Feb 2, 2009

Massive Attack sampled a sewer designer? This must be Massive Samples then

The advent of the sampler in electronic music gave us geeky music enthusiasts our own special game: see if you can find the original bits of audio used in sample-heavy records.

Some samples are well documented, such as the Utah Saints' ripping of Kate Bush's Cloudbusting. And the shuffling Soul II Soul drum beat was copied by every dance band from here to eternity.

But every now and then random bits of sampleness jump out and mug your brains out.  Orbital's seminal record The Brown Album, which is topped and tailed by sampled voices, is a case in point.

I nearly spat out my cleaning fluid while watching Withnail And I, when the-one-who-isn't-Richard-E-Grant posited that "even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day". That phrase, sampled menacingly near the start of the Brown Album, had been on repeat on my CD player for years. Following the sample on the Orbital record, a lazer then jumps out from the speakers.  No zapping befell McGann in the film; just abject hopelessness.

And once, I was watching a late night Open University progamme (brown jumpers, big collars, scribbly hair) about how squeegee mops work. The droll presenter explained it was "input translation, output rotation".  Again, that was used on the same Orbital album, and I couldn't believe my ears.  It was definitely the same voice, and I was spooked for weeks.

This is a long way of going about introducing Massive Attack's new album (band logo pictured).  Protected - Massive Samples spoils the game a bit because it's a compilation of the songs the band has sampled and covered.

And so we have, in order: Level 42's mate Wally Badarou; soul singer Lowrell; sewer designer (and musician) William De Vaughn; the very reverend Al Green; every lawyer's friend James Brown; ex-Chef Isaac Hayes; jazz fusion drummer Billy Cobham; Lewin Bones Lock (never heard of 'im); slushy reggae legend John Holt; Blue Note-spawned 70s soulsters The Blackbyrds; jazz fusion group Pieces Of A Dream (who appeared on an astonishingly-titled album The Weather Channel Presents The Best of Smooth Jazz); and kings and queens of funk Rufus And chaka-chaka-Chaka Khan.

If you paid attention to that last paragraph, yes Massive Attack sampled a chap who, apparently, used to be a sewer designer. Or rather, they covered one, in the form of William De Vaughan's brilliantly written Be Thankful For What You Got.

As a closing thought, my sources remind me that Massive Attack were sued for sampling Manfred Mann's Tribute, forcing the Bristol dark-hoppers to change the name of the song on future pressings. Considering the amount of sampling they got away with, the Massive boys* should count themselves lucky.

I recommend Protected - Massive Samples, if only for the reason that it's a collection of tracks that was good enough to be pillaged by one of the greatest bands of all time.

* If I get any dodgy google traffic now for 'massive boys', I'll be livid.