01. Tokyo Memorial Orchestra – Main Theme of Final Fantasy V
02. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – Hyrule Castle
03. King’s X – Dogman
04. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – Star Fox Theme
05. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – Super Mario World
06. Cherry Poppin’ Daddies – Zoot Suit Riot
07. Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra – Water Music
08. Led Zeppelin – Battle of Evermore
09. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – Super Mario Bros. Medley
10. Tokyo Symphony Orchestra – Super Metroid Medley
11. Beastie Boys – Sabotage
12. The Rabbit Joint – Link
13. Stinky Wizzleteats – Happy Happy, Joy Joy
14. Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra – Kirby Super Deluxe
15. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – The Legend of Zelda Theme
16. Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love
17. John Williams – Hymn to the Fallen
01. Tokyo Memorial Orchestra – Main Theme of Final Fantasy V (Orchestral Game Concert 2, 1992)
Following the assassination of King Napster, a swarm of clients rose to claim regency over the peer-to-peer domain: WinMX, Audiogalaxy, Limewire, Frostwire, Bearshare, Soulseek, Morpheus, and probably dozens more. We’re talking full blown schism here. No single client could rightfully claim the crown, but everyone internetting in those days could probably name their own personal favorite. Individual fealties aside, everyone would still agree that the most celebrated name in those dark ages was Lord Kazaa, at least until malware epidemics and legal woes eradicated it and its contemporaries. Then the rightful heir BitTorrent took its place at the throne, where it sits to this day. Hail to the king.
It is during the height of Kazaa’s regency we rejoin our intrepid hero, Mr. Brick. Possibly in the second half of 9th grade. 2002? Sure, let’s go with that.
During this time I found the complete source of the orchestrated game tracks I’d heard earlier, the Orchestral Game Concert series, and so I dug in. As you can see from the playlist, it had quite an influence. Hope you still like video game music!
Naturally, I was pleased to find one of my all-time favorite songs covered by an orchestra. The Tokyo Memorial Orchestra, to my knowledge, did not bring a rock ‘n roll kit to the show, and their version is decidedly more ethereal. I will not deny that the engine is a core part of my love for the original, but I find myself dusting this version off once in a while, losing myself in the swelling French horn countermelody. Of course, you could talk me into some pretty gnarly shit with a swelling French horn countermelody: spider eating contests, telemarketing careers, baseball games, DJ night at Last Call…
What were we talking about? Was it the next song?
02. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – Hyrule Castle (Orchestral Game Concert, 1991)
Seriously, there are five albums of this stuff, and when you remove the Japan-only games with cracked up names (Albert Odyssey, Nobunaga’s Ambition, Sound Novel Otogirisou), you get a pretty sturdy setlist. Even the very first concert includes a more obscure song from a legendary game. Or maybe this track is big in Japan? I don’t know. I do know the first few songs in Link to the Past are brilliant and don’t get enough love, so hearing “Hyrule Castle” brought to life is at least as illuminating as hearing the main Zelda theme given the same treatment.
Once again, though, I must take umbrage with the arrangement. It sounds like the supporting riff is…split?…between the marimbas and the low brass. The result sounds like the riff is perforated, and the effect is akin to perforating the sails in a brand new schooner. A voyage brought to a drift. It’s all just so soft. This is supposed to be a castle invasion on a stormy night, and I can’t get some dang timpanis? Some cymbal crashes? A martial snare behind the chorus would’ve been amazing.
I was born too late and too American for my true purpose. I could’ve revolutionized Japanese game music concerts. Instead I blog three months a year. Thank you for reading.
03. King’s X – Dogman (Dogman, 1994)
Most peculiar, this one. Heavy, grungy, slow. Hardly my cup of music. I nabbed it on a whim from my brother’s folder, and the little bugger lodged itself in my head before I could toss it. I think it holds up, but heavy-grungy-slow remains not my cup of music, and so I’ve yet to give King’s X the fair shake. In all my years before and after hearing this song, I’ve never, never seen or heard of King’s X, which probably says something about both the popularity of the band and the relative position of my head in my ass.
The real gift of this tune is the introduction of “dogman” to my lexicon, which has yielded some pretty entertaining Google Image searches over the years. BEHOLD THE DOGMEN:
04. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – Star Fox Theme (Orchestral Game Concert 3, 1993)
Must be something in the stars that illuminates the composer’s and/or arranger’s pen. Star Fox joins the hallowed ranks of space scores, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Star Trek, Interstellar, and Spaced Invaders.
