Pop Goes the Sledgehammer
In this episode of Riffs on Riffs, Joe & Toby dive into one of the biggest hits, “Pop Goes The Weasel” (1991), from Brooklyn-based hip-hop trio 3rd Bass. Considered to be a ground-breaking group of the time in the 1980’s, 3rd Bass was a mixed-race rap group who broke out in a pre-Eminem rap world. Learn more about talented artists behind 3rd Bass and where they nabbed the sounds for their greatest chart topping hit song. Hint: He’s an iconic English musician who can really bring the Sledgehammer.
What we geek out over in this episode: The life and music of English singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel, Genesis, “Solsbury Hill” (1977), “In Your Eyes” (1986), hip-hop group 3rd Bass: MC Serch, Prime Minister Pete Nice, and DJ Richie Rich, Henry Rollins, The Who’s “Eminence Front” (1982), Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” (1974), “Back to the Grill” (1992), and Non-Phixion’s “Black Helicopters” (2004).
Bonus Material: Who Sampled Phil Collins’ mega-hit and iconic drum fill from “In the Air Tonight”?
Pop Goes the Sledgehammer
🔊“Pop Goes the Weasel”
Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell. What’s up Toby?
Joe: Together, we listen to the legendary tracks and the timeless — but sometimes not-so-well-known — songs they sampled from. Toby, what are we listening to today?
Toby: This is a song called “Pop Goes the Weasel” from 3rd Bass. Let’s hop in the Delorean and find out what track was sampled to produce this hit.
Toby: Joe, please tell the good folks what we are listening to.
Joe: This is the one and only Peter Gabriel and his hit, “Sledgehammer,” from his SO album. Before we get into how popular this song was, or how many albums he sold, or the awards he won… I feel we have to go back to the beginning.
Toby: So what you’re telling me is that we can’t get to the New Testament, we need to discuss his Genesis?
Joe: Well done. But let’s go back even before that.
Toby: Are you talking about the BIG BANG?
Joe: Now we’re going in the wrong direction. Let’s take a minute and talk about how his career got started. Peter Gabriel was born in England on Feb 3, 1950. Although his mom taught him how to play the piano at an early age, he later played drums for some of the first rock bands he played for.
Toby: He attended a boarding school named Charterhouse and in 1967 formed a band called Genesis with his school mates Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford, and drummer Chris Stewart. Gabriel was the lead singer and in 1969 the band released their first album titled From Genesis to Revelation. Let’s take a listen to one of those tracks. This is a song called “In the Beginning.”
🔊“In The Beginning”
Joe: Peter definitely has a distinctive vocal style. It has elements similar to Roger Chapman, the lead singer from another English band called Family. Let’s take a listen to a track from Family called “My Friend the Sun” and see if the listeners agree.
🔊“My Friend the Sun”
Joe: Definitely similarities in vocal style and tone. They also both do a nice job of doubling up vocal parts with with subtle nuance. Not harmonizing per se, but adding color and texture by singing a vocal multiple times. Tobe, you are a man with golden pipes that has spent more than a little time in the studio. Your thoughts?
Toby: It’s not an easy thing to do, especially when trying to match pitch and timbre. When double tracking is done right, the result is pretty cool and it gives the sound engineer an expanded sonic pallet and the ability to really expand a mix.
Joe: And while it’s a technique Peter Gabriel employs, it’s not unique to any one genre. Let’s hear how Tupac doubles his vocals on “All Eyez On Me.”
“All Eyez on Me”
Toby: Great song and an interesting peek behind the production curtain. Alright, let’s get back to Genesis.
Joe: Unfortunately, none of the singles from their first album did very well, but they did get signed to Charisma Records. They soldiered on to release their 2nd album, Trespass in 1970. As time passed, some members of the original group were replaced.
Toby: The new members were none other than lead guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins. You may have heard of them.
