Hosts Joe Watson and Toby Brazwell take a hard look at legendary tracks of the past and present, connecting the dots on the music they sample and the songs that inspired them. Join us for Season 3, where Riffs takes a deep dive into the tragic world of 24-Carat Black, the band everyone has heard, but nobody has heard of.
She is one of the industry’s leading princess’ of pop with a trail of hits, world tour and a Grammy to prove it. In this episode, Joe and Toby explore the music of pop sensation, Ariana Grande. Alongside her widely successful music career and string of chart-topping collaborations - from Iggy Azalea, the Weeknd and Nicki Minaj - to name a few, Grande performance goes beyond her infamous ponytail. It is safe to say her cheesy kids’ sitcom days are over! It’s time to hop in the time machine connect the music dots between Ariana Grande’s 2013 hit “The Way” and a fellow power ballad singer from 1979.
What we geek out over in this episode: The impressive power ballads of Brenda Russell, Nickelodeon’s Victorious, “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes (1992), Troglodytes (Cavemen), Rush 2112: Overture, Big Pun “Still Not a Player” featuring Joe (1998), and Ariana Grande dating debacles via TMZ style gossip.
Bonus Material: Jimmy Castor’s Troglodytes (Cavemen) sample used by NWA, Christina Aguilera, Blackstreet, Lil’ Kim & Phil Collins. Bonus, Bonus Material: “The Bertha Butt Boogie” by The Jimmy Castor Bunch.
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? Toby: Not much man! Good to be here! 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 track called “The Way” from Ariana Grande. Let’s hop in the Delorean and find out what track was sampled to produce this hit. Joe: Rewind!
🔊“A Little Bit of Love”
Toby: Joe, what are we listening to? Joe: This is the song “A Little Bit of Love” by Brenda Russell off of her 1979 debut solo album of the same name. This album hit #20 on the R&B charts and this track has been sampled by a couple of famous artists. But before we get into all that, Tobe, give me a little backstory on Brenda. Toby: Brenda Gordon was born to musical parents and spent a lot of her childhood in Canada. As a teen she joined an all girls group called the Tiaras, but unfortunately didn’t find much success there. In the 70’s, she met and married a musician named Brian Russell. As fate would have it, they started to do music together. They actually composed music for an artist that we recently spoke about in a previous episode. Joe: Let me guess. Tom Tom Club? Toby: NO! Joe: The Meters? Toby: Nope- last guess! Joe: What about Rufus? Toby: Winner Winner! I guess the 3rd time is the charm. The Russells composed a song called “Please Pardon Me” which was released on Rufus’s 3rd studio album entitled Rufusized. Let’s take a listen.
🔊“Please Pardon Me”
Joe: Rufusized went on to go Gold, so not a bad way for the Russells to start their nuptials. Toby: Facts! The Russells were featured back up singers for Elton John’s Wembley Stadium concert in June of 1975 and went on to release two albums on Elton’s label named Rocket. The first of the their albums was called A Word Called Love released in 1976 and the second was called Supersonic Lover released in 1977. Truth be told, I had never heard of either of these albums. I didn’t even know Elton John had a label. Joe: How could you NOT know that he had a label Toby. I thought you were in the KNOW. Don’t go breaking my heart … Toby: Here we go… Anyways Let’s get back to the Russells. Joe: It’s so cool to see a couple doing music together like Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo did back in the day. Sadly this couple didn’t last the test of times and divorced in the late 70’s. Toby: Sad indeed, but Brenda decided to pursue her solo music career in LA and released her self titled album in 1979 on A&M records. Joe: One single from the album, “So Good, So Right,” charted at #8 on the Billboards Adult Contemporary Charts, 15 on the Hot Soul Songs and #30 on the Hot 100. Let’s take a listen to “So Good, So Right.”
🔊“So Good, So Right”
Toby: When we do this podcast, it would be pretty easy to gloss over the lyrics of the tracks that we discuss each episode. But being an artist myself, I am very reluctant to do that because these artists put time and effort in to send a message and I want to respect that. Joe, I know you’re written several songs yourself, so you feel me on this, yes? Joe: Absolutely. Lyrics are a window to an artist’s inner mind. And whether you agree or not with the message, it’s always fascinating to peel back the layers and see what’s really being said. Toby: Well the lyrics for this track are very much something you would hear during the honeymoon stage of a relationship. Joe: Agreed. Those warm fuzzy feelings when you’re just beginning your journey as a couple and can’t get enough of each other. Toby: Let’s take another listen to our featured track, “A Little Bit of Love” and see where Brenda’s at now that she’s divorced and the honeymoon is over. Here’s the 2nd verse:
🔊“A Little Bit of Love” - Verse 2
Joe: I think we all know people like this — those who blame everyone else for their troubles, and get stuck in the muck of negative feelings. I like Brenda’s response to that, though. Toby: Right. She puts a positive vibe to it. It’s not too late. Find a little bit of love. Quit being debbie downer! Joe: Well it seems this song has struck a chord with you, and I can’t say that you’re the only one. Brenda continued to release albums and have success. She released her 4th album, Get Here in 1988, and her single “Piano In The Dark” was a top ten hit and nominated for 3 Grammy’s. Let’s take a listen to that:
🔊“Piano in the Dark”
Toby: Great song! We can’t forget the title track “Get Here” which turned into a hit across the world. Let’s take a listen.
