01. Frank Zappa – Peaches en Regalia
02. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – Into the Legend…
03. Tokyo Symphony Orchestra – Maria & Draco
04. T. Ohsono – Bloody Tears
05. Jimi Hendrix Experience – Day Tripper
06. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Proud Mary
07. Michiru Yamane – Wandering Ghosts
08. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – The Red Wings
09. “Weird Al” Yankovic – Gump
10. Michiru Yamane – Festival of Servants
11. Creedence Clearwater Revival – I Heard It Through the Grapevine
12. Capcom Sound Team – Blues Ending
01. Frank Zappa – Peaches en Regalia (Hot Rats, 1969)
Oh man, hooray. Fuckin’ hooray for this one right here.
One of the dirtiest dudes in music brings us one of the cleanest pieces of jazz ever tootled. Such perfection from such filth may come as a surprise to you, but anyone who has examined the man (and his work) beneath the surface knows that at all times behind the music of Frank Zappa, even if it’s “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” or “Jones Crusher” or Joe’s Garage, is the tireless mind of a professional.
Frank was a unique man; one need only listen to this song to hear the sheer originality of musical motion which occurred to him. He was a man of boundless imagination, limited only by the earthly constraints of time, money, and his personal favorite, human incompetence. Every one of his thousands of works is driven by clear intention and purpose. He committed nothing to tape in vain, and let’s just say he’s gone through his share of tape.
This song (and every part in it) is savory to my earbuds in a way that evades all possibility of shame. It’s like the day you find out bacon is good for you. The piano sweeps in the intro. The organ solo leading into the saxes’ chromatic rise to the chorus. (If you can call anything the chorus; the form is freewheeling and ever-changing yet totally coherent.) The drums, just everything the drums are doing the whole time. The production, fusing synthesized elements, real instruments, and lord knows what acoustic effects into a perfectly blended sonic soup in which everything tastes right. GOD, this record is pure gold. Close this website and do it already.
02. Tokyo City Philharmonnic Orchestra – Into the Legend… (Orchestral Game Concert, 1991)
Volume 12 seems to be the album where I pulled OGC tracks covering soundtracks I never heard, such as this one here from Dragon Quest III. Dragon Quest is one of those “big cult” series: beloved among nerds, less known among the average gamer (at least in America). Never touched the stuff, myself; all I know about Dragon Quest is…well, basically, nothing. There’s the goo drop guy with the happy face. Probably some dragons, too, and at least one quest.
Good song! Powerful opener! (Nevermind that this is a closer on both the game itself and the OGC tracklist. Wild Arms taught us it’s okay to double dip.) The entire composition is lifted directly from the original game version, which goes to show what a sophisticated work it was for game music. Bold anthem, broad sweeping middle, uptempo tension, anthem reprise resolution, big coda, boom-a-loom-doom. See you next game!
03. Tokyo Symphony Orchestra – Maria & Draco (Orchestral Game Concert 4, 1994)
Or “The Dream Oath” or just whatever you people call it. Aeris/Aerith, Balrog/Vega/M. Bison, Rockman/Mega Man, ENOUGH ALREADY.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve only scratched the surface of Final Fantasy VI, but through forums and the like, I learned of the game’s famous opera event, backed by a full suite composition from (guess who?) Nobuo Uematsu. That piqued my curiosity, possibly enough to
download the ROM buy the game, but not before I found the live 23-minute OGC version. Music: 1,223,512; Games: 0.
Because I was unfamiliar with the original game version, I was a little hesitant to dip my toes in such a big pond, but after a couple of listens I was hooked. (I do love my lumbering giants…sometimes.) All four movements from the original game are here, and though some liberties are taken with the source material, they are all profound improvements which adapt the music better for the stage. They are liberties of addition, I might, uh…add. Certainly not subtraction: the OGC version boasts a solid seven minutes of additional music, including instrumental extensions between movements and a particularly rousing reprise of the “Aria di Mezzo Carrattere” at the end, giving the suite its true closure which the game version seems to have intentionally left out…for story purposes, I guess? I know the opera is about lovers torn apart by war, but I never got to this point in the game.
Approaching this without the context of the game, having first heard the live version has all but completely ruined the game version…which is really not the game’s fault. It was a bold move to synthesize opera soloist voices with the SNES hardware, and however silly it might sound today, the entire undertaking was highly ambitious and obviously made an impression on gamers and musicians worldwide. Without real sentimental attachment to the game, though, I see no reason not to fire up the fully formed living drama with real singers and REAL GOOD FRENCH HORN (MMMMMMMMM), and I do fire it up with some regularity to this day. VI thumbs up.
So, how does it stand as an opera? Why would you even ask me that?
04. T. Ohsono – Bloody Tears (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, 1997)
I thought this was maybe an excluded cut from Symphony of the Night, but my research and dreadful memory suggest this is a remix of the Castlevania II favorite “Bloody Tears”. Now that I’m sitting down to rewrite this entry, though, further research concludes that I was right all along; it’s a cut from the Sega Saturn version of Symphony of the Night, which featured additional content excluded from the PlayStation version. We can all breathe now.
