Every Wednesday, Douglas Wolk explores the people, places and coincidences that tie disparate one mmusicians together.
Daft Punk's Random Access Memories officially came out this week, after a long, flashy buildup. It's their fourth full-on studio album, and first since 2005's Human After All, not counting greatest-hits, live and remix records (or 2010's Tron: Legacy soundtrack). It's also unusually light on samples for Daft Punk -- maybe because it's got more guest musicians than they've usually used in the past. Nile Rodgers, for instance, plays guitar on three of its tracks, and he's very much in evidence on "Get Lucky," in particular.
For listeners young enough that "disco" is an undifferentiated clump, Rodgers' guitar is the sound of a whole genre. But he's actually a pioneer: the handful of disco records Rodgers actually played on -- with his own group Chic, as well as Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, and a few other acts -- launched an entire school of guitar playing. His "Get Lucky" part recalls the choppy riff he played on Chic's 1979 jewel "Good Times": here's a TV performance from that year.
The late Bernard Edwards' bassline to "Good Times" was hugely important on its own, too: it resurfaced as the spine of the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," and appeared in somewhat altered form in a lot of other very early hip-hop records, in Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," and in Daft Punk's "Around the World."
Sister Sledge recorded both before and after they worked with Rodgers and Edwards, and Daft Punk has taken advantage of one of those post-Chic Organization records, too: "Il Macquillage Lady," from Sister Sledge's self-produced 1982 album The Sisters, had its groove filtered and tweaked a bit to become "Aerodynamic."
Most of the samples Daft Punk have repurposed, though, seem to have involved considerably deeper crate-digging. "Robot Rock," for instance, is mostly a couple of loops from Breakwater's 1980 obscurity "Release the Beast," with some Vocoder appended. Breakwater were one of many, many funk-with-a-touch-of-rock bands making the rounds in the late '70s and early '80s; they released two albums that went nowhere in particular, and then scattered to the wilds of session work. That's a hell of a jam, though.
That particular moment -- the one that happened just as disco was breaking into pieces and latching onto rock and funk and new wave and jazz -- produced a lot of Daft Punk's favorites. Singer/keyboardist Edwin Birdsong collaborated with Roy Ayers on the latter's huge disco hit "Running Away," and his own song "Rapper Dapper Snapper" was sampled by a handful of hip-hop producers in the late '80s and early '90s. But it took Daft Punk to turn the tone-clusters-and-cymbals riff that opens "Cola Bottle Baby," from Birdsong's self-titled 1979 album, into their own "Harder Faster Better Stronger."
Then there's the complicated story behind "One More Time." In 1978, an act called M. Diggo Featuring Eddie Johns recorded a disco cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You." The following year, Johns recorded an original track called "More Spell on You," which became the title track of an album. (It appears below.) A couple of sections of its horn arrangement were apparently cut up and reshuffled into the main instrumental hook of Daft Punk's "One More Time." But there's also a persistent rumor that "More Spell on You" was produced by Daniel Vangarde, the songwriter/producer who's the father of Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter. It's a great story, but there doesn't seem to be any evidence for it: the production on "More Spell on You" is credited to Carla Music, and Vangarde isn't named anywhere on its packaging.
Bangalter's side project Stardust released only one single, "Music Sounds Better With You," but that too was built around a sample from Daft Punk's circa-1980 sweet spot: "Fate," from Chaka Khan's 1981 album What Cha' Gonna Do for Me.
Supposedly, the only lengthy sample that appears on Random Access Memories is the one on its closing track, "Contact" -- borrowed from the synthesizer part at the beginning of "We Ride Tonight," a 1981 single by the Sherbs. An Australian rock band who'd previously been called Sherbet, the Sherbs changed their name when they went new wave at the beginning of the '80s. "We Ride Tonight" isn't by any stretch of the imagination a disco record, but it's also fair to say that that particular sound wouldn't have happened without disco.
The cornerstone of Random Access Memories isn't a sample but a homage: "Giorgio by Moroder," for which they recorded producer Giorgio Moroder talking about his career and the synthesizer as "the sound of the future," and set that recording to a pastiche of his music. Moroder hasn't made a lot of videos, but he did make this one for his 1980 pop crossover attempt "Baby Blue." If its synthesizer arpeggios turned up on a future Daft Punk single, it might not be that much of a surprise.