Alright, Steal
February 17, 2008 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Where did Lily Allen get her music from? Her own head? Her producer's heads? Her co-writers' heads? No. Lily 'borrowed' liberally from old reggae and ska tracks and even soft porn soundtracks. The music like dirt blog (a find in itself) outlines every sample and influence in 'Alright, Still', and the result is much more interesting than the album itself. Music like dirt provides some brilliant links to classic reggae, ska, calypso, jazz.....

The blog raises the question of whether imaginative sampling is an art in itself and whether producers should be acknowledged as the real forces behind artists such as Lily. In her case I would have like to have seen a bit more acknowledgement of her 'influences'. Not one of the artists mentioned on 'music like dirt' are quoted as influences on Lily's MySpace Page. Incidentally, I'm aware all this is from 2006 - but I didn't think that would matter to people interested in the original tracks.
posted by Summer (36 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Samples count as influences, now?

There's always going to be the matter of who gets the credit when the behind-the-scenes people do anything more than administrative paper-pushing. Football fans often credit the players and the head coach, while the offensive and defensive coordinators stay nameless and faceless unknowns despite their invaluable contributions. In NASCAR, the pit crew, especially the Chief, is certainly just as important as the driver.

Is it fair? No, not really. Is it likely to change? No. The face that stands on stage or dives into the end zone is always going to get more attention. Explicitly pointing attention at the anyone else gets yawns and quizzical looks from the vast majority of the audience.
posted by Plutor at 8:07 AM on February 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I find it unoriginal and hate it when somebody builds their whole song around one sampled riff (P Diddy comes to mind). But I think there can be great art in combining a variety of samples and borrowed riffs to build something entirely new. Even more so when it's not so obvious up front or when the source material seems out of place with the finished product. And now knowing the 50 Cent backstory actually makes "Nan You’re a Window Shopper" even funnier.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:17 AM on February 17, 2008

Good for Lilly Allen, whomever she may be. She steals well.
posted by willie11 at 8:21 AM on February 17, 2008

There's huge difference between sampling and being influenced by, IMO.

Personally. I see nothing wrong with sampling. It's a great way of creating something new, and introducing people to the works that came before. I know at least two people who have Stevie Wonder albums because of this, one introduced to him by Coolio, and one by Will Smith.

Cool link, though. I enjoy seeing how the album, a guilty pleasure of mine if ever there was one, was assembled.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:24 AM on February 17, 2008

What, then, is the "difference between sampling and being influenced by?"

One is a buzz word that means basically nothing. One is measurable.
posted by zerolives at 8:30 AM on February 17, 2008

Whatever happened to "good artists borrow, great artists steal"?

I could swear I've heard a Lily Allen song that sampled Althea & Donna's "Uptown Top Ranking," but googling doesn't help. Any ideas?
posted by kimota at 8:32 AM on February 17, 2008

If I were a musical artist, (I am not) I can tell you who my primary influences would be. Elliot Smith. Harrison. Zeppelin. The Who. Not so much, say, the Stones. I like them, absolutely, but i doubt you'd sense their influence in the overall tone of my work, lyrics, or style.

But you best believe I'd find a way to sample the riff to "Bitch" somewhere.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:35 AM on February 17, 2008

"The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." -Albert Einstein
posted by MNDZ at 8:49 AM on February 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

It's been a long, long time since I've said this.

[this is good]
posted by knave at 9:26 AM on February 17, 2008

"Influenced by" and sampling are two distinctly different things are they not?
posted by dabitch at 9:27 AM on February 17, 2008

On one hand, I can see how finding out an artist sampled their music from another artist instead of composing it themselves can devalue the experience for some.

On the other hand, the birth and roots of hip hop.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:28 AM on February 17, 2008

What, then, is the "difference between sampling and being influenced by?"

One is a buzz word that means basically nothing. One is measurable.
posted by zerolives at 10:30 AM on February 17

Which is the buzz word and which is measurable?