Toby: I like this song and the meaning, but here’s another song that I heard way too many times at talent shows! Joe: I feel your pain buddy! I get the same twitch whenever I hear that 80’s pop electric piano sound. But there’s no denying it, when people recognize talent everyone wants to get as close to it as they can. Toby: Just a few years later in 1991, Oleta Adams recorded this song and turned it into an even bigger hit. Oleta’s version hit #5 in the US and #4 in the UK. Let’s listen.
🔊“Get Here” - Oleta Adams
Joe: Still that same huge pop power ballad, but the piano and instrumentation have a little more organic sound. Good stuff. Toby: In the mid–90s, Brenda took a little bit of a hiatus from her solo career and wrote music for the film How Stella Got Her Grove Back. This film was based on the top selling book of the same name written by Terry Mcmillan. After that she worked with songwriters Allee Willis and Stephen Bray to compose the score for the Oprah-produced Broadway version of The Colour Purple. Joe: Wow, that’s an impressive resume indeed. Brenda certainly paved the way for our next multi-talented featured artist. Let’s take another listen to Ariana Grande and her song, “The Way.”
Toby: The Way was the lead single from Arianna Grande’s first album entitled Your’s Truly, released in August of 2013. Joe: I know this is one of your favorite new school artists Tobe, so give me a little background on Ariana Grande. Toby: Ariana was born in Boca Raton in June of 1993. It was pretty evident from an early age that Ariana was born to entertain. She starred in several musicals as a child, including Annie, Beauty and the Beast, and The Wizard of Oz. She even sang “The Star Spangled Banner” for the Florida Panthers. But her big break came in 2009 with a starring role in the Nickelodeon sitcom Victorious. Did you ever get a chance to catch the show Joe? Joe: Can’t say that I have. But it sounds like maybe this show was akin to a teenage version of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club? It would be hard to fault Nickelodeon for copying a good thing. The Mickey Mouse Club launched the career of several stars including Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Brittany Spears. Toby: Exactly! Ariana played the role of Cat Valentine — a character that was described as being adorably dimwitted. This was actually was my first introduction to Ariana and her singing ability. I remember flipping through the channels with my son and landing on this show. Those kids had a ton of talent. Joe: The show Victorious was a sitcom set inside of a performing arts high school and premiered in March of 2010. Victorious was well received — if 5.7 million viewers is any indication. Toby: WOW! That’s impressive. after the first season ended, Ariana really expressed that she wanted to pursue a career in music and released her first studio recording as part of the Victorious Soundtrack released in 2011. Let’s listen to a track called “Give it Up” featuring Ariana and Elizabeth Gilles.
🔊“Give it Up”
Joe: So very similar to Halsey’s Youtube videos, Ariana’s renditions of songs by Whitney, Adele and Mariah Carey got her some attention that eventually led to a record deal. Ariana put out a single called “Put Your Hearts Up” that was recorded but not released as part of an album. Let’s take a listen:
🔊“Put Your Hearts Up”
Toby: Ariana has stated several times that she has no love for this song at all. I have a quote from her discussing the track and saying as much: “terrible first impression. … I didn’t want to promote it because I didn’t like it and I wasn’t confident about it and I hated the video and I didn’t like anything about it. So I sort of gave up on it and wanted to pretend that it didn’t happen before it already happened.” Joe: Well performing a song that you don’t really like happens, I’m sure, in every entertainers life. The difference here is that the song actually went Gold. Maybe that’s in part to the catchy chorus she sampled from one of my all-time favorite anthems, “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. Let’s give that a spin:
Joe: Linda Perry, writer and singer of that song, is one of those amazingly talented people that sometimes flies under the radar. She wrote Pink’s “Get the Party Started” and Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” both enormous hits, and has worked not only with them but many talented artists. Just wanted to give her a little bit of love. Toby: Look at you, connecting it back to Brenda Russell and the song Ariana sampled for “The Way!” Joe: You like that? “The Way” was the lead single from Ariana’s 2013 debut album, which was originally titled Daydreamin’ but then changed to Yours Truly. Toby: I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that her voice has been compared to Mariah’s voice and Mariah also had an album called Daydream released in 1995. Joe: Maybe after Mueller gets finished with his investigation, we can see if he can look into this matter. And if he’s too busy, then maybe can at least get Mulder and Scully. Toby: Careful partner, we don’t want to get excommunicated from the Podcast community. Joe: Trust no one! Except maybe Billboard. They say “The Way” debuted in the top 10 and peaked at number 9 on the charts for 2 weeks. It was not without a little controversy, though. Toby: Really? What happened. Joe: Let’s listen again to the opening line of the song:
