Why Has This One Bassline Been Sampled Seventy Seven Times?

You've heard "Don't Look Any Further" more times than you even realize.
January 12, 2017, 4:04pm
This post ran originally on THUMP UK.

What links Snoop Dogg, Hot Since 82, and William Pitt? No, it's not the possibility that the unlikely trio might find themselves tangled up in a particularly torturous Only Connect question. No, William Pitt's never appeared on Snoop's YouTube channel huffing on a joint with Seth Rogen and Chris Tarrant, and Hot Since 82's only connection to the pair of them is that his grandad's called Will, and he once tried to rap "Gin and Juice" at a student house party before collapsing from shame. What brings a balearic icon, everyone's favorite stoner, and a bloke I'm pretty sure lives on a permanently-sailed boat party just off the Croatian coast is Dennis Edwards, The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards' frontman.

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Unless you're a massive Temptations fan, and you really probably should be if you aren't already given that they're easily up there alongside Prefab Sprout in the best group ever category. Or you're of a certain age, you'll probably know Edwards is best known for something other than his sterling work in The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards—as great as that no doubt is. And even then, what you know him for won't really be Edwards' own work. What you'll know Dennis Edwards for is an unforgettable noise that's rumbled through pop culture ever since the world heard it for the first time in 1984.

That noise, a lugubrious, rolling, propulsive thing, once heard, never forgotten, emerged from the fingers of LA born musician Paul Jackson Jr. Jackson Jr—who's worked with the likes of Elton John, Lionel Richie, and his namesake Michael—isn't a household name here in the UK, unless you're a regular reader of Bass Enthusiast Quarterly, despite his long and successful career. Once upon a time, several times in fact, Jackson Jr found himself holed up in a studio with Dennis Edwards. The result was this, Edwards' towering late-period Motown baby-maker, "Don't Look Any Further."

Before we look any further—sorry, I am so sorry, so, so sorry—I can't proceed without commenting on the sheer animal magnetism displayed by Edwards in the cheap as chips looking accompanying video. Joined by Grammy-winning co-vocalist Siedah Garrett, the pair of them hovering magically over what I presume is meant to be a brightly-lit and resplendent LA backdrop. Dear old Dennis is positively electric looking, all jitter and growl, a gurning assemblage of bee-stung lips—the lips of an inexperienced reveller who's burnished their gums with an accidental, unintentional, and incredibly unwanted numbness that for all their effort just won't go away—and awards ceremony glamour. It exudes a prowling kind of confidence—Columbian courage of the highest order.

Sadly, we're not here to dissect the sartorial elegance of Dennis Edwards. Instead, we're here to try and work out how one bassline played itself into musical history. The stately, plump series of notes that tumble into view, joined eventually by an ecstatically shuddering synth-sprinkling, rival any other bassline you've ever heard. It's up there with CHIC's "Everybody Dance" and "All Night Long" by the Mary Jane Girls in the "songs utterly fucking dominated by their absurdly good bassline" stakes. And it's probably because of that, that it's been sampled a staggering 77 times. Yes, seventy seven other songs have nicked Jackson Jr's seminal sequence.

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Think about it—the fact that there are 77 songs that we know of stomping around our disgraceful little planet with the same bassline at any one time is really quite something. Now, I'm no statistician, but surely that means you're incredibly likely to stumble into it at some point with an usually high level of probability. Put it this way: you're definitely more likely to hear the "Don't Look Any Further" bassline playing on Primark FM than you are a Beatrice Dillon one. But is that a good thing? Can a world class bassline rescue a decent song?

In order to find out, I tried to listen to as many of the 77 songs as I could before the sound of that bassline made me want to career headfirst through the nearest twelfth storey window. Obviously some of them were, you know, really good—everyone likes "Paid in Full" and "City Lights" because those two songs are unfuckwithable, and more importantly or pertinently, they do something with the bassline: the bassline is a foundation for a great structure, rather than an breezeblock splattered with glitter. The rest though?

Well, the short answer is, no. The longer answer is, sadly, also no. What I found out from trawling through a barrage of faceless records no one's ever cared about is that one undeniable element does not a song make. Snoop's entry to the pantheon is forgettable to say the least, and Hot Since 82 manages to turn a bassline clouded in libido-scented cologne into something with less character than a XXX sequel. As for the rest, well after a time they descend into a homogenous blob or chart-friendly early-nineties swingbeat and funk. The sort of generic, cuddly, hip-hop records that feature lyrics like "you know it's true that you're so fine/I gotta ask girl, will you be mine?"

Hoping that the dripping sauce of Jackson Jr's original line would bless the tracks of every artist who sampled it would be as naive as painters nicking one of Dali's bodged up clocks and assuming it was enough to cover the cracks in their uninspired still life, or a sub-par novelist nabbing a character from Dickens and whacking it into their rancid rumination on London life. Famously, you can't polish a turd. I can't, you can't, and not even Paul Jackson Jr can. More's the pity.

Still, we've got "Don't Look Any Further" and "City Lights" and "Paid in Full," so why do we even need to get our hands dirty in the first place?

Josh is on Twitter