Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Say WHAT?!: bassline telephone

I had no idea what I was getting myself into today. Someone suggested a Chic "Good Times"/Sugarhill Gang "Rapper's Delight" bassline tutorial after my "Cissy Strut" post, and I thought HA, sure, I've always wanted to learn that actual line, myself.

But there was a catch I hadn't expected: the lines aren't the same! I never knew that! I always thought that "Rapper's Delight" (RD from now on) used a sample of "Good Times" (GT), but no--RD is pre-sampling era. The RD Wikipedia entry discusses it a bit, but the basic story is that the producer paid then 17 year old bassist Chip Shearin $70 to play the GT bassline for 15 minutes (I've seen this referred to as "interpolation"). This raises some very interesting questions, doesn't it? I'm not inclined to start an "authenticity" discussion here, but it does make me wonder--Which is more "authentic": a sample or a recreation of a track using studio performers? Guess it depends on what you mean by "authentic."

I'll leave that line of inquiry to others. But I do wonder about the differences. Were they deliberate? The RD line is a little less syncopated, most notably in measure 2. One of the things that makes Bernard Edwards' line so special is that he doesn't play on downbeats other than in the first measure of the pattern. His playing is also free of the time-keeping ghost/percussive notes in Chip Shearin's performance, and he was clearly recorded using top-notch studio gear (he sounds GREAT on this record).
Is the RD line straightened out on purpose, or is it simply a case of misremembering on Chip Shearin's part? Perhaps learning the line quickly? I'm not sure why the line would be changed deliberately, though the somewhat more "straight" bassline may have been easier for the rappers, and certainly their "flow" is typical of very early hip-hop: straighter, more on the beat. I don't think dodging copyright issues comes into play, because I don't think anyone thought much about it at the time, and the line is almost identical to, and certainly recognizable as, the GT line. I'm inclined to believe it's a case of a young player learning a line quickly and/or simplifying it to something he could easily recreate for 15 minutes error-free.

So this helps explain why a not-so-easy line to begin with is never played "right"--it's like a game of telephone! Like a friend of mine put it (and I hope he doesn't mind the quote): "[these] new performances spread like memes, and all semblance of the "original" is lost!" Not unlike "Cissy Strut".

And as it turns out, Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards made out just fine after threatening a law suit. This short interview is cool. And can you imagine going to a Clash/Blondie/Chic show?!

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