For real, though, it’s soaring violin at it soaringest. I’m not a big Star Fox guy, but this is definitely one of the greats from the OGC collection.
05. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – Super Mario World (Orchestral Game Concert, 1991)
Bona fide Mario swing: a genius and original arrangement on the signature piece from a smashing soundtrack. Holy holy moly this is still so good. This track really blew the door open on the OGC albums. After hearing this I knew I had to get my hands on everything else. And while everything else proved not to be quite as clever as this arrangement, it all had a lot of playtime in the heyday.
DO YOU HEAR THAT TUBA: He’s not breaking any ground here, but he’s totally holding his own on the floor. He is the floor, holding that swing down like a bully on the playground. A swingin’…bully on the playground. With immaculate intonation.
Complete with a Count Basie finish. Say what you will about Japan: they respect the roots. Get on this tune.
06. Cherry Poppin’ Daddies – Zoot Suit Riot (Zoot Suit Riot, 1997)
The following story takes place in 12th grade, a couple years ahead of where we currently stand in the timeline, but it is the only story I can tell about this song.
In high school I was part of the de facto A/V club, founded on the guiding principle of “give these dorks something to do before they burn the building down.” Our biggest responsibility as a club was the daily production of the morning announcements, broadcast every day via closed circuit television to the entire school during homeroom.
This started out as a two-man outfit operating out of the corner of a faculty office, but by 10th grade we upgraded to a custom built studio boasting all the sick works: video mixer, sound mixer, monitors, a teleprompter, and other unsightly toys we had no business having access to.
We were good kids, for the most part, and for cryin’ out loud, my mom was on the faculty, so it’s not like the Powers That Be had too much reason to worry about us stepping out of line. But we were still kids, and we did still require a little minding.
One perk of the job was the freedom to play some warm-up music over the title card while the students filed through the halls to homeroom. The network rule was instrumental music only; this being a private religious school, no chances could be taken that dirty words leaked out on the air. And the network wasn’t exactly interested in taking the time to vet our submissions for wholeness of character and purity of intent. Instruments or silence.
As time wore on, we’d become dependable enough to curry favor with the network that we started casually, gracefully playing songs with words which we were certain could not raise any hackles. Whether the rule was forgotten or our transgressions silently forgiven, this unspoken pact allowed us freedom to play our dumb music. Considering the refuse that made it to school dances, we were frankly doing the student body a favor.
Until, inevitably, one member of the production team blew it for the rest of us. Let’s call him Bexter. It was Bexter’s turn that morning to choose the music, and he was excited for his pick. When the first bell rang, he cued the music, and the introductory bustling toms were instantly recognizable: “Zoot Suit Riot.” Good pick, I thought, some of that throwback stuff. The network will be pleased.
This was immediately followed by a sudden dread. Does he swear in this one? I don’t think so. So why do I have the feeling that something is here lurking, something that…
ZOOT SUIT RIOT (RIOT!)
THROW BACK A BOTTLE OF BEEEEEER
Aw, crud. No bueno. No indeed. Not only was the network position on teenage drinking “unacceptable” to boot, but that same year a member of our class had been involved in a car accident due to his own intoxication. The network afterward doubled down on the anti-alcohol propaganda, which fell on what I assume were mostly deaf ears. The kids that were drinking had already been drinking and would continue to drink. The kids who weren’t drinking were us, and in a twist of savage irony, it was only on our watch that the gospel of the drink was ever broadcast in those halls.
There was a phone on the wall of the studio. I was still deep in thought trying to remember the sinful line, so deep that I actually missed it at the moment it soared into every classroom on campus. Then the phone rang.
The fallout was catastrophic. The assistant principal summoned Bexter to a dark conference room with a long table and, shrouded in the dark, roared to him about the “primal forces of nature” and “atonement.” He returned to us intact, but inexorably changed.
It being so late in the year, us being so close to graduation, there was no sense in sacking a proficient (if slightly inefficient and shortsighted) crew. We were permitted to finish our term. After that, the television production duties were pawned off to a newly minted, official classroom structure, with hand of the network decidedly firmer on the wheel.
So, show of hands, who wants to throw back a bottle of beer? Anybody?
07. Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra – Water Music (Orchestral Game Concert 5, 1996)
Handel? Naw, dawg, this is Wise. Try having a little class for once in your life.
The original name of this song is “Aquatic Ambience,” and in this version it’s bookended by a rousing take on the classic Donkey Kong Country theme, so I have no idea why they call it “Water Music.” Must be Japan.
