Last week, Wake-Up Video commemorated an important moment in the history of hip-hop that saw the beginnings of musicians being properly compensated for the use of their songs in samples in rap tunes. On this day in 1969, another huge moment occurred in the history of sampling, as James Brown and his band recorded the song "Funky Drummer," a track that would go down in history as (likely) the most-sampled track of all time because of its drum solo.
The drums in question were played by Clyde Stubblefield, who would later come to be known as "The Funky Drummer" because of his work on this particular track. As it stands, "Funky Drummer" isn't much of a song — there's no real vocal performance from Brown and the groove just sort of ebbs and flows. Instead of a proper vocal, Brown mostly encourages various members of his band, egging them on as they jam. When he gets to Stubblefield, he declares the beat "a mother," and the ensuing eight bars of drum magic helped fuel some of the biggest hip-hop tracks in history.
It's uncertain exactly who got to "Funky Drummer" first, but it certainly got passed around an awful lot. In addition to being name-checked on Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" (where it is also sampled), "Funky Drummer" is all over N.W.A's "F--- Tha Police," LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out," Ice T's "Original Gangster," Eric B. & Rakim's "Lyrics of Fury," Dr. Dre's "Let Me Ride" and Ultramagnetic MCs' "Give the Drummer Some." (There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, more songs out there that borrow from "Funky Drummer," including non-rap tracks by Prince, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and New Order.) Run-D.M.C. also went to the "Funky Drummer" well with "Run's House" (from 1988's Tougher Than Leather).
These days, with easily accessible media manipulation and the rise of the Internet as a tool for spreading artistic experiments, people are eager to protect their intellectual property even if there's no money involved (and sometimes especially when there's no money involved). But there was a time when people weren't so litigious, and early hip-hop producers didn't even need to clear samples before releasing their work. That all changed on this day in 1991 when a New York court ruled that Gilbert O'Sullivan (a singer-songwriter known mostly for his 1971 hit "Alone Again (Naturally)") should have been paid for the use of that song on Biz Markie's 1991 track "Alone Again" (from his I Need a Haircut album).
O'Sullivan filed a suit against Markie and his record label, arguing that he should be paid for the use of "Alone Again (Naturally)" because it provided the backbone of Markie's tune. The defense that Warner Bros. mounted was pretty limp: They stated that because stealing uncleared samples was such a common practice in hip-hop production that they shouldn't be held accountable, essentially stating that stealing is OK as long as everybody is stealing. A federal judge dismissed that idea, awarding the case to O'Sullivan and setting a precedent for other oft-sampled artists (especially James Brown, Sly Stone and other '70s funk legends) to get paid.
"Alone Again" was removed from Markie's I Need a Haircut, but the artist took the whole scenario in stride — he even called his next album All Samples Cleared. So whenever you hear a hip-hop song from the '80s that samples a classic funk or soul break, just remember that they probably didn't get paid the first time around. Case in point: N.W.A.'s "Express Yourself."
Though it has been somewhat bastardized by a certain faux-grassroots political movement over the past few years, the Boston Tea Party remains an important event in the history of the formation of the United States. On this day in 1773, a group of Massachusetts colonists known as the "Sons of Liberty" dressed up like Native Americans, boarded a ship in Boston Harbor and dumped 342 chests of British tea into the water.
The event was a direct response to the British Tea Act of 1773, which essentially gave a monopoly to the East India Trading Company for tea sales in America. But on a greater level, the Boston Tea Party was a reaction to the frustration the colonists felt over the increasing tyranny of the British, who continued to levy taxes and deny rights to those living in the American colonies.
The Boston Tea Party set off a chain reaction of events that put the American colonists on the path toward revolution. It wasn't an isolated incident, as there were threats of violence against British tea ships in ports all over the colonies. As a response, the British Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774, which essentially established military rule in Massachusetts, closed the Boston ports, gave British officials immunity from prosecution and forced residents to quarter British soldiers. They became known as the Intolerable Acts in America, and the outrage inspired the formation of the first Continental Congress in an effort to consider a formal resistance. By 1775, the colonies were at war with the most powerful empire in the world. In honor of this revolutionary act, enjoy Kerli's "Tea Party."
