The 15 Greatest Songs Sampled On Kanye West Tracks

June 18, 2013 1 comment


It’s been said that Kanye doesn’t really make beats anymore. Hip-hop enthusiasts may wag their finger at this, which is a shame. He’s on his Quincey Jones at the moment. Kanye West orchestrates a lush sound to command his vision in full. Whether it be the good ole days when Kanye would craft soul beats and save the best ones for himself or these days when he calls the shots acting as a conductor one thing is for certain—he’s got an ear for music. And probably an enormous sampling budget at that. Here are the fifteen greatest songs that have ever been sampled on Kanye tracks. A listicle of sorts.

Honorable Mention: “Movin’ Out (Antony’s Song)” on “Mama’s Boyfriend”

This is only an honorable mention because the song hasn’t been released to the general public in full. “Mama’s Boyfriend” has been rumored and performed since 2010 and become somewhat of a holy grail among Kanye fans. “Movin’ Out” from Billy Joel’s  The Stranger is a tale of Joel’s disdain with simple minded middle class aspirations. Relatable story lines, piano and guitar licks lifted form 60’s soul paired with Joel’s patented grandiose piano-rock breakdowns during the chorus — no wonder the song was turned into a Broadway play.

15. “Distant Lover” – Marvin Gaye on “Spaceship”

Not to discredit “Let’s Get It On” the song, but on the album of the same name it’s easily the weakest cut. One of the strongest tracks from Gaye’s 1973 album is “Distant Lover.” The bass line waltzes along accompanied by a falsetto and longing horns. Long distance love isn’t all that palpable, but Marvin Gaye makes it all seem like a therapeutic starry eyed dream.

14. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” – Daft Punk on “Stronger”

Daft Punk’s hype train for their long awaited Random Access Memories was immeasurable. Longread profiles found their way to media giants like Pitchfork and Rolling Stones and niche music mags like Wax Poetics. Hell, the biggest story out of Coachella was a Daft Punk commercial. What makes Random Access Memories interesting is the electronic band’s take on dance music with a minimal use of the actual electro by using conventiaonal instruments. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” is a perfect example of the duo’s original sound that would come to define and inspire electronic acts for years to come.

13. “Kid Charlemagne” – Steely Dan on “Champion”

Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne” is about a chemist Owsley Stanley who cooked LSD. Think the hippie era Walter White. The jazz rock fusion band may be more easily found as a shoe-in for yacht rock playlists. However, don’t be fooled with the proximity to “Margaritaville,”  the Rock N Roll Hall members Steely Dan are keen on a groove and have a handful of smart albums under their belt.

12. “21st Century Schizoid Man” – King Crimson on “Power”

If it weren’t for King Crimson’s 1969 debut album In The Court of the Crimson King, progressive rock may not have been a thing. King Crimson will always be remembered for breaking boundaries and fusing genres, like Kanye himself.  The title, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” only tells part of the story of why it was inevitable this would end up being a part of Kanye’s discography at some point. A mostly instrumental track, “Schizoid Man,” brings chaotic screaming guitars and gatling drumming to the table as well as heavily distorted vocals that would be a staple for West. The layered, tempo changing and all around loud song match perfectly with the overall dyspeptic tone of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

11.”Chariots of Fire” – Vangelis on “Illest Motherfucker Alive”

Ever since the 1981 film Chariots of Fire the score composed by electronic Greek composer Vangelis has become a classic. The score topped the Billboard charts for four weeks and won an Academy Award for Original Music Score (the film won Best Picture). The main track also named “Chariots of Fire” has been used as a central theme in the olympics, parodied in countless corny movies and uplifted the spirits of anybody from brawny athletes to scrawny nerds.

10.”Rosie” – Bill Withers on “Roses”

“Rosie” didn’t appear on the original release of Bill Withers’ 1977 LP, Menagerie, but would find its way on digital and CD releases.  The ballad is minimalistic. Bill Withers croons about a woman he loves dearly, a saccharine piano loops in the background and a ballooning synth makes an appearance. It’s the way all piano ballads should be. Simple and to the point.

