Sampling Beethoven (Camille Carter)

by camilleecarter

When I first heard Robin Thicke’s “When I Get You Alone,” I recognized that it was sampling a popular classical piece, but I didn’t know which one. After a quick Google search, I found out that Thicke was sampling a disco instrumental song produced by Walter Murphy called “A Fifth of Beethoven.”  This 1976 smash hit was heavily inspired by Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. In short, Thicke drew inspiration from Murphy and Murphy from Beethoven.

I found both Thicke and Murphy’s interpretations quite interesting.  “A Fifth of Beethoven” was Murphy’s claim to fame. The song did very well on the charts and became an anthem for the disco era.  It was also featured on the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, the popular film starring John Travolta. In the music video for “When I Get You Alone,” Robin Thicke plays a newspaper courier.  His hair is long and on the whole he looks a bit scruffy. He is seen hurriedly pedaling his bicycle through the streets of New York. Thicke’s song was fairly popular. Comparatively speaking though, it didn’t receive nearly as much attention as Murphy’s.

I guess what struck me most was how different these songs felt from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I wonder what Beethoven would have thought of 70’s teens gyrating their hips to the sounds of his 19th century classical work. Would he like Robin Thicke’s soulful crooning? I like both songs, but I found myself grappling with how much I should like them. Yes it’s true that the beat is catchy, but is the piece being played in the way it was intended to be used? One could definitely argue that a work as widely distributed as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is pretty much public domain at this point. For this reason, the intent of the work could now be left to the dominion of the people.