I really really liked it at the time; it offered more of that sick bloody guitar and electric bass on a low boil. I remember it being one of the true Top Picks from this particular disc, but now it kind of bores me. It lacks the depth and virtuosity of “Tragic Prince”, but on the other hand, it’s a straight cover from an NES tune, and it’s mostly authentic to the source. That counts for something.
I think Yamane’s touch could’ve improved this version, which is admittedly already pretty close to cutting the mustard. Even without changing the melody or form, some harmonic layers could work wonders here. As it stands, though, it’s not the Top Pick it once was. Shed a bloody tear for the forgotten.
05. Jimi Hendrix Experience – Day Tripper (The BBC Sessions, 1998)
This is the best video I could find. The actual song doesn’t even play until 1:40, and only for a minute. Sorry, guys.
This is Hendrix’s first appearance in the Top Picks, and his tardiness comes as no surprise. Long before I was involved in the game of rock, I knew Hendrix held a high seat. When I finally did get in, Are You Experienced? was an early purchase, eliminating the need for Hendrix on the Top Picks.
And thank god, because what in the flapping hell could I say about them? An American wizard backed by two English shitkickers took the world by storm. Google about it.
I stumbled on this little nugget from their BBC Sessions and liked it enough to throw it in the mix. There’s nothing earth-shattering here, but as you’d expect, it pours gas all over the lively Beatles jaunt and lights it up. Jimi doesn’t seem to sing too much on this cut, but he certainly plays his guitar, so if you happen to maybe like that sort of thing, yeah, this is a solid cover.
06. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Proud Mary (Bayou Country, 1969)
CCR was another subliminal inclusion in the dad-rock minefield that I hadn’t yet stepped on since taking music seriously. When I finally did, well, it wasn’t so much an explosion as it was a rumble. I like Creedence, but never really felt motivated to go beyond the singles, and to this day that’s about as deep as I’ve dug.
Anticipating the lack of CCR purchases in my future, I grabbed a couple of hits for the Picks and moved on.
07. Michiru Yamane – Wandering Ghosts (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, 1997)
Here’s one of the weirder turns SOTN‘s soundtrack took. Weather Channel jazz backed with harpsichord and synth-brass hits, led by porn guitar. And this is the backing music for the Colosseum, a section of the game with a giant arena and particularly fearsome beasts. I don’t know who takes the cue of “Colosseum” and comes up with THIS, but there you have it.
Despite how campy it feels, I had a hard time turning it away then, and I have a hard time turning it away now. Like nearly everything in this game, it’s just too well arranged and composed to ignore. And for all their camp, some of these parts are irresistible. The brass hits are ridiculous, but the sexy guitar just cuts right through my flimsy objection. The harpsichord should never have a place in a song like this, but it keeps the modern(ish) jazz(ish) anchored to the antiquity of Castlevania’s world. Fact is, I love it. I just love it.
If the instrumentation is getting you down, try this excellent 8-bit take for size. All the blessings of the original rhythm and composition without the porn guitar. I won’t judge.
08. Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra – Red Wings (Orchestral Game Concert, 1991)
Here is another of the more faithful OGC adaptations, further proof that the sophistication of game music was already at a level befitting the use of a live orchestra. For all its simplicity, Final Fantasy IV’s “Red Wings” is an iconic theme on par with the likes of “Imperial March”, and in the hands of the Tokyo City Philharmonic, the result is something that is every bit as worthy of a film score as “Imperial March”.
09. “Weird Al” Yankovic – Gump (Bad Hair Day, 1996)
Oh, uh, hey Al. Yeah, Bad Hair Day. I remember! It was good. Thought I was, uh, done with it, in all honesty. Not sure why it’s come up again all of a sudden. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan! Big fan. Just like I was…10 volumes ago.
Aw, come on, Al, please don’t cry. That’s so unbecoming. You’re a Grammy winner! I know you’re just pretending to throw a tantrum. This is one of your bits. You’re always cutting up like this, it’s your thing. Ha-har, very funny.
Al. AL. THOSE ARE YOUR PLATINUM RECORDS. YOU WORKED VERY HARD FOR THOSE. YOU CAN’T JUST RUN THEM OVER WITH YOUR CAR!
AL, PUT THE GUN DOWN. STOP SHOOTING YOUR ACCORDION. I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU EVEN OWN A GUN.
AL I’M SORRY BUT I DON’T AGREE WITH MY 15 YEAR OLD DECISION TO INCLUDE “GUMP” ON THIS MIX. YOU DID A FAITHFUL JOB OF PARODYING THE SONG AND THE MUSIC VIDEO, EVERYBODY KNOWS WHAT A GOOD JOB YOU DID. WE’RE VERY PROUD OF YOU. I JUST CAN’T HELP BUT THINK I THREW THIS SONG IN TO FILL IN SOME SPACE ON THE MIX. IT WAS AN AFTERTHOUGHT, AND AS FAR AS AFTERTHOUGHTS GO I COULD DO (AND HAVE DONE) SUBSTANTIALLY WORSE.
