Sometimes, a good idea can be recycled or repurposed to good effect. “Sampling”, the practice of using parts of a previously recorded song for use in a newly created one, was especially popular when I became of music-buying age in the late 1980s. Granted, progress was eventually made as regards the regulation and clearing of rights for these purposes, and as an artist myself, I know the awful feeling of having had something I’ve created ripped off without my expressed permission. Nonetheless, some of my favorite songs of my teens and twenties include samples of one song or another, most of which I hope were cleared legally, though I’m certain this was not always the case.
It’s true, though, that for every good reuse of a riff or beat, there was a bad one. James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” contained a fantastic break beat in its middle that seemed to be the gift that just kept on giving, featured in a seemingly countless, subsequent hit songs and underground classics. Also, Bob James (the same artist that wrote and recorded the theme for the TV series “Taxi”, titled “Angela”) covered Paul Simon’s “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” as an instrumental. Samples of the opening beats and chimes in James’ version have been used to great effect on songs whose genres included hip-hop, house, pop, and rap. According to Whosampled.com, James’ “Mardi Gras” has been sampled, literally, over four hundred times.
And then there was Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat”, with its anthemic drums that Brooklyn-based rap group UTFO purposefully incorporated into the second verse of their mid-’80s classic, “Roxanne, Roxanne”. I find that, often, the quirkier and less ubiquitous the sample, the better I tend to like the song. Both of these tracks are on my MP3 player. In the other column, I’ll present the Bowie-sampling “Ice Ice Baby”, which has only ever been a guilty pleasure of mine, at best.
How does all of this relate to the very last, North American iteration of the two-door Ford Escort? Here’s how: it has always reminded me more than a little of the Fifth-generation (1990 – ’93) Toyota Celica notchback. There’s the shape of the rear quarter windows. The strangely pinched and concave shape of the rear panel. Pretty much the entire side profile. These cars aren’t twins, but you can tell that one ended up shopping at the same clothing store as the other.
It has seemed as if a bunch of Ford board members were sitting around the big table in 1990 and decided that the “beautiful, new” Celica notchback should be the styling inspiration for the new Escort coupe…to be introduced for the 1998 model year. I don’t dislike the looks of this generation of Celica notchback, but when the Escort ZX2 came out for ’98 (with the “Escort” prefix dropped for final-year ’03), and despite the ZX2’s more “finished” looks compared with the previous Escort hatchback, it looked dated almost immediately.
The (Escort) ZX2 arrived to replace two hatchbacks in Ford’s lineup: the preceding, more utilitarian Escort three-door and the sleek Probe. I’ll concede that the Probe “experiment” wasn’t entirely successful. I loved my used, ’94 base model when I owned it, but the reality is that most folks shopping for a sporty car at Ford dealerships in the ’90s would have preferred even a base, V6-powered Mustang for roughly 6 – 8% more money than a 2.0L, four-banger Probe. Even though the Celica-fighter Probe was a completely different kind of sporty car than the Mustang, apparently many folks didn’t want a “Ford Celica” as Probe sales tapered off fairly quickly after a fairly strong 89,700 total for the first year of its ’93 redesign. Most of these Ford shoppers wanted a Mustang.
The Probe’s sales numbers had spoken. Yet, Ford went ahead and trotted out a (successful) house-brand Celica knockoff for the ’98 model year. I don’t think the ZX2 is unattractive. It’s not low, lean, and athletic-looking like the Gen-2 Probe, but it has its charms. Its styling isn’t the worst use of “sampling” of prior themes, nor is it the best. It’s just okay, like Mariah Carey’s Cameo-sampling “Loverboy” from 2001 – with both the car and the song certainly not the worst things on the road/radio back then, but nobody’s true favorite.
I also thought it was curious how Ford stylists managed to give the early (1998 – ’02) ZX2 a blend of 5th-generation Celica styling with the Gen-6 model’s quad-light frontal look. (Our featured car has the ’03-only front fascia with its mesh grille above the bumper.) It only seemed to solidify in my mind exactly where Ford appeared to get its inspiration for their Escort coupe’s exterior design. As with much good artistry, though, my favorite expressions of it usually seem to involve some kind of real inspiration. The use of some samples have simply seemed more inspired than others.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Thursday, February 15, 2018.