By Joe Sugarman
Have you ever checked out the website whosampled.com? Users type in the name of an artist or a song and it spits out the names of other artists who have sampled snippets for their own hits. We decided to have a little fun by typing in the names of famous composers. We discovered that the works of classical musicians are well represented in contemporary hits. According to the website, Mozart’s music has been sampled by 75 times; Bach 82 times and Beethoven’s compositions have been used a whopping 109 times by other musicians. Here are a few of our favorites, with a little back story on each:
"Love U Crazay," by En Vogue
More than a dozen artists have sampled Tchaikovsky's The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, including girl group En Vogue in 2000. For their "Masterpiece Theatre" album, someone came up with the “crazay” idea to have the group record an album based on classical music and laced with pop beats. Unfortunately, the album tanked and the group was dropped by their Elektra label. "Love U Crazay," was supposed to be the second song released from the album, but it never was. Too bad, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy actually sounds pretty good with synthesized drums and a bass line.
"Road to Joy," by Bright Eyes
Yes, "Road to Joy" borrows heavily from "Ode to Joy," and Beethoven’s chestnut sounds pretty good on Conor Oberst’s electric guitar until he smashes it at the end of this performance on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" (Side note: Guitar smashing may be cliché, but this is the first time we’ve seen a musician smash his trumpet!) Borrowing from "Ode to Joy" is nothing new for pop musicians. Manfred Mann did it with "My Name is Jack" in 1968, and even the Cheetah Girls used a few bars in 2007’s "Human."
"Someone to Call My Lover," by Janet Jackson
America’s 1970s classic "Ventura Highway" gets the starring role in this 2001 hit by Ms. Jackson, but if you listen closely you can hear French composer Erik Satie’s Gymnopéde No. 1 interpolated — and sped up to 4/4 time — during the choruses. Reportedly, Jackson was a fan of the composition since she was a little girl but never knew who the composer was.
"I Can," by Nas
We wonder if using a hip-hop beat under Beethoven’s Für Elise would help beginning piano players learn this bagatelle more effectively. Who knows? But the familiar melody, supposedly played by Nas’s daughter, works well with the song’s uplifting message. The composition was also used in several other hip-hop songs, including one with particularly raunchy lyrics by Tech N9ne that might have Ludwig rolling in his grave.
"They" by Jem
Drop an infectious beat under Bach’s Prelude in F Minor and you pretty much have Jem’s 2005 hit. Ah, but Jem took the sampling game one step further: If you listen to the background "ba-ba-da" vocals, you’ll quickly realize that what’s really being sampled is the 1960’s French a capella group The Swingle Singers, who also borrowed from Bach. You do remember The Swingle Singers, don’t you?
"A Fifth of Beethoven," by Walter Murphy
In case you didn’t read our tribute to one of the most unlikely pop hits of all time, here it is. But Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 can also be heard in dozens of popular hits over the years. You can hear the familiar opening strings in everything from Electric Light Orchestra’s "Roll Over Beethoven" to Cypress Hill’s "Latin Lingo." And don’t forget Robin Thicke’s first hit, "When I Get You Alone."