We all know that feeling. You’re listening to a popular song and think, “I know that tune they’re using,” but can’t place it. A feeling so common and frustrating, that sample is always on the tip of your tongue, buried in the “songs I’ve heard before” section of your brain. And then you figure out where that song comes from and then you go into a deep hole determining which song is better. (Just me?)
Throughout popular music, artists have been sampling others for years. Current artists are inspired by previous artists and a fresh take on an old classic appears. In many songs, the original is obvious, but others are a little more tricky to pick out. Here are some of the tougher ones to pinpoint:
“Bootylicious” by Destiny’s Child
Samples: “Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Knicks
One of the most empowering songs of the early 2000s got a boost from a classic-rock legend. You know that unmistakable riff at the very beginning of “Bootylicious”? It’s also at the beginning of the Stevie Knicks hit “Edge of Seventeen.” The song is off the Fleetwood Mac musician’s 1981 solo debut, Bella Donna and despite only making it to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, is played in dive bars everywhere.
The song was introduced to younger audiences through Beyoncé, Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland, and Stevie even got a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo in the “Bootylicious” video.
“Paper Planes” by M.I.A.
Samples: “Straight to Hell” by The Clash
“Straight to Hell” is a track that doesn’t sound like it belongs on a The Clash album. It shares the guitar intro with the beat that made M.I.A.‘s “Paper Planes” a hit, but simmers down with a steady drum beat throughout. The fact that this song was sampled in a track that became a pop-radio hit is a delightful kind of bizarre. It proved how versatile and influential the iconic punk band was throughout their career.
“Fantasy” by Mariah Carey
Samples: “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club
Mariah Carey was the first woman in Billboard history to debut at No. 1 with “Fantasy.” Part of that is clever sampling from Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.” The tune is bubbly, catchy and just quirky enough to work. (What else would you expect from members of Talking Heads?) If the mid-‘90s had a soundtrack, this would be on it ten times over. It got even better with an Ol Dirty Bastard remix, which included Tom Tom Club’s original lyric, “Whatcha gonna do when you get out of jail? I’m gonna have some fun.”
“Right Round” by Flo Rida
Samples: “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by Dead or Alive
This song not only sampled an ‘80s hit, but introduced us to Kesha even before we knew it was Kesha featured on the track. (She specifically asked that she not get a “featured” listing in the Flo Rida song.) And, despite being critically panned, it was the only song we heard in 2009 and one of the best-selling digital tracks ever. Part of that was the “haven’t I heard that before?” familiarity of it’s “you spin my head right round” chorus, which pays homage to Dead or Alive’s 1984 single.
“Gold Digger” by Kanye West & Jamie Foxx
Samples: “I Got a Woman” by Ray Charles
Kanye West is notorious for sampling. He’s taken dozens of songs and mixed them into hits. His most noteworthy is the Ray Charles “I Got a Woman” sample in “Gold Digger.” Both fantastic songs in their own right, Kanye brought in Jamie Foxx — who won an Oscar in 2004 for portraying Ray Charles – to sing the chorus. Of course, Kanye had to put his own spin on the classic lyrics, giving them a modern twist. Kanye isn’t the only artist to put their own voice into the 1954 tune. The song has been covered by Elvis, The Beatles, Johnny Cash and June Carter, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer and dozens more.
“Berzerk” by Eminem
Samples: “The Stoke” by Billy Squier & “Fight for Your Right” by Beastie Boys
Eminem went so hard on his 2013 single “Berzerk” that he sampled not one, but two ‘80s hits: Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” and Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right.” Any other song would have felt crowded, but “Berzerk” was so extra, so intense, so Eminem, that it worked. At times, the song does get a little messy, but Eminem pulls it off. Thanks to his rapid-fire, multiple-personality rapping style, “Berzerk” goes from being a song that could have been a disjointed mess to the first choice on your workout playlist.
“U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer
Samples: “Super Freak” by Rick James
A little Rick James took this early-’90s hit to the top of the charts and got MC Hammer two Grammy awards. Additionally, “U Can’t Touch This” was the first rap song to be nominated for Record of the Year at the prestigious awards ceremony. The song sampled Rick’s 1981 hit “Super Freak” so heavily that MC Hammer saw a copyright infringement suit and had to give Rick James a writing credit on “U Can’t Touch This.” The credit earned the late performer access to royalties from the song, too. Where’s the line between sampling and plaigarism? Clearly MC Hammer wasn’t sure.
“Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice
Samples: “Under Pressure” by Queen
You know what’s disappointing? Hearing the first few bars of a song, thinking it’s going to be “Under Pressure,” but it turns out to be “Ice, Ice, Baby.” Luckily, it’s no longer 1991 and the David Bowie/Freddie Mercury hit has aged better than the other. But, man, did Vanilla Ice make the early ‘90s – at least for us who lived through them – difficult. Unless you’re a Brazilian acoustic artist on a Wes Anderson soundtrack, you don’t touch Bowie.
“Otis” by Kanye West and JAY-Z
Samples: “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding
Here comes Kanye again. This time, he’s paired up with JAY-Z for their Watch the Throne collaboration album. “Otis” is literally an ode to Otis Redding, from the title of the song to the sampling of the musician’s “Try a Little Tenderness.” Although Otis isn’t actually mentioned in “Otis,” he appears posthumously through Kanye’s stylized production. The song ended up being one of Watch the Throne’s most critically acclaimed tracks.
“SOS” by Rihanna
Samples: “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell
Whoo boy, we’ve got ourselves a sample of a sample here! Soft Cell stumbled upon Gloria Jones’s 1965 song “Tainted Love” and turned it into its own in 1981. The revamped version became synonymous with 1980s new wave and saw a 2001 revival with Marilyn Manson’s cover. Five years later, it got the pop treatment with Rihanna’s first No. 1 single, “SOS.” The result was a dance-floor-ready hit and Rihanna’s ascent toward global domination.
“I Think I’m In Love with You” by Jessica Simpson
Samples: “Jack and Diane” by John Cougar
There are just some songs that should be left alone. In this instance, “Jack and Diane” is one of them. The 1982 John Cougar single was supposed to be about an interracial relationship, but his record company nixed that idea. As much as we would have loved that version, the final single is firmly secured in rock and roll history anyways. That’s why Jessica Simpson’s bouncy, lovey sample in “I Think I’m in Love with You” is a bit jarring for rock purists. You don’t mess with perfection.
“Tears Dry on Their Own” by Amy Winehouse
Samples: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
It was only appropriate for the late Amy Winehouse to sample an R&B; classic for her 12-times platinum-selling album, Back to Black. What made Amy stand out was her soulful vocals and R&B-infused pop. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” only fueled that aesthetic as the sampled track on “Tears Dry on Their Own.” This song ended up being Amy’s second highest-charting track, right behind “Rehab.”
“Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé and JAY-Z
Samples: “Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)” by Chi-Lites
That horn riff sure does sound familiar. That’s because it was originally part of Chi-Lites “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So).” If you have “Crazy in Love” on your party playlist, add the original right beside it. The two complement each other and, unlike many clunkily sampled songs out there, the riff is just as good in one as it is in the other. Like its inspiration, “Crazy in Love” has aged beautifully, becoming a pop staple 15 years after its release.
“Steal My Girl” by One Direction
Samples: “Faithfully” by Foreigner
“Steal My Girl” is what happens when you combine a boy band with a man band. Wait, scratch that. “Man band” just sounds weird. ANYWAY, teen dream machines One Direction took a cue from the ‘80s soft-rock band that isn’t Journey for its 2014 single. Foreigner’s heart-wrenching ballad was transformed into a upbeat pop hit that included Danny DeVito and a chimpanzee in its music video. Eh, we’ll let it slide.
“Wild Thoughts” by DJ Kahled ft. Rihanna
Samples: “Maria Maria”by Santana
One of this summer’s biggest songs took some advice from another summer hit: Santana‘s “Maria Maria.” The original single hit No. 1 in April 2000 and stayed there for ten weeks. When it comes to summer, Santana knows what he’s doing. The previous summer saw “Smooth” — his collaboration with Rob Thomas — which stayed in the Billboard top ten for 30 weeks. “Wild Thoughts” even got Carlos Santana’s approval, saying DJ Khaled and Rihanna “shared this summer vibe with the world.”
“Cupid’s Chokehold” by Gym Class Heroes
Samples: “Breakfast in America”by Supertramp
Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Not as far back as “Breakfast in America,” rather, 12 years ago, when every band worth knowing was on Fueled by Ramen. “Cupid’s Chokehold” is the apex of this period, with Fall Out Boy‘s Patrick Stump singing the Supertramp sample and a pre-fame Katy Perry appearing in the Gym Class Heroes music video. “Cupid’s Chokehold” isn’t the only hip-hop song that featured “Breakfast in America.” The sample also appeared in Drake‘s “Stunt Hard.”