Every Artist is a Cannibal; U2’s use of Samples in Their Songs
Original story by Tim C. / @WTSHNN (2016-06-22)
U2 have long proven themselves capable artists who continually cross genres and reinvent the music they release. They have been early pioneers of many technological advances and have constantly pushed the musical envelope to further their ground-breaking music while staying true to the never-fails rock formula of guitar/bass/drums/vocals from whence they started.
But sometimes they borrow from others to polish off one of their songs and they do this by using samples.
What is a Sample?
A musical sample is generally considered to be when pre-recorded audio is repurposed in a new work or piece. Samples can be used in an unaltered form as a verbatim copy of their original recording or they could be manipulated to take on a form indistinguishable from their original recording. The practice of sampling music is most associated with the hip-hop and rap genres but has found a place in most every other style of music.
For a clear example of a sample there are few songs better to demonstrate the practice than “Under Pressure” by Queen and “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice. Vanilla Ice took the iconic bassline and sampled it as the backbone of his one hit wonder with a few manipulations thrown in for good measure.
Those further interested in just how far an artist can utilize and shape a sample in a song are encouraged to take a look at this video which breaks down the process used to create The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up”.
It is important to note that an artist covering a song is not usually seen as sampling, unless they take audio from the original and merge it into their version. When an artist covers a song they are taking a pre-existing piece of music and completely recreating it in their own way. While a cover could contain samples it is a totally different homage than samples.
Some may also confuse songs “in the style of” as being a sample, for example, “White as Snow” off of No Line on the Horizon, however, this is not a sample. “White as Snow” is based off of an old hymn titled “Veni, veni Emmanuel” and the rhythm and melody served as direct inspiration for U2 while recording the song but there was no known direct copying of pre-recorded music utilized in the song.
Finally, sampling is not the same as Bono’s penchant for incorporating snippets into live performances of songs.
Artists are supposed to credit the works they sample from and U2 has been fairly good at doing this but not all their samples are credited in the liner notes of their releases.
Samples; an audio clip from the 1981 documentary Soldier Girls
The first credited sample appearing in a U2 song may surprise some people since it occurs in the song “Seconds” off of the War album. The sample appears right near the 2:00 minute mark of the song and is an audio clip taken from a 1981 documentary Soldier Girls directed by Nick Broomfield. The documentary follows a group of women as they progress through basic training in the US Army at Fort Gordon in Georgia. This particular sample occurs twice in the movie; once near the five minute mark and shows the women jogging in formation and the second time is taken from the very end of the film and the audio that plays over the final shot that shows the women posing for a group picture and then falling out of formation as the credits begin to roll. The clip starts with the photographer saying “Hold it” which is taken from earlier in the final scene.
Many readers will already be familiar with the spoken word portion of the sample which is a call and response military cadence featuring a male drill instructor shouting a line which is quickly echoed by the female platoon. However, many people may be surprised to discover there is more to the sample which is buried in behind the song as the instruments come back in.
I wanna be an airborne ranger (I wanna be an airborne ranger) /I wanna live the life of danger (I wanna live the life of danger/ Blood (Blood) / Guts (Guts) / Blood (Blood) / Guts (Guts) / Kill (Kill) / Kill (Kill)
Further review of the film reveals that the sample used by U2 was edited as the film actually includes the exclamations and echoes of; I wanna go to Iran/I wanna kill an Iranian between the “life of danger” and “blood” part.
Additionally another sample is layered over the cadence and is taken from the scene of the film that comes just before the final credits, in it a female recruit is speaking with her sergeant and he discusses the sacrifices he has had to make in order to be in the army, the audio U2 used is taken from dialogue that lasts several minutes and the bits of conversation are edited together.
I just can’t do it This is all I’ve got I can’t give nothing To anybody else anymore It’s been stripped It’s been taken
The sample is said to have been captured by Bono who was watching the documentary in the studio while recording the album according to a report found in Niall Stokes’ Into the Heart. “I remember watching it in the Green Room in Windmill. It happened to be on and we made a recording of it” said Bono.
In a 1983 radio interview with Boston DJ Carter Alan from WBCN, The Edge had this to say about the excerpt “The whole spectacle of these girls going through this incredible torture of training seemed perfect to slip there in the middle. It’s not obvious but if you listen close you can hear [it]…it’s very disturbing.”
Here is the original audio sample as originally heard in the film.
And the following is the second part of the clip from the film:
There is a relatively unknown version of “Seconds” which was released on the MFSL version of War that is an extended version of the common album track. Some of the additional length comes from the Soldier Girls sample.
Alright this time everybody smile and say sex, SEX!
Alright, get out, end of the movie, let’s go
Go go, did you get it?
Did you get it? You sure now?
