This is a song you probably know, regardless of whether you know the name.
But is Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the single most influential song of the past decade—of the century so far? At least one writer thinks so.
Over at Popbitch, there’s an extensive, exhaustive research piece breaking down the song’s composition, from the single guitar note played for the first 30 seconds of the song (120 times in a row, because someone did the flippin’ math) to the lyrical patterns, comparing chords and elements in three songs that are clearly and directly influenced by, or written to match, Maps has been inspiring other artists since it was released in 2003.
In the Black Eyed Peas song Meet Me Halfway, there’s a sample at the 40 second mark that is unmistakably the intro from Maps. Popbitch says the sample kicks in “under many layers of other music. If you’re listening to the song through bad speakers you may only be able to year (Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick) Zinner’s guitar line, twanging along at twice the speed of anything else. If you concentrate, you’ll be able isolate (drummer Brian) Chase’s drum line too. It’s quite quiet in the mix (in stark comparison to the prominence it plays in the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s original) but it’s there.”
The article notes too that there are plenty of maps or other geographical indicator tools scattered throughout the video for Meet Me Halfway, maybe a “little wink and a nod to the nerds who are paying close attention.”
There’s also the overlap of the “they don’t love you like I love you” part of the chorus, found one of the most talked-about albums of 2016, Beyonce’s Lemonade. The influence here might go back even further, to a 2011 tweet from Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig.
He remembered that line when working in the studio with Diplo on a song that later got passed along to Beyonce, many years later, in her song Hold Up.
“It’s instantly recognizable as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ song, and yet every single element of its composition has been changed,” the article continues. “The lyrics have been altered in order to accommodate the song’s title, the rhythm has been altered to keep time with the dancehall beat, and the melody has been altered (presumably) in order to avoid a discordant clash with the unorthodox chord progression of the Andy Williams sample,” borrowed from his song Can’t Get Used to Losing You.
The author asserts that, instead of changing the lyrics, Beyonce knew exactly what she was doing and insisted things stay the same.
“When you consider how many people worked on that song – artists from so many different genres and disciplines, including indie, electronic, dancehall, RnB, folk, rap and garage – and all of them deciding that this sample would take the limelight, it’s a phenomenal endorsement. Especially given that (as with the Black Eyed Peas) it would have been so simple to rip it off without acknowledgement.”
Read the article here. It’s a thesis on the kinds of borrowing, outright copyright infringement (maybe) and subtle and obvious influence musicians take and get from their peers in the digital age. It’s really impressive research.