The art of sampling has been with us for four decades now. In that time, it has been used to a greater or lesser effect to lift iconic or rare snippets of sounds from countless older recordings to create completely new works. But some artists have taken sampling to an extreme, and it's those producers who we are focussing on here, as we reveal the five songs containing the most samples in recording history. But which song has the most?
Sampling revolutionised music making in the 1908s, when digital technology allowed the affordable recording of audio from absolutely anywhere to be used in your own music. If you were Depeche Mode in 1983, this meant recording rocks or bashing cars in East London to create beats. If you were anyone else, this meant lifting drums, vocals, stabs and instruments from other people's recordings to be used in your own songs.
Either way, sampling has, like the synthesiser before it, gone from being a technology that sent shivers up the spines of 'real' musicians to being one they would eventually embrace. These days, sampling is an art form to be admired, whether it's the hours spent crate-digging by producers as they search for the ultimate rare sample, or in the genius placement or processing of said sound in a mix.
And whether it's a hugely recognisable vocal that gains a whole new lease of life in a new production, or an unrecognisable drum loop that adds a sense of atmosphere to a modern club tune, sampling old recordings to inject life into new ones is here to stay.
But how much sampling is too much sampling? There are no limits, or that's certainly the philosophy embraced by the following songs and artists who have taken the art of sampling to new lengths.
We've unearthed five tracks which we believe might contain the most samples by anyone ever recorded.
We could be wrong (and of course we expect you to let us know – as politely as you can, please) but we've scoured Discogs, WhoSampled and YouTube, followed the sample hunters and sleuths, hung around on murky forums and done our best to track down the five songs with the most samples, and these are what we've found.
We'll start with the one that's been grabbing the headlines…
Daft Punk – Face To Face
One track which has been causing the biggest stir in sampling circles of late is Daft Punk's Face To Face. The French duo worked with US house producer Todd Edwards on the track for their 2001 album Discovery, and he recently claimed that he and the duo had some 70 samples recorded for the song.
In a TikTok live stream in June, Edwards played through most of the samples – the first time he had ever played the floppy disc live for anyone – including snippets of ELO, The Doobie Brothers, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
However, Edwards didn't reveal the sources of most, nor did he say which were actually used in Face to Face. He did, however, point out several, at least five, that weren't used on the track.
Edwards also revealed some loops that were sampled by Daft Punk including the main drum loop, but admitted he didn't know where it was from.
"Everyone has their theories of where the drum loop is from. This is it – I don't even know where it's from. I think Thomas [Bangalter] and Guy-Manuel [de Homem-Christo] did this."
Luckily many of the sounds were identified by eager viewers as he revealed them, with one commenter posting a list of 33 recognisable ones and 11 not so – although, as we've said, not all of Edwards' samples were used in the final song.
Who Sampled claim that the song contains 20 samples and Discogs just 17, including the aforementioned names plus snippets from Kenny Loggins, Dan Fogelberg, Steppenwolf and Deborah Washington.
Even the famed sample hunter undrtune on Youtube has only picked out around 20 while moonwalker claims 24 in this video.
The true number might well grow from 24, but we can't see it getting anywhere near the figure of 70 claimed by some – and probably based on Edwards' figures above – and could see it maybe reach 30 at some point as more people analyse his samples.
But Daft Punk don't win this particular recording record. Here's the track anyway…
The Avalanches – Frontier Psychiatrist
The Avalanches are the biggest sampling fans out there, and have been filling their Akais (S2000s at the time) with samples since the mid 90s. For their debut album Since I Left You, released in 2000, they allegedly used 3,500 samples in total across its 18 tracks.
We say 'allegedly' because even the duo of Darren Seltmann and Robbie Chater, the core of the band at the time, weren't sure of the number of samples. Chater told Sound On Sound in a 2002 interview: "Most tracks had at least two S2000 programs full of samples. That's 100 keygroups per program, one sample per keygroup, multiplied by 18 songs..." Which does make over 3,500…
However, he then added: "We had no idea the record would get such a wide-scale release so we saw no need to keep track of what we were using – we were definitely guilty of harbouring a 'No-one's going to listen to it anyway' sort of attitude. Plus that was in our days of getting kinda, um, lubricated so who the f**k knows. It's all kinda fuzzy!"
There's no doubting that The Avalanches used an awful lot of samples on the album, but with no records kept and the processing and mixing set to a maximum, you'd be hard-pressed find 3,500. In fact we wonder if the true figure might be much lower.
