a gimme – even for the queen of pop. 

Hung Up marks only the second time ABBA’s songwriters permitted anyone to use one of their tracks (the first time being Fugees, who sampled The Name of the Game (opens in new tab) in their single Rumble in the Jungle (opens in new tab)). The story goes that in order to gain the rights to use Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! Madge had to personally send a letter to Stockholm begging the pair for the privilege and also explaining how much she loved their music. She later told the BBC: “Thank God they didn't say no… They had to think about it, Benny and Björn. They didn't say yes straight away." 

Andersson has since quipped that Hung Up is his favourite Madonna song thus far. The royalty cheques probably help. 

Buy Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) by ABBA from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy Confessions On a Dance Floor by Madonna from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Mtume - Juicy Fruit

The Notorious B.I.G.’s first single from his debut album Ready To Die – Biggie’s story of growing up through poverty, to dealing drugs before artistic recognition and financial success – sits on a bed of Mtume’s Juicy Fruit.

Produced by Poke of Trackmasters and Sean Combs, Juicy (opens in new tab) actually uses the instrumental version of the track, with girl group Total singing an alternative version of the original chorus.

Buy Juicy Fruit by Mtume from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy Ready To Die by The Notorious B.I.G. from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Ponderosa Twins Plus One - Bound

In an interview with Rolling Stone, executive producer Rick Rubin described how this Ponderosa Twins Plus One track almost didn't make it onto Kanye West's Bound 2 (opens in new tab).

"The whole song was written without that main sample, it was a last-minute thing," he said. "The song had kind of a lot of R&B music in it. And Kanye gave marching orders of, 'take out anything you want, but don't add. Just take away.'

"Before that, we listened to the sample together and thought, 'Hmm, maybe there's a way to integrate this into the song.' And the lyrics he wrote were so good and funny. It just turned into a really good record. The sample is so good."

Buy 2+2+1 by Ponderosa Twins Plus One from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy Yeezus by Kanye West from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Leon Haywood - I Want'a Do Something Freaky To You

Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg's Nuthin' But a G Thang (opens in new tab) was one of the 500 greatest songs of all time, according to Rolling Stone's December 2004 cover story. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list was topped by Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone followed by (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones.)

Reaching No2 in the Billboard charts, it was the first single from Dre's solo debut, The Chronic, the sleeve notes of which wrongly credited an L. Hayward with the main sample.

Buy Come Get Yourself Some by Leon Haywood from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy The Chronic by Dr Dre from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Labi Siffre - I Got The...

Dr Dre’s use of this track on Eminem’s 1999 hit My Name Is (opens in new tab) was originally vetoed. “Attacking two of the usual scapegoats, women and gays, is lazy writing,” said Labi Siffre, who is openly gay. “If you want to do battle, attack the aggressors not the victims.”

The London-born singer finally approved after Eminem made changes to his original lyrics.

Buy Remember My Song by Labi Siffre on vinyl from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy The Slim Shady by Eminem on vinyl from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Billy Squier - The Big Beat

Billy Squier’s The Big Beat has been sampled more than 280 times according to WhoSampled.com, by artists diverse as Beck (opens in new tab), The Prodigy (opens in new tab) and Alicia Keys (opens in new tab).

Perhaps the best-known uses are by Dizzee Rascal, who sampled it heavily in 2003 for Fix Up, Look Sharp (opens in new tab), and in Jay Z’s Rick Rubin-produced 99 Problems (opens in new tab) the following year. Former Beggars & Thieves drummer Bobby Chouinard plays the famous beat itself.

Buy The Tale of the Tape by Billy Squier from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy Boy In Da Corner by Dizzee Rascal from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy The Black Album by Jay Z from Amazon (opens in new tab)

The Clash - Straight To Hell

It was producer Diplo who decided upon Straight To Hell as the sample for M.I.A.'s Paper Planes (opens in new tab), with all members of The Clash creditted as songwriters on the track.

A year later, Paper Planes itself was sampled by Kanye West on a track named Swagger Like Us (opens in new tab), which he produced for T.I.'s album Paper Trail.

Buy Combat Rock by The Clash from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy Kala by M.I.A. from Amazon (opens in new tab)

The Knack - My Sharona

Run-D.M.C.'s use of The Knack's My Sharona for their 1987 hit It's Tricky (opens in new tab) landed the group in some legal hot water after it was found – almost 20 years later – that they'd sampled the track without permission.

The case was settled out of court in 2006, by which time My Sharona had returned to school discos across Britain thanks to its use in Girls Aloud's No Good Advice (opens in new tab).

Buy Get The Knack by The Knack from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy Raising Hell by Run-D.M.C. from Amazon (opens in new tab)

James Brown - Funky Drummer

Funky Drummer is a track just calling out to be sampled, which it has more than 1000 times – and more than once by Public Enemy.

Likely its most famous use provides the drum track for Fight the Power (opens in new tab), one of the greatest songs of all time in any genre, which even references the "sound of the funky drummer".

Buy In the Jungle Groove by James Brown from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Joe Simon - Before the Night Is Over

While Ms. Jackson undeniably drove the success of Outkast's fourth studio album, Stankonia, by our reckoning that record's finest cut has to be So Fresh, So Clean (opens in new tab).

It samples Joe Simon's Before the Night Is Over, with Sleepy Brown singing altered lyrics of, "Ain't nobody dope as me, I'm dressed so fresh, so clean".

Buy Easy To Love by Joe Simon from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Buy Stankonia by Outkast from Amazon (opens in new tab)

Jeremy Steig - Howlin' For Judy

Played by jazz flautist Jeremy Steig (who, we’re reliably informed, also played The Pied Piper in the film Shrek Forever After) Howlin’ For Judy is an infectious piece of musicianship that lent itself perfectly as the sample that formed the crux of Beastie Boys’ Sure Shot (opens in new tab) in 1994.

It opened the group’s second number-one album, Ill Communication, which also included Sabotage.

Buy Legwork by Jeremy Steig from Amazon US (opens in new tab)

Buy Ill Communication by Beastie Boys from Amazon (opens in new tab)

MORE:

Try 22 of the best tracks for testing dynamics, rhythm and timing

Or the 21 best pop songs to test your speakers

And also 11 of the best musical soundtracks to test your speakers