And frankly this could do without the aforementioned bookends. “Ambience” as it stands offers plenty enough depth and tension that an adept orchestra should be more than capable of expressing, made evident when they do get to that part of the song. The DK swing surrounding it just feels totally clumsy and out of place. I guess they just wanted to squeeze in the famous melody. It all sounds good, just not together. Get that monkey swing out of here, there’s barnacles and evil clams and really pissed off fish around here and I’m just trying not to die.
08. Led Zeppelin – Battle of Evermore (Led Zeppelin IV or Zoso or just WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL THIS ALBUM, OKAY? LEAVE ME ALONE, 1971)
It’s easy to compare The Who, my favorite rock ‘n roll band, to Led Zeppelin, many many others’ favorite rock ‘n roll band. Each is made up of four British lads: a bare-chested golden god-man for a singer, a Swiss army knife of musical talent for a bassist, a genius guitarist with an affinity for alternative theology, and a human artillery on the drums. The intersection of these two bands is no secret to rock historians, and in another universe, members of each band left to start their own outfit.
In our universe, though, fate has made me a lifelong, diehard Who fan. In the 10th grade, that obsession was in its infancy (if even that) at the time of Volume 8. My Lord of the Rings obsession, on the other hand, was in full bloom. I saw Fellowship of the Ring in theatres eight times.
178 MINUTES. EIGHT. TIMES.
(I’m absolutely sure that either Vol. 6 or 7 contained two, maybe even three songs from the Fellowship soundtrack. I could have just as easily done an interlude on the Tolkien Mania that dominated three years of my life.)
Imagine, then, my delight at the time to find out that Led Zeppelin, my personal textbook example of Dad Rock, wrote more than a couple of songs with Middle-earth undertones: “Misty Mountain Hop”, “Ramble On”, and of course, “The Battle of Evermore.”
And you gotta hand it to Led Zep: in the department of grace, they trump the Who soundly. “Evermore’s” mandolin comes alive, and guest vocalist Sandy Denny’s supporting lines soar on wings of hobbits. The folk element is alive and well here, and I can think of no better way to foretell darkness in a green world. Ride on!
09. Tokyo Symphony Orchestra – Super Mario Bros. Medley (Orchestral Game Concert 4, 1994)
Here a medley makes a lot more sense than “Water Music”: Super Mario Bros., being the seminal, iconic game it is, has only three or four songs, only one of which is even fully formed. The other two are fully functional, but they’re sketches. So yeah, tie ‘em all up and let’s have a hand for that Mario, he sure saved our bacon!
The transition between numbers is handled more gracefully, the “water music” middle is beautifully arranged enough to go two rounds, the underground theme plays once (exactly as long as it should), and back to the classic, the One and Fucking Only, Stage 1-1. Everybody knows this tune, whether or not they have ever touched a video game.
I don’t really have a feeling about this song, though; I think feelings about it are useless. It’s the flagship theme of a flagship game, of the flagship game, the game that fucking saved an entire industry from premature death. It’s made the rounds in my head just a few times too many for me to keep any useful thoughts on it.
I will say, though, it’s quite an accomplishment for a jittery, syncopated melody like 1-1 to rise to such glory. I spend a lot of words praising Mitsuda and Uematsu, but never forget that Koji Kondo is a dang genius.
10. Tokyo Symphony Orchestra – Super Metroid Medley (Orchestral Game Concert 4, 1994)
Hearing this rocked me so hard that I think it’s why I finally picked up Super Metroid. I was never familiar with the Metroid games growing up, but I was always interested in the concept. Side-scrolling space shooter, upgradeable space-armor, space-…hand cannons. Essentially Mega Man X with an enormous connected map. I don’t know why I passed it up for so long.
The major divergence is the tone: MMX, drawing from its anime concepts, shines bright and clean despite the ongoing premise of super robots going nuts, starting wars, and killing people. The music is bold, punchy, driving, and for the most part celebratory. The best Saturday morning cartoon you ever played.
Super Metroid is bleak, exhausted, and dirty (drawing heavily, no doubt, from Alien). A solitary bounty hunter exploring an alien planet. The music is moody, atmospheric, and pensive. The best sci-fi horror flick you ever played.
It is this arrangement which I believe towers over the rest of the OGC tracks in faithfulness to its source. Not faithful in sound: the game version is industrial, which an orchestra is obviously going to have a tough time adapting. Faithful in spirit: in the mood, the alienation, the understated thrill of the game.
The Tokyo Symphony Orchestra plays it exactly like the score to a Metroid film, and dare I say it? It makes me want to see one. A medley is a spot on decision, since the game itself is divided into the various regions of the planet, each with their own theme. The orchestra takes us on a tour of Zebes with full dynamic control, from the bombastic opening to the brooding Brinstar underground. It’s eight minutes of epic space bliss, and I recommend it soundly to your ears.
