Gilbert O'Sullivan's 'Alone Again (Naturally),' The Song That Changed Hip Hop

By | July 26, 2020

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Left: single sleeve art for Gilbert O'Sullivan's 'Alone Again (Naturally).' Right: Biz Markie. Sources:; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Gilbert O'Sullivan's 1972 hit, “Alone Again (Naturally),” is a mellow and depressing masterpiece. But it's hardly fodder for a rap or hip hop track -- no funky drumming or bassline, or even a hook. Yet when this quiet little song was sampled by rapper Biz Markie, all hell broke loose in the hip hop world, and the industry was never the same.

This is the story of a quirky old hit that met a runaway trend. When Gilbert O'Sullivan recorded "Alone Again (Naturally)," the technique of sampling didn't even exist, and when rap DJs became voracious samplers, they tended to raid the soul and funk tracks, not a mournful mid-tempo piano ballad. The players really have no business interacting with each other, but it happened, first in a recording studio and then in a court of law.

Gilbert O'Sullivan wasn't always a Gilbert

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source: pinterest

Born Raymond Edward O'Sullivan, the young singer songwriter was born in Ireland but spent much of his early life moving around England with his family. From Cork, Ireland, the family moved to London, and from there they moved to Swindon. With a fairly happy childhood, O’Sullivan fell in love with music as a way to tell stories and bring people together.

Before finding success as a singer-songwriter, O’Sullivan played drums in a band with Rick Davies from Supertramp, and worked as a songwriter for an in-house publishing company that belonged to CBS where he penned tracks for the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

Sullivan wasn’t intent on being just a songwriter, and after compiling a series of minor hits for CBS the label signed him to a deal. Unfortunately he didn’t do much for the label, but after a move to MAM Records things turned around for the young O’Sullivan.