The Champ

Music blogs, magazines and cable channels like to run lists of the best albums of all time. Certain albums get listed again and again: Sgt Pepper, Pet Sounds, Highway 61 Revisited.

If you were to compile the best albums as measured by how often they get sampled by hip-hop producers, the list would look very different. There would be some famous names on it — James Brown, Led Zeppelin, P-Funk — but it wouldn’t necessarily include their best-known songs. And you’d see a lot of names that would be totally unfamiliar, unless you were a really devoted crate-digger. In the top ten, alongside tunes by The Honey Drippers, The Soul Searchers and The Incredible Bongo Band, you’d  find “The Champ” by The Mohawks.

Hip-hop fans will instantly recognize the organ riff that kicks off this song. It’s everywhere. Yet I had never heard of the Mohawks before looking into the source of the riff. They were an ad-hoc band of session musicians led by a British organist named Alan Hawkshaw, best known for his commercial jingles, library music and TV theme songs. He also played on records by Barbra Streisand and Olivia Newton John. Not the likeliest source of inspiration for Big Daddy Kane and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, is he? But the album grooves hard.

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Doctorin’ The Top Forty

In 1988, a pair of British acid house DJs named Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, variously known as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords, and The KLF, had an improbable number one hit with “Doctorin’ The Tardis.”

The track isn’t so much a song as it is an early mashup. Just about everything in it is a sample or quote. Here are the sources:

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Bitter Sweet Symphony

One of the biggest copyright failures of copyright law ever is the The Verve’s song “Bitter Sweet Symphony.”

The distinctive string sample comes from an orchestral arrangement of “The Last Time” by The Rolling Stones.

Doesn’t sound much like the Verve, does it? Here’s the Andrew Oldham Orchestra‘s version, the sample will jump right out at you twenty-five seconds in.

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The Doctor Who theme song: analog electronica

When I was in third grade, my mom and stepfather went on academic sabbatical to London for six months, taking my sister and me with them. I guess I’m grateful for the chance to experience another culture and everything, but it was a rough six months. I missed my dad, school, New York, the Muppet Show. British third graders are manic xenophobes of Eric Cartman proportions. It was the first time I had ever experienced genuine alien-ness, and I didn’t like it. The best thing about being there was Doctor Who.

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