In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in anticipation of the Sochi Olympics, we’re celebrating jock jams—or songs we think should be jock jams.
An odd series of events led to “Pump Up The Volume,” and it’s likely that no one involved imagined the track would one day be a “jock jam.” (It actually appears on the first Jock Jams compilation, so it has pedigree.) Originally intended as a collaboration between two acts—A R Kane and Colourbox—whose music didn’t foreshadow anything like the house hit they would produce, it ended up being a slightly contentious non-collaboration with—if most accounts are to be believed—the members of Colourbox doing the lion’s share of the work. But none of that matters a quarter century later. What matters is the enduring groove of this influential single, credited to MARRS—a supergroup that would release only one single (“Pump Up The Volume” backed with the essentially forgotten “Anitina”). It’s easy to see why “Pump Up The Volume” was so important: It was massively influential in both the house music and instrumental hip-hop worlds, constructed as it was from more than 20 samples. The bass and electronic drum beds were original to the track, but layer upon layer of samples were added to enhance things, and various copyright holders meant that various versions of the song existed. (I remember years ago thinking that I was crazy, because the only version I could find was missing the vocal sample “Mars needs women,” which it turns out wasn’t on every version.) The key piece, naturally, is the vocal sample from Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul,” but it’s enhanced by bits and pieces from James Brown (on some versions), Public Enemy, and Criminal Element Orchestra, which is responsible for “put the needle on the record when the drum beats go like this.” It’s a pastiche of the most remarkable kind—a groundbreaker that sounds as fresh now as it did then, even in the wake of thousands of imitators.