Given their entrenched position as a classic-rock-radio staple, the Steve Miller Band don’t immediately register as a trailblazing band. But in addition to their creative use of synthesizers, which propelled classic tunes such as “Jet Airliner,” “The Joker,” “Take the Money and Run,” “Abracadabra” and “Jungle Love,” they were also one of the very first rock bands to incorporate samples into their sound. “Space Cowboy,” from 1969, refurbishes the signature riff from the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna.” Miller and Co. replicated the intro to Free’s “All Right Now” for “Rock’n Me,” as a tribute to Paul Rodgers’ old outfit. Their version of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” off 1976’s Fly Like an Eagle, contains dialogue from “Championship Wrestling” from Cheech & Chong’s Wedding Album. Meanwhile, elements of “Regiment” off David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts found their way into the 16-minute “Macho City,” which closes out 1981’s Circle of Love.
Likewise, the Steve Miller Band have seen their own music creatively repurposed, not only as a popular source for hip-hop since its late Eighties–early Nineties Golden Age, but also within the realms of dance music and even folk. As longtime SMB fans rejoice over the singer’s overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we review some of the more inventive infusions of this legendary and innovative group’s material into other artists’ songs.
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“Quicksilver Girl” (Sailor, 1968) > “My First Lover” by Gillian Welch
This fan favorite from alt-folk great Gillian Welch’s 2001 LP Time (The Revelator) contains the genius lyric ” I do not remember any goin’ wrong/Just a record playin’ that old Steve Miller song,” after which Welch and guitarist David Rawlings break into the refrain from this key track off SMB’s most out-there record, naturally blending it with the hypnotic fingerpicking of their own magnificent song.
“Lucky Man” (Sailor, 1968) > “Praise You” by Fatboy Slim
Most might remember Fatboy Slim’s most popular hit for that goofy dance troupe–flash mob in the Spike Jonze video. But those paying attention noticed that Norman Cook had built his massive “Praise You” beat around a sturdy SMB epicenter: the funky Fender Rhodes groove buried beneath the Deep Purple lite of the song that directly follows “Quicksilver Girl” on Side Two of Sailor, which Slim kicked into high gear right at the drop of the best damn song of 1998.
“The Joker” (The Joker, 1973) > “Gangsta of Love” by Geto Boys
Back in 1990, Rick Rubin was enjoying his time stirring up the status quo by amassing a great cache of controversial recordings for his burgeoning record label Def American, including classics by Slayer, Danzig and Andrew “Dice” Clay. But when the label signed on to release this eponymous remix album comprised of material from the first two albums of Houston hardcore-rap pioneers the Geto Boys, Rubin’s distributor, Geffen Records, and CD manufacturer, Sony Digital Audio Disc Corporation, were none too happy with having their names attached to the LP. “Def American Recordings is opposed to censorship,” stated the sticker that appeared on retail copies of The Geto Boys. “Our manufacturer and distributor, however, do not condone or endorse the content of this recording, which they find violent, sexist, racist, and indecent.” And on perhaps the album’s most lascivious cut, doctored by Rubin and his then-protégé Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Blackberry Smoke), Willie D., Bushwick Bill and Mr. Scarface hijack the hook to SMB’s most popular song, lift one of Miller’s most popular lines from it as the chorus and proceed to go into great detail about sexual conquests you’d normally need go behind a black velvet curtain in the local video store to read about. Surely Miller himself was none too happy to see his song transformed into an anthem of ghetto erotica, but the beat remains one of Rubin’s finest hip-hop creations.
