From outright lifts to subtle homages, samples have always been the bedrock of hip-hop but they’ve also been utilised throughout all forms of popular music for decades (what are the twelve-bar blues if not the original sample?) Hearing a riff from a 70s funk track that you can’t quite place in a Daft Punk floor filler is often the musical equivalent of recognising an actress on TV and scouring IMDB to find what ’90s daytime soap they were once in. As these original songs are often eclipsed in popularity, we’ve rounded up some of the best and most recurring samples in musical history – some you might know like the back of your hand and some you might not.
1The Winstons – ‘Amen Brother’
A drum solo so famous that it’s commonly referred to as the ‘Amen Break’, The Winstons’ 1969 soul track is reportedly the most sampled song of all time with over 5000 appearances in other songs.
Sampled in: Absolutely everything but most notably, N.W.A – ‘Straight Outta Compton’
2The Clash – ‘Straight to Hell’
Samples don’t always match up thematically with the original track so it’s especially poetic when they do. The Clash’s ‘Straight to Hell’ lambasts racist attitudes towards immigration in the ’80s and 20 years later, M.I.A. and a then up-and-coming Diplo, interpolated the British punk band’s intro riff into their own scorching satire on immigrant stereotypes.
Sampled in: M.I.A. – ‘Paper Planes’
3The Charmels – ‘As Long As I’ve Got You’
The Charmels only ever recorded four songs for Stax Records – none of them hits – but the gorgeous ‘As Long As I’ve Got You’ finally got some long-deserved recognition courtesy of a Wu-Tang sample on one of the best hip-hop songs of all time: ‘C.R.E.A.M’.
Sampled in: Wu-Tang Clan – ‘C.R.E.A.M.’
4Stevie Nicks – ‘Edge of Seventeen’
It’s categorically a win whenever you hear the opening to ‘Edge of Seventeen’. Whether it’s the Stevie Nicks original, Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bootylicious’, Miley’s ‘Midnight Sky’ or Joan Cusack’s drunken rendition from School of Rock, the iconic riff is the gift that keeps on giving.
5Curtis Mayfield – ‘Move On Up’
There’s something instantly infectious about the horn section on ‘Move On Up’, which as well as taking a starring role in Bend It Like Beckham, was used by the king of sampling himself, Kanye West, for the main hook of ‘Touch The Sky’.
Sampled in: Kanye West – ‘Touch The Sky’
6Edwin Birdsong – ‘Cola Bottle Baby’
Long misattributed as a Daft Punk riff that was later sampled by Kanye, ‘Cola Bottle Baby’ might not have instant name recognition but this slice of futuristic funk was still streets ahead of its time.
7ABBA – ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight)’
It’s a belter of a disco track that will make anyone want to dance up a storm on a Greek Island, with a dash of drama thanks to the lush string section. Benny and Björn are notoriously shy in letting others have access to ABBA’s back catalogue but Madonna didn’t blow her chance with the 2005 smash hit, ‘Hung Up’.
Sampled in: Madonna – ‘Hung Up’
8Sister Nancy – ‘Bam Bam’
The classic reggae anthem ‘Bam Bam’ has been sampled in over 100 songs to date: from multiple elements of Kanye’s controversial ‘Famous’ to a subtle lyrical ode in ‘Truth Hurts’, which Lizzo claims was just a placeholder that made the cut.
9Chic – ‘Good Times’
Sampling isn’t always a cordial affair. When The Sugarhill Gang sampled the backing track of ‘Good Times’ for their revolutionary hip-hop song ‘Rapper’s Delight’, it ended in some Bad Times (legal action). Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards were eventually credited as co-writers.
Sampled in: The Sugarhill Gang – ‘Rapper’s Delight’
10Joni Mitchell – ‘Big Yellow Taxi’
The quintessential Joni Mitchell track has endured some questionable covers over the years but Janet Jackson and Q-Tip’s revitalisation of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ turned out to be an unlikely match made in heaven.
