Year-End Lists \

The 50 Best Samples, Covers and References of 2014

The best links from some of this year's greatest songs to the rest of pop history

40. NEW SONG: Rick Ross feat. Jay Z, “The Devil Is a Lie”
SONG SAMPLED: Gene Williams, “Don’t Let Your Love Fade Away” (1970)

Mastermind was hardly a masterpiece, but Rozay’s latest was not without its moments, and the horn-soaked beat to this Jay Z collab — co-produced by Major Seven and K.E. on the Track — was certainly a highpoint. It’s a Just Blaze-worthy piece of crate-digging; the sample coming from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it break in Gene Williams’ forgotten early-’70s soul single, but still providing enough fanfare to ably support the presence of the two mega-rappers. A.U.

39. NEW SONG: GFOTY, “Secret Mix”
SONG REFERENCED: Celine Dion, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” (1996)

As PC Music has now shown, they know more about pop than most of us do, and they’re willing to show that wisdom off. In GFOTY’s case, that means threatening us with a chipmunked cover of Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” in the middle of her possibly-feminist firestorm of a megamix. Never underestimate an ironist. D.W.

38. NEW SONG: Jason Derulo feat. 2 Chainz, “Talk Dirty”
SONG SAMPLED: Balkan Beat Box, “Hermetico” (2007)

In a pop marketplace dominated by women with infinite swag, Derulo’s made his mark from other angles: on his head, out of left field. His debut single roped Imogen Heap into a human/PC duet; “Don’t Wanna Go Home” triangulated Robin S and Harry Belafonte. His ruthlessness peaked with “Talk Dirty,” a Casanova’s travelogue punctuated with bari sax zips and alto sax Esperanto representing the titular filth. These, plus a large portion of the beat, come courtesy of Israeli electronic/fusion act Balkan Beat Box. In their hands, the horns are swizzle sticks; for Jason (and producer Ricky Reed), they’re skirt chasers. B.S.

37. NEW SONG: Nite Jewel, “Hounds of Love”
SONG COVERED: Kate Bush, “Hounds of Love” (1985)

Kate Bush’s original “Hounds of Love” packs such a wallop of catharsis that the natural inclination when covering it — as the Futureheads did rather successfully about a decade ago — is to go big, fast, and open with it. Kudos to synth-n-B act Nite Jewel, then, for using their contribution to MOJO’s Bush tribute compilation to hush things a little, locating the mystery and sensuality in the song instead, making the “Take my shoes off and throw them in the lake” lyric sound more electric than it has in decades. The hounds of love can whisper, too, you know. A.U.

36. NEW SONG: Lykke Li, “No Rest for the Wicked”
SONG REFERENCED: Daniel Johnston, “Some Things Last a Long Time” (1990)

It’s plenty heartbreaking with just its piano part founding the musical core of the lead single to Lykke’s latest LP, but if the Swedish balladeer had covered Johnston’s anthem of ceaseless romantic despair outright, it might’ve earned I Never Learn a trigger warning. A.U.

35. NEW SONG: Willow Smith, “Easy Easy”
SONG COVERED: King Krule, “Easy Easy” (2013)

By 2014, it’s not at all surprising that Will Smith’s daughter covered British indie treasure Archy Marshall. What might be is that she imitates his rain-spattered reverb guitar and ugly accent nearly verbatim. The giveaway is that she can’t help dropping in some skilled harmonies to show off a little, and it was the right thing to do. D.W.

34. NEW SONG: Duke Dumont feat. Jax Jones, “I Got U”
SONG REFERENCED: Whitney Houston, “My Love Is Your Love” (1999)

Why bother spending big money on a high-profile guest star when you can just cut-and-paste from old Whitney Houston hits at your own discretion? That’s what Duke Dumont did for his U.K. chart-topping single “I Got U,” borrowing lyrical sections from Houston’s “My Love Is Your Love” and feeding them through session singer Kelli-Leigh, whose vocal interpretation of the turn-of-the-century R&B hit is reverential without being uncomfortably imitative. It’s just a shame that Whitney herself wasn’t around to grace the U.K. house revival with her singular presence — her London Sessions really woulda been something else. A.U.

33. NEW SONG: Freddie Gibbs, “Robes”
SONG REFERENCED: The Deele’s “Two Occasions” (1988)

For all the deep soul samples and inspired flips of Madlib’s concrete-jungle production on [LINK TO ALBUMS LIST] Piñata, the best pop callback probably calls from Lib’s partner-in-rhyme, who shouts out the Babyface-penned gem. “Occasions” turned Mariah Carey into a wreck when she heard it on the radio in “We Belong Together,” but Gibbs is less sentimental here, comically crooning “I only think of youuuu on two occasions…” before interrupting his own sing-along: “That’s when I’m drunk and when I’m blazing up.” Insincerity was never one of the rapper’s weaknesses. A.U.

32. NEW SONG: Say Lou Lou, “Instant Crush”
SONG COVERED: Daft Punk feat. Julian Casablancas, “Instant Crush” (2013)

Even if it wasn’t a totally bewitching cover in its own right by Say Lou Lou — which of course it is — the Aussie/Swede twin duo would deserve entry on this list merely for making the lyrics warbled by a Auto-Tune-drowned Casablancas on the Random Access Memories original intelligible, turning it into a coherent sing-along for the first time. Invaluable public service, that. A.U.

31. NEW SONG: Jamie xx, “Sleep Sound”
SONG SAMPLED: The Four Freshmen, “It’s a Blue World” (1952)

Jamie xx is proving himself an expert at tipping sounds on their side, making barely upright houses of cards with them and juxtaposing parts just off the beat so that nothing feels as it should. And the six-minute “Sleep Sound” is one big room full of crooked pictures, sending a single onomatopoeic echo of Alicia Keys’ “Karma” crashing down the stairs. But the biggest surprise in the song might be the warm and fuzzy barbershop vocals sampled from the heretofore unhip-in-any-way Four Freshmen. Jamie knows something about creating blue worlds. D.W.