Top 20 80s sampling hits
By Jon O'Brien | July 11, 2022
Mining the past to make the music of the future, these singles used 80s sampling to fine effect
From the prominence of the Fairlight CMI and the rise in turntablism to the chart-topping success of Paul Hardcastle’s era-defining N-n-n-n-nineteen, the 80s was essentially where sampling culture began to take shape. By the end of the decade every producer with an eye on the charts was throwing in looped drum breaks and manipulated vocal hooks like they were going out of fashion. It was also an era in which the hitmakers of the 90s and beyond would repeatedly dive back into for inspiration. Here’s a look at 20 chart smashes that have borrowed heavily, and wisely, from what had gone before.
20. Jamelia – Beware of the Dog
Stomping electro-pop beats, attitude-laden female vocals and an instantly familiar 80s sample from an iconic British synth-based outfit – on this occasion the twanging bluesy guitars from Depeche Mode’s outlier Personal Jesus. The final of Jamelia’s 10 UK Top 40 hits took inspiration from the mid-00s banger at No.16 on this list. Released just a few months later, Beware Of The Dog is arguably even more relentless in its production, exemplified by the promo in which the singer is whizzed around in a London taxi cab at breakneck speed.
19. Professor Green – I Need You Tonight
Having barely caused a ripple with his The Streets-approved brand of Brit-hop, Professor Green made much more noticeable waves by going full-on pop. I Need You Tonight’s inspired sample – the irresistible guitar hook from INXS’s signature tune – undoubtedly played a major part in its No.3 peak. But the colourful rapper also stamped his own playful mark with some self-effacing rhymes (“My pride, I’m tryna find it/ But ain’t seen it, I’m an eejit”) about a girl that got away, in turn abandoning all pretence he was a Michael Hutchence-esque lothario.
18. 2Pac – Changes
Tupac Shakur famously scored more hits as a posthumous artist than a living one. Changes was the seventh UK Top 40 single achieved after the rapper was murdered. And up until Elton John duet Ghetto Gospel it was his biggest. Tupac’s sermon-like delivery pulled few punches, addressing everything from police brutality to America’s War on Drugs. But by sampling both the melancholic piano hook and chorus from Bruce Hornsby And The Range’s The Way It Is, the state of the nation address became a daytime radio staple.
17. The Saturdays – If This Is Love
The Saturdays regularly dipped into the decade they were far too young to remember, covering both Evelyn King’s Love Come Down and Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough during their seven-year career. They also burst onto the scene with a more subtle nod to another Vince Clarke-penned number, with 2008 debut single If This Is Love lifting the bubbling synth hook from Yazoo’s B-side, Situation. At a time when Sugababes were imploding, If This Is Love positioned Frankie, Rochelle and co. as their most obvious girlband successors.
16. Rihanna – SOS
It’s easy to forget that Rihanna was once in danger of succumbing to the same short-lived fate as Cassie, Amerie and countless other singular-named female R&B talents in the mid-00s. 2006 comeback single SOS, however, propelled her into the big league that she’s remained in ever since. The Barbadian might not possess a powerhouse voice, but she still sounds every inch the superstar on an energetic girl-meets-boy tale underpinned by those glorious synth stabs and mechanical rhythms from Soft Cell’s Tainted Love.
15. Coldplay – Talk
While much of X&Y was Coldplay on autopilot, its third single Talk did prove that the band often pilloried for playing it safe could be more adventurous than their peers. We don’t remember the similarly uncool Keane, Travis or Snow Patrol, for example, ever sampling Kraftwerk. And it wasn’t even one of the Germans’ more familiar tunes that Jonny Buckland took his chiming guitar riff from either. Computer Love only reached No.36 in 1981 before returning to the charts just months later as one-half of a double A-side with The Model.
