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

10. NEW SONG: Federal Reserve feat. Cam’Ron, A-Trak & Juelz Santana, “Dipshits”
SONG SAMPLED: Yes, “Our Song” (1983)

Hey, what’s staler: updates on the perpetually-imminent Federal Reserve EP or “no homo” jokes? Tell you what’s not stale though: Just Blaze and A-Trak flipping the B-side of Yes chart-topper “Owner of a Lonely Heart” into some cocaine cowboy shit. The band’s Trevor Horn-induced pop moment becomes a blithe menace, a nonstop offensive of synthetic pipe organ and guitar contrails. Cam’ron does his usual top-notch flyswatting routine — his voice thickening with age — but those keyboards were made specifically for Dame Dash’s speechifying. Hopefully Harlem can wait a little longer. B.S.

9. NEW SONG: Future feat. Pusha T, Pharrell & Casino, “Move That Dope”
SONG REFERENCED: Salt-N-Pepa, “Push It” (1987)

Mike WiLL Made It designed 2014’s premier street cut as an infernal factory, churning with a cartoonish physicality. Future’s contribution to the blueprint was lacing Salt-N-Pepa’s immortal sibilance throughout. He drops its register slightly, distilling it from a leer to a nag: hell’s dealer, whispering around the corner. Amongst the dialtone bass and synth-hit hammer strikes, the tag oozes like air from overheated pistons. GEICO may have thought they did Salt-N-Pepa right with their patented anti-humor, but Future knows better. B.S.

8. NEW SONG: Claptone, “Control”
SONG SAMPLED: Lou Reed, “Walk on the Wild Side” (1972)

Building a dance song around a posthumous sample of a rock legend is risky, doing so with the most obvious possible lift from his biggest-ever hit is muuuuch riskier. Kudos to German producer Claptone, then, for not only saving the “Walk on the Wild Side” bass line from sample-overuse purgatory, but for bringing out a sentimentality in it that we’ve never even quite heard before: The hook always had a tenderness to it, but never this kind of enthusiasm, this kind of openness, this kind of optimism. Of course it helps to have that Jason Jinx spoken-word a capella over top yanking these previously invisible qualities out of the three-note pattern: “We gotta bring back that feeling… that feeling that’s been gone, for wayyyy too long.” A.U.

7. NEW SONG: Fatima Al Qadiri, “Shanzhai (for Shanzhai Biennial)”
SONG COVERED: Sinéad O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (1990)

Because Fatima Al Qadiri’s audacious debut, Asiatisch, is a western album about China that’s really about the West, she set the pace with a gorgeously sung (courtesy of Helen Feng) and incomparably eerie remake of a proper American classic: Sinéad O’Connor’s Prince-penned “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Except the words are all in Mandarin, and allegedly might not even be words. “Shanzai” means pirated goods though. Get it? D.W.

6. NEW SONG: Nicki Minaj, “Anaconda”
SONG SAMPLED: Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby Got Back” (1992)

The most immediately obvious sample of 2014 came from Sir Mix-A-Lot — and was promptly run over by one of his would-be lust objects in this bulldozer. He’s not the only one who love this fat ass, and Minaj’s punctuating nightmare-nerd laugh could be the mongoose that sends his anaconda fearing for its life. D.W.

5. NEW SONG: Soft Pink Truth, “Black Metal”
SONG COVERED: Venom, “Black Metal” (1982)

The year’s best and least-likely cover album came from subversive IDM mastermind Drew Daniel, whose Soft Pink Truth side project released Why Do the Heathen Rage?, recasting ten black metal anthems with skittering beats, diva vocals, weird-ass Rihanna samples, and a whole lot of rampaging synths. The album’s mission statement, of course, came courtesy of its album-opening Venom cover, which strips the epochal, genre-eponymous track of its guitars, double-kick drums, and general constancy in favor of a pinballing, beat-heavy arrangement that would feel sacrilegious (in a non-metal way), if not for the fact that the original’s hard-hitting power and righteousness were kept firmly in tact, as true an ode to the black gods as any six-string shredder released in 2014. A little softer and a little pinker, but the truth is still the truth. A.U.