Someday I’m gonna have to learn Japanese, learn how to get a bunch of money, and get my hands on the physical copies of these CDs so I can read the liner notes and figure out who arranged which tracks. For now I blog three months a year. Thank you for reading.
11. Beastie Boys – Sabotage (Ill Communication, 1994)
Before rap-rock was malformed by the nu-metal movement, we had the Beastie Boys, and I think I speak for the planet when I say I miss those days. The Beasties were fun and irreverent, funky and bodacious, and on a good day they could cave your face in with pure animal rock.
Such is “Sabotage”, an eternal hit from the B-Boy canon with its fuzz bass, frantic guitar, bursting drums, and twisted turntables. I thought including it in the first Star Trek reboot was kind of silly, but you know what? Trek is supposed to be an idealized look to the future, and I do surely hope some kid is getting into trouble to this song in 200 years. As recently mentioned, Ill Communication is the first record that got me in trouble, and so it holds a permanent place in my heart.
Also: great music video, or greatest music video?
12. The Rabbit Joint – The Legend of Zelda (The Rabbit Joint, 1998)
Here is another famous case of false attribution on the open seas. This song got passed around a lot on Kazaa and the rest, usually credited to System of a Down. I suppose, if I twist my ears hard enough, I can hear something resembling the timbre of Serj Tankian, but even as a decided non-fan of SOAD I can tell you this isn’t up their city, let alone their alley.
Of course, I probably should’ve caught that Skatanic’s “Brown Eyed Girl” didn’t really sound like Aaron Barrett, literally the only singer (and to this day, the only founding member) that Reel Big Fish has. How about I shut my Wrong Mouth and get on with it?
P2P advocates talk about getting underdogs an audience, but sometimes your song just got credited to somebody else and that was that. The Google results of 2016 have their back, at least, though I doubt that The Rabbit Joint were one Nintendo-themed single away from superstardom.
13. Stinky Wizzleteats – Happy Happy Joy Joy (You Eediot!, 1993)
How I or any other child raised in a shame-based tradition got away with watching Ren and Stimpy confounds me. That Nickelodeon didn’t spam the panic button under the conference table during John K.’s pitch goes to show that sitting in the chair of the control room of the central nervous system of the universe is a cardboard sign reading OUT TO LUNCH.
This is a good thing. I think the embrace of chaos is a theme growing more relevant in our society, and frankly, the only way the 21st century human can acclimate to such stark truth is through cartoons. (Wonder Showzen nearly hit the mark with puppetry but was ultimately just a few steps ahead of its time.) Without Ren and Stimpy introducing the concept in basic forms (“a fly marrying a bumblebee”), we would not have a world ready for the likes of Rick and Morty, which is itself the tip of what I can only imagine to be a very empty iceberg.
But no takesies-backsies, parents! You let your kid watch two gay animals eat cat litter, and now we’re all headed STRAIGHT FOR THE ABYSS!
14. Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra – Kirby Super Deluxe (Orchestral Game Concert 5, 1996)
This is way more power than I expected from an adaptation of a Kirby game, usually a fluffy and playful affair. It’s true, at least, that Kirby Super Star for the SNES caught players with a bit of a left hook in terms of difficulty, but the Kirby saga will never not be about a pink fluff with red shoes and a face helping adorable animals get their food back.
The Kanagawa Philharmonic turns this into an adventure movie score with big, booming low brass beneath the strings and trumpet melody. The coda sounds like the part of the film where the lost ship returns to harbor on a glorious sunny morning. If you don’t know this yet: don’t get between animals and their food.
15. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – The Legend of Zelda Theme (Orchestral Game Concert, 1991)
John Williams sat alone in his study on a Sunday afternoon in 1986. After a busy week of rolling around in his cash and scoring Hollywood blockbusters, he decided to unwind with his newest purchase: a Nintendo Entertainment System. He fired up The Legend of Zelda. Within moments a brilliant, golden, triangular light shone into his heart. He dropped the controller and ran for the phone.
“London Philharmonic? It’s John Boy. Get over here. We have work to do.”
Hahaha, no, you idiots. This wasn’t John Williams. It was the Orchestral Game Concert. God, look at your face! Ahahahaha…
16. Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin II, 1969)
It will never cease to amuse me that so many songs of the 60s-70s referring to “love” are referring to sex. Not just any sex, I’m talking about down-and-dirty hardcore grunt-ons. Sweaty mud stuff. The weird stuff before we had the internet to show us the Real Weird Stuff.