14. Chicane – Saltwater
Theme From Harry’s Game, Clannad’s haunting musical contribution to the ITV series about The Troubles, doesn’t sound like an obvious starting point for an Ibiza classic. But Nick Bracegirdle, who’s since worked his magic on another early 80s hit, Paul Young’s Come Back And Stay, proved that chillout trance and Celtic new age can make for a surprisingly effective sunset soundtrack. Moya Brennan was so enamoured with the idea that she recorded new vocals for Saltwater which deservedly became Chicane’s first Top 10 single at the height of the Balearics scene.
13. Samantha Mumba – Body II Body
David Bowie proved to be an unexpectedly popular inspiration for the female Smash Hits stars of the early 00s. Rachel Stevens lifted the twanging guitars from Andy Warhol for her 2003 single Funky Dory and three years earlier Samantha Mumba paid homage to the Thin White Duke by borrowing pretty much the entire backing of his 1980 No.1 Ashes To Ashes single. The Irish pop princess’ unlikely tribute was more effective, her husky tones helping to transform a drug-addled nursery rhyme into a sleek and seductive turn-of-the-century R&B anthem.
12. Simply Red – Sunrise
After several years in the chart wilderness, Simply Red bounced back in 2003 with one of the finest singles of their career. The first release from Mick Hucknall’s very own record label, Sunrise borrowed the twinkling piano hooks from Hall & Oates’ No.8 hit I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do). But thanks to Mick Hucknall’s breezy vocal and a suitably sun-drenched video filmed just outside Rio de Janeiro, it deservedly bettered the original’s peak by one place. Manchester’s finest blue-eyed soulers have never sounded so effortlessly cool.
11. Dario G – Sunchyme
Dario G’s debut single had the misfortune to be released just a week after Elton John’s Princess Diana tribute had sparked a record shop rush best described as maniacal. Otherwise, Crewe’s ultimate dance trio would undoubtedly have taken the title of 1997’s most joyous No.1. Combining the tribal-like chants from The Dream Academy’s Life In A Northern Town with steel drums, piano hooks and an African-shot video featuring a bunch of dancers dressed as wild animals, Sunchyme brought some much-needed cheer to a nation in mourning.
10. The Tamperer featuring Maya – If You Buy This Record Your Life Will Be Better
Sandwiched in-between their hits sampling The Jackson 5’s Can You Feel It and ABBA’s Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!, the brilliantly-titled second single from The Tamperer saw the Italian producers and regular partner-in-crime Maya switch their attention to another iconic pop name. If You Buy This Record Your Life Will Be Better was incredibly the first time that Madonna had officially allowed another artist to raid her back catalogue, resulting in a camp dance-pop nod to Material Girl.
9. Strike – U Sure Do
Strike, aka British producers Matt Cantor and Andy Gardner plus Aussie vocalist Victoria Newton, scored one of the most uplifting club crossover hits of the mid-90s (at the second time of asking) with U Sure Do. But many who danced around their Louis Vuittons to the No.4 single might have been unaware its powerhouse vocal hook was lifted from an 80s freestyle classic. Yes, alongside the gleaming synths from Cubic 22’s Night In Motion, the crate-digging trio also looked towards the chorus from Donna Allen’s debut Serious for inspiration.
8. The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Puff Daddy and Mase – Mo Money Mo Problems
Released just weeks after the East/West Coast feud reached its inevitably tragic conclusion, Puff Daddy’s I’ll Be Missing You felt just as much a cynical cash grab as a heartfelt tribute to a lost friend. However, his second 80s-sampling hit of 1997 showed why The Notorious B.I.G. was held in such high regard. With his booming voice and slick lyrical flow, the late rapper positively commands attention over an inspired snatch of Diana Ross’ joyous post-disco classic I’m Coming Out.
7. Mylo – In My Arms
Remember that strange period in the mid-00s when seemingly every soft rock hit of the 80s was repurposed as a Ministry Of Sound banger? Boy Meets Girl’s Waiting For A Star To Fall even found itself returning to the charts on three occasions in the space of six months. But while Cabin Crew and Sunset Strippers simply slapped a generic dance beat over the original chorus, Scottish producer Mylo thought outside the box, dreamily interweaving just a vocal snippet with the glorious synth hook from another one-hit wonder, Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes.