4. NEW SONG: Drake, “Draft Day”
SONG SAMPLED: Lauryn Hill, “Doo Wop (That Thing!)” (1998)

The SoundCloud-released “Draft Day” might not have been Drake’s best song in 2014, but it was undoubtedly his Drakeiest. The sports-affiliate namechecks (take a bow, Johnny Football), the specific macking on female celebrities (Jennifer Lawrence can really get it, in case she was wondering), the out-of-nowhere brags about eating shellfish (“Last night I tried some raw oysters,” noice) — it was all there, and all tied together with a perfectly Aubrey-core sample: the “watch out, watch out” breakdown section from Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop.” You might think no sample that obvious could still land in 2014, but as a pure celebration of how great it is to be Drake, “Draft Day” calls out for a lift that big and that unifying, and as arrogant as the whole thing is, it’s too beautiful in its sense of triumph for you to really be mad at him. You know Drizzy had to do it for L. Boogie. A.U.

3. NEW SONG: Maddie & Tae, “Girl in a Country Song”
SONGS REFERENCED: Tyler Farr’s “Redneck Crazy,” Thomas Rhett’s “Get Me Some of That,” Chris Young’s “Aw Naw,” Billy Currington’s “Hey Girl” and Too Many More to List Here (2011-2013)

Even country music — the CD’s last stand — has seen its sales slip of late. In response, Nashville launched a pop assault, transposing the excitement of the club to dirty pickups with a case of Bud and a handle of Jack in the bed. “Girl in a Country Song” is the fifth-column response, a dirt-road salvo by two women who’d like to swap booty shorts and riding shotgun for literally anything else. As critique, it’s ace, slipping in one snipe after another at the lyrics and song titles of bro country’s biggest recent offenders. But as cribbing, it’s just as good, mixing back-porch riffing with hick-hop touches: a complete rejoinder to any of a dozen dusty-ass dudes. B.S.

2. NEW SONG: 2. Kendrick Lamar, “i”
SONG SAMPLED: The Isley Brothers’ “That Lady” (1973)

As the Isleys sing in “That Lady,” “I would give her anything / If she would just do what I say.” K-Dot fans hoping for the follow-up artistry (and pocket-sized cult) of De La Soul Is Dead were dismayed at “i,” a statement of self that marches to a recreation of Ernie Isley’s (too) famous rhythm guitar. The Brothers were scheming on a model; Lamar jumps off their singular focus to chase peace down a thousand paths. The Latin groove shoots him into the L.A. sunlight, towards a place where “I love myself” no longer has to sound like defiance. B.S.

1. NEW SONG: Todd Terje feat. Bryan Ferry, “Johnny and Mary”
SONG COVERED: Robert Palmer, “Johnny and Mary” (1980)

The revelation that the debut album of Todd Terje would feature the nu-disco bigwig’s cover of Robet Palmer’s zippy new-wave drama — with glam-lounge icon Bryan Ferry on vocals, no less — conjured visions of a blissfully barnstorming “Johnny and Mary,” somewhere in between Sparks’ “Number One Song in Heaven” and Gloria Gaynor’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.” Instead, we got the prom-ballad theme to Pretty in Pink post-dated a decade or so, after Blane has long started to resent Andie for holding back his career’s potential and Andie can’t stop wondering if she maybe would’ve been happier with Duckie all along. You can hear lives shifting with every slow turn of the disco ball on Terje’s version, Ferry’s suddenly raspy whisper imbuing each lyric with such miserable humanity that you can imagine Palmer scrambling to find his original lyric sheet, wondering if those could possibly be the words he’d actually written three-and-a-half deacdes ago.

It’s not the Studio 54 trump card we may have anticipated, but it’s something far more haunting and awe-inspiring than we could have hoped for. But if Terje ever wants to release the imaginary super-disco version with the laser noises and cowbell and whatnot, y’know, we’ll take that too. A.U.