🔊“The Way” - Intro
Joe: Tell me if that sounds a bit familiar to this:
🔊“Trogolodytes” - Intro
Toby: Um, yeah. Sounds verrrry familiar. And I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that line in a TON of songs. Joe: You are correct my friend. That is Jimmy Castor and his song “Troglodytes (Cave Men),” and it has indeed been sampled in a many, many songs. Jimmy passed away in 2012, but his publishing company was still unhappy with the similarities between the two tracks. They filed a lawsuit that was eventually settled out of court, so hopefully everything is all good now. We’ll talk more about Jimmy a bit later. Toby: OK Joe, I know in our Prince episode we discussed his dating prowess. Can I say that Ariana has a good run herself? Joe: Oh, we’re going TMZ now? Do tell. Toby: Well, she was dating the rapper Big Sean in 2015. Big Sean is signed to Kanye’s label and has collaborated on a couple of songs with Ariana. Here’s one of them that also appeared on her debut album Yours Truly. Let’s listen to “Right There.”
Joe: So Tobe, when I was cutting these tracks for this episode, I was shocked when I got to this one. I heard the intro for “Right There” and was like, wait a minute, is that what I think it is? Toby: Do we have another Bootsy connection here? Joe: No, but I’m glad so glad you worked him into another episode! No, this one really surprised me. It’s a sample of the “Overture” from Rush’s 1976 2112 album. Have a listen.
🔊“2112 - Overture”
Toby: That’s pretty close to the “Right There” intro. I bet if you slowed it down a bit… Joe: Exactly! I made a little mashup for you. I took the “2112” track, slowed it down and panned it right. “The Right” there track is panned left and keeps playing after the intro. Perfect fit.
Toby: That’s pretty cool man, never would have guessed that one. Joe: Full disclosure, I’m a huge Rush fan and 2112 is one of my favorite albums, so this jumped out at me right away. Also, all you DJ’s and hip hop heads making beats — go sample some Rush! You can’t get any better than Neil Peart for drum samples, and there’s a giant catalog to get inspiration from. Ok Tobe, back to Ariana’s dating life. I’m assuming that you’re implying that she dated Big Sean? I guess even stars aren’t immune to workplace romance. Anyone else? Toby: She dated one of her back up dancers by the name of Ricky Alvarez for about a year. Then she dated rapper Mac Miller for about 2 years, who appears alongside her in our featured track, “The Way.” Following that she dated SNL comedian Peter Davidson. Joe: She was actually engaged to him. But I heard they broke up. I’m sure a lot of men out there would be pretty bummed by a break up with someone as talented as Ariana. Toby: Ummm… don’t worry about Pete… he’s doing just fine. Rumor has it that he’s dating Kate Beckinsale, the lead actress from the Underworld Series. Wow… somehow i can just see Pete saying …. “Don’t cry for me Argentina… don’t cry for me…” Joe: So apparently Pete is not a player, he just crushes a lot. Speaking of which, let’s take a listen to another popular track that samples Brenda Russell’s “A Little Bit of Love.” We talked a little bit about Big Pun and his lyrical genius in our Hamilton episode — and if you are a fan of that musical, go check out that episode, it might blow your mind.
OK, let’s take a listen to one of Big Pun’s most popular tracks, “Still Not a Player” featuring Joe.
🔊“Still Not a Player”
Toby: This song hit #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #6 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts, making it the most successful single released by Big Pun. Besides the sample of “A Little Bit of Love,” it interpolates Joe’s 1998 hit “Don’t Wanna to Be a Player,” who croons along Big Pun on “Still Not a Player.” Let’s give a listen to Joe’s original song, “Don’t Wanna Be a Player.”
🔊“Don’t Wanna Be a Player”
Joe: It’s too bad Big Pun is no longer with us. I feel like with my first name he and I would have gotten along real well. Maybe I could have been Skinny Joe. Toby: Yeah, I’m sure you guys would have been tight like Twinz. Joe: Well Tobe, we talked a little bit about Jimmy Castor and the sample from “Troglodyte (Cave Man)” that Ariana Grande used for “The Way.” But that songs influence goes well beyond Ariana’s recent sample, and that’s not the only bootie shaker from the Jimmy Castor Bunch. What do you say we dive a little bit deeper into that for our bonus material? Toby: So what we’re going to do right here is go back, way back, back in time? Joe: Yessir! And thank you for setting me up with another opportunity to say the word troglodytes! Alright, so that line you just mentioned, the same one that was sampled in our first featured track, Ariane Granda’s “The Way,” has been used in dozens of other songs. Toby: It sure has, so let’s take a listen a few. How about we start with Kool Moe Dee and his 1987 track “Way Way Back?”
