Perhaps you’ve heard the story about how mega producer Max Martin took the Backstreet Boys‘ Howie Dorough’s fart and mixed it into the bassline of the band’s “The Call.” It’s true: you’ve been listening to flatulence this whole time.
But Martin isn’t the only masterful musician to take odd sounds and embroider them into a popular tune. While some environmental samples are more overt than others, our favorite tracks have woven in the call of loons, the squeaks of sneakers and the endorphin-inducing crack of a beer can. While some are expertly hidden, with others all you have to do is listen closely to find them.
Scroll through our list of strange sound effects and celebrate the genius production that transformed mundane noises into pop music.
Backstreet Boys, “The Call”
Sound Effect Sampled: Fart
When: Who really knows?
In a recent interview with Billboard, band member AJ McLean revealed, unapologetically, that his fellow Backstreet Boy Dorough let loose some flatulence whilst recording the “dun dun dun” part for 2000’s “The Call.” “I think he was just putting so much air into the vocal that as he was singing, he went ‘dun, dun’ and he farted — but he farted not only on the beat, but in key,” McLean recalled. “So Max tweaked it and made it sound like one of his patented bass sounds and it stayed on the record.”
You can hear it, but the mixing is so precise that it’s hard to pinpoint.
Flo Rida ft. Sage the Gemini, “Game Time”
Sound Effect Sampled: Sneaker squeak
Flo Rida is pretty much king of party anthems and no stranger to turning a simple tune into a monster hit (remember when that whistled melody turned into the inescapable “Whistle” in 2013?). For “Game Time,” Flo Rida teamed up with Sage the Gemini to whip up an extremely literal, basketball-themed hype-up track, destined for arenas and pre-game locker rooms. To transport listeners to the court, he injected some game buzzers and sneaker squeaks throughout the verses. The entire “chorus” is built around a sample of sneaker squeak — which may have you impressed, or seeking a version that skips that part entirely.
Nicki Minaj, “Anaconda”
Sound Effect Sampled: Loon
Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” may have been all about a metaphorical snake, but there’s another animal heard more clearly in the outro. While Minaj is ad-libbing and cackling about “skinny bitches in the club,” there’s the snarky fluttering of a loon in the background. A loon, for those of you who don’t navigate the calm lakes of North America, is a red-eyed, sleek, black bird known for its eerie call — the same call you can hear in “Anaconda.”
Calvin Harris ft. Travis Scott and A-Trak, “Prayers Up”
Sound Effect Sampled: Loon
Again with the loons! In 2014, Pitchfork ran a story about the history of loon samples in music and producers haven’t shown any sign of slowing since — the most recent notable example of which is Calvin Harris’ “Prayers Up” off 2017’s Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. Back in 1989, when the loon noise was reportedly first used in a song called “Sueño Latino,” the bird’s warbling call was supposed to help make a song feel more tropical, never mind the fact that loons typically inhabit more northern regions. Nevertheless, almost 30 years later, the loon is still giving songs like “Prayers Up” an exotic feel.
Maggie Rogers, “Dog Years”
Sound Effect Sampled: Woodpecker
The Pharrell-endorsed Maggie Rogers has blended her world of folk in with her love of dance to create pop music with an earthy feel. She told Genius last year that she injected the sounds of clattering spoons and the call of a woodpecker into 2016’s “Dog Years.” “You have to listen closely for all of the noises, but I sneak them in there,” Rogers said. “It’s a fun challenge for me because these are noises you’re familiar with them. For me, they establish a sense of place sonically.”
A Tribe Called Quest, “After Hours”
Sound Effect Sampled: Frogs
A Tribe Called Quest’s “After Hours” is vivid poetry about the humid summer nights that have you feeling good. In the second verse of the 1990 track, Q-Tip rhymes about the beauty in his city surroundings: “I hear the frogs and the smashing of bottles/ A car revs up and I hear it throttle.” Before the beat dropps again, he reminds his listeners about the vociferous amphibians: “So hear the frogs dancing in the streets/ Once again Ali will bring up the beat/ Like this.” And while Tribe used plenty of samples in this song, like a Richard Pryor sketch and Sly & the Family Stone’s “Remember Who You Are,” the group channeled the more organic sound of nature by sampling the actual chirp of frogs — taking you to the cool, tranquil sidewalk where Q-Tip spun his poem.
