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The Power – Snap!

Snap! producers initially approached Chaka Khan…

The Power – Snap!

1116

Arista 113 133 (UK) / Arista AS 2013 (USA)

Released January 1990 (Germany) March 1990 (UK)

Writers Benito Benites, John Virgo Garrett III and Antoinette Colandero*

Producers Snap!

UK #1   31/3/90   2 weeks   USA #2   8/90

*Original US copies credit Benites, Garrett and Turbo G as sole writers

A complex story this, with a number of ‘sampling’ issues, some of which do not appear to have been satisfactorily resolved some 26 years later. Snap! was the name of a studio project run by former deejays Michael Munzing and Luca Anzilotti (who used the pseudonyms ‘Benito Benites’ and ‘John Virgo Garrett III’) in Germany, in 1989. ‘The Power’ originally utilized numerous un-cleared samples with the lead-vocal rap sampled from New Jersey born Chill Rob G’s 1989 release ‘Let The Words Flow’. The spoken intro was taken from a Russian radio broadcast and translates to: “The American company Transceptor Technologies has started production of the Personal Companion Computer.” (This was a computer for the blind and visually impaired and a nice free ad for the company, at least for those who understood Russian!) Other samples included Mantronix’ 1988 release ‘King Of The Beats’ (which formed the main backing track), Chaka Khan’s ‘Some Love’ (also incorporated in the backing track) and Jocelyn Brown’s a cappella version of ‘Love’s Gonna Get You’ from which the key phrase ‘I’ve Got the Power’ was taken.

This first version of the finished track was released as ‘The Power’ by Power Jam featuring Chill Rob G (aka Robert Frazier) and released in Europe and also America on the small Wild Pitch label to whom Chill Rob G was contracted. At this point Snap! producers Munzing and Anzilotti encountered difficulty in licensing all of their samples though in the meantime the popularity of ‘The Power’ (version 1) in European clubs aroused the interest of major German label Ariola/BMG with whom Snap! got a deal – concurrently they appear to have fallen out with Chill Rob G (presumably for financial reasons though perhaps because BMG didn’t want to use his sample) and decided to do a re-make of ‘The Power’ with new participants.

To replace the sampled female vocals Snap! producers initially approached Chaka Khan but she wasn’t interested and instead recommended her backing singer and close friend Penny Ford (half-sister of Sharon Redd) who flew to Germany and re-recorded vocals for ‘The Power’ and the later hits ‘Ooops Up’ and ‘Mary Had A Little Boy’. (Both Ford and Sharon Redd had previously been members of Bette Midler’s backing singers The Harlettes) Ms Ford says she “sang for three days, collected a fee, and thought I would never hear of it again.” In the meantime Snap! had also hired a former US serviceman based in Germany, Turbo G (aka Durron Butler), to write a new rap and replace Chill Rob G’s contribution (though some of Chill Rob G’s lyrics remained). This new version was released by Ariola/BMG in Europe who were affiliated with the major Arista/RCA labels in America and Arista’s huge clout and promotional muscle in the States and elsewhere ensured that Chill Rob G’s minor label were unable to compete and the newly recorded Arista version ran off with all the sales, topping the international charts and a US #2. Strangely, Turbo G got a writing credit on the US release only. More recent editions of ‘The Power’ only credit producers ‘Benites’ and ‘Garrett’ as writers together with ‘Toni C’ (Antoinette Colandero), composer of the disputed Jocelyn Brown vocal sample, which we’ll shortly be coming back to.

When ‘The Power’ became a huge hit, Penny Ford was invited to join Snap! on a fulltime basis, though the video of ‘The Power’ features one Jackie Harris lip-syncing to Ford’s vocal parts – Ms Harris was Turbo B’s cousin. (Because of her video appearance, Harris is often mistakenly credited as the real vocalist) The various participants of this complicated saga all seem to have differing stories as to events at the time and there have been numerous legal wrangles over the years both from participants in this major hit looking for further remuneration for their efforts, but most especially regarding the presence or otherwise of various samples in the mega-hit version of ‘The Power’ which sold a couple of million worldwide and has since earned a considerable amount of money, mostly for its producers. This brings to mind the old music-biz saying, “where there’s a hit, there’s a writ” which certainly applies in this case – several in fact – and there could yet be more since recent digital ‘fingerprinting’  technology can now identify previously undeclared or unlicensed/camouflaged samples.

Sampling has in recent times become a legal and financial nightmare and it was in fact around the time of Snap!’s success in the early 1990s that the record industry had begun to sit up and take notice demanding large fees for samples which had for the most part been ignored up until the late 1980s success of sampling acts such as De La Soul, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys. The main bone of contention with ‘The Power’ was the alleged use of Jocelyn Brown’s phrase, ‘I’ve Got the Power’, from her 1985 Warner Brothers recording ‘Love’s Gonna Get You’. However, Snap! producers claim that the hit version of ‘The Power’ did not contain a sample of Jocelyn Brown, but an ‘interpolation’ (new recording) by Penny Ford. Nonetheless, this raises numerous other sampling issues which yet need to be resolved. While Jocelyn Brown may or may not appear on the record, the use of her voice would not necessarily entitle her to any payment since she didn’t write the song that the sample is taken from and neither does she own the rights to the sound recording of her voice which was made for Warner Brothers as an ‘artist for hire’.

‘The Power’ also raises another major problem with regard to sampling, the licensing thereof and the distribution of remuneration to the accredited songwriters involved – a problem that is only likely to increase as time goes by and new recordings sample records that already contain samples. The main musical backing track of ‘The Power’ is sampled from Mantronix’ 1988 recording ‘King Of The Beats’ which itself samples at least 8 previously copyrighted works! (The section used by Snap! is mostly taken from The Meters’ ‘Same Old Thing’) Legally speaking however, since there are at least 8 songwriters, probably more (plus the members of Mantronix) involved in the musical copyright of ‘King Of The Beats’, all of these writers would automatically be part of the copyright of ‘The Power’ – in addition to the writers of any other samples within ‘The Power’.

With regard to the alleged Jocelyn Brown sample, Warner Brothers apparently announced their intention to launch a $16 million suit against Snap! producers in 2009 – almost 20 years since the record came out – to obtain 50% of the rights of ‘The Power’ containing their ‘Love’s Gonna Get You’ which has since featured in numerous movies and TV ads, though the outcome remains uncertain and the threat of litigation probably led to a quiet out of court settlement. 1990 seems to be the year that sampling legal cases began in earnest. Among other legal affrays that year were MC Hammer’s theft of Rick James ‘Super Freak’ for ‘U Can’t Touch This’; Vanilla Ice’s appropriation of the bass-hook from Queen/David Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure’ on his ‘Ice Ice Baby’ and the undisclosed sampling of a German choir for the Gregorian chants on Enigma’s  ‘Sadeness’. The moral of all this under the table activity is fairly obvious – don’t sample anything without first obtaining a licence…if you can afford it that is. These days it seems to be only mega-rich rappers like Jay-Z and Kanye West who can afford to sample!

 

Copyright © 2013/2017 SongStories/Tony Burton

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