THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Every Friday morning, I do a couple of movie-related segments for a Central Pennsylvania radio station. My segments air on a special part of the morning show, a two-hour block known as “Flashback Friday,” which is dedicated solely to songs from the '70s and '80s. Without a doubt, one of the most requested songs is Sugarhill Gang's “Apache.” It probably gets played at least twice a month. Everyone knows and loves that song. What you may not know is that “Apache” used a sample of a track by the Incredible Bongo Band, a group of studio musicians who recorded an album that ultimately went nowhere. This single recording nevertheless provided the basis for Sugarhill Gang's famous hit, as well as (literally) dozens of other hip-hop, rap, and pop recordings. The new documentary Sample This, narrated by Gene Simmons, tells the amazing story of how one song found a remarkable life of its own.
Director Dan Forrer does a fine job taking us through the odyssey of “Apache,” which began with a record company executive named Michael Viner assembling a multitude of talented musicians to record a percussion-heavy album, and encompassed everything from the RFK assassination, the Rosey Grier movie The Thing With Two Heads, and Charles Manson. (To go into specifics would be to deny you the chance to discover the astonishing facts on your own.) The back half of the film shows how a New York hip-hopper named DJ Herc found the Incredible Bongo Band's long-forgotten album and began looping the percussion break from “Apache” in his mixes. The crowds went wild, and eventually that break became ubiquitous.
Sample This takes some side detours, but when it does, they are always captivating. We hear personal stories from the Incredible Bongo Band musicians, who talk about the frames of mind they were in during the group's brief history. (Some of the stories are stunningly dramatic.) This points out another strength of the film: Forrer has terrific interview subjects. Everyone who appears is not only knowledgeable, but also passionate about this piece of music. Their enthusiasm draws you right in. The movie additionally makes good use of stylized on-screen graphics to help balance out the talking-head moments. While a 90-minute movie about a song might seem ripe for thinness, Sample This is never dull. Tightly paced and packed with unbelievable twists and turns, it's a truly fun experience.
“Apache” has been sampled by everyone from the Beastie Boys and MC Hammer to Amy Winehouse and Madonna. I wish Sample This had played more examples and listed more of the artists who have used it. That's largely relegated to the end credits. Still, the film most definitely demonstrates how “Apache” was recorded and how it struck a nerve, the likes of which no piece of music has struck since. It's safe to say that I will never hear this song the same way again.
( 1/2 out of four)
Note: Sample This opens theatrically on Sept. 13. It will also be available on demand that same day. Check your favorite VOD outlet for details.
Sample This is unrated but contains some adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.
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