Jake Owen, “Beachin’”
Sound Effect Sampled: Beer can opening
Judging from his music alone, Jake Owen loves beer — preferably the stuff that comes in a can. At the beginning of his 2012 song “Pass A Beer,” you can hear the clanking of bottles and the opening of a can. A year later, Owen used the same sample of the crisp, carbonated can opening in the beat of 2013’s “Beachin.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, it fit right in. The sonic landscape should take you right to the beach along with the line, “Rollin’ white sand, cold can koozie in my hand, just a summertime strolling.”
Noah Cyrus ft. Labrinth, “Make Me (Cry)”
Sound Effect Sampled: Water droplet
Love it or hate it, the water droplet sound effect in Noah Cyrus’ “Make Me (Cry)” had a very specific purpose. While the production element symbolizes heartbroken tears, it also echoed the song’s theme, which had Cyrus explaining that she simultaneously “needed” and “hated” her lover. Either way, the water droplet signifies both pain and pleasure.
M.I.A., “Paper Planes”
Sound Effect Sampled: Cash register
M.I.A.’s 2007 breakout hit “Paper Planes” was loaded with meaning, and she carried her point across using sound effects like a cash register noise, just as Pink Floyd did 34 years before in “Money.” In the chorus, she sang, “All I wanna do is [gunshot, gunshot, gunshot, gunshot] and [cash register noise] take your money.” That line alone represented not only American capitalism, but the country’s disdain for immigration. “Really the worst thing that anyone can say [to someone these days] is some shit like: ‘What I wanna do is come and get your money,’” M.I.A. told The Fader. “People don’t really feel like immigrants or refugees contribute to culture in any way.”
Missy Elliott, “Work It”
Sound Effect Sampled: Elephant trumpet
In Missy Elliott’s “Work It” from 2002, you may remember the legend rapping the chorus with the help of an elephant: “If you got a big [elephant trumpet], let me search it/ And find out how hard I gotta work ya.” Hmmmm… whatever could the elephant trumpet be bleeping out? Perhaps, Missy wanted to know how big her friends like their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or maybe she was estimating the size of someone’s big-screen TV?
Run the Jewels, Meow the Jewels
Sound Effect Sampled: Cats, lots of cats
When: Literally everywhere
“Did we make the silliest, occasionally most grating possible remix album? of course. and we did it for you, mike brown and eric garner.” What at first was only a joke, in 2015, Run the Jewels remixed their entire Run the Jewels 2 album using only cat sounds, using the proceeds to go to charity, as they later tweeted in the quote above. After El-P and Killer Mike made the suggestion of an all-feline record, fans pitched in $66,000 for the project on Kickstarter, making it a reality. “It’s certainly the high-water mark for cat-sound records, I think,” El-P told Deadspin.
Bauuer, “Harlem Shake”
Sound Effect Sampled: Lion’s roar
At the beginning of 2013, America was suffering from an epidemic of dance memes. The Harlem Shake, set to the tune of Baauer’s “Harlem Shake,” involved one lone dancer, thrusting and flailing as the song built its way to a climax. When you heard the lion roar on the track, the video would cut to a bunch of people making fools of themselves in the name of the internet. The song’s sampled lion roar was crucial, as it signified the unleashing of people’s inner beasts, ready to bust out their most ferocious dance moves with abandon.
Cat Power, “Cherokee”
Sound Effect Sampled: Eagle crow
In 2012, Cat Power was in the midst of a reinvention — she chopped her hair and went for a more badass approach, digging into her Native American roots. “Cherokee” had her heart filled with wonderment about her natural surroundings, comparing it to a love she’s never felt. The chorus of “Cherokee” benefited from the subtle call of an eagle, a bird that’s often matched with images of grandiose power — a power that’s greater than humankind. Here, the sample of the eagle call represented the singer’s ties to nature and her appreciation of it.
Colt Ford ft. Rhett Akins, “Cricket on a Line”
Sound Effect Sampled: Cricket chirp
Rap-country is an acquired taste, but the beat in Colt Ford’s “Cricket on a Line” made this offering delectable. The cricket chirp in this song was sampled on a loop, making the cricket the actual beat of the song. The chirps invoked the carefree feeling of a weekend party: “In the middle of a field/ who needs a bar?” Granted, when you’re outside and listening to this song, you might already be surrounded by crickets, but a few extra sound effects won’t hurt, right?
Melanie Martinez, “Soap”
Sound Effect Sampled: Soap bubble burst
When you have a song called “Soap,” you better make the drop burst like bubbles. In Melanie Martinez’s track, she sings about washing her mouth out with soap, as if she said something wrong around a guy that she liked. If the story wasn’t evocative enough, producers Kyle Shearer, Webs and Dibs mixed a concoction of sounds that emulated the popping bubbles of a soapy bath, all to tie the storyline together.