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

By Jacob Shelton
Left: single sleeve art for Gilbert O'Sullivan's 'Alone Again (Naturally).' Right: Biz Markie. Sources: discogs.org; 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.