The Amen Break
October 8, 2016 5:28 PM   Subscribe

The most sampled song of all time. "..what is it about a 47-year-old, six-second drum solo from a relatively unknown soul band that’s given it musical immortality? The answer involves the invention of two new musical genres, a new piece of technology and a power blackout."
posted by storybored (27 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I think this recording on the topic has appeared on the blue more than once. It's very much worth listening to.
posted by mhoye at 5:46 PM on October 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

During the 90's there a lot of breaks making the rounds in jungle, Funky Drummer, Think (About It) , Apache... but none of them had that attitude of Amen. I mean, I don't want to descend into pseudoscience but it just sounds good.

It's versatile, you can chop it up easily. You can use it in a steady plodding beat by focusing on the first 2 bars, or you can make some of the most insane fills ever with the last 2 bars. You can do things like chop off most of the bottom end and just leave it as a background splash of cymbals, snares and hats and it still sounds good. It has a really deep groove, and even pulling out the timing and velocity information from the break, and applying it to a different loop gives it a certain ... I don't know... je ne sais quoi?

And the genius engineer who made it sound that way deserves some props as well. I was really uncomfortable and conflicted about the GofundMe though. It was positioned as "The creator of the amen finally gets what he deserves!" Except... it was the copyright owner who got it. Gregory Coleman is dead. He didn't see a penny of it. Rodney Mills engineered it to have just the right level of hot, and mic'ed the drums just so, and he is rarely mentioned at all! That said, I loved the break enough to contribute a few dollars.

I've worked with a lot of breaks, but this one is by far my favourite.

On Preview, +1 to mhoye's suggestion. Also worth watching is Nate Harrisons examination of the TB-303
posted by jonnay at 5:53 PM on October 8, 2016 [13 favorites]

Ah, to chop up the first bar and line beats 1-4 across C,D,E and F, then just start mixing it up ad infinitum. Goddamn I love that break.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:00 PM on October 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Really? I thought it was Marva Whitney's "Unwind Yourself."
posted by jonmc at 6:06 PM on October 8, 2016

that was a good drum break
posted by selfnoise at 6:08 PM on October 8, 2016 [36 favorites]

During the 90's there a lot of breaks making the rounds in jungle, Funky Drummer, Think (About It) , Apache

Interestingly enough, the name "Apache" can refer to not one but two iconic drum patterns: there is of course the breakbeat (from a record by British funk/library-music composer Alan Hawkshaw, I believe). Also, Klaus Dinger of Neu! referred to the ⁴⁄₄ B-B-S-B beat he played in tracks like "Hallogallo" and "Für Immer" as the "Apache beat".
posted by acb at 6:49 PM on October 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Nods with deep appreciation and spiritual reverence for this break.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:39 PM on October 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

bring back the hambone
posted by j_curiouser at 7:50 PM on October 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dinger may call the Fur Immer beat the Apache, but everybody else calls it Motorik. Apache is Incredible Bongo Band, full stop.
posted by rhizome at 9:11 PM on October 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

a relatively unknown soul band

The Winstons had a Top 10 hit with "Color Him Father." I'd hardly call that unknown.
posted by jonp72 at 9:57 PM on October 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

No meanness intended because as XKCD said there's a lucky 10,000 every day, but I feel like in a few more years there will be enough material for a retrospective of Amen Break documentaries. "What is it about sampling this break that fascinates documentarians so? The answer involves easy access to file footage, people's natural desire to make and watch movies about a bunch of cool songs, and a blackout, why not."
posted by No-sword at 10:24 PM on October 8, 2016 [12 favorites]

I'd think that jungle and drum'n'bass alone would push this sample to the most-used sample, if people took the time to reference the samples on WhoSampled.

