Each week in Sample Wars, we’ll pit two songs which sample the same source material head-to-head against each other, to determine which one rocked the sample better.
After taking last week off (sorry guys!), we’re back with a very smooth, very funky edition of Sample Wars. We’ll be looking at a little-known French duo called Daft Punk, whose new album you may have heard a little bit about in recent weeks. That group’s 2001 track “Face to Face” lifted from Electric Light Orchestra’s “Evil Woman,” as did the Pussycat Dolls’ 2005 hit “Beep.”
“Evil Woman,” Electric Light Orchestra, 1975, (samples appear at 1:16 and 2:40): “Evil Woman” is an unassailable classic that incorporates everything great about ELO: Jeff Lynne’s well-documented Beatles obsession (there’s a whole Wikipedia article about it, no joke), dizzying string arrangements, timely-for-the-70s discofied backbeat, rollicking piano solo, and bonafide R&B backup vocals. You’d be hard pressed to find another pop tune that makes so many disparate ideas sound coherent in so small a space. “Evil Woman” makes them sound not only perfectly natural, but positively beautiful.
“Face to Face,” Daft Punk, 2001 (sample appears at :08): “Evil Woman” makes up but a fraction of the dense linear collage that is “Face to Face.” Hear the percolating keyboard riff at the beginning of the track’s main cut-and-paste musical motive? That’s “Evil Woman.” Everything else? Beats me. The chops in this track are so small and so rhythmically precise that the music starts to feel almost like a tangible geometric shape. Daft Punk are sometimes accused of ripping off their source material wholesale and simply setting it to a four-on-the-floor drumbeat, and depending on your perspective, that claim may hold water sometimes. Not here.
“Beep,” Pussycat Dolls feat. Will.i.am., 2005, produced by Will.i.am., 2005 (sample appears at :00): Will.i.am.’s production on Beep is solid–he recognizes the regal nature of “Evil Woman”‘s string break, repurposes it as a kind of overture, then adds all kinds of percussive blips and bloops that sound lifted straight from a Missy Elliot record of the same era. His “rapping,” on the other hand, is an embarassment, leaning way too heavily on the kind of cornball one-note lyrical conceit that’s become the Black Eyed Peas stock-in-trade. Thankfully, lead Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger is there to salvage the song with a serviceable Janet-style wispy lead vocal.
The Verdict: The production on “Beep” can be seen as a testament to Jeff Lynne and his collaborator Louis Clark‘s talents as producers and arrangers: an inconsequential few bars of interlude are musically potent enough to become the melodic basis for a top-20 pop hit three decades later. Daft Punk, as usual, are on a different planet entirely. Laser focusing on the song’s funkiest two beats, then surgically implanting them into a string of other samples, the robots manufacture an entirely new melodic and rhythmic line. Want to know how hard that is? Ask this guy.