Or maybe Plant just thought he was being clever. Not as clever as I am, of course, blowing the lid off the “rock ‘n roll is about boning down” conspiracy. I’m miles ahead of the game, people, in a coffee shop, negotiating the terms of the next game. Y’all don’t even know.
17. John Williams – Hymn to the Fallen (Saving Private Ryan, 1998)
Oh you know what? We are in 2003. At the earliest, the very end of 2002. I know because that was the year we did a patriotic show for marching band: two songs from The Patriot and Saving Private Ryan’s “Hymn to the Fallen.”
Being American, well, you’re bound to get roped into some mandatory nationalism whether you like it or not, especially in school. Being American in a Catholic school band program, you’re lucky if you get away with only eight instances of it a year. Veterans Day, Memorial Day, national anthems preceding football games, and whatever other events I’ve since purged from the memory bank. In summer community band, I’d sit in the first week, hoping in vain to find an interesting repertoire, when the director announced the theme of this summer’s program: America.
Despite an already exhausted relationship with songs of America, I quite enjoyed the selections for marching band that year. This was the year after the 9/11 attacks, so it was hardly a surprise that we drew “America” from the deck once more, and since the selections were tasteful, I thought it a respectable way to do an old theme.
Despite some previous remarks I made about movie music, I remain quite fond of “Hymn to the Fallen”. Unfortunately, for myself and the other band kids my age, it represents the weakest, most difficult year of our career. Failing to break 5th place in the final Big Festival for the past few years, as a band we were hungrier than ever to climb the ranks.
DO YOU HEAR THAT TUBA: In the beginning of the second verse, there’s an ascending line to die for. I probably choked it to death in the 10th grade, but John Williams’s Mr. Professional Hollywood Tubist absolutely nails it. Props to John Boy for writing it, and props to Mr. PHT for singing it.
The season was a slog. It rained all year long, and when the lightning didn’t keep us shut indoors from valuable practice time on the field, said field quickly devolved into a muddy catastrophe under our feet. We couldn’t see the painted lines and hashes on which the forms were built, the less agile kids were slipping and dying, and the moms were pitching a fit about the dirty socks. Morale was low.
We couldn’t use the school stadium because god help us if those poor baby children gotta play football in the mud, so for the last month or so, the entire band and staff drove/walked down the street to an open lot by a nursery, and that became our practice field. It, too, was quickly trampled by the marching feet of a hundred youths into a replica of Woodstock.
We were desperate in our ambition, and this being a patriotic show, the director and drill writer decided to make an emotional play in the formation. After the second song, “Tavington’s Trap”, the band made the shape of the World Trade Center and, playing a heavy discordant crescendo, the WTC collapsed on field into a scatter drill, which then resolved into the first set of “Hymn to the Fallen”, now repurposed as a prayer for the victims of 9/11. Probably a little too sentimental in hindsight, but in 2002 the dust of that disaster was only beginning to settle.
We were a small band, however, and we could not feasibly form two whole towers on the field. We settled for one symbolic tower, which looked okay on the drill chart, but in practice just did not pack the intended punch. It felt out of place, and the tower seemed to just…bulge out at the bottom and inflate. Might have been the drill, might have been the kids, might have been a sax player sneaking wine on the bus in a bottle of Mountain Dew Code Red, might have been anything. There’s no use in trying to assign blame. It was a hard year all around. I don’t think we even placed that year at the Big Fest. Total bust.
Dealing with adversity was just one of many Real Life Lessons I got from band, and the swift kick dealt by the Patriot show was a necessary one. Without it, we would not have fully appreciated the super exciting year that followed or fully savored the glory of the groundbreaking one after that. Without it, I might not have come to view my fellow banditos, even those outside of my circle, as comrades in suffering, as people who’d also wiped the shit off their shoe and marched on. My loyalty to band was a steady rise from 8th to 12th grade, and the middle year was a crucial trial by rain, trial by defeat which galvanized that loyalty.
You know, I thought I was gonna make a stink about how I let the OGC totally rule the list here, but nah. OGC is strong, and guilt is for babies. Expect to see a little more of it down the road. (Both OGC and guilt.)
Speaking of the road, we’ve cleared the hump, people. It’s all downhill from here. Your patience during the interlude shall pay in my pain. Feel the rush, we are gonna crash. By “we” I mean “you,” of course, after I safely eject from the trappings of the past.
I mean, what? THANKS FOR READING. I LOVE YOU.