Some songs receive cover versions by other artists over and over again. Some are sample bedrocks. A few are both—and perhaps the greatest and most emblematic of these is “Apache.”
Written in the late ’50s by an English songwriter aping a Hollywood movie starring Burt Lancaster as a Native American, made into a hit by a Eurovision Song Contest-winning Swede and the backing band of a British MOR balladeer, and a surf-guitar favorite by the mid-’60s, “Apache” would have been a tough, cool instrumental rocker left to the recesses of musical history had it not been for another Hollywood movie, whose soundtrack featured a goofy funk version of another pre-Beatles hit, “Bongo Rock.”
In that small hit’s wake, the Incredible Bongo Band’s version of “Apache” would sound the call for B-boys to battle on the dance floor—first in the Bronx, then worldwide. Thanks to the most commanding breakbeat this side of the James Brown catalog, the Bongo Band's “Apache” is one the most-sampled records of all time, and there are no signs of that changing anytime soon.
Going from surf standard to hip-hop’s national anthem is hardly the only mutation “Apache” has made in its lifetime. More than 50 years since the first version was released, the song’s DNA can be heard in music from rap to jungle to pop. Here are 25 songs that trace the strange and singular evolution of “Apache.”
Written by Michaelangelo Matos (@matoswk75)