Here's the full b-side, it's a fun, funky instrumental; and here's the a-side, "Color Him Father," which is a slower, groovier track. I bought a copy of the record just to have it in my collect, and I have to admit I played it a few times to catch that drum break. "Amen, Brother" is a really fun cut on its own, without the meta-history of the sample.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:28 PM on October 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've never listed to the full track before. It sounds like something.... Oh my.
The song is a cover. Sounds like the most famous sample source is a pitched up "sample" of another track.
posted by jade east at 11:22 PM on October 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wow, I had no idea that sample was an actual drummer, it's like the the DNA of the particular strand of nineties drum n' bass that I loved and so clean I'd just assume it was a programmed sequence. Deep respect to the originals.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:43 AM on October 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this article has been posted before, but: Stravinsky's 'Firebird' - Fairlight ORCH5 sample was on everything from Afrika Bambaataa to Kate Bush in the 80s.

"Perhaps the first digital sample to become well known within popular music was actually a piece of Western art music, the fragment of Stravinsky’s Firebird, captured within the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument, the first digital ‘sampler’, as ‘ORCH5’."
posted by Coda Tronca at 6:18 AM on October 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Marva Whitney was sampled by The 45 King, and re-used from there, as far as I can tell, but not nearly as much as The Amen Break.

NWA - Straight Outta Compton (NSFW obviously) uses the first part of The Amen Break.
posted by marienbad at 8:04 AM on October 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

The first sampler I ever saw was in a recording studio. They demoed a floppy disk of Three Stooges sounds for me.
posted by thelonius at 8:27 AM on October 9, 2016

The super-famous "Apache" drum break--the real launching point of hip hop--is by the Incredible Bongo Band, and you can (and should!) learn all about it by watching Sample This (on Netflix currently). The Get Down (also terrific) covers this story, with Kool Herc 'riding the merry-go-round' and everything.

(we've been talking a lot about this period in musical creativity on my podcast lately, it really is fascinating to piece these stories together and figure out exactly how, when, where, by whom various musical ideas and innovations, etc., happened. And because it's recorded music, the evidence is all out there to be pieced together. Fun fact about that incredibly famous "Apache" sample: no one is sure who's actually playing drum set and bongos on the takes that made it into the final, pressed cut of the track. Also, one of the big reasons that recording was even made in the first place is, indirectly, because of the Manson murders.)
posted by LooseFilter at 9:51 AM on October 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

So where can I find this podcast LooseFilter? It sounds awesome.
posted by jonnay at 12:47 PM on October 9, 2016

posted by Sebmojo at 1:45 PM on October 9, 2016

A very good mix of contemporary amen (well, amen-heavy) jungle music from a small label. Thanks to either the DnB reddit or dogsonacid I don't remember which.
posted by atoxyl at 1:58 PM on October 9, 2016

Mickey Finn - Some Justice springs to mind as a track that showcases the Amen break wonderfully. It came out in 1992, so it could be claimed to be proto-jungle, but IIRC jungle/drum and bass was already in existence at that time. Certainly there were jungle compilation albums in 1993, which is a good indicator of something going overground.

Produced by syncing two Amigas together to get 8 channels (!), it is a classic tune. It will give your bass bin a work out, FYI.
posted by asok at 2:21 PM on October 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Too funny. Just this week someone reworked the Amen break for one of the tech toys in my toybox, the PatchBlock.

(If you're ever interested in playing with some synthesis primitives, you can download and play with the Patchblock editor/emulator software without cost)
posted by Artful Codger at 7:31 PM on October 9, 2016

Mickey Finn - Some Justice springs to mind as a track that showcases the Amen break wonderfully.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news! Some Justice uses Run DMC's Run's House, which is based off of Funky Drummer.
posted by rhizome at 12:16 AM on October 10, 2016

Thanks rhizome, I stand corrected!
posted by asok at 8:11 AM on October 10, 2016

Seems apposite to link to one of my favourite examples of wholesale Amen abuse: Soundmurderer's spectacularly unhinged Wired for Sound mix...
posted by prismatic7 at 6:37 PM on October 10, 2016

So where can I find this podcast LooseFilter? It sounds awesome.

Sorry for the delayed reply! Here you go, hope you enjoy.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:17 PM on October 15, 2016

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