From David Bowie to Jay-Z: The six best Beatles samples in music
The act of sampling is one of the finest developments that hip-hop has brought into the popular landscape. The method has single-handedly breathed new life into songs from yesteryear by a new generation of artists and their innovative vision. Few artists have had their work sampled to the same degree as The Beatles, a band who have allowed artists use their material in samples a staggering 1012 times.
The first sampler is the Chamberlain, a device first developed by the English engineer Harry Chamberlin back in the 1940s. The secret to the Chamberlain was that it contained a keyboard which could trigger a series of tape decks which could hold eight seconds of recorded sound and this sewed the seed for the future of music.
Further development came in 1969 when English engineer Peter Zinovieff masterminded the first digital sampler, the EMS Musys. However, the term sample didn’t arrive until 1979, a time when the team behind the Fairlight CMI synthesizer coined to phrase to the feature and since then it has become a vital part of popular music.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Beatles song ‘Come Together’ is the most sampled, a track that has been reworked 44-times. Gary Clark Jr. sampled the bassline for his 2012 track, ‘Numb’, meanwhile Australian’s extraordinary The Avalanches used the song for ‘The Noisy Eater’. However, it’s the more obscure Beatles tracks that make for the most outstanding samples, and this feature will take a look at the artists who have used the magic of The Fab Four to the furthest degree of success.
The 6 best Beatles samples:
Mac Miller – ‘Loud’
The late, great Mac Miller sampled The Beatles in his work on multiple occasions, the most famous being 2012 effort ‘Loud (Mixtape Version)’ which saw the enigmatic rapper lend from the trippy, ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’.
The track, which first featured on the psychedelic album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club, was giving a new lease of life on Miller’s mixtape Macadelic. The late rapper borrowed the strings from the 1967 track and provided a juxtaposing sense of eeriness. In 2013, Miller would then sample ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ on ‘Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes’ before once again revisiting the world of The Fab Four and leaning into the band’s psychedelic period.
Frank Ocean – ‘White Ferrari’
Frank Ocean is one of the most dynamic musicians around, and the Beatles’ music is something that he remains entirely thankful for getting him through a dark-stage in his career. During his show on Beats 1 in 2016, whilst introducing ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, Ocean stated: “I want to thank The Beatles for almost single-handedly getting me out of writer’s block, do you hear this?”
In particular, that song was one of importance for Ocean, as it was the track that he sampled on the luscious, ‘White Ferrari’ back in 2016. Once that song came to Ocean, the rest of Blonde fell in place, and he created a masterful follow up to 2012’s faultless Channel Orange.
David Bowie – ‘Young Americans’
John Lennon played on two tracks featuring as part of David Bowie’s historic Young Americans album and, on the titular track, The Starman leaves a little nod and a wink to Lennon’s former band when he sings the line, “I heard the news today, oh boy.”
This lyric was one that Lennon penned for the powerful ‘A Day In The Life‘ and, according to the ever trustworthy WhoSampled, this classifies as a Beatles sample, even if it is only just the one line. Considering Lennon played on both ‘Across The Universe’ and ‘Fame’ that appeared on the album, the lyric’s use was fair by him.
Jay-Z – ‘Encore’
Although this is technically a sample of a cover of The Beatles, it still derives directly from The Fab Four’s universe. Kanye West’s expert producer ear thought that the intro to John Holt’s version of ‘I Will’ would give the track an extra level of oomph as Jay-Z planned to wave goodbye and retire from music.
Jay-Z then famously allowed his timeless record The Black Album to be mashed-up by Danger Mouse with The Beatles’ The White Album to create the masterful The Grey Album, a blissful adventure into what it sounds like when these two different worlds collide.
Wu-Tang Clan – ‘The Heart Gently Weeps’
Wu-Tang Clan used George Harrison’s Beatles classic ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ as inspiration for their 2007 masterstroke ‘The Heart Gently Weeps’. The track isn’t a direct sample and, instead, features George’s son, Dhani, who reimagines his father’s famous guitar for the Wu-Tang track.
In an interview with the NME, RZA revealed how the sample came about and replied: “Well, I was fortunate that I became friends with Dhani Harrison and the song was written by his father. I actually wrote a letter to his mother.” RZA then revealed he wrote a letter, “I explained it was Wu-Tang- harsh but real. And respectful of the art. She thought it was harsh. So I thought I should mellow it down, I got Erykah Badu to come in and sing on it. So she gave us the clearance.”
The Streets – ‘Never Went To Church’
Mike Skinner found himself forced to share the songwriting credits on ‘Never Went To Church’ with Lennon and McCartney. The track is his most emotional hour that deals with his grief’s inner workings following the loss of his father but due to a similar chord progression with ‘Let It Be’, Lennon-McCartney are down as co-writers.
The track couldn’t be anymore The Streets, as it opens the song in his Brummie twang with the beautiful line, “Two great European narcotics, alcohol and Christianity, I know which one I prefer.”
Rather than living up to the mantra that sweats out of ‘Let It Be’, McCartney was hellbent on making sure to be credited on the song. Mike Skinner told XFM in 2007: “There’s a revelation about my song ‘Never Went To Church sounding like a Beatles song. Let’s just say it involves a man going through a very costly divorce right now.” Macca was going through an extremely public divorce with Heather Mills, and Skinner wasn’t in a subtle mood on that occasion.