6. Pras feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Mýa – Ghetto Supastar
Although regarded as the lesser of the three Fugees, Pras Michel’s debut still stands up to the best of bandmates Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill. Admittedly, his rhymes are only the third greatest thing on it. Yes, the rapper is overshadowed by both a typically crazed verse from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the Wu-Tang Clan member who only ended up on the track by gate-crashing its recording, and a sweetly-sung chorus which sees Mýa offer a more streetwise update of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s Islands In The Stream.
5 Utah Saints – Something Good
Utah Saints were pretty much the rave masters of the 80s sample. Each of their early 90s Top 10 hits borrowed heavily from the decade before, with Eurythmics’ There Must Be An Angel and Gwen Guthrie’s Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But The Rent forming the backbone of What Can You Do For Me and Human League’s Love Action laying the foundations for Believe In Me. The duo’s crowning glory, though, was turning Kate Bush into a dancefloor diva, with her ethereal vocals from Cloudbusting chopped and screwed to perfection on Something Good.
4. George Michael – Fastlove
Beating Will Smith’s Men In Black to the punch by a good 18 months, George Michael’s Fastlove was the slickest, sexiest and by far the most soulful mid-90s track to recycle the cooing chorus from Patrice Rushen’s Forget Me Nots. The second of a remarkable six straight Top 3 hits provided a refreshing change of pace from the mournful ballads that dominated comeback album Older. Middle America was completely oblivious to the fact that in among all the seductive basslines and sleek R&B grooves, Michael was celebrating his love of cruising.
3. Mariah Carey – Fantasy
Mariah Carey’s transition from power balladeer to R&B diva essentially began with her 10th US No.1 and a Talking Heads side project played a major part in its success. Fantasy is heavily based on Genius Of Love, the new wave funk classic from Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth’s Tom Tom Club that has since become a go-to sample for countless hip-hop names. Carey borrows everything from its flirtatious synths to its loved-up bridge on a near-flawless summer classic even those immune to her previous glass-shattering vocals found impossible to resist.
2 PM Dawn – Set Adrift On Memory Bliss
Spandau Ballet’s catalogue has been mined by several suspects over the years. Rui da Silva transformed Chant No.1 into an actual No.1 on deep house classic Touch Me, while a decade earlier hip-hop duo PM Dawn took inspiration from True. “Like being massaged by a bag of marsh-mallows,” read Smash Hits’ review of Set Adrift On Memory Bliss back in 1991. And with Prince Be’s sweet stream-of-consciousness rhymes softly pillowing up against the gentle guitar plucks of the London soul boys, that’s a perfectly accurate description.
1 M.I.A. – Paper Planes
One of those rare examples of a cult artist’s commercial peak matching their creative one. Paper Planes was practically inescapable in the late 00s, elevating key scenes in Pineapple Express and Slumdog Millionaire, picking up a Record Of The Year Grammy Award nod and giving M.I.A. (real name: Mathangi Arulpragasam) her only real crossover chart hit. Alongside co-producer Diplo, the pop provocateur threw in everything but the kitchen sink: playful cash register and gunshot sound effects, nursery rhyme melodies from a gang of Brixton street kids and Jamaican patois, not forgetting nods to hip-hop, African folk and post-punk. The latter, of course, derived from the screeching guitars and skank reggae riffs from Straight To Hell, the lesser-known other half of The Clash’s 1982 double A-side featuring Should I Stay Or Should I Go. Paper Planes also shares its themes of immigration, although instead of lamenting abandoned Vietnam war kids, M.I.A. takes aim at Uncle Sam’s general prejudice against the Third World (the Sri Lankan refugee was having trouble obtaining a work visa at the time). It’s a burst of pure organised chaos which proved that few can combine pop and politics with such thrilling results.