Photo Credit: Nonna Stone

The Beatles Sampled A Chuck Berry Bassline for “I Saw Her Standing There”

Paul McCartney seems to have a progressive attitude towards sampling. When talking to BBC’s Radio 1 about Danger Mouse’s Grey Album project that remixed Jay Z’s Black Album with White Album samples, McCartney said “I didn’t mind when something like that happened with The Grey Album. But the record company minded. They put up a fuss. But it was like, ‘Take it easy guys, it’s a tribute.’” McCartney was referring to EMI’s decision to serve Danger Mouse with a cease and desist order and attempt to squash the distribution of his remix project. In McCartney’s eyes, a cease and desist was unnecessary and he was happy to let Danger Mouse’s work exist without penalty.

Perhaps McCartney has empathy towards artists who sample because he himself, along with the rest of The Beatles, sampled other musicians on several occasions. Beatles historian Aaron Krerowicz has a great article where he breaks down the famous rock band’s sampling of everything from basslines to the exact lyrics of Chuck Berry.

One of the most notable examples is The Beatles’ use of Berry’s bassline from “I’m Talking About You” for “I Saw Her Standing There”. When explaining the the sample to an interviewer, McCartney said, “Here’s one example of a bit I pinched from someone: I used the bass riff from “Talkin’ About You” by Chuck Berry in “I Saw Her Standing There”. I played exactly the same notes as he did and it fitted our number perfectly. Even now, when I tell people, I find few of them believe me; therefore, I maintain that a bass riff hasn’t got to be original.”

“I don’t think Sir Paul asked permission to borrow that bassline. But every time I listen to that song I’m a little better off for having done so.”- Congressman Mike Doyle (PA)

McCartney’s acknowledgement of borrowing “exactly the same notes” from Berry and stating that a “bass riff hasn’t got to be original” opens the door for some meaningful discussion about borrowing, interpolation, and sampling. While DJs, remixers, and sample-based producers have often caught the ire of musicians for sampling the work of other artists, McCartney’s comments are clear evidence that “real” musicians also sample. This in no means diminishes their importance or talent, it just underscores the fact that all musicians incorporate the work of others into their own work. Sampling, it seems, exists in many forms and is prevalent across genres.

Pennsylvania congressman Mike Doyle did a nice job explaining the parallel between McCartney and sample-based musicians while defending people like DJ Drama and Girl Talk to the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet in 2007. Speaking to the legal issues surrounding Drama’s mixtapes and Girl Talk’s Night Ripper album, Doyle said “I hope that everyone involved will take a step back and ask themselves if mashups and mixtapes are really different, or if it’s the same as Paul McCartney admitting that he knicked a Chuck Berry bass riff…I don’t think Sir Paul asked permission to borrow that bassline. But every time I listen to that song I’m a little better off for having done so.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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