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.
This week’s Sample Wars concerns what might be called a cult classic of sampling: “Countdown at 6,” by OG electronic music duo Perrey and Kingsley. The track, a synthy, Jetsons-futuristic take on Amilcare Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” (aka “Hello Muddah Hello Faddah“), heavily incorporates a recording of a baby laughing, which has been sampled by numerous artists (even Prince). We’ll be looking at TNGHT and Aaliyah, who used the baby in “Bugg’n” and the immortal “Are You That Somebody?,” respectively.
“Countdown at 6,” Perrey and Kingsley, 1967 (sample appears at :17): Electronic music has existed in some form since the first synthesizers debuted in the late 19th century. John Cage and Pierre Schaeffer were manipulating turntables and cutting and splicing tape as early as the 1930’s but the otherworldly sounds of sampling and sound synthesis didn’t truly leave the halls of academia and enter the popular consciousness until the ’60s, when musicians like Perrey and Kingsley, Beaver and Krause, and Wendy Carlos (then Walter) began making mostly kitschy, pop-oriented electronic cuts like this one. “Countdown at 6” interpolates “Dance of the Hours,” a romantic-era ballet, but most modern producers seem to only care about the bizarre baby sound effects used as punctuation.
“Are You That Somebody?” Aaliyah, 1998, produced by Timbaland (sample appears at :59): Imagine you’re Timbaland, and you’ve just put together one of the best beats of your career. It’s got everything–your signature breakneck, syncopated rhythms, a funky, minimal guitar line, and a hugely talented singer swaggering all over it. What else could you possibly add? Baby sounds? Yes, definitely baby sounds.
“Bugg’N,” TNGHT, 2012, produced by Hudson Mohawke and Lunice (sample appears at :00): If you’ve gone out once in the last year, chances are, you’ve heard “Bugg’N,” as well as every other song on TNGHT’s dance-floor destroying self-titled debut EP. Hudson Mohawke, one half of TNGHT, worked on Yeezus, as well as “Mercy,” and the bass-heavy menace that characterizes those works, has nearly always been a part of the producer’s sound. It’s present here, too, but there’s nothing to flip and recontextualize the sounds of southern rap kicks and hihats and nasty metallic samples like–you guessed it–baby sounds.
The Verdict: As I’ve hinted at above, both of these tracks would work perfectly well without the “Countdown at 6” sample. But for each, the baby provides is a key element, the accent that takes the track from pretty great into pure what-the-fuck-am-I-listening-to-right-now zone (just as it does on the original song, come to think of it). HudMo at least is a student of Timbo and Aaliyah–peep his “Somebody” remix here–and Bugg’N, in some way, is an homage to their track, just as the sample in “Are You That Somebody?” probably pays tribute to Prince. With that in mind, we’ve got to give it up to for the original.