Synthetic Substitution

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"Synthetic Substitution"
Single by Melvin Bliss
B-sideSynthetic Substitution[1]
FormatVinyl, 7", Single, 45 RPM[1]
LabelSunburst Records[1]
Songwriter(s)Herb Rooney[1]
Producer(s)Herb Rooney[2]

"Synthetic Substitution" is a 1973 song by Melvin Bliss. Originally starting life as a throwaway B-Side, with "Reward" as the A-Side, the song failed to chart anywhere on its initial release because of the collapse of Opal Productions, the parent company of Sunburst Records.[2] However, after the song was sampled by Ultramagnetic MCs, many other artists followed suit and eventually the song became one of the most sampled songs of all time.[2]


With the Exciters disbanded in 1971, Herb Rooney was out of a record deal. Having previously written for other artists,[1] Rooney decided to continue down this path.

Meanwhile, Melvin Bliss had drifted from stage to stage since leaving the Army in 1957. Looking to boost his career prospects he visited a Queens concert hall intending to use it for self-promotion.[2] While awaiting a meeting with the hall's owner, he encountered the mother of Herb Rooney and it emerged that he wanted a singer to record one of his compositions.[2] After an informal discussion with Rooney himself, Bliss hit the studio to record it.[2] Rooney had intended the A-Side to be Reward and thus presented it to Bliss first.[3]

Subject matter[edit]

"Synthetic Substitution" is a scathing critique of what society would be like if it was entirely computerised,[4] which towards the end of the song features the wailing of Bliss clinging onto the final few authentic remnants of his daily life.[2] In 1986 the song's drums, provided by Bernard Purdie[5] - were sampled in "Ego Trippin'" by Ultramagnetic MCs, spawning numerous other uses. It has since been sampled in over 94 songs,[6] with claiming that that number is 715.[7]

"Synthetic Substitution" lends its name to a 2011 Earl Holder-produced documentary about Melvin Bliss, Synthetic Substitution: The Life Story of Melvin Bliss, which was released by Peripheral Enterprises.[5] In a 2010 interview produced exclusively for its trailer, Bliss said that "[Herb Rooney and I] had no idea what the song was about; we just needed a B-Side".[8]

Select list of samples[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Melvin Bliss - Reward / Synthetic Substitution". Discogs.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Holder, Earl (2011). Synthetic Substitution: The Life Story of Melvin Bliss (Motion picture). Peripheral Enterprises.
  3. ^ "Melvin Bliss". Wax Poetics. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  4. ^ Melvin Bliss, R.I.P. Hua Hsu. The Atlantic. Jul 27 2010
  5. ^ a b ""Synthetic Substitution" Singer / Sample Icon Melvin Bliss Dies". Retrieved 13 May 2013.
  6. ^ "RIP Melvin Bliss". Retrieved 7 July 2013.
  7. ^ "Synthetic Substitution - Melvin Bliss". WhoSampled. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  8. ^ "Melvin Bliss Documentary Trailer 1". YouTube. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
  9. ^ "Vitamin C feat. Lady Saw's 'Smile' sample of Melvin Bliss's 'Synthetic Substitution'". WhoSampled. Retrieved 2016-10-08.