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10 Songs That Sample “Good Times”

Written by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, it was first recorded by their band Chic for their 1979 album Risqué. It quickly became #1 on a couple different Billboard charts and eventually Rolling Stone ranked it #224 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

But how did it become such an, excuse the pun, “Rappers Delight?” You can watch the awesome video above or read the following transcript based on the video:

In late 1979, Debbie Harry suggested that Nile Rodgers join her and Chris Stein at a Hip hop event in a communal space taken over by young kids and teenagers with boom box stereos, who would play various pieces of music to which performers would break dance. The main piece of music they would use was the break section of "Good Times." A few weeks later, Blondie, The Clash and Chic were playing a gig in New York at Bonds nightclub. When Chic started playing "Good Times," rapper Fab Five Freddy and members of the Sugarhill Gang jumped up on stage and started freestyling with the band; Rodgers allowed them to "do their improvisation thing like poets, much like I would playing guitar with Prince." A few weeks later Rodgers was on the dance floor of New York club LaViticus and suddenly heard the DJ play a song which opened with Edwards bass line from "Good Times". Rogers approached the DJ who said he was playing a record he had just bought that day in Harlem. The song turned out to be an early version of "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang, which Rogers noted also included a scratched version of the song's string section. Rogers and Edwards threatened The Sugarhill Gang with legal action, which resulted in them being credited as co-writers on "Rappers Delight." In the USA "Rapper's Delight" did not achieve as much chart success as "Good Times" (peaking at #36 on the U.S. pop chart and #4 on the American R&B charts, compared to Chic's #1 peak on both charts) but it helped to popularize the bassline and the song, and it became one of the most sampled tracks (and hence one of the most distinctive basslines) in the history of recorded music. Having agreed on a commercial structure for the use of their song in "Rappers Delight", Edwards and Rodgers agreed to later uses in other songs, subject to their strict criteria.

Now let’s look at nine other songs that sample or were inspired by the famous bassline. "Good Times" is one of the most sampled songs in history, so this list only, er, scratches the surface. We’ll start with these five:

“The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash,” by Grandmaster Flash, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” by Father MC, “It’s All Good,” by Will Smith, and “2345Meia78” by Gabriel O Pensador. Check out the video I sampled below from the amazing documentary “Everything is a Remix” by Kirby Furguson, part 1 of which you can sample here.

Of course, there are many more than the following four. Our list could have stretched all the way to 100, and beyond! But these four are worth a closer look:

7. Another One Bites The Dust - Queen

Now this isn’t a true sample, it’s merely inspired by “Good Times.” But it’s such a great story, I thought I should include it. In an interview, Chic co-founder Bernard Edwards stated, "...that Queen record came about because that Queen bass player... spent some time hanging out with us at our studio."

Take a listen here.

8. Triple Trouble - Beastie Boys

This song, put out in 2004, is pretty cool because it samples "Rapper's Delight,"  so it’s like a sample of a sample. I’d love to hear a band come along and take it down another level, to the third degree. Take a listen here.

9. Doowutchyalike - Digital Underground

10. Just The Two Of Us - Chubb Rock

This song is from his 1991 release entitled The One, which reached #13 on Billboard's "Top Hip-Hop/R&B" chart for that year. Take a listen here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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