Willie Mae Thorton, also known as Big Mama Thorton, recorded “Hound Dog” in August 1953 under the production of Johnny Otis with the Otis band. The song held the top spot on the Billboard’s R&B charts for seven weeks selling over half a million copies. It was Thorton’s signature growl over the blues and soulful track that garnered its success and made Thorton a force to be reckoned with in blues and R&B music. But then there was Elvis Presley. Elvis, who had never heard of Big Mama Thorton, heard all white male Las Vegas lounge act Freddie Bell and The Bellboys, perform their version of “Hound Dog” at Sands Hotel in 1956. Upon, hearing it Elvis fell over heels for the song, and went on to record it and the rest was history. “Hound Dog” became Elvis’s longest-running #1 hit with 11 weeks at the top of the charts in the summer of 1956. With the song’s now broad appeal, Elvis became the King of Rock & Roll. Big Mama Thorton on the other hand, although she did release other albums in the late 1960s, never received notable fame on the level of Elvis Presley and despite half a million copies sold of “Hound Dog” she responded that she only received a $500 check for the record. Today, most people associate “Hound Dog” with Elvis Presley.
In popular culture, remaking, covering, and sampling is common to media forms even to the extent that tracings of the original record are nonexistent. For many, the remake is the original. We see this often in music today as many hit records across genres are not just remakes of original records, but samples of various records on to one track. Sampling is the process by which a record or a portion of a record is reconfigured to create a different record. Although music sampling is very common with hip hop since its first creation with mixing, music sampling has roots as early as the 1950’s and 1960’s when music by black artists were covered by white artists such as that of “Hound Dog.” Music sampling is mainstream and it brought hip hop artist and producer Kanye West to fame as his pitched up vocal samples came to exemplify all of his records produced and/or recorded for other artists or himself. His first single “Through the Wire” from his first album College Dropout released in 2001 used a sample from Chaka Khan’s 1984 record “Through the Fire” from her album I Feel for You. In 2010, Kanye West was sued by a New York Record label TufAmerica over the royalties for two tracks on his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A 1969 sample from “Hook and Sling, Part 1” by New-Orleans singer-pianist Eddie Boe was used on Kanye West’s track “Who Will Survive in America?” and “Lost in the World.” The website Who Sampled.com credits Kanye West with sampling over 400 tracks on records that he has produced or recorded throughout his career. However, the music sampling goes even further in that records made from samples, are now then being sampled themselves. Tracks that Kanye West produced that were created from samples, were than sampled again on 300 other records. Most notably is “Izzo (H.O.V.A.) by Jay Z released in 2001 off The Blueprint album. The song was created from the samples of “I Want You Back” (1969) by the Jackson 5 and “Xxplosive” (1999) by Dr. Dre and Hittman feat. Kurupt, Six-Two and Nate Dogg. Then, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” has been sampled by countless other records such as “Business” (2002) by Eminem, “Love Come Down” (2009) by Diddy & Dirty Money, and most recently “EV” (2012) by Elle Varner .
Hip Hop stars are not the only artists to use sampling. Beyonce samples Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” for her “Naughty Girl” track off her Dangerously in Love (2003) album. Madonna’s Material Girl (1984) samples Jackson 5’s “Can’t you Feel it” (1980) and her track “Like a Virgin” (1985) samples “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” (1965) by the Four Tops. Music sampling also has no geographic boundaries. Rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony released their hit record “Tha Crossroads” in 1996 of off their album E. 1999 Eternal. The song samples The Isley Brothers 1975 record “Make Me Say It Again Girl: Part 1 & 2” from The Heat is On album. Then in 2002, white pop group (with only one black male out of ten males) Blazin Squad from the United Kingdom covered “Tha Crossroads.” Blazin Squad, who classifies themselves as alternative, hip-hop, and pop group, garnered fame with their song “Crossroads” and held the top spot of U.K. Pop charts for two weeks in August of 2002.
