Sampling in the world of dance music is far from an unusual occurrence, but in such a short space of time, we’re seeing the likes of Martin Jensen, Sam Feldt and Jonas Blue borrow from classics such as Haddaway’s “What Is Love?”, “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” by Eiffel 65 and “Better Off Alone” by Alice Deejay.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when someone like French DJ David Guetta is recycling iconic songs – beloved by many – with so little variation on the original or too much that it becomes unrecognisable, it’s far easier for le homage to be a faux pas, than anything remarkable.
So, with the sudden increase in songs riding the waves of nostalgia, allow me to list them all here (or at least, the ones I am aware of) and rate them accordingly.
“I’m Good (Blue)” by David Guetta and Bebe Rexha
Sample: “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” by Eiffel 65
Titanium DJ David Guetta has, of course, sampled other tracks in his music before – his best and most notable being “Play Hard (featuring Ne-Yo and Akon)”, which borrowed the main melody from “Better Off Alone” by Alice DeeJay.
Now though, he’s sampled two classics in eight months, the first being “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” by the Italian group Eiffel 65, with “In The Name of Love” singer Bebe Rexha on vocals. While the lyrics of the original are fun as a result of being absolutely ridiculous and nonsensical, Guetta and Rexha decide to swap out all the ‘da ba dees’ and ‘da ba dis’ with lines about feeling “good” and “alright” and planning to have “the best f**king night of my life”.
Because of course, we don’t have enough songs already about going out partying…
Though what I find the most infuriating about this take on “Blue” is how sanitised, commercialised and over-produced it is. A lot of the charm of the original comes in its imperfections – namely the slight fuzziness to the vocals which often overlap and disobey the typical structure and rhythm of a song. To replace that with something far more formulaic doesn’t exactly maintain that spirit of the original, and I hate the fact that “I’m Good (Blue)” is so catchy because of it being so basic.
“What A Night” by Martin Jensen, VAMERO and Gibbs
Sample: “Popcorn” by Gershon Kingsley (popularised by Hot Butter)
Danish DJ Martin Jensen has form for using sounds from other sources as the basis for his singles. His 2015 tracks “Miracles (feat. Bjørnskov)” and “Sí”, respectively, use one of those squealing duck toys and Cristiano Ronaldo’s famous catchphrase in their songs; 2016’s “All I Wanna Do” used a Minion toy for the melody; “Wait (feat. Loote)” in 2017 included fan vocals in the chorus; and now he’s using Gershon Kingsley’s instrumental “Popcorn” on “What A Night”.
Many people will know “Popcorn” thanks to Hot Butter’s plucky, ping-pong version from 2005. Here, it takes on a buzzing, clubby sound which is surprisingly hard-hitting. Where Guetta failed in changing the lyrics to “Blue” with lines which are dull and ineffective, Jensen explores both options by allowing the melody to stand in its own right, and adding lyrics to it in the pre-chorus. It’s also worth pointing out, of course, that it’s far more inoffensive to add lyrics to an instrumental than it is to change the words of a classic track.
As such, “What A Night” is a fun continuation of Jensen’s sampling work, bouncy in its main chorus, but otherwise bland in its hyperbolic and romanticised lyrics about an amazing night out. It’s one of those songs where you mindlessly listen along but only really pay attention to the choruses.
“Crying On The Dancefloor” by Jonas Blue, Sam Feldt and Endless Summer (with Violet Days)
Sample: “Better Off Alone” by Alice Deejay
If I wasn’t writing about the trend in sampling old dance classics in this piece, then I’d probably be talking about the growing number of DJ partnerships which are cropping up from time to time. Diplo and Skrillex had the now-defunct Jack Ü, Jax Jones and Martin Solveig have Europa, and Jonas Blue and Sam Feldt have Endless Summer.
Last month, the latter released “Crying On The Dancefloor”, sampling the aforementioned “Better Off Alone” by Alice Deejay which was used in Guetta’s “Play Hard”. They brought in Violet Days to provide the vocals.
First of all, Endless Summer pay tribute to “Better Off Alone” in a way which truly feels like it is complementing and adding to the original, rather than simply regurgitating what came before with only some minor changes. In fact, “Crying On The Dancefloor” almost sounds like an answer and elaborate follow-up to the question of whether a certain individual does indeed think they’re “better off alone”. Basically, yes, but rather than living up to the stereotype of crying “alone with tears in my bed”, I’m going to “drink all my sadness away” and bust some moves to some feel-good dance tracks in the club.