Joe: With the release of their 1972 album, Foxtrot, Peter Gabriel began to develop a reputation for wearing outlandish costumes on stage, including his wife’s red dress and a fox head mask.
Toby: The idea was suggested by Charisma’s booking agent, and the first time Peter came out with one of these outfits it was a surprise to the entire band. It did garner Genesis attention and publicity. Early on, a lot of people complained that his lyrics couldn’t be understood due to poor PA systems, so the outifis were also an innovative way for Peter to further express himself and the songs.
Joe: Their fifth album, Selling England by the Pound, was released in 1973. The single, “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” charted in the top 30 in the UK. Let’s take a listen:
🔊“I Know What I Like”
Toby: So I’ve had a thought for a long time, and after hearing this song, I’m thoroughly convinced that you and I could create our own language or slang.
Joe: Are you introducing something new into the Riffs on Riffs canon?
Toby: Yes I am… we will now have a slang called Riffish where we only communicate through song lyrics… and this song would be a perfect rebuttal after wifey gets on me for wearing a shirt she doesn’t like.
Joe: I like this, since I tend to think in song lyrics anyway. But before you end up in the dog house, why don’t we steer the discussion back to Peter Gabriel’s career?
Toby: Good call partner. Gabriel left Genesis after the release of their 6th album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. This double album was released in 1974 and Gabriel departed in 1975.
Joe: The rest of the band searched for another lead singer but eventually made the decision to hire from within and let their drummer do it, the aforementioned Phil Collins.
Toby: Peter Gabriel was now free to pursue his own musical vision. His first single off his 1976 self-titled debut album was called “Solsburry Hill.” It reached the Top 20 on the UK charts and and reached No. 68 on the Billboard Hot 100. Let’s take a listen to that.
Joe: Interesting factoid… Peter Gabriel’s first four solo albums are self titled. Many fans specify the album name by the art on the cover. Peter Gabriel’s fourth album, sometimes referred to as Security, was almost completely recorded digitally, one of the first to do so, and an especially challenging feat in 1982! It utilized the Fairlight CMI, an early digital work station and sampling machine.
Toby: That is pretty cool man, and so is one of the hit songs from that album, “Shock the Monkey.” This song reached #1 and it’s definitely one that’s hard to forget! Peter has said the song is sort of a love song that deal’s with base human instincts like jealousy. Let’s take a listen to “Shock the Monkey.”
🔊“Shock the Monkey”
Joe: His 5th album, SO, took 3 years of recording and production and was released in 1985. One of his most popular albums, it went 5x platinum and includes several hit singles, including “Big Time,” “Don’t Give Up,” and “Red Rain.”
Toby: And let’s not forget "In Your Eyes” which was featured in the classic romantic comedy Say Anything. Let’s take a listen.
🔊“In Your Eyes”
Joe: I love this song, and I’m sure a lot of folks are picturing John Cussack and a boombox right now.
Toby: The other big hit from SO is our featured track, “Sledgehammer.” I reached #1 on the US billboard charts, and in doing so, knocked off a song called “Invisible Touch.” A song by, you guessed it…. GENESIS.
Joe: “Sledgehammer” won 9 MTV awards and Rolling Stone has SO ranked at # 14 on the list of the top 100 albums made in the 80’s.
Toby: Peter Gabriel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010, and then again as a solo artist in 2014. Just think about how many artists can boast that claim? Peter Gabriel has a ton of talent — that can’t be denied.
Joe: For our second featured track, “Pop Goes the Weasel,” let’s hear how 3rd Bass took Sledgehammer and turned it into a hit of their own. Tobe, I have to tell you, this was one of my jams back in the day, in large part because I love all of the songs it samples. Before we get into all of that, tell me a little about 3rd Bass.
Toby: 3rd Bass was a hip-hop trio that rose to prominence in the late 80s and early 90s, and was one of the first successful interracial hip hop groups. It consisted of members MC Serch, Prime Minister Pete Nice, and DJ Richie Rich.