So, the question becomes, what is real music anymore? Would the real song please stand up? As songs are sampled to create different ones and then those songs in turn are sampled, the real, original song fades away in memory and importance. What might have been known as “old-school” is replaced by new forms of “old-school” as the generations change as seen in a 2008 interview with rap artist Soulja Boy on BET’s Rap City in which he referred to rap artist 50 Cent as an old school rapper. Whenever, a record is released, to those who have not heard it before, or do not have any recollection of the original song, the record is deemed as something new and innovative. However, is there anything that can truly be referred to today as new or original? For example, in the article that discusses the lawsuit against Kanye West by TufAmerica, while the court ruled in favor of TufAmerica and issued new laws regarding how sampling of music is treated, writer Chris Richards states: “With little regard for the hip-hop community and how producers use vintage recordings to craft new music, the law has changed the sound of the genre forever.” New music? How is this music new when it has been created from previously created sounds? Is it because many have not heard Eddie Poe’s song that Kanye West’s songs automatically gets deemed as new? If that is the case, what is popular culture and media teaching this generation: that creativity and originality lies not in original ideas but in masking the true original idea so it is unfamiliar to the general public and your’s seems new? When Elvis Presley recorded “Hound dog” in 1956, he did not even record the original song, but a remake of the song sung by Freddie Bell & the Bell Boys in which several of the lyrics were changed. To him, the Freddie Bell version of the song was new and original and from that thousands of fans were created who refer to “Hound Dog” as a new and original classic by just Elvis Presley. We might possibly be in a generation of remakes, sampling and re-sampling and maybe even misappropriation. In this culture, true historical facts are lost as with every music release, the lines between original and unoriginal, or new and old are blurred. Is this real music? What does original music mean to you?
Here are five of some of the most sampled songs and their remake:
1. “Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins (1972)
“Think (About It)” was recorded by Lyn Collins and released as a single on James Brown’s People Records in 1972. James Brown not only produced the record, but he also co-wrote it and his band The J.B.’s provided the instrumentals for the record. The song is most notable for its beats and vocal break “Woo! Yeah!” which has been used in countless samples such as “Go On Girl” by Roxanne Shante in 1987. But most notably, the song’s “Woo! Yeah!” became the groundwork for Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” released in 1988. Other artists like Ludacris, Slick Rick, Public Enemy, and Boyz II Men have sampled Lyn Collins not just on this track but others, giving her more than 600 samples to her name.
2. “Impeach the President” by The Honey Drippers (1973)
The Honey Drippers notable drum breaks characterized their records of the 1960s and 1970s. This soul band and their hit record “Impeach the President” now finds new found fame in the records of artists Kris Kross, Big Daddy Kane, Nice & Smooth, and De La Soul, but most notably for Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes.”
4. “(You) Got What I Need” by Freddie Scott (1968)
Biz Markies 1989 hit “Just a Friend” is one of the greatest hip hop records of all time and was automatically a top ten hit when it was first released. The song was later remade by young R&B artist Mario in 2002. But many may not be aware that this song is a sample of R&B singer and songwriter Freddie Scott’s “(You) Got What I Need” released in 1968.
James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, is one of the most sampled artists as his music has been sampled over 2000 times across various genres of music. “I Got You (I Feel Good)” was released in 1965 and has been sampled by such artists as LL Cool J and Public Enemy. Michael Jackson has taken some James Brown dance lessons as well. One of the most popular remakes of “I Got You (I Feel Good)” is MC Hammer’s 1990 hit “Dancin’ Machine.” Then “Payback” released in 1973 has been sampled by countless more artists such as Tony Scott, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Shabba Ranks, and Whodini for the record Be Yourself feat. Millie Jackson released in 1987.
5. The Shaft Album by Isaac Hayes
Isaac Hayes is a legend and his music has been sampled more than 400 times by numerous artists. The blaxploitation film Shaft was released in 1971 and the soundtrack was completely composed and performed by Isaac Hayes. Not only was the film itself remade in 2000, but music from the album includes its lead song “Theme from Shaft” has been sampled over and over and the album has proven to be one of hip hop’s and R&B’s lead inspirations. Songs from the album that have been sampled are: “Bumpy’s Lament,” “Do Your Thing,” “No Name Bar,” and “Walk from Regio’s.” The “Theme from Shaft” has been sampled in Public Enemy “Caught, Can We Get a Witness,” Jay Z’s “Reservoir Dogs,” and LL Cool J’s “Get Down.”