We’ve spent a good deal of time at SPIN this last December listing our favorites of 2014; the songs, albums, and other music-related ephemera that made the last 12 months so special. But no year in music ever exists in a vacuum. Everything song from 2014 was informed by the decades of tunes that came before it — some subconsciously, and some much more explicitly. This list is meant to salute the songs in the latter category: The 50 best examples of a 2014 song being in direct communication with the past, whether serving as a cover of an older song outright, lifting a small section of it via sample, or otherwise somehow referencing its melody or lyrics. Without these callbacks, Future would have no way to get his dope-moving troops motivated, Maddie & Tae would be just two more girls in a country song, and most of us would never know about how weirdly popular Air Supply still is in Jamaica.
Read our list below, which simply would not have been possible without the fine folks at WhoSampled or Cover Me, doing the lord’s work in neatly and thoroughly cataloging these inter-era musical dialogues.
50. NEW SONG: Parquet Courts’ “These Boots Are Made for Walking”
SONG COVERED: Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking” (1966)
The beloved New York transplants kept plenty of Texas twang in their relatively straightforward version of this Nancy Sinatra classic. Yet it’s wildly entertaining anyway, for Andrew Savage’s flat reading of come-ons that once jumped with go-go sexuality, before finally bursting forth with rage on the climactic “Are you ready, boots? / Start walking!” declaration. Suddenly, the slackers mean war. DAN WEISS
49. NEW SONG: Busta Rhymes feat. Eminem’s “Calm Down”
SONG SAMPLED: Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” (1963)
You’d think that House of Pain’s 1992 party-inciting classic “Jump Around” would’ve made any further sampling of the famous horn intro to Bob & Earl’s ’60s soul smash “Harlem Shuffle” hopelessly redundant, but Emimem, Busta Rhymes and co-producer Scoop DeVille set the “Calm Down” beat apart by looping the “Harlem” horns for the entire song, stretching out the excitement of the first few seconds for a full six minutes of Em and Busta freakout. Calm wouldn’t exactly appear to be in the forecast for this one. ANDREW UNTERBERGER
48. NEW SONG: Nancy Whang and Audiojack’s “Like an Eagle”
SONG COVERED: Dennis Parker’s “Like an Eagle” (1979)
For ten years, Whang has synthesized the strands of NYC dance as a member of the Juan Maclean and LCD Soundsystem. With The Nancy Whang Casablanca Reworks, she teases out one particular thread. Casablanca Records doesn’t have the cachet of Fania or Salsoul, but their see-what-sticks ethos made for peculiar gems. One classic Casablanca original was the Jacques Morali-produced “Like an Eagle,” a blowed disco showcase for triple threat (singing, acting, porn acting) Dennis Parker. Whang’s take forgoes the strings and the coked-up grandiosity, effectively blending her insistent but nearly affectless vocals with Audiojack’s twichy digi-house — ever the supreme collaborator. BRAD SHOUP
47. NEW SONG: Jeremih feat. YG’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em”
SONG REFERENCED: Snap’s “Rhythm Is a Dancer” (1992)
Because even DJ Mustard gets sick of referencing “Show Me Love” every now and then, this production sees Jeremih swiping the chorus hook to ’90s Hi-NRG peer Snap!’s “Rhythm Is a Dancer” instead. It’s the most memorable thing about Jeremih’s third top-ten hit, though failing to incorporate the “I’m as serious as cancer” line does drop him a couple spots here. A.U.
46. NEW SONG: Young Thug’s “Alphabetical Order”
SONG SAMPLED: Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” (1978)
“I’m on cloud fucking ten you idiots,” exclaims the defining rapper of 2014 before executing his usual mishmash over an unusual source of joy: the scorching riff from Van Halen’s classic-rock staple, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love.” There’s no more perfect setting for Thugger to beam proudly about his “hundred thousand pounds of midget,” which, if “Danny Glover” is any indication, is organized in stacks. D.W.
45. NEW SONG: Alt-J, “Hunger of the Pine”
SONG SAMPLED: Miley Cyrus’ “4×4” (2013)
Say what you will about the gnomic humorists in Alt-J, but you definitely can’t say you expected a looped sample of Miley Cyrus’ dirt-road anthem “4×4” to crop up in the middle of their second album. The Flaming Lips might have been the ones to get face time with Miley, but her presence here was her most striking left-of-center rock cameo of 2014. D.W.
44. NEW SONG: Escort, “Actor Out of Work”
SONG COVERED: St. Vincent, “Actor Out of Work” (2009)
The two-minute original was Annie Clark’s creepiest melody, guitar static poking through the tune’s ball of nerves like a subliminal horror coming to life onscreen in The Ring. But Escort doubles the length, sweetens every minor chord, and turns a cryptic indie icon into unlikely disco bubblegum. D.W.
43. NEW SONG: Foo Fighters, “Something From Nothing”
SONG REFERENCED: Dio, “Holy Diver” (1983)
The Foos’ HBO special never made it out to Cortland, New York to properly explore the musical roots of one Ronald James Padavona, so instead, the first first single off Dave Grohl and company’s Sonic Highways took a detour into a soundalike riff to Dio’s signature song. Given that the guitar bridge stands as the most interesting thing about “Something From Nothing,” maybe the entire album should have been a best-of-the-rest geographical odds-and-ends travelogue. A.U.
42. NEW SONG: ASTR, “Blue Hawaii”
SONG REFERENCED: Black Box, “Everybody Everybody” (1990)
ASTR’s grasp of Top 40 history is one of the things that sets them apart from any number of other underground pop acts going today, nowhere moreso on the Varsity EP than on the Black Box-borrowed hook to “Blue Hawaii,” just as mind-numbingly catchy today as it was in 1990. Hopefully they duo doesn’t need a French model with a terrible singing voice to lip synch for vocalist Zoe Silverman in the video, though. A.U.
41. NEW SONG: Chance the Rapper feat. The Social Experiment, “Wonderful Everyday”
SONG COVERED: Ziggy Marley, “Believe in Yourself (Arthur Theme)” (1996)
It’s a simple message, and it comes from the heart of one particularly wide-eyed ’90s children’s television enthusiast. The fact that Chance followed this with the nihilistic “No Better Blues” was one of the year’s great rug-pulling switch-ups. A.U.