Yesterday a friend sent me an e-mail that simply said “I did not know about this” with a link to the Tommy Seebach version of the song “Apache”. (full video below).
What he didn’t know, and what I only found out a year or two ago, is that the song “Apache” has had quite a ride through modern musical history. I would venture to say that the majority of the planet is familiar with “Apache” via the Sugar Hill Gang’s song “Apache (Jump On It)”. My buddy basically said as much in a followup e-mail:
I always thought the Sugar Hill Gang were the originators of the song. I thought that was one reasons why they have been considered the forefront of the rap/hiphop movement.
Apache was one of my favorite closet songs back in the day. It was cool to like Rush and Nazareth in my parts but it wasn’t cool to like Sugar Hill Gang, so I kept it to myself. Even MTV didn’t give it rotation. Not even J.J Jackson.
The song was originally released in June of 1960 by the British group The Shadows. This version has almost no percussion. It’s actually kind of surprising this song has such a history based on its humble beginnings.
In 1961, Jörgen Ingmann released a cover of the song which reached number 2 on the US pop chart. This version features some space-age synth and some noticeable percussion flair.
In 1972, Hot Butter released a version of Apache as a follow-up to their novelty hit Popcorn. This version is cheese upon cheese upon cheese.
The major step that turns this song from a cheesy instrumental into one of hip-hops most revered songs is when the Incredible Bongo Band released their version in 1973. This version is badass. The opening sequence and the bridge at the 2:25 mark are the absolute sound of breakbeat. It’s stunning to listen to today and it’s clear where the Sugar Hill Gang got their inspiration for their take on “Apache”. It’s also impressive to note just how much production quality improved from the early 60’s to the early 70’s and clearly how much more important rhythm had become. Man I could listen to that break for days…
A completely different version was also released in 1973 by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. It was released on their oddly-spelled “Reggay Fever” record. This one adds in some vocals which Tommy Seebach seems to build on in his version. This one has a nicely chilled reggae vibe.
The next notable version of “Apache” is in 1977 when another Dane, Tommy Seebach, gave the world not only a disco-tinged version but also one of the high points in Music Video. Just check this sucker out and tell me you won’t remember seeing this video for years to come! This video has become a bit of a meme and it’s the same video that got me to learn a bit of the history of this song that my buddy e-mailed to me. Tommy Seebach: The gateway drug for “Apache” knowledge.
And then the inevitable happened. Take a song with a memorable melody, swipe a big beat, and drop some rhymes over the top and you have a music classic that had as much to contribute to the sound of hip hop as anything else. This is the version I know best and I suspect most everyone else does as well. “Apache jump on it, jump on it, jump on it!”
Listen to the lyrics at the 4:15 mark. Is that a tip of the hat to the band Hot Butter (mentioned above) and to their most memorable song Popcorn?
At this point, “Apache” is a certified classic. From its humble beginnings as an instrumental by The Shadows to a big beat hip-hop epic, the song has adapted extremely well as music trends constantly move and change. From here, you can hear Apache referenced in all kinds of songs. Here’s Sir Mix-Alot paying homage to “Apache” and The Sugar Hill Gang in his song “Jump On It”.
And we’ll end with a version from the Fatboy Slim, the king of big-beat techno. After hearing this, go back and listen to that first version by The Shadows and realize that the original had almost no percussion whatsoever – primarily a rhythmic backing. Crazy how this song has evolved.
For more information about “Apache”, you can go here.
Apache. Jump on it.