We all know about the Roland TR-808, but let’s look into its cultural significance. Here are some of the most famous 808 patterns that shook the music world and inspired future generations of artists and producers.
Although it was designed to help artists create their own demos, the TR-808 quickly found its way into popular music culture. At the time of its release, digital EPROM drum machines were already taking over so it offered a cheaper alternative.
However, the unmistakably punchy sound of the 808 comes from analogue drum synthesis voices rather than digital samples, which is why it’s still regarded as one of the greatest drum machines of all time.
The 808 became a symbol of DIY music production, with artists like Egyptian Lover creating an identity around the instrument and becoming one of its greatest exponents, particularly in his live performances.
Famous 808 Patterns
In the early to mid-1980s, there were songs created that made use of the 808 that went on to become landmarks in our musical history. Let’s take a look at these instances where the 808 really got its chance to shine:
The S.O.S. Band – Just Be Good To Me (1983)
Dance classic, Just Be Good To Me by The S.O.S. Band showcases groundbreaking usage of the 808 in that the drum pattern is one of the main features of the song rather than a peripheral rhythm part.
The incredible Minneapolis duo of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis wrote and produced the song as the lead single for the group’s fourth studio album On The Rise.
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Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force – Planet Rock (1982)
In 1982, Arthur Baker‘s production work on Planet Rock instantly inspired generations of Hip-Hop and Electronic Music artists with its futuristic but punky electro sound centered around a bouncy 808 pattern.
German electro pioneers Kraftwerk were already revered within the New York Hip-Hop scene for their minimalistic approach to music production and unique sonic aesthetic, so when Baker interpolated elements from their songs it really lit a cultural fuse.
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Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing (1982)
The seductive 808 pattern behind Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing was in fact programmed by the man himself. As an artist with a somewhat insular creative process, he loved the TR-808 as an instrument as it allowed him to work alone.
The pattern’s delicate hats, claves, claps, and tom hits are the perfect foundation for the interlocking rhythm guitars that carry the song and give it that soulful melodic feel.
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Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) (1987)
Whitney Houston’s 1987 number 1 smash hit I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) is another prime example of a song with a rhythm section built around a classic 808 drum pattern.
Although producer Narada Michael Walden felt the song was “too country” for Whitney initially, the 808 gives the song a more electronic feel, and the healthy dose of cowbell was surely crucial to the song’s success.
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Michael Jackson – Beat It (1982)
Although the pattern appears mostly in the song’s intro, MJ’s Beat It remains one of the most legendary tracks to use the 808. The staggered pattern provides the perfect build-up to the driving rhythm section that takes over.
The song also demonstrates the power of layering additional sounds in and around a simple 808 pattern. In fact, the Linn Drum used on Thriller had its clap sample EPROM voice replaced so it could playback an 808 clap instead.
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