9. “Wildflower” – Hank Crawford on “Drive Slow”

Dark piano keys tip toe and eerie background vocals rise and fall. That’s the aspects you might be familiar with if you’ve only heard “Drive Slow.” The full band — a dirty bassline, screaming trumpets, festive percussion and Hank Crawford absolutely slaying the saxophone consistently for about three and a half minutes — would be a welcome discovery if so. Hank Crawford is somewhat of a legend. His resume included work with Ray Charles, B.B. King and Eric Clapton.

8.”Avril 14th” – Apex Twin on “Blame Game”

“Arvil 14th” is purely instrumental. The efficiently minimal piano track is two minutes and six seconds of pure bliss. Richard D. James or more popularly known as Aphex Twin isn’t exactly known for making sweet music. Generally, Aphex Twin’s music is suitable to soundtrack the scene in movies where the feds meet the weird hacker dude. It’s chaotic frenetic electronic music that really serves no purpose but to serve as background music for stoners as they play Doom video games and drink Mountain Dew ten years ago. Or maybe James is  just showing off the fact that he knows how to use computer instruments very well. The stripped down piano track is a welcomed departure from the majority of the Aphex Twin discography.

7.”Woods” – Bon Iver on “Lost In The World”

2009’s Blood Bank EP was a transitional point for Bon Iver. Their critically acclaimed debut For Emma, Forever Ago is an acoustic driven album about the lore of heartbreak. The band’s sophomore effort Bon Iver saw a change into a sublime ethereal soft rock tone which focused on places and melancholy. Woods is all vocals, with Justin Vernon’s unique take on a vocoder effect that paints a perfect picture of solitude with taut lyrics. “I’m up in the woods, I’m down on my mind, I’m building a still, to slow down the time,” Vernon sings.

6. “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” – on “Good Life”

This is on Thriller.

5. “Memories Fade” – Tears For Fears on “Coldest Winter”

Tears For Fears is one of the most influential and essential new wave bands and most likely a huge inspiration for Yeezus. As you would assume, Tears For Fears is very emotional and are founding fathers of sadboyism. On “Memories Fade” from their debut The Hurting rippling synths and the lines “memories fade, but the scars still linger” bring a powerful punch to song about the loss of a meaningful relationship.

4.”My Funny Valentine” – Etta James on “Addiction”

“My Funny Valentine” is a jazz and blues standard. Originally, it was a show tune from the 1937 musical Babes in Arms. The song has seen takes from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald and the best comes by way of Chet Baker.

3. “Try A Little Tenderness”/ “It’s Too Late” – Otis Redding on “Otis” and “Gone”

Otis Redding is the king of soul. “Try A Little Tenderness” is an exercise in the buildup. Redding effortlessly croons through the song leading to an exuberant climax as he yearns for a little tenderness. The soul piano ostinato, Redding’s gritty vocals and a walking bass line on “It’s Too Late” — a much deeper cut in Redding’s discography — make it quite obvious why they call Redding the king.

2.”Someone Saved My Life Tonight” – Elton John on “Good Morning”

Elton John’s album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy from 1975 is a concept album. It details the struggle of Elton John and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin. In 1969 when John was engaged to Linda Woodrow he realized that he’d be making a mistake marring her. The pain of  yearning for success and the fact that Elton John’s cup of tea ain’t women—he was about to be legally bound to drinking woman tea forever—drove him to the brink of suicide. His friends talked him out of killing himself and ultimately what would come of it is Elton John’s openness with his sexuality, a prosperous music career and one of the best damn rock songs ever called “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”

1. “Strange Fruit” – Nina Simone on “Blood On The Leaves”

In 1939 a Jewish school teacher and song writer Abel Meeropol wrote a poem about lynching called “Strange Fruit.” The haunting poem uses bodies hanging from trees as a metaphor for fruits. “Southern trees bear strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,” it reads. “Strange Fruit” has been sang by many people throughout the years and each version is as frighteningly eerie as the next, especially renditions from Nina Simone and the most popular take from Billie Holliday. Those two women sang the song not only as if they wrote it, but with true conviction as though they’re reporting the actions live. In 1999 Time named “Strange Fruit” the song of the century.