Sampled in: Janet Jackson – ‘Got ‘Til It’s Gone’ ft. Q-Tip
11Outkast – ‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’
A funky, reggae-inspired highlight from ‘Aquemini’-era Outkast, ‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’ and its exquisite horn riff found a new home in the swooning peak of Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’.
Sampled in: Beyoncé – ‘All Night’
12Lou Reed – ‘Walk On The Wild Side’
In the seventies, it would have been easy to wonder how this Lou Reed track could possibly get more iconic. That was until A Tribe Called Quest got involved: the pioneering hip-hop foursome took ‘Wild Side’s smooth, interlocking bass lines, laid down a Lonnie Smith drumbeat and the rest was history.
Sampled in: A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Can I Kick It?’
13Sufjan Stevens – ‘All For Myself’
Sufjan’s experimental triumph ‘Age of Adz’ is awash with glitchy and sprawling musical beds that are ripe for sampling. Kendrick opted for the haunting ‘All For Myself’ as a backdrop for ‘Hood Politics’, a highlight from ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ that sees K-Dot retrace his journey of success – from the streets of his past to the fame of his present.
Sampled in: Kendrick Lamar – ‘Hood Politics’
14GarageBand – ‘Vintage Funk Kit 03’
You heard me: GarageBand. The biggest song of 2007 and the hit that made Rihanna a superstar was made, in part, thanks to a drum loop on Apple’s free music software. God bless ‘Vintage Funk Kit 03’ and its “walloping hi-hats”.
Sampled in: Umbrella – Rihanna feat. Jay Z
15Stevie Wonder – ‘Pastime Paradise’
Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ is a timeless masterpiece so who better to turn to for a killer hook? Coolio and producer Doug Rasheed sampled the instrumentation and chorus of ‘Pastime Paradise’ and, with the help of a choral backing and L.V.’s vocals, turned the drama up to 11. Out of respect to Stevie and his aversion to swearing, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ is a rare case of a clean Coolio track.
Sampled in: Coolio – ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’
16Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick – ‘La Di Da Di’
It’s hard to overstate the impact of Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s off-kilter track on popular music. Countless bars from ’90s hip-hop tracks paid homage to ‘La Di Da Di’ – “Biggie, Biggie, Biggie, can’t you see” – and it continues to be a popular choice for artists today, from Beyoncé to Miley Cyrus.
17Bill Withers – ‘Grandma’s Hands’
The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it intro and soft guitar strums from Bill Withers’ ode to his grandma might not have been an obvious candidate for sampling. With a little magic from Dre and Blackstreet’s Teddy Riley, ‘Grandma’s Hands’ went from an understated soul ballad to a key element in one of the most popular R&B tracks ever: ‘No Diggity’.
Sampled in: Blackstreet – ‘No Diggity’
18James Brown – ‘Funky President (People It’s Bad)’
The Godfather of Soul might well be the most sampled musician of all time. While it was never James Brown’s biggest hit, ‘Funky President’ has captured the imagination of countless hip-hop artists including Childish Gambino, Rick Ross and, of course, Kanye.
19Tubeway Army – ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’
Gary Numan’s new wave band Tubeaway Army landed a Number 1 with ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ but nowadays, the synth riff is more familiar in sample form. Bootleg producer Richard X mashed-up ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric’ with Adina Howard’s R&B classic ‘Freak Like Me’ and eventually brought the Sugababes on board. Numan even admitted that he liked the Sugababes version more than his original.
Sampled in: Freak Like Me – ‘Sugababes’
20Rachmaninoff – ‘Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor’
Sometimes going back into the vault for a sample means going back really far. Few karaoke ballads have as elegant beginnings as ‘All By Myself’ does, with Eric Carmen lifting key elements of the verse’s melody directly from Rachmaninoff’s famous concerto.
Sampled in: Celine Dion/Eric Carmen – ‘All By Myself’