🔊“Way Way Back”
Joe: Love it. And love that also samples The Incredible Bongo Band’s version of “Apache” on that track, too. Ok, for obvious reasons we can’t play a ton of NWA on this show, but we can play this snippet of “Gangsta Gangsta” from their 1988 debut album Straight Outta Compton.
Toby: OK, well let’s take a listen to another song from back in the day, Christina Aguilera’s “Back in the Day.”
🔊“Back in the Day”
Joe: You know that’s become one of our signature lines from this show, right? Toby: What’s that? Joe: Back in the day. Apparently we say that phrase a few times per episode. There are listeners that have turned it into a drinking game. Every time one of us says back in the day, they take a drink. Toby: So you mean we are driving our listeners to drink? Joe: Yes, but this is a family show, so I’m pretty sure they are drinking water. We’re really doing a public service here, keeping everyone hydrated and all. Toby: Well in that case, y’all have another sip as we go back in the day to 1996 and take things to Another Level with legendary R&B group Blackstreet, and their song “We Gonna Take U Back (Luda)/Don’t Leave Me,”
🔊“We Gonna Take U Back (Luda)/Don’t Leave Me”
Joe: Alright, one more song that samples “Troglodytes (Cave Man).” This is Lil’ Kim feat. Phil Collins and her version of “In the Air Tonight.”
🔊“In the Air Tonight”
Toby: Joe, I know you are familiar with some famous songs that pay homage to the derriere. Joe: Are talking about songs like Experience Unlimited’s 1988 track “Da Butt?”
Toby: Exactly! Or Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker,” or this iconic 1992 track from Sir Mix-a-lot.
🔊“Baby Got Back”
Joe: Yes, I definitely see a theme here. But why do you ask? Are you trying out a new spin on our catchphrase? Are we going to revise it, so instead of back in the day we’ll say “backside in the day?“ I kinda like that. Toby: No my friend, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I bring this up because Jimmy Castor may have started this whole craze with another of his hits, ”The Bertha Butt Boogie.“ He introduced Bertha as a character in the song ”Troglodytes," and apparently she could really shake it down. Have a listen.
🔊“Bertha Butt Boogie”
Joe: Wow. She really did start a trend. You know what else? That intro reminds me of that snippet we found for our Tom Tom Club/Mariah Carey episode — that cut of Biz Markie doing the beat of the day on “Yo Gabba Gabba.” I made another mashup of the two.
🔊“Yo Biz Markie”
Toby: Yeah, Bertha said she and Biz hung out a bit, but he’s just a friend. Joe: C’mon man. Don’t gimme that. Don’t even gimme that. Toby: Ok buddy, I think we need to find our way outta here and wrap things up before this show goes completely off the rails. So let’s review. Our first featured track was “A Little Bit of Love” by Brenda Russell, and our second featured track was “The Way” by Ariana Grande. We also listened to “Still Not a Player” from Big Pun, and our bonus material featured the Jimmy Castor Bunch. Joe: Great stuff Tobe. What do we have lined up for our next episode? Toby: I think we are going to go uptown, where everything is all gold, and if you’re not paying attention the funk might just go ooops upside your head. Joe: And if you don’t believe us, just watch… err… listen. Alright Tobe, anything else? Toby: Before we wrap up the discussion I want to give a shout out to one of our faithful listeners. Sara from Columbus contacted us about one of our recent shows. In the “True Memories of Bliss” episode we discuss how PM Dawn lyrically sampled A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum.” Sara pointed out that the Fugee’s also sampled Bonita Applebaum on their hit “Killing Me Softly”, which was a remake of Roberta Flack’s timeless song. Love it - thanks for the note Sara! Joe: That’s great! We love hearing from our listeners. So please interact with the show on Instagram @riffsonriffs and on Twitter, @riffsonriffsyo. You can find Toby on social @heiku575 and I’m @sonowats. Toby: We know a lot of you are also streaming on your Alexa or Google Home smart speakers, which makes it even easier to listen. Just say “Play the Riffs on Riffs podcast” and sit back and enjoy. Joe: We are going to take you out with a recent song that samples Brenda Russell’s “A Little Bit of Love.” This is a track called “Nobody Else” by the Ncredible Gang featuring Nick Cannon, Ty Dolla $ and Jacquees. As always, thanks for listening, and we’ll catch you next time.