The Longest-Running Break Of All Time

Excluding Lig Lury’s, the fourth editor of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, who has yet to return from his extended lunch break, the longest-running (in the sense of being the most often-sampled) break ever is probably the ‘Amen Break’. This is an extremely common and quite simple rhythmic syncopation that was (probably) first recorded in the track ‘Amen Brother’ by The Winstons in 1969…

Introducing the Amen Break

In fact, the track ‘Amen Brother’ was the b-side of a grammy-winning single entitled ‘Color Him Father‘. The original single doesn’t get much play these days, but the fact that the drum break in the middle of the track was set out on its own without any other instruments playing made it perfect for sampling. This is exactly what happened in the early eighties, when various gangster rap and hip-hop acts began to use it (and other similar variations) in their tracks.

Maxpounder made a docu-video detailing the origins and development of the Amen Break, which also illustrates the influence of sampling on various rhythmic genres of music. His video provides plenty of examples of how this seminal break spread, influenced and was modified in a huge number of musical fields. Although it is only about six seconds long, the Amen Break and its derivatives feature prominently in work by Squarepusher and Aphex Twin, as well as throughout the genres of dub, drum and bass, r’n’b and pretty much everything else too. Here’s the video by Maxpounder, who sounds very much like the DJ from Reservoir Dogs…

If you listen to the whole thing (as you should) you will realise that it is actually commenting on the issue of copyright, creativity and intellectual property ownership in the area of music composition – particularly with regard to sampling.

Spider Robinson wrote a Hugo Award-Winning Short Story in 1983 which dealt with these issues, and it is just as relevant today as it was then. This is a great example of intelligent and contemporary science-fiction, and you can read it here – Melancholy Elephants.

For some further listening in this area, check out this podcast from David Herlihy of Northeastern University.


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