Though it only had a brief time in the sun at the beginning of the '90s, grunge cast a shadow on the rock world that is arguably still being felt today. Clearly there were a lot of musicians deeply inspired by the big riffs, earnest lyrics and complete lack of attention to fashion that many of the Pearl Jams and Alice in Chains' of the world ground out during their time in the sun, and that lead to an awful lot of imitators who recycled those ideas a few years down the line. That's how bands like Creed, Hinder and Puddle of Mudd ended up with huge singles on charts otherwise dominated by sugary pop music. One of the strangest ascensions came to a head on this day in 2001 when Canadian meat-and-potatoes rockers Nickelback found their way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with "How You Remind Me."
Nickelback's 2001 album Silver Side Up was considered unremarkable until "How You Remind Me" started getting played on the radio. There was something about the combination of frontman Chad Kroeger's gruff, powerful voice and the booming, anthemic guitars that struck a chord with the American public, and "How You Remind Me" (a song about a dysfunctional relationship) made its way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for four weeks. Its life was only just beginning, as it ended up being not only the biggest song of 2002 but also the most-played tune of the first decade of the century. It was also the last rock single to top the chart for six years.
Nickelback have caught a lot of flack over the years for being dull and derivative, but they have continued to grind out hits and stay on top of the rock game for 10 years. "How You Remind Me" is where it all began.
There's a brand-new Michael Jackson album hitting store shelves today, but December 14 is another big day in the history of the King of Pop. On this day in 1991, Jackson hit the top of the charts with Dangerous, his high-profile solo album that represented another evolutionary step in Jackson's musical development.
Dangerous was a long time (and millions of dollars) in the making. Jackson spent 16 months working on the album with producer Teddy Riley, who lent Jackson a boatload of his New Jack Swing beats. Jackson also threw the doors open for a handful of new collaborators, marking Dangerous as his first forays into hip-hop and more modern R&B. Drop-ins by Heavy D, Wreckx-n-Effect and Slash lent the album some depth that was missing from his previous album Bad. The result was Jackson's most forward-thinking collection yet, signaling that his transition from '80s superstar to '90s hit-maker would start off right.
Though the album was a much bolder, tougher set of songs for Jackson, it didn't stop it from completely taking over the world, as Dangerous spent four weeks at the top of the charts and ultimately moved 32 million copies worldwide. It spawned a total of nine singles, including the instant-classics "Black or White" and "Heal the World." Dangerous also spawned some of Jackson's most eye-popping videos, including the star-studded "Remember the Time" (featuring guest appearances by Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson), the moody "In the Closet" and the punchy "Jam" (which features a special appearance by Michael Jordan — Jackson was apparently a huge NBA fan).
One of the most contentious and embarrassing sequences of events in American political history came to a close on this day in 2000 when Al Gore conceded the presidential election to George W. Bush. Gore had been contesting the results of the vote because of the extremely narrow margin of victory his opponent possessed in the state of Florida (and because Gore had won the popular vote by half a million ballots). The legal struggle went all the way to the Supreme Court, who had also declared Bush the winner in its decision.
Along the way, the American electoral system was stretched to its limit. When the dust cleared on election day, Bush had nailed down the 270 electoral votes necessary for victory (he finished with 271). Gore even called to concede that night, though he called Bush a half hour later to retract that concession.
Why did he keep fighting? Gore was only five electoral votes behind, and there were reports of uncounted and discarded ballots in the state of Florida (which Bush carried by the narrowest of margins). All sorts of conspiracies began to crop up (the most damning of which was the fact that Bush's brother was the governor of Florida at the time). Partisan lines were drawn in the sand and public rancor was at a fever pitch in the month between election day and Gore's final concession.
Bush took office in January of 2001, while Gore seemed to go underground for a while. When he returned, he committed himself to helping the environment, specifically calling attention to global warming via the film "An Inconvenient Truth" (which won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2007). In honor of this strange moment in history, check out the clip for Destiny's Child's "Independent Women Part 1," which was the top song in the country on the day of Gore's concession.