Joe: They were originally called 3 the Hard Way before changing their name to 3rd Bass, and I have to think Pete Nice had something to do with the name change.
Toby: Why is that?
Joe: A life long baseball historian, Pete is one of the most prolific sources of rare baseball memorabilia, especially the early stuff from the 19th century. Even though “bass” is referencing the thunderous low frequency spectrum in their band name, I have to think the double entendre was a reference to his other passion.
Toby: One thing I know about baseball: if you’re a pitcher you never want to be a gas can. Because if you come out of the bullpen and the ball starts leaving the yard, the fans might give you the gas face!
Joe: “The Gas Face?”
Toby: You know, that scrunched up face that you make when something doesn’t smell right. Like bad gas.
Joe: This is again one of those times I’m glad we record in separate rooms, just in case! “The Gas Face” is also the name of the best charting single off of 3rd Bass’ debut, The Cactus Album. Let’s give it a listen:
🔊The Gas Face"
Toby: The video for “The Gas Face” had cameos from Gilbert Gottfried, Flavor Flav, Salt-n-Pepa, and Erick Sermon of EPMD. The song itself takes on racism, shady music execs, and artists that members of 3rd Bass deemed to be inauthentic hip hop, like MC Hammer.
Joe: These would become common themes for 3rd Bass. The Cactus Album went Gold and reached #5 on the Billboard Hip Hop/R&B charts. It’s also ranked in the top ten of The Source’s Best Albums by White Rappers. Which is interesting, because again, not all members of 3rd Bass are white. Toby, this is a music show and we keep the social and political commentary to a minimum, but 3rd Bass certainly took swipes at what they perceived to be a misappropriation of hip hop by record companies and artists like Vanilla Ice in order to appeal to a mainstream, suburban audience.
Toby: That is on full display in the lyrics and the video for our second featured track, “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Let’s give a listen to some bars that specifically demonstrate this:
🔊“Pop Goes the Weasel” - Bars
Joe: And in case there was any doubt, the video features Henry Rollins playing Vanilla Ice and getting a beat down in the video.
Toby: Henry Rollins, as in Black Flag and Rollins Band Henry Rollins?
Joe: The one and only. I wouldn’t lie to you, but Henry might. Let’s have a listen to one of the Rollins Band’s biggest hits, the 1994 track “Liar.”
Toby: Well, that got angry quickly. And Henry isn’t the only one with authenticity problems. “Pop Goes the Weasel” takes umbrage with artists stealing samples and not paying homage to the original creators.
Joe: It’s amazing how relevant this is today. I feel like we’re immersed completely in an era of sampled music and copycat sounds. Very few artists are creating new music from scratch, and instead beginning the creative process with a previously recorded song or sample.
Toby: It was also easier back in the day for artists to clear samples without breaking the bank. Can you imagine the price tag for the rights to the samples used on “Pop Goes the Weasel” today? I mean, we’re talking The Who, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder, The JBs, and even Disneyland Records. They wouldn’t make money on this track, they’d have to hock their house to pay for it!
