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ICONS ARE BETTER #62: THE AMEN BREAK

Puh puh tsch pt-ah pt-ah pum tschhhh.

Apart from ‘Happy Birthday’, the Amen Break might be the most heard bit of music ever.

And all it is is a little six-second drum fill, a break in the middle of just another b-side called Amen Brother by the Winstons (1969). Here it is: https://youtu.be/GxZuq57_bYM?t=1m26s

You’ve heard it before, right? But with a few more drums layered, with the EQ beefed up, looping and looping in old-school hiphop (Straight Outta Compton), or pitched up to 175bpm to chivvy along the top end of the beat in techno, jungle, and drum n’ bass (Original Nuttah).

You know it when you hear it – and that feels like the definition of iconic to me.

Tens of thousands of tunes with the same inspiration – doesn’t feel very creative, right? But the fact they’re still being made with infinite variation is a testament to the Amen’s adapatability, and the creativity of those who use it. In DnB, the sample’s often been taken apart into its individual beats, but those hits are the same, and the spirit of the break is unmistakeable – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgq-Z3yqPrQ

That’s the thing about sampling. If The Winstons had aggressively defended copyright – if they had a dime for every time their break was played – they’d be just another one-hit wonder. But because they let a simple creation be copied, pasted, pitched and bent out of shape, they birthed an icon powerful enough to define whole genres of music.

James Mitchell – Senior Planner