I'd argue that both are measurable. If you look at tracks cut with sampled riffs, occasionally you can't really pull out the riff and identify it immediately. Sometimes it's obvious; eg all the remixes that exist for ATB - 9pm ('till I come) where the main theme is instantly recognizable. However, sampling is inherently identifiable. And many good producers/remixers do give credit in their work.

As for influences, well the easiest example of influencing in a song that I can think of is the Bare Naked Ladies track that is basically a mash-up of original work where the lyrics, song writing and instrumental composition are a hodge-podge of all of the influences claimed by BNL. Other examples are in Classical Orchestral music where the student uses themes and composition styles of their most influential mentor.

so again.. I ask you... which is just a buzz word and which is measureable?
posted by Sam.Burdick at 9:54 AM on February 17, 2008

Samples used on her album wouldn't count as influences, I don't think, because Lily Allen most likely didn't pick those samples--her producer Mark Ronson did. When I listen to Allen and Amy Winehouse, I hear a lot more Mark Ronson than anything (though Winehouse's songwriting is stronger).

I think that, in terms of the creative process, producers these days are often under-credited (unless one knows what a great producer actually does), but I think that's marketing more than anything--listeners respond to whoever is out front, regardless of how large or small a role he/she/they had in creating the music you're hearing. Strong pop artists collaborate with their producers and/or co-produce (Timberlake, Aguilera spring to mind), weak artists are basically told what to sing, and the producers do the rest (Spears, Spice Girls etc.).

Ronson is one of the major pop producers who is very much in the sort of collage school, building tracks out of samples (the Dust Brothers also come to mind), where other producers write hooks/beats, and build tracks around those (Timbaland and the Neptunes, for instance--one of my all-time favorite Neptunes beats is on Snoop's "Drop It Like It's Hot").

When I find a pop artist I like, if I track down more work by their producer(s), I'm likely to find a whole bunch of other tracks I like, too.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:58 AM on February 17, 2008

I don't get the disapproval - she's working (just about) within the Jamaican music tradition, so it'd be weird if she wasn't borrowing and reworking.

Is what she's doing any different to, since kimota mentioned them above, Althea & Donna hearing Trinity's Three Piece Suit, which is itself a dub of Alton Ellis' I'm Still In Love, making up some new lyrics and putting their song out on the same riddim? Nope.

Oh, and just because it's a neat loop: here is a song that blends a Cutty Ranks vocal with a riddim based on Lilly Allen's LDN, which is in turn based on Tommy McCook song. This is how Jamaican music works, getting sniffy about it is just silly.
posted by jack_mo at 10:03 AM on February 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

Lily Allen most likely didn't pick those samples--her producer Mark Ronson did

Weren't most of these tracks out before she even started working with Ronson?
posted by jack_mo at 10:16 AM on February 17, 2008

Also worth pointing out: the deep tradition of repurposing other people's music in Jamaican styles, particularly dub.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:23 AM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, to me, some of the questions the blog raises are very early-90s-called-and-wants-their-debates-on-the-ethics-of-sampling-back. Sampling is so integrated into the fabric of contemporary pop music that it's sort of moot to debate its ethics at this point, I think. To me, it's fascinating, this whole way of making music that new tools have helped evolve, and if it's unethical to sample, Herr Beethoven needs to be taken out behind the woodshed, too, because he lifted more than a little from Mozart.

The concept of 'authenticity' in music is ever-changing, and there are several very interesting scholarly works about it (this issue goes back much farther than late 20th/early 21st century pop music, and a good short primer would be the first couple of chapters of this terrific book), but music, like any art, exists in a sort of dialogue with the time and place in which it is created. An album like Lily Allen's then, is not a hodge-podge of stolen music, but rather a stew of sounds drawn from the culture(s) its creators grew up and live in, combined in clever and unexpected ways with some catchy tunes (etc.). Often, juxtapositions in production choices (Professor Longhair's second line music with some blues piano and a reggae-influenced tune, for instance) provide particularly rich cultural touchstones.