Further Listening: Shaggy’s “Angel,” Electric Light Orchestra’s “Summer and Lightning”
“Space Intro” (Fly Like an Eagle, 1976) > “Climax (Girl Shit)” by Slum Village, “In the Flesh” by Pete Rock and CL Smooth
Here you have a case of two of the greatest minds in hip-hop production showcasing their excellence in the ability to recognize and manipulate tone, and then flip it for their MCs to tear up with seamless ease. On “Climax,” from Slum Village’s 2000 masterpiece Fantastic Vol. 1, the late J. Dilla (then known as Jay Dee) nicks the rising wave of synths and helps send them into the stratosphere for the chorus of this slice of underground hip-hop/R&B gold. Meanwhile, the master himself Pete Rock set the bar high for Dilla back in 1994 when he too used those escalating “Space Intro” keyboards for this deep track off The Main Ingredient. And with the hands of a surgeon, he also snips out the tiniest blip of Hammond organ from “Fly Like an Eagle” and intertwines the two so they become one fluid pattern on this five-minute marathon of microphone mastery that makes you really wish Rock and his old partner CL Smooth would one day reunite once again.
Further Listening: “Escape Velocity” by the Chemical Brothers, “She Said” (Dilla remix) by the Pharcyde
“Fly Like an Eagle” (Fly Like an Eagle, 1976) > “Nobody Beats the Biz” by Biz Markie
In addition to the aforementioned Pete and CL song, more 100 other hip-hop cuts have sampled the title track to SMB’s best album, including tracks by everyone from Ice Cube to EPMD to UGK to Nas to the Ultramagnetic MC’s to De La Soul back when they jammed with Teenage Fanclub for the soundtrack to Judgment Night and then some. But just as it says in the song, nobody beats Biz Markie at flipping the funk of “Fly Like an Eagle,” as Marley Marl drops Miller’s airy “Doo-doo-doo-doo” right into the nook of a beat otherwise comprised of James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” and “Hihache” by the amazingly unknown early-Seventies Long Island funk group the Lafayette Afro Rock Band, as the Biz turns one of New York television’s most famous commercial jingles of the Eighties into a declaration of his own dopeness.
Further Listening: “Fallin'” by Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul, “Ghetto Bird” by Ice Cube, “You’re a Customer” by EPMD, “Ego Trippin'” by Steady B
“Take the Money and Run” (Fly Like an Eagle, 1976) > “Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin’s Revenge)” by De La Soul
Here is another SMB standard that’s been copped countless times in the rap game for rhythms — in Beastie Boys’ “Time To Get Ill” and “Gangsta Gangsta” by NWA, for example. But the way Posdunous, Trugoy the Dove and Maseo summed up awkward teenage sexuality on the second single from their groundbreaking 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, has everything to do with the way Prince Paul captured Gary Mallaber’s famous drum break 28 seconds into “Take the Money” and looped it in brilliantly lopsided fashion.
Further Listening: “Highing Fly” by Digable Planets, “Where’s the Fun in Forever” by Miguel, “Soul in the Hole” by 3rd Bass
“Jungle Love” (Book of Dreams, 1977) > “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
That ray-gun keyboard effect at the top of the biggest hit off 1977’s Book of Dreams is one of the most recognizable intros played ad nauseum on AOR radio. Though it turns up on No Doubt’s 2001 hit “Hey Baby,” the most significant direct sample of the intro kicks off the title track to the 1988 triple-platinum double-album classic from Philly duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. The remainder of this 79-minute monolith was obscured by the record’s singular hit “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” But “He’s the DJ …,” the song, is perhaps the most potent example of the raw talent and compatibility of Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff as a duo, which sadly fell by the wayside once the Prince got fresh with his own commercial viability.
Further Listening: “Hypno” by Mystikal, “Get It Get It” by Girl Talk
“Winter Time” (Book of Dreams, 1977) > “Pimp C Back” by 2 Chainz
The College Park, Georgia, rapper born Tauheed Epps was wise to choose producer Don Vito for this homage to the late co-pilot of Texas greats UGK, who went to the mellower end of the SMB songbook to pull the beautiful melody from this highlight off Book of Dreams, which fueled 2 Chainz’ channeling of his hero with lines like, “Codeine and cream soda, different weed odors/California, you can smell it in a coma,” while also bringing the fine practice of sampling Steve Miller into the second decade of the 21st century with swagger to spare.
Further Listening: “Lost Tapes” by Lil’ B