BURN YOUR HOUSE DOWN IF YOU WANT, AL. I DON’T EVEN CARE. YOU ARE BEING SUCH A BABY RIGHT NOW.
10. Michiru Yamane – Festival of Servants (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, 1997)
Top Five Bosses in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, in no particular order.
The beginning of the game is a playable flashback to the final boss of a previous Castlevania game. The Dracula fight is fairly straightforward (and you can’t actually lose this time), but it is preceded by one of the greatest exchanges in the history of dialogue, and yes, I will post it again.
You run into this guy twice throughout the game, and both fights are exciting. While most other bosses are more or less set in a pattern, the D-Ganger AI responds to your movements as if it was controlled by another player. The first encounter in particular keeps you on your toes, because it’s fairly early in the game before you can outlevel/outgear everything.
It’s a GIANT BALL OF SCREAMING NAKED BODIES. And it’s actually kind of difficult! Before you start hacking away the pieces of the naked-body-ball, it sheds wave after wave of bodies to the ground which you must then quickly clear out just to get a few swings in on the ball itself. When you finally start breaking off pieces of the body-ball, you reveal the laser tentacles underneath, which end up being even more trouble than the bodies. Of course if you picked up the axe subweapon you’ll get by. Axe is the truth.
If you don’t get the Crissaegrim, this is actually a hard fight, maybe the hardest in the game. If you do get the Crissaegrim, you just point your Lawnmower Sword in the direction of his shins and proceed.
I like it when strong foes are player-sized. Olrox is a regular dude chilling out in his parlor when you find him, and then he starts teleporting all over the place, shooting skulls and beams at you. Then when you kill him, he transforms into a giant nasty lizardman that spews fire and blows up the ground. Best of both worlds.
Ah, crap. Really getting the itch for this game now. PS1 emulators are pretty functional now, right?
11. Creedence Clearwater Revival – I Heard It Through Grapevine (Cosmo’s Factory, 1970)
Since I’ve never really explored CCR, it was a surprise to discover recently that a band whose image and character have always been deeply associated with the bayou is just some dudes from California.
If I’d ever taken up a love of CCR as a means of identifying with my bayou heritage, I might have felt disappointment or even betrayal, but nah. While I do identify with said heritage, it’s mostly due to having no other heritage to really claim. For better or worse, I’m a kid who grew up in the bayou, and when I want a musical outlet for that, well, suffice it to say I already have a veritable pirogue full of options before I’d even think to reach for Creedence. (This at least lends credibility that El Duderino would be a fan.)
I don’t even know enough about the band to guess whether or not it was a heinous cultural appropriation or just personal interest in another culture that made CCR a “bayou band”. Far be it from me to decide whether or not they’re justified in singing of the bayou. Expanding your taste is a good thing, after all, and I can think of at least one non-native band who does the local flavor justice. We didn’t make all this gumbo for ourselves, right?
12. Capcom Sound Team – Blues Ending (Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters, 1996)
I thought this was a remix, then I thought it was a bonus track to Mega Man 8, then I learned it was from a Mega Man fighting game. You look up the composer, okay?
“Blues” is the Japanese name for Protoman, keeping in tune with the musically inspired Japanese naming tradition of many Mega Man characters: Rock, Roll, Forte, Gospel, Beat, etc. The arrival of Mega Man’s stylish friend/rival/whatever is always heralded by his famous whistle, the melody of which is the staple of this song. Fittingly, this melody is built on the blues scale, giving it a tinge of sadness and longing. For what? I dunno, the only video I could find from the game has Japanese text. The drama with these robots always seems to be about who shoots each other the best. 20XX world problems?
The vibraphone/synth bass combo is a little dated, but I do dig the song. I think it’s an inspired expansion on a simple theme that makes for a great ending to a twilight entry in the Top Picks of Mr. Brick.
And the more I think about it, the more I think that “Blues Ending” really does capture my attitude at the time of general malaise, at least where burning CDs was concerned. I don’t think my heart was really in the game on this one. Lots of pulls from OGC and Symphony of the Night, peppered in with old artists arbitrarily making single reappearances. Even with “Maria & Draco” and “Grapevine” taking up a solid half-hour, I was finding myself trying to fill time.
The tracks are GOOD, at least, but Zappa’s the only sign of growth on Volume 12. Lucky for me, Zappa represents a substantial breakthrough that carries the weight of Volume 12’s “responsibility” to the musical life of Mr. Brick.
It’s fair to say at this point I was buying more CDs and doing more exploration through those purchases instead of downloads. Since I stopped putting tracks I already owned on mix CDs, there’s an extra path of discovery excluded by this series.
Or I just didn’t give a shit; anything is possible when you forget your life. See you next week!