On preview: Weren't most of these tracks out before she even started working with Ronson?

Oops--I should've said that many of those samples were likely chosen by her producers, Pablo Cook, Greg Kurstin, Iyiola Babalola, Darren Lewis, Blair Mackichan, and Mark Ronson. And quite possibly Allen herself, I don't know.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:33 AM on February 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

What a boring non-issue. We're still arguing about sampling? This post needs more Lawrence Lessig.
posted by basicchannel at 10:41 AM on February 17, 2008

Without the supposed samples to compare it to, why should I believe this person?
posted by destro at 10:49 AM on February 17, 2008

Without the supposed samples to compare it to, why should I believe this person?

Actually, there's a link to a zip file in the article to download much of them.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:10 AM on February 17, 2008

She's not trying to put one over on anyone. Pick up the Lily Allen CD, flip to the back of the booklet, and it's all laid out for you in the song credits. "Contains replayed elements of 'Free Soul' by Jackie Mittoo and Clement Dodd" etc etc etc.

As far as whose idea these particular samples were, check out the demo versions on her first mixtape. They include the samples that anchor both "LDN" and "Smile" and it sure sounds like they pre-date any kind of actual studio work. Also included are lots of her other influences -- Beats International, Squeeze, Cutty Ranks, The Specials.

Alright, Still ... is a really good album, and "Smile" and "LDN" are just dynamite.
posted by Joey Bagels at 11:50 AM on February 17, 2008 [5 favorites]

Joey just beat me to the first mixtape link, damn it, but there's a second one, too. As much as I like Ronson, there really is something about these rougher mixes.
posted by maudlin at 12:02 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Kalimotxero's already linked to them, but Palms Out has a great feature called Sample Wednesday with collections of songs that were sampled by artists like MIA and Daft Punk.
posted by skullbee at 12:29 PM on February 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I thought this was pretty interesting—I find Lily Allen kinda bland, but got a kick out of a lot of these songs (most of which I'd heard before, but some not). Thanks for the post.
posted by klangklangston at 2:20 PM on February 17, 2008

I'm a huge fan of that Lily Allen album - thanks for this link, really interesting.
posted by jonson at 2:43 PM on February 17, 2008

Are people still getting their panties in a bunch about sampling? How quaint. Timetravel back to 1988 and complain about Paul's Boutique and It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and maybe you won't sound so much like a cranky old honky pissed off that Puff Daddy ruined the great Led Zeppelin for you (which is the only example you can cite since you don't listen to anything newer than mid-80s hair metal anyway), who, by the way, stole most of their music from Willie Dixon and turned it into mediocre Camaro-rock in the process. Most of the "Puff Daddy stole from Led Zeppelin" type sampling complaints are little more than thinly veiled racism anyway.

Sampling the theme from an Emanuelle softcore porno is pretty cool, I think.
posted by DecemberBoy at 2:56 PM on February 17, 2008

I have nothing against sampling, as you might have guessed *cough*, but I hate it when the resulting songs are pretty much the sample themselves, with little added. (Daft Punk, surprisingly, is a big offender -- everyone knows they sample, but some of it is barely changed, as seen in this video.) That being said, this looks to be the better side of sampling.
posted by flatluigi at 8:12 PM on February 17, 2008

damn, forgot to add the link. That cough should lead here.
posted by flatluigi at 8:13 PM on February 17, 2008


i was wondering when someone was going to reference that daft punk/samples video!

Good stuff, all.


despite the tone, DecemberBoy is edging toward a good point about the context of the sample. For me, sampling is an example of brilliant post-modernity; far beyond just simple musique concrete, in the sense that the sample is not just 'a beat', or 'a looped sound' or whatever, but references the culture and time of where it was lifted from.

