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

20. NEW SONG: How to Dress Well, “Precious Love”
SONG SAMPLED: Tim Carleton & Derrick Deel, “Opus 1″ (1989)

True artists never stop finding inspiration for their work, even during the excruciatingly annoying time waiting to be placed into a conference call. Yes, that’s the impossibly smooth sounds of the Cisco hold music providing the backdrop for How to Dress Welll’s weeping ode “Precious Love,” and damn if it isn’t revealed to be one of the most secretly important electronic compositions of the past quarter-century therein. Next up for HTDW: The 1-877-KARS-4-KIDS jingle. A.U.

19. NEW SONG: Aretha Franklin, “Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version)”
SONG COVERED: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep” (2010)

Does Clive Davis still not know how iTunes Search works? Is “The Aretha Version” a stamp of ownership, or just differentiation? After all, there’s the metalcore version, the Linkin Park version, even the Target version that’s Franklin’s inspiration. This is unmistakably ‘Retha; even if her health and age have left her a bit cloudy in her upper range, she molds Adele’s straightforward bedburner for her amusement, dotting and swooping the text. Babyface’s arrangement (including a splice from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”) has all the heft of a karaoke version, but Franklin does her utmost to lay that shit bare. B.S.

18. NEW SONG: FKA Twigs, “Two Weeks”
SONG REFERENCED: Air Supply, “All Out of Love” (1980)

The Jamaican-raised Twigs’ nod to ’80s soft-rock poster boys Air Supply and their trademark ballad “All Out of Love” is a subtle one, coming out of nowhere halfway through the bridge to “Two Weeks” and disappearing by the end of the next line. But once you notice the melodic hat-tip and it creeps into your subconscious, you’ll never hear either song again without thinking of the other. “I’m all out of love, I’m so lost without you / Motherfucker, get your mouth open, you know that you’re mine…A.U.

17. NEW SONG: Big Sean feat. E-40, “I Don’t Fuck With You”
SONG SAMPLED: DJ Rogers, “Say You Love Me, One More Time” (1976)

Because time is a phat circle, Big Sean got a second crack at a Kanye West/DJ Mustard collab. Genius that he is, Kanye crafted a sequel from a sequel: D.J. Rogers’s “Say You Love Me, One More Time,” the gospel/disco followup to his #98 Billboard hit. Stretched out — first with the gospel rejoinders, then as a recurring cry — the sample becomes an ambiguous thing. Is it the ghost of Sean’s romance? A lingering mockery? A consideration of his ex’s feelings? Sean’s performance, the definition of protesting too much, changes with each interpretation. B.S.

16. NEW SONG: YG feat. Drake, “Who Do You Love?”
SONG REFERENCED: Rappin’ 4-Tay, “Playaz Club” (1994)

On his DJ Mustard-helmed My Krazy Life, YG’s riches and dealings are given icy levity by the sparse beats, and the Drake-assisted “Who Do You Love?” is almost the archetype. It’s not pretty music, but like a chilly bus ride, you can’t help but stay awake noticing every detail. And Rappin’ 4-Tay certainly did when Drizzy recasted a stanza from his classic “Players’ Club” without acknowledgment, costing Aubrey a cool six figures in the process. D.W.

15. NEW SONG: Dave Harrington & Tamara, “Things Behind the Sun”
SONG COVERED: Nick Drake, “Things Behind the Sun” (1972)

The unsettling side-one closer to Nick Drake’s folk-rock masterwork Pink Moon was already a little mysterious and creepy sounding as is, but this cover from Nicolas Jaar’s Other People label’s underappreciated Work compilation makes it practically post-apocalyptic in its lonely, lovely eternal echo. “To win the Earth just won’t seem worth / Your night or your day” sings a sleepwalking Tamra over Harrington’s disquietingly distant guitar, and you have no trouble believing her. A.U.

14. NEW SONG: Usher, “Good Kisser”
SONG SAMPLED: Foster Sylvers feat. Patricia Sylvers & Angie Silvers, “Montego Bay”(1974)

Usher’s quest to find innuendo’s end reaches a breakthrough on “Good Kisser,” a head-game status report and the most salacious cut Stevie Wonder never tracked. Its percussive slouch comes from young Foster Sylvers’ take on “Montego Bay” (genre: tourist trap), the drums and bass going from playful to dead serious in just five notes. The producers boost the vinyl warmth and envelop Mr. Raymond in echo. As the bass line dives, Usher climaxes, cooing the title alongside a woozy game-show synth. Sylvers’ cover had a more adult sheen than Bobby Bloom’s Webelo-ready original, but he’d need earmuffs for this cut. B.S.

13. NEW SONG: Tinashe feat. ScHoolboy Q, “2 On”
SONG REFERENCED: Sean Paul, “We Be Burnin'”(2005)

As a relative unknown with a debut single intended to get shit poppin’, it never hurts to call upon the party gods of old for a little lent credibility in the ways of the id. Hence, Tinashe’s breakthrough hit invoked the most reliable firestarter of a decade earlier, Sean Paul, dipping into the Dutty Rocker’s “We Be Burnin'” hook (“Just give me the trees and we can smoke it ya…”) on the “2 On” bridge. It worked for all involved: The song crossed over to pop radio, and elsewhere, SP found his way back to the Top 40 for the first time in years. A.U.

12. NEW SONG: School of Seven Bells, “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)”
SONG COVERED: Joey Ramone, “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)” (2002)

Simultaneously the most life-affirming and soul-crushing cover of 2014, “I Got Knocked Down” would be plenty heart-rending just for its backstory: It was recorded while Seven Bells guitarist Benjamin Curtis was, in fact, “Sitting in a hospital bed,” gravely ill with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, and was his last production before dying last December. And it’s not a coincidence that the story of Curtis’ cover echoes that of the original “Knocked Down,” posthumously released by Joey Ramone after dying of lymphoma himself in 2001. What really makes the song so devastating, though, is how triumphant it sounds, with its pulsing beat, indefatigable crush of synths, and endlessly insistent vocals intoning the titlular chorus chant of against-all-odds defiance. Even though you already know how the story ends, you’re still praying for a deus ex machina every time. A.U.

11. NEW SONG: Homeboy Sandman, “Problems”
SONG SAMPLED: Robert Glasper, “Maiden Voyage / Everything In Its Right Place” (2007)

The final minutes of Robert Glasper’s cover provided the perfectly glassy, creeping-down-the-hall backdrop for Angel Villar’s wry, nutty observations. He’s got 99 problems but juxtaposing that avant-seriousness with gut-busting hilarity ain’t one. D.W.