Maybe it's because it's the holiday season, or perhaps it's just because it's one of those cosmic days on the calendar, but there isn't a lot of history to commemorate today. Sure, we could celebrate the release of the first album by T.a.T.u. or raise a glass to LaDanian Tomlinson breaking the all-time single season touchdown record (he ran in for his 29th score against the Denver Broncos, passing Shaun Alexander — remember him? — for the record that still stands today), but how satisfying would those really be? So in lieu of trying to stretch the limits of this feature, let's just throw the premise out entirely and talk about Spacehog.
All for members of Spacehog are English, but the band formed in New York City in 1994. Their post-modern take on glam rock didn't necessarily fit in with the grunge era, but that didn't stop them from scoring a record deal and picking up a ton of radio and MTV buzz with their breakout single "In the Meantime" (from their debut album Resident Alien). Their second album, the grossly underrated masterpiece The Chinese Album, fell mostly on deaf ears. It's truly disappointing, as The Chinese Album is a dynamic concept album that has a great story (about a dystopia in the not-too-distant-future) and also contains some killer songs (like the punchy single "Mungo City," the gorgeous "Beautiful Girl" and the warm "Lucy's Shoe").
The band broke up shortly after the release of their third album The Hogyssey, and frontman Royston Langdon became more famous for being the husband of Liv Tyler. But they recently re-formed, and they've played a handful of tour dates with a new album in the works. In case you forgot, there are barely the words to explain how great "In the Meantime" is.
Over the course of his deceptively long career (his first album came out way back in 1994), Usher has made a comfortable home at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. The Atlanta-based singer has managed to put a total of nine songs in the number one position, including the 2010 smash "OMG." The man born Usher Raymond IV scored yet another chart-topper on this day in 2001, when "U Got It Bad," the second single from his massive third album 8701 began its reign at number one.
Produced by fellow Atlanta native Jermaine Dupri, "U Got It Bad" is a prototypical Usher slow jam, full of digi-coustic guitars, a slow-burning bass line and sex funk drums. They support Usher's silky-smooth voice, which floats and runs in between the melody and cranks up once the chorus shows up. It's a simple, direct, catchy song that burned its way into the hearts of R&B and pop fans everywhere.
"U Got It Bad" had an unusual run at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. It only stayed in that spot for a single week before losing ground to Nickelback's "How You Remind Me." However, four weeks later "U Got It Bad" came back with a vengeance, displacing Nickelback in January of 2002 and staying at the top of the chart for five weeks before finally getting knocked out by Ja Rule and Ashanti with "Always On Time."
The video for "U Got It Bad" is a low-key but still super-sexy romp that mostly features Usher snuggling with Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas of TLC (she also happened to be Usher's girlfriend; the couple broke up in early 2004). Start your morning with a slow jam and see where it goes from there.
If you're a rock star, you should probably be extra careful on December 8, as it is a strangely cursed day on the calendar for professional musicians. Of course, it's the day that John Lennon was shot to death by assassin Mark David Chapman, but it's also a dark day in the metal community for two reasons. December 8 is also the day that former Pantera and Damageplan guitarist Darrell Abbot (known to the world as Dimebag Darrell) was killed on stage by an audience member with a gun during a concert in Columbus, Ohio, and it's also the day that Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil crashed his car, killing passenger and Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas "Razzle" Dingley.
As the story goes, Hanoi Rocks had come from their native Finland to tour America, and most of the band spent the day partying with Neil at his home in Redondo Beach. Neil, Dingley and two other people got into Neil's car to drive to a liquor store, but Neil was already drunk and lost control of the vehicle. The other two passengers suffered brain damage but Dingley was killed almost instantly. Neil (who survived the wreck without much damage) was arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter and DUI. He ended up spending 15 days in jail, was put on probation for five years, did 200 hours of community service and paid out $2.6 million in restitution to the victims and their families.
In honor of the late Dingley, Mötley Crüe dedicated their 1985 album Theatre of Pain to the drummer's memory. That album happened to contain the band's biggest hit yet in "Home Sweet Home."