WhoSampled.com breaks down each track from the album into the number of samples, and while it is often lower than some sites in its estimates of the samples used in songs, it still only comes up with a figure of around 220. (We say 'only' – that is still significant!)
Of these we've picked the song with easily the highest number of samples, Frontier Psychiatrist. This is listed as having samples from 28 different songs, so while those headlines of 3,500 samples might have got us excited, we don't think The Avalanches will get any sampling records, unless they dig those old Akai floppies out and have a listen.
Beastie Boys - B-Boy Bouillabaisse
It's a similar story with Beastie Boys' second album Paul's Boutique, which has a legendary level of sampling over its 15 tracks, although nowhere close to the figure of 3,500 boasted by The Avalanches.
The 1989 album was produced by The Dust Brothers who put together most of the backing tracks using layers of samples from the likes of The Isley Brothers, Johnny Cash, Afrika Bambaataa and Rose Royce, all of which were cleared for use at a rumoured cost of a quarter of a million dollars.
The Dust Brothers' John 'King Gizmo' King told KEXP.org, "Working on that record sent me even deeper into crate-digging and made me really appreciate a lot of music from the early ‘70s and late ‘60s. That album was a labor of love: we loved everything in it, and it was so meticulous. I was so anal about everything being perfect, especially the small details and transitions, so I really love it all."
Of the tracks on it, B-Boy Bouillabaisse is the one that lifts the most samples. Some 26 songs are sampled, according to WhoSampled.com, including Chic's Good Times, Sweet's Into The Night and Buffalo Gals by Malcolm McLaren.
The song is actually a suite of nine parts, and while it doesn't take our prize as the song that contains the most sampled, it's an impressive collection, even 35 years on (even though it does utilise that overused 'ah yeah' sample from the off).
DJ Shadow – Stem/Long Stem/Transmission 2
We couldn't really write a feature about using lots of samples without covering the seminal Entroducing by DJ Shadow which is, in many ways, the first great sampling album.
Shadow, aka Joshua Paul Davis, had been interested in sampling since the early nineties but by 1996 was starting to think that the art form was dying out and wanted to make something of a comeback record for it.
In 1997 he told Keyboard magazine. “I definitely set out to do an entirely 100% sample-based album. That was my mission. I was interested in the lyrics and the starkness of the music and the beat, but it was the little record scratches and things, and trying to locate where they came from, that excited me.”
It would be the first album of its kind to blend so many samples from so many different styles into a piece that managed to sound so unified – the perfect summary of a decade that veered between rock, dance, trip hop and jungle almost by the minute.
With the number of samples used for the album coming in at less than a hundred (confirmed by WhoSampled.com), it's not breaking any records here – although that fact in itself does demonstrate that when it comes to samples, it ain't about numbers, it's about choice and how you mix them.
Still, we've chosen Stem/Long Stem/Transmission 2 as our Shadow entry because a) it uses the maximum number of samples on the album (13) and b) because it's great.
UNKLE "Intro (Optional)"
We'll stick with the Shadow theme, because in the 1990s UNKLE also tore up the sampling rulebook with founder member James Lavelle drafting in big samplists like DJ Shadow to help construct albums including 1998's Psyence Fiction.
With their sampling credentials and an all-star singing line-up that included Thom Yorke, Beastie Boys' Mike D and Richard Ashcroft, Psyence Fiction was one of the standout albums of that decade.
Lavelle told Long Live Vinyl in 2019: "If you step back and look at it as a whole, it’s a game-changing record made by a kid in England and a kid in America. The recording sessions with Richard Ashcroft were brilliantly good fun and Thom Yorke was very special, too. When Thom did the vocal, it was just me, Shadow and him in the studio, and it was one take. One take! Me and Shadow just looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my God’.”
The album contained a hidden track, also available on limited edition versions of the recording, called "Intro (Optional)" which contains samples, according to WhoSampled.com, of some 68 artists including Massive Attack, Björk, Depeche Mode, Metallica, Orbital, Air, Nirvana, The Beatles and many (many) more.
Here it is – start counting.
We chose this version from Youtube as the poster has added a list of samples – some 69 that we counted – and other commenters have their own ideas (so that number could increase to over 70).
While nothing is certain in the sampling game, and that other samples might well be discovered for all of our choices – especially Face To Face, as Todd Edwards has revealed so many – we'd say that, for the moment, "Intro (Optional)" takes the honours as having the most samples in a song.
For the moment.
But be sure to tell us if you hear otherwise…