Joe: Let’s take a listen to the samples you’ve just mentioned. First, is the sample of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” that runs underneath the chorus. Here’s the original:
Toby: And here’s how 3rd Bass used it in “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
🔊“Pop Goes the Weasel” - “Sledgehammer” Sample
Joe: Next up is The Who’s “Eminence Front,” one of my favorite tracks released from the band after the passing of Keith Moon. I love the heavily reverbed drums and the bass stylings of John Entwistle. Let’s have a listen:
Toby: I’m sure it’s no coincidence that 3rd Bass chose to sample this track in particular. Besides being a great song, the lyrics talk about people being fake and hiding behind an “Eminence Front” — which is exactly what “Pop Goes the Weasel” is also talking about. Let’s hear how they took the guitar lick from “Eminence Front” and used it for “Pop Goes the Weasel:”
🔊“Pop Goes the Weasel” - “Eminence Front” Sample
Joe: They continue the musical and verbal connections with their sample of the Stevie Wonder track, “You Haven’t Done Nothin’.” Let’s listen first to Stevie:
🔊“You Haven’t Done Nothin’”
Joe: And now hear how 3rd Bass tucked it into the end of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
🔊Pop Goes the Weasel“ - ”You Haven’t Done Nothin’" Sample
Toby: Speaking of tucking in a sample, here’s another quick snippet from “Pop Goes the Weasel:”
🔊“Pop Goes the Weasel” - “Damn Right” Sample
Toby: That’s from Fred Wesley and the J.B.s 1974 track “Damn Right I’m Somebody,” let’s hear that:
“Damn Right I’m Somebody” - Fred Wesley and the JBs
Joe: That’s a great track from a classic funk album. And speaking of classics, let’s go way back in the day now, all the way to 1852 and sing along to the original “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
Toby: You mean to tell me you have the original 1852 recording?
Joe: Actually, no, this is the 1961 version from Disnyeland records, which is what 3rd bass sampled.
Toby: Oh, I see you’re going all Henry Rollins on me now. Ok, fair enough. Let’s give it a spin:
“Pop Goes the Weasel” - Disneyland
Joe: With so many epic songs that were sampled for “Pop Goes the Weasel,” it’s easy to see how 3rd Bass turned it into a mega hit. This hit #1 on the Hot Rap Songs charts in 1991, and even went to #29 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s listed at #70 on VH1s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop, and he strength of this single propelled the album Derelicts of Dialect to Gold record status.
Toby: As you might imagine, Vanilla Ice was not too thrilled with the treatment he recieved on this track. He came back in 1994 with a song called “The Wrath,” let’s hear that:
Joe: So Tobe, whatever happened to 3rd Bass? Two albums, both went gold, did they keep making hits?
Toby: Nope, that was it. No more albums. Pete Nice, who’s real name is Peter Nash, went full bore into his baseball memorabilia collecting. DJ Richie Rich left the music industry, and MC Serch ended up hosting the VH1 reality show The White Rapper Show.
Joe: Yep, but not before he launched a solo career with his 1992 album Return of the Product. The single “Here it Comes” hit #1 on the Hot Rap Tracks chart. Let’s give it a spin:
🔊“Here it Comes”
Toby: Another hit from that album, “Back to the Grill,” featured Chubb Rock, Samuel Barnes, aka Tone from the hip hop production duo The Trackmasters, and a young rapper by the name of Nas. Let’s give that a spin:
🔊“Back to the Grill”
Joe: Serch was executive producer of Nas’ acclaimed debut, Illmatic in 1994. And that’s not the only act Serch had a hand in breaking. Toby, I know your a big fan of New York group Non Phixion, and Serch was the one who put them together. Why don’t you tell us a little about why you are a fan, and then let’s spin a track that you’re particularly fond of.
Toby: Back in the day, if you rhymed over pretty samples laced with hard lyrics with conspiracy theory lyrics then you were right up my alley. There was a local hip hop radio show called The Butters that would play some stuff you might not hear normally, and Non Phixion songs was definitely in rotation from time to time. They were the perfect mix of obscure samples, hard beats, and good rhyme skills. Their debut album, The Future is Now was released in 2002 and to this day its still one of my personal favorite of all times. One of the reasons why this album stood out was due to the production credits. Anytime you have DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, The Beatnuts, and Necro (who just happens to be brother of Non Phixion member Ill Bill) then you just know that the album will be on repeat. Here’s one of the early singles from that album. This is a track called Black Helicopters and was produced by Necro.
Joe: Alright, we’ve touched on so many monster artists in this episode that I don’t think we could do any of them justice in our bonus material. We have to hone in on something specific so my brain doesn’t explode. You brought up the legendary drummer and vocalist Phil Collins earlier in the show, and we briefly mentioned Lil Kim’s cover of his track “In the Air Tonight” in a previous episode. That song has been sampled by so many artists, what do you say we listen to some of them?