I first remember being floored by the powerful meta-ness possibilities of sampling when I first heard "I'll be missing you" by Puff (dont judge me!). Samuel Barber's Adaigo for Strings + Police Every Breath You Take + cheezy 808 beats and added rap trope?? Each sample references a distinct vibe, creates an atmosphere and exists as stand-alone music. If you are familiar with the source material, there is this amazing simultaneity of the super-imposed rap lyrics interplaying with your mental audio image of sting singing the original lyrics, and a freaking chorus blasting out what is possibly one of the most overtly beautiful pieces of music ever [1]

(classical music rant):
That is when I understood why the NYC up-town contemporary classical quote-unquote "avant-garde" scene is so damn dead. I love Schnittke [2], but how can even his biggest fans pretend on about his polystylism (to say nothing of Golijov's) when compared to such musical diversity seamlessly fused by... freakin' P.DIDDY??

you would think that I am joking, but I am not.

(back to topic)
But, I digress... Lily Allen sampling porn music doesn't do anything for me because the original context of the sample doesn't affect its new surroundings in any interesting way; no "contextual layering" at all, its just more "bow-chicka-wow-wow" generic 70s vibe (much like the "cola bottle baby" is to daft punk) and thus smacks of simple petty pilfering-for-a-beat. Which isn't wrong.... just cheap.


[1]an interesting article of The Adagio
[2]Schnittke's string trio is BAD ASS... CHECK IT!
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 9:26 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks to Summer & Metafilter for highlighting my old Lily Allen sample compilation. Who'd have thought two years on that it would still keep popping up - it really is the post that won't die.

The point of the post was never to question the ethics of sampling or to suggest that the value of Lily's album was somehow diminished due to the extensive sampling. As many have pointed out that argument is best kept to readers of Mojo or Q magazine - sampling is an accepted part of music creation. The title "Alright, Steal" was simply an opportunity for a bad pun rather than an accusation of "terrible theft". In the Reggae world, versions re voicing entire old songs or ridims have been part of the scene for decades.

There was a slight issue in that Lilys team recreated the original samples used in the demo versions - supposedly for better sound quality - but with the coincidently happy bonus of far fewer royalty's to pay than if they'd used samples! However this is so common place that entire companies exist that specialise in recreating samples for "ease of use". Lily also credited all the samples so its not like she was keeping a secret.

The aim of the compilation was to hopefully introduce a few people to some classic old reggae and soul (that I love). If someone into Lilys record stumbled across my post, and as a consequence broadened their tastes to a little bit of vintage reggae then the little bit of detective work that went into the post was well worth it.
posted by musiclikedirt at 3:08 AM on February 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I saw an interview with Lilly Allen where she flat out admitted that she wrote the lyrics then let the producers go away and create the tracks on their own, then just sang free-style over the top of them (adding she's studied jazz vocal improvisation at some point).
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:22 AM on February 18, 2008

Hi musiclikedirt - thanks for packaging up the originals - they're now on my MP3 player and I've spent all today listening to Lord Kitchener.

The only issue I have with Lily is that she doesn't seem to talk about these influences and I think most of the UK is under the impression that Lily created these tracks herself from scratch (even though she credits her sources). I actually don't have a problem with sampling, contrary to what people think, but, as you mentioned above, Smile and LDN involve wholesale appropriation of entire tracks. I just wish all this was talked about more in the mainstream.
posted by Summer at 5:51 AM on February 18, 2008

The only issue I have with Lily is that she doesn't seem to talk about these influences

You really aren't looking hard enough. I guess it's a question of perception, but from when she broke in the UK it always seemed to me she was quite upfront about the source of the music.
posted by yerfatma at 7:34 AM on February 18, 2008

This smacks of Vanilla Ice. Just sample someone else's song to be the backbone of your own song.
posted by parallax7d at 1:23 PM on February 18, 2008

Hey, parallax7d? This is not at all like Vanilla Ice. The V-man's problem was not that he sampled tracks, but that he didn't pay for them, and he refused to admit to sampling even when confronted directly. If you have a problem with reusing the beats from one song as the foundation of another song, you should probably just sit hip hop out.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:02 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

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