I wanna be an airborne ranger
I wanna be an airborne ranger
I wanna live a life of danger
I wanna live a life of danger
Similar to the standard album version, the MFSL track includes the addtional audio of the sergeant speaking to one of the female recruits. In this version he is heard saying
Whatever the hell you want to call it
Its never going to be there again
It’s gone. God damn, its gone
And you don’t know it until it’s over
I can’t give it to anybody anymore
I can’t it’s not in me I just can’t do it
This is all I got
I can’t give nothing to anybody else anymore
It’s been stripped its been taken
This sample is also edited from various parts of the conversation.
Soldier Girls is currently available on Amazon and can be streamed for free by Amazon Prime members.
“Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car”
- “The Cliff” by Aleksandr Vedernikov
- “The City Sleeps” by MC 900 Ft. Jesus originally released in 1991
- “Skypager” by A Tribe Called Quest originally released in 1991
“Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” takes the award for most samples in a U2 song with a known total of three. The song opens with a large brass fanfare known as “The Cliff” and is taken from the album Lenin’s Favourite Songs.
Another credited sample is the use of the rhythm track from “The City Sleeps” by MC 900 Ft. Jesus. This is an example of U2 manipulating a sample as the use of it in “Crashed Car” isn’t an exact copy of the original.
The final sample used is not credited but is the use of the song “Skypager” by the 90’s hip-hop group; A Tribe Called Quest. U2 sped up the sample to match the tempo of “Crashed Car” but if you listen you can detect it during the verses.
As an aside, many readers will be familiar with the live version of the song found on the “ZooTV Live From Sydney” video release. It should be noted that the live intro to “Daddy’s Gonna Pay” included the sample of “The Cliff” but immediately went into a Russian opera, “Dubinushka” by Aleksandr Vedernikov. “Dubinuskha” featured an accompanying video of Cosmo singing along before “The Cliff” played again as a lead-in to the song. This sample of “Dubinushka” is not included in the studio version of the song. Neither “The Cliff” nor “Dubinushka” are credited at the end of the ZooTV video.
An argument could be made, but has not been substantiated through research for this article, that the final siren buried at the end of “The Wanderer” could also be considered a sample. Anecdotal information says that the siren is a sample of an alarm used by radio stations to alert a DJ to dead air.
Samples; rhythm track from the song “Freeform” by Fane, originally released in 1995
Pop, an album said to be heavily influenced by hip-hop and dance music contains the most number of samples on a U2 album with four songs lifting clips from other artists’ work. The number of original samples was much higher as Larry explained in “U2 By U2” “we were struggling with some of the material…I had to replay sampled loops that Howie (B) used without permission”.
“Discothèque” cities “inspirational decks and loops” made by Howie B. This can be explained as the earliest of sessions for “Discothèque” got their start when Howie B had created a series of beats and loops that The Edge and Bono came in and riffed on as Larry was recovering from back surgery. “Virtually nothing remains from that original jam, but it was the inspiration, and provided a context for the track” producer Flood is quoted as saying in Niall Stokes’ “Into the Heart”.
The liner notes of “Discothèque” also credits the use of a sample of the Fane song “Freeform.” The predominately rhythm based track is heard frequently throughout the verse in an altered form to fit the tempo of the song.
“Do You Feel Loved”
Samples; “Alien Groove Sensation” by Naked Funk, originally released in 1996
Cited as inspiration in the liner notes, the song “Alien Groove Sensation” by Naked Funk seems to provide more than just basic inspiration. Listening to the two tracks shows how much of the sample remains, relatively unaltered, throughout a large portion of the song.
“Last Night on Earth”
Samples; “Trayra Boia” by Nana Vasconcelos, originally released in 1983
The third single off of Pop, “Last Night on Earth” utilizes an excerpt of Brazilian musician, Nana Vasconcelos’ “Trayra Boia” and can be heard during the chorus.
“The Playboy Mansion”
Samples; “You Showed Me” by the Turtles, originally released in 1969
A major component of “The Playboy Mansion” comes from a gliding string part (first heard around the 0:06 mark in the video below) that is taken directly from “You Showed Me” a song originally released by The Turtles in 1969.
“Wake Up Dead Man”
Samples; “Besrodna Nevesta” by Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares
Serving as part of the white noise in the background of the track, the inclusion of samples from “Besrodna Nevesta” performed by Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares allows the guttural vocals to serve as subtle texture under the instrumentation provided by U2.
No Line on the Horizon (2009)
While some may see this as a stretch, “Fez/Being Born” is the only instance of U2 sampling U2. The band lifted the vocal track of “let me in the sound” from “Get on Your Boots” and placed it in the opening of the song.
“Cedars of Lebanon”
No Line on the Horizon (2009)
The Sample of “Against the Sky” used in “Cedars of Lebanon” provides the most significant musical contribution to a U2 song. The ambient instrumental, originally released in 1984 on the album The Pearl, was a collaboration between Brian Eno and Harold Budd and produced by Daniel Lanois.