Toby: Sounds like fun, I’m going to do the intro. Here is Meek Mill and the intro off his 2018 album Championships:
Joe: Well done my friend, I can tell you’ve been waiting for this moment all your life. I’ve got another one for you, this one from your man DMX and his 1998 track “I Can Feel It:”
🔊“I Can Feel It”
Toby: Oh Lord, I can feel it, too. Kind of like these guys from across the pond, MiC Lowry and their 2016 hit “Oh Lord.”
Joe: Speaking of Lorde, she used that iconic drum fill in her 2017 track “Loveless.” Let’s listen:
Toby: I cannot help but envision Mike Tyson air drumming towards a knockout whenever I hear that fill.
Joe: Just the thought of that leaves me with a bad hangover. I think we might have reached a moment of truth here. Or at least Cuban Link did when he cut this 2008 diss track with Remi Ma and Triple Seis. Let’s listen to “Moment of Truth.”
🔊“Moment of Truth”
Toby: I had a moment of truth, and it involves my man Shaquille O’Neal.
Joe: Was it that he’s a Hall of Fame baller but maybe not so quite so legendary on the mic?
Toby: C’mon, don’t be doing Shaq-Fu like that! Let’s listen to “Edge of Night” from his 1996 release You Can’t Stop the Reign.
🔊“Edge of Night”
Joe: That brings up an interesting question: pound for pound, who’s the best combined athlete/artist? Listeners, hit us up on social and tell us your thoughts. Off the top of my head, I’d have to go with Waymon Tisdale, may he rest in peace. Which is also the name of Joe Budden’s 2003 track. Let’s listen to “Rest in Peace.”
🔊“Rest in Peace”
Toby: And here’s another track from someone that left us way too soon. Let’s listen to Tupac’s “Starin Through My Rear View.”
🔊“Starin Through My Rear View”
Joe: Finally, let’s bring it full circle and connect to our first featured track, Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” Fifth Harmony had a platinum selling hit of the same name, and it features that drum fill from “In the Air Tonight.” Let’s listen to “Sledgehammer:”
“Sledgehammer” - Fifth Harmony
Toby: Well done sir!
Joe: Thanks buddy. I also want to clear up a common misconception while we’re at it.
Toby: You mean the whole “Phil Collins saw somebody drown” bit and that’s what “In the Air Tonight” was written about? That’s been debunked by Phil numerous times, and he’s said the song was written as a stream of conscious about his divorce at the time.
Joe: Thanks for clearing that up, but there’s actually something else I wanted to set the record straight on.
Toby: Hit me.
Joe: Phil Collins and Bootsy Collins are not related.
Toby: OK, there it is, I was wondering when we’d get our Bootsy reference in. Thanks for taking care of that partner.
Joe: My pleasure. We are about done with this episode, what all did we cover?
Toby: Our first featured track was “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel, and our next featured track was “Pop Goes the Weasel” by 3rd Bass. Then we had a listen to “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins and a few of the numerous songs that have sampled it.
Joe: Good stuff. What do we have lined up for our next episode?
Toby: Our next episode was actually recommended by one of our listeners. We will take a listen to how a crafty band from Germany influenced a whole generation of hip hop.
Joe: I’ll be sure to get my Sprockets dance ready.
Toby: In the meantime, please connect with us on social. You can tweet the show @riffsonriffsyo, or find us on Instagram, @riffsonriffs. If you want to reach out to me directly, you can find me @heiku575, and connect with Joe @sonowats.
Joe: We definitely love hearing from our listeners! Until next time, we’ll take you out with a recent Peter Gabriel track called “The Veil,” which he wrote and produced for the Oliver Stone film “Snowden.” Enjoy, and we’ll catch you next time on Riffs on Riffs.