What. A. Vibe.
Not only that, but in addition to replicating the high-pitched synth of the original, the iconic melody is also stylised in a beautiful opening piano melody, as well as almost the entirety of the vocals (the only lines which aren’t the main hook are contained in a short second verse). That makes it easy for the song to slip into the catchy tune because it’s consistent throughout, though remarkably, not in a way which is repetitive or jarring. Instead – and this is probably down to it being experimented with in the vocals and piano melodies – it provides a smooth flow for the whole song. “Better Off Alone” sounds properly embedded into “Crying On the Dancefloor”, rather than something slapped onto a track to make up for absent creativity.
“Baby Don’t Hurt Me” by David Guetta, Anne-Marie and Coi Leray
Sample: “What Is Love” by Haddaway
After releasing “I’m Good (Blue)” in August 2022, Guetta joined forces with “2002” singer Anne-Marie and “Players” rapper Coi Leray to heavily sample Haddaway’s 1993 hit in which he asks “What Is Love?” The answer – “Baby Don’t Hurt Me” – is what the trio have decided to name their new version of the banger.
Roping in singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran to help with writing the track (original songwriters Dee Dee Halligan and Junior Torello are credited in this new version, but not singer Nestor Haddaway), this single turns existential musing on unrequited love into what seems to be a song about rough sexual intercourse.
Anne-Marie sings of desiring someone for “the dirty and clean” while acknowledging they make her “feel like it burns and it hurts”, while Leray is far more sexually explicit in her verse in a way which I can’t exactly detail here. This rather graphic detail goes against earlier lines, in which she claims “what we do behind doors is our business / on my body he giving me kisses”. Finally, in order to bring it back to the original’s commentary on love’s uncertainty, she throws in a line referring to the present phenomena known as “ghosting”.
It’s a total bastardisation of Haddaway’s track, devoid of any nod to the female vocalisations of the original (though this is probably due to copyright concerns more than anything else) and with no reference to the club synth stabs. Guetta instead opts to bring the fluctuating background melody to the fore, with the main beat drop being hazy, pointed synth notes.
Some might argue that all of this makes for a single which borrows from Haddaway’s track while containing enough to be transformative, but there is nothing to nod to the original besides the central lyric, and when viewing it as a track in its own right, there’s little to connect to in either lyrics or melody to make it particularly notable on the dancefloor.
I’ve already noted that Guetta sampled “Better Off Alone” in “Play Hard”, and if he really wants to emulate his success from the 2010s, then he must recognise that “Play Hard” did well because it featured two other big artists from the noughties. Having musicians from the late 2010s/early 2020s rework a 90s track puts some distance between them and the original, and it shows here.
“Dreams” by Gryffin
Sample: “Dreams” by Gabrielle
Granted, descriptions of Gabrielle’s 1993 classic point to it being more of a soulful track, and I’d agree, but it’s yet another 90s single which has been picked up and rehashed for the 21st century in recent weeks.
The producer behind the revival is none other than Gryffin, the American artist who’s still – arguably – underrated despite the string of melodic house hits he has to his name, including the likes of “Tie Me Down (with Elley Duhé)” and “Bye Bye (with Ivy Adara)”. He’s collaborated with big names such as Kygo and One Republic, too.
Now, not long after the release of his sophomore album Alive in November, Gryffin is turning his attention to a new era – something which should excite fans who may have been left disappointed by a second record which was mostly full of previous singles, and took a more upfront approach compared to the gentler debut of Gravity. The only issue is that Gryffin decided to tease the new era with a remake of a classic track, rather than something new entirely.
His version of Dreams is almost identical in terms of lyrics, but now comes complete with plucky melodies, a repetitive hook of “I need dreams”, and vocals which are just pitch shifted and sped-up. It not only offers little insight into what to expect from Gryffin going forward, but is a bland rework of the original.
I miss the trance and dance music from the 90s, but sometimes the best way to respect that golden era for the genre is to let it be.
Or, if you must, you can take the instrumental characteristics from the decade and refresh them for a modern audience. “Miracle” by the ever-prophetic producer Calvin Harris (featuring regular collaborator Ellie Goulding) leans into the bass-thumping eurodance of Basshunter and Cascada, and finds itself near the top of the UK Official Top 40 at the time of writing.
More of that, please.
Photos: David Guetta and Wild FM/YouTube.