A well-placed sample can take a song to the next level. The Dr. Dres and Kanye West’s of the world made a career of plucking just the right beat, bass line, or vocal riff from both popular music and the obscure. The result is music that manages to be timeless and unique, despite pulling from other sources.
It may not be the most heavily sampled song of all time, but there is no mistaking Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” when it’s used in a song. Whether it’s the jaunting bass line or the doo-wop ad-lib, this Reed classic has upped the ante on a number of songs throughout the years. We’re going through three such songs, below.
1. “Can I Kick It” (Tribe Called Quest)
“Walk on the Wild Side” is one of many samples in Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It”—alongside Dr. Lonnie Smith and “Spinning Wheel” and “Sunshower” by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. As one member, Phife Dawg, recalled, Reed allowed the group to use the sample only if he “got all the money.”
“I remember with [record label] Jive, there was a problem with the sample being cleared,” Phife once said. “I don’t think they cleared the sample, and instead of Lou Reed saying, ‘You can’t use it,’ he said, ‘Y’all can use it, but I get all the money from that.'”
Phife went on to say that Reed took 100 percent of the royalties and publishing from the song. “To this day, we haven’t seen a dime.”
2. “Wildside” (Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch)
While Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” was a loving ode to the gritty underground of Andy Warhol’s The Factory, “Wildside” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch acted as a warning about the perils of leaning into the darker side of life.
Wahlberg raps Annie took a hit breathed two short breaths / One for life the last for death / Now she’s gone a former valedictorian / Ended up becoming a topic for historians overtop the harmonic bass line in Reed’s original song.
3. “Summer Girl” (HAIM)
Sister group HAIM used the famous “doot-doot-doot” ad-lib from “Walk on the Wild Side” for their track “Summer Girl” in 2020. The slinky love song has the same off-kilter bones as Reed’s track but it’s given a breath of fresh air by the pop mavens. It’s less of a sample than the previous songs on this list, but Reed did end up getting added to the writing credits for the track thanks to his integral inspiration.
Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns