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Today we reach the end of our summer long countdown chronicling the 25 greatest NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen: The Duel (Opening)

  1. Ninja Gaiden / Composer : Keiji Yamagishi / Release Year :1989

It’s plausible (indulge me), to say that without Keiji Yamagishi’s 1989 album for Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden, the video games industry might not have made it this far, or at the very least, we’d be sitting in a very alternate version of 1985. Story would have remained an afterthought, music in-game treated as some exorbitant luxury: some would have it, and others wouldn’t. It’s that simple. Where certainly there had been fine examples before Yamagishi’s treatise, his peers were indeed vocal: Konami’s 1987 Castlevania and Nintendo’s 1985 classic Metroid immediately spring to mind, neither matched Yamagishi’s fetish for scale .

Ninja Gaiden is one of the first records to truly capture the character of its franchise: loose and nimble, stark and conflicted Ryu Hyabusa is given such an articulate baritone that people stopped dead in the streets, simply to breathe him in. He could be reading penny saver advertisements, Publishers Clearing House propoganda, the latest polls that no one seemed to care about: it didn’t matter; when Yamagishi’s foil was flapping his jaws, the public remained entranced.

You’d heard action and drama scored in games before, but really, you hadn‘t; no one had until Yamagishi’s platter arrived at their door. His union brought something filmic, a depth far beyond the general discord, his sound outclassing even the most high end titles and stymieing, once and for all, the noxious potpourri found to be emanating frequently from Nintendo’s more bottom feeding scores.

Playing back the tapes some 26 years later, you’re still likely to be caught up and transfixed by Yamagishi’s multiple ticks. The tracks aren’t all that long, and they’re quick to reach their refrain, but for what they lack in excess, they replace with a kind of fixation: you’re more than happy, insistent even to hear Ninja Gaiden’s main cues for hours, maybe even to complete nausea. You’re convinced that there is no other way to hear these tunes. I’m here to tell you: of course not, you might miss something, and so what’s another go around?

It’s a dare really, find something better than Yamagishi’s Information and Coercion ; try to top Masked Devil. What intro level music surpasses Pushing Onward? How about Unbreakable Determination? Go ahead, I’ll wait here….(years pass)………..Time’s up!

So, I entreat you, be thankful everyday for Keiji Yamagishi, and Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Without them, your idea of video games might have been irrevocably skewed. It’s difficult, I know, but imagine games today being as bare bones and empty as the worst Atari 2600 shovel ware. Those lengthy stories, that character development, that cinematic touch, and of course the music all gone! Crisis averted.

Listen, I hear Yamagishi’s a real sucker for mail and stickers, and I think it’s time we all sent over some thank you cards, don’t you?

Essential Tracks: Information and Coercion/ Evading the Enemy/ Masked Devil / The Duel / Rugged Terrain / Seeking Truth / Unbreakable Determination / Nowhere to Run

Update: Keiji Yamagishi is part of the fantastic creative collective Brave Wave. He currently has a new record that can be found here. Spoiler: it’s incredible!

geno2

Listen: Good Weather

  1. Mr. Gimmick / Composer: Masashi Kageyama / Release Year: 1992

Composer Masashi Kageyama’s score for Sunsoft’s Mr. Gimmick is neither the product of a script, nor of action, nor of canned applause and least of all not something built from a predetermined and circumscribed path. The NES employs a rather hollow core for use in the creation of its music, a stingy meridian that utilizes a pitiful gratuity of sound samples and carries even fewer channels with which to screen its broadcast.

Its design, seemingly in perpetuity, is partially responsible for muddling every composition ever written for it. That is, of course, with the exception of one: Mr. Gimmick. (Gimmick in Japan)

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Listen: Happy Birthday

 Writing for the NES requires constant adaptation, as the movement from organic strings to sound type to numbered values removes a vast number of the elements that make it accessible to the public at large. Not everyone can understand nor decipher, nor appreciate your love for this music, and it is because, for better or worse, the fact is that many of its human elements have been stripped away.

When you think of these compositions, hear them playing, you’re most likely to envision machines, and not the people who actually wrote the songs. One’s personal enjoyment of 8-bit chiptunes is tied to a process of surrender and acceptance, and it is an invitation that few willingly grant passage.

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Listen: Lion Heart

It’s with all of this in mind that I’d like you to forget for a moment the litany of restrictions I’ve just painstakingly described, because as I stated in the beginning, absolutely none of it applies to Masashi Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick. Catharsis is not a term I’d assign to many of the forebears of this genre, but I do so without reservation. On top of that suspension, I’d like to add an indulgent, rather liberal heaping of praise when it concerns Kageyama’s 1992 score.

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Listen: Slow Illusion

 Again the NES, solely judged on its sound chip, has but a few splintered emotions to explore, and such a small percentage of its composers understood exactly how to fully manipulate it. Kageyama, however, is one of the VERY select few to cultivate such a flush and widely versed terrain of play despite these limitations. While most will hit a particular type of note over the head, beat it to death even (the action game score, the joyous platformer, the haunted house, and the space mission ), Kageyama plays naturally and without repetition in response to changes in the situation, but he’s also a person, a friend who’s alive and in the room: someone you can see, someone you find ease in talking to, and someone you can reach out and touch.

Kageyama realizes, like any truly brilliant musician does ( and I’ve said this many times before), that music cannot be directed nor come from a place of convolution or duplicity: People will always see right through it. It has to be real, and it has to be come with a willingness to speak with and to counsel as many people as is conceivable.

geno6

Listen: Cadbury

Close examination of Masashi Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick reveals a deeply personal tale, one that is easily identifiable, but one that’s told with such affably sweet tenderness, and with gentle, but unflinching introspection that it can be emotionally overwhelming. Kageyama speaks at times low, describing the pained frustrations to be found within his own past, things he‘s perhaps not proud of, outbursts he’d rather forget, and if could dial back a clock to a certain moment in time, he’d do so without a second glance. It’s universal.

And yes, I’m getting a sense of all this directly from his score.

geno7

Listen: Just Friends

This is but one single angle of this particular recording though, and many times, more than can accurately be accounted for, he’s prone to beaming. Kageyama is nothing less than effulgent in his recollections, snapshots recalling everything from the bizarre inconsistencies in the shapes and colors of fall leaves, wind on his face during bike rides on isolated strips of road, being surrounded by friends; all their separate bonds, and how during the winter if you stand a VERY certain way, half slouched, hands out to your sides but still in direct sunlight, it can make you forget the cold. His tales fly at you with such charisma and warmth that by the night’s end, you’ve felt you’ve known him your entire life, already sharing inside jokes betweeen the two of you and having exchanged phone numbers, the logical next step is becoming best friends. Kageyama’s happy to oblige.

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Listen: Sophia

 Probing the album even further, you begin to realize how all-encompassing Mr. Gimmick truly is. Our composer shies away from nothing; if it is something to be found in daily life, he’s included it here to sumptuous effect: birthday mornings, falling in love, the paralysis of a sudden tragedy, grades of sunshine, family around a table, afternoon breaks, trying to fall asleep and friendship. There’s more though, throughout Mr. Gimmick’s entirety, its lengthy musical sojurn, Kageyama holds your hand. It is unprecedented, the feeling of closeness that he creates, it’s amplified, radiant even, and it bests the typical separation anxiety that comes with most albums from the NES library. There are no words for it, and it’s the only one of its kind that has ever left me sobbing and in tears.

geno9

Listen: Good Night

So, what makes the difference here? What makes Mr. Gimmick the very best NES soundtrack ever made? Well…there’s a thing about nostalgia, and nostalgia is something that’s tied to each and every game on this list. Let us take an example, The Legend Of Zelda’s over world theme; it’s amazing, but it’s a permanent memory. If you heard it today for the first time, you’d probably still love it very much, but I’m not sure that you’d be able to relate to it as readily as you would to Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick. While Zelda’s theme remains completely incredible, my guess is that if you found both Zelda and Mr. Gimmick together in a play list you might in fact skip over Zelda’s theme in favor of Mr. Gimmick. Why?

It’s simple, Zelda is a recollection tied to very specific moments, and in the given scenario you might not exactly be feeling its very explicit pull. Mr. Gimmick on the other hand, regardless of any lingering sentimentality, remains something stunning and unsurprisingly current. Kageyama’s album plays more like the records in your own collection, and when called upon, has the ability to not only scratch the more familiar of your itches, but also encourages further experimentation in the pursuit of new retrospection. It’s what elevates his work over all others. Kageyama’s not the product of some blurring reminiscence, and he’s not stamped by time. He’s physically always going to be there with you when playing his songs. He’s not separated by language, not hamstrung by the actual distance between himself and his audience, and not at all afraid to share with you personally: there‘s both trust, and love there. Masashi Kageyama and his music never seem to concern themselves with the preoccupations of this industry: it is never about dungeons, shoot-outs, evil undead hordes, or aliens…his primary concern is making music that fosters a direct connection with the audience he cares so much about.

He’s happy playing his saxophone, content in between to joke loudly , or listen intently all the while, smiling…the only living boy in New York.

geno10

Listen: Paradigm

It is for all these aforementioned reasons, for his genius and inspiration that Masashi Kageyama and the music for Mr. Gimmick earn without question the award for the Nintendo Entertaiment System’s single greatest soundtrack ever made.

Essential tracks: ALL OF IT…don’t miss a single beat.

Update: At the time of this writing Kageyama is currently in preparations to record a brand new album, his first in years. He’s also joined the spectacular roster of artists commissioned by the wonderful folks at Brave Wave. Please look forward to it.

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

bionic_commando_nes_box_art

Listen : Heat Wave

  1. Bionic Commando / Composer: Junko Tamiya / Release Year 1988

To aptly describe the overwhelming sensation of Junko Tamiya’s Bionic Commando score, I’d like to borrow a lyric from Smog singer-songwriter

Bill Callahan’s tune, Diamond Dancer:

She was dancing so hard, she danced herself into a diamond.. dancing all by herself, and not minding…doing the thing as she dreamed it.

These lines illustrate to perfection the devotion Tamiya placed into this work, realizing that when you deliver to your audience, you don’t deliver silver nor platinum…to those you love, you give diamonds.

Bionic Commando showcases Tamiya’s superb registry of dexterous italics: her sense of extending a dip or climb, that rolling sound at first LONG and gorgeously scenic, but whose final revolution becomes both an intricate coil of serous and choppy flutter, all tracked and sequenced over the top of one other. It’s truly lyrical, and what’s more, Tamiya makes it all sound so effortlessly natural, like the original written notes had not undergone the rigor of translation from strung guitar to compressed sound files

Capcom’s Bionic Commando is also somewhat of a signpost for Kamiya. In under a year, she’d be on board for compositional duties for 1989’s Strider; that same year she’d suture the loose ends that still remained for the iconic Final Fight. She wrote 1990’s Sweet Home, Street Fighter 2010, and finally Little Nemo. This wave of brilliance, rather cruelly, went un-credited, as was common practice in the 80’s. Tamiya spent a considerable amount of her career under the pseudonym Gondamin.

Bionic Commando’s score is an opulently versed yield, a richly potent seed of things present and to come for Tamiya, and as it stands, a critical, a defining moment for the framing of video game portraits as complemented by the color of their soundstripe.

Essential Tracks: Heat Wave / Albatross Encounter / Leap Of Faith / BC theme / Ok, We’ll Move / Intro Film

mmman22

Listen: Bubble Man

  1. Mega Man 2 / Composers: Takashi Tateishi / Release Year 1988

In 1988, Capcom composer Takashi Tateishi had every reason to feel emboldened. The scoring work he had done along with his partner Manami Matsumae for Mega Man’s 1987 baptism, effectively wrote the prologue to the eight-bit sound bible, a genre still swaddling about in its infancy.

The reaction to their work resonated with players on such a deep and fundamental level that Tateishi began fielding requests from his fans on the streets. Naturally, some level of hubris and celebrity also seemed to follow suit.

When recording sessions began, for unknown reasons, the pair splintered a-la Sam & Dave, and the duo was a duo no more.

Tateishi was now a single artist, brazen, impudent and determined to deliver THE follow-up expansion to the preface he had co-written almost two years earlier.

Tateishi’s initial scrawls were frenzied, desperate even…a string of stillborn compositions. Banging away on a quickly detuned piano, drifting aimless solos on clarinet and harpsicord…Tateishi, thinking the magic would somehow coalesce quickly, labored over fruitless months.

Tateishi was however under the erroneous belief that the sequel would remain a near facsimile of the original: simple, short and quickly turned around to market. That was until he received THE call: the size of Mega Man 2 would be TRIPLE that of the original.

The melodies he’d abandoned in favor of their truncated version, the multiple act opera he’d dropped because he’d be short on money to pay the troupe of tenors he’d hired, and the stunning finale ensemble of players he’d assembled, dispersed like a crowd in a riot: It was all fair game now, and everyone was invited back.

Mega Man 2’s soundtrack could and indeed would be made without sparing a single expense. Armed with an inspired and impressive cache of instrumentals, Tateishi went to work assembling his a,b,c, and d sides of vinyl. If he was going to do it, it would need to encompass at the very least, two records. It makes sense that the rest of the biblical text he had spent so much time fleshing out found life as the world’s first video game double album. This is how fortunes change, world order is altered, and history is made permanent…written.

It’s tough being the seer, the burdened prophet…you’ve got an awful lot to say and such a tiny window in which to decree it.

Essential Tracks : Bubble Man / Metal Man / Air Man / Crash Man / Heat Man / Wood Man / Quick Man

Don’t forget, that you can purchase both Bionic Commando and Mega Man 2 right here, and right now on Sumthing.com

Next week, the end of our countdown, see you then.

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen: Tropics Of Torture

 

  1. Super C / Composer: Hidenori Maezawa / Release Year 1990

It’s Contra you remember most, but it shouldn’t be. Konami’s late 80’s action iconography turn stands mostly pale, absent of lips, a bust formed of fictile adjoining parts: A mannequin decorated for windows. While wholly serviceable, pleasing to the senses even, it’s useless in any form of function or utility. You play dress up with it, and so what? 1990’s Super C is a moment ignorant, forgetful of all this needless preening. Fact is, Contra’s action shuffles slowly, stops frequently, and poses, mostly making a spectacle of its many inconsequential shades of eyeliner. We’re talking music here, right? Absolutely. Contra’s first record is all of these above things: My God it’s beautiful, but why SO many photographs? Super C is Contra high on the muck, and the evidence is everywhere…starting with the cover art.  Contra’s glossy finish, its fatted, contented cover stars replaced with Super C’s oozing alien gurgle bubbles: Goodbye style council.

Composer Hidenori Maezawa’s flawless reworking of the arcade’s original score retains all of its savage cuff, and avoids becoming some pared-down, balding affair that’s struggling to simulate the full wig.

Less the stately glitz of its predecessor, and more the busy hands of men  hastily running an unbroken sprint through fields of terrestrial slop,

this is how you do left to right.

Essential Tracks : Gates Of  Fort Firestorm / Lair Of The Jungle / Fruit Of The Doom Defense / Red Falcon’s Poison Palace / Tropics Of Torture

nes_Batman

Listen: Stage 1

  1. Batman / Composer: Naoki Kodaka / Release Year: 1990

The reality of Batman’s 1990 NES score is that it is not made for action.

This however is the entire point of this work, which is concerned primarily with the study of deeply pronounced flaws of character or of the physical body: a man pondering his disfigured limbs, subjugating his need for control and justifying his perverse addictions. Its level of melancholy is categorically startling, and rarely does Kodaka see the necessity to veil or shroud his intent. Everything is touched with a sense of overcast, a sensation that feels not simply heavy but burdensome. Madness is a delicate thing to entertain, but Kodaka gives ample room to both cerebral persuasions( sickness and clarity) as they vie for place at the forefront of every moment as it changes. Batman NES is long seeded turmoil at the moment of its transformation into a path, where despite a chosen side, every action bears whispers of the other.

Essential Tracks: Stage 1 / Stage 4 / Stage 2 / Intro Scene / Game Over / Stage 3

The final four entries are here…stay tuned.

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen: Bloody Tears

  1. Castlevania 2: Simons Quest / Composers: Satoe Terashima and Kenichi Matsubara / Release Year :1988

There are those who argue in favor of the soundtrack Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse over Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. I’m not among this camp…not at all. While still excellent, Castlevania 3’s musical accompaniment somehow feels forced. You can’t shake that disease: the sinking feeling that it has been worked over numerous times, changed hands, redrafted then abandoned, then yet again further retuned; the band has simply been playing too long. It tends to happen when you’ve been commissioned to follow up the sounds of a genre landmark, a masterpiece: everything bitter.

Simon’s Quest, as judged solely by its accompaniment, is an invariably fascinating narrative, where every hundred to thousand listens only enhances the nature of its perfectly metered, yet fleeting couplets. In theory, simplicity such as this usually begs some level of ephemera, but it is that same concise use of assonance, that fluidity of the tongue that extends its lifespan infinitely. Simon’s Quest, more so than residing incumbent entries or past manipulators, equips the series with a true identity, and makes incalculable inroads on every single sound made in its name going forward.

More proof? How many more times can you possibly remix Bloody Tears?

You see my point.

Essential Tracks: Bloody Tears / Message Of Darkness / Monster Dance (night theme) / A Requiem (ending) / Silence Of Daylight / Within These Castle Walls

stridernes

Listen: Transmission Screen

  1. Strider / Composer: Harumi Fujita / Release Year: 1989

One of the more unlucky recipients within the late 80’s Strider trifecta (part manga, part arcade game, part original NES title) had to be the team behind Strider NES. The game, completely stripped of ALL the glamour of the headlining arcade machine, being piloted by a truly baffled collective left to interpret the still burgeoning, unwritten lore, and minus ALL the trademarks of a then single entry series, would make any sane individual reach for their transfer form, or at worst, accept terms of severance from the company. The story of NES Strider’s island of mock-ups and submission rejection letters remains an untold legend.

Despite the numerous setbacks and the scant prickly thistle with which they were given to work with, Strider NES was an ambition given light by the smallest band of only the most zealous of believers within Capcom. Composer Harumi Fujita makes her unforgettable, one of a kind monotype print from a combination of every scattered, impossible, and nonplussed moment: a scramble to set tone and create enough plausibility for Strider Hiryu to exist in the frame.

Fujita drags in every last favor ever owed to her, making adjustments and taking payouts in real time, forcibly projecting her still gargling sing-song onto Hiryu. It’s an INCREDIBLE ride as she’s unfazed and ready to set over the top of Strider’s world, whatever the moment brings, whether a conscious stream or a rambling cuckoo’s nest of flying irrelevant debris. Scope is not something Strider is left wanting, and Fujita’s lens has covered the world, all of it, brilliantly.

Pyramids, future world, dictators, red dragons…Africa: whatever, just toss it on the pile, and give her a minute.

Essential Tracks: Transmission ScreenKazakh Theme / China Theme / Africa theme / Red Dragon Theme / Title Theme

A break next week, but the list comes ever closer to the end.

Happy 4th of July everyone! Go play some NES!

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

LAGRANGE POINT

Listen: Departure and Arrival

 

  1. Lagrange Point/ Composer: Akio Dobashi / Release Year 1991

A powerful piece of 80’s Japanese pop nucleus Rebecca, composer Akio Dobashi, now newly leased from the rigors of his record company following the group’s implosion, sought a refuge both immediate and vastly distant from his unraveling present. Unwilling to surrender, and perhaps caught amongst an avalanche of inter-band political disputes and documents foisted upon him thick with alien legalese, Dobashi voluntarily lost himself inside the work for Konami’s Lagrange Point.

Confrontation, long the hallmark of Konami’s established sound, was something lost on Dobashi. The expectation to dedicate all available midi rifles on the decoration of boorish action set pieces was turned instead to light tufts of airy meringue. Lagrange Point lies between the dulcet lyrical introspection of Paul Desmond’s indigo melancholy, and the smoldering psychedelic all-hours apothecary the likes of John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space. Despite this, Dobashi’s lines for Lagrange remain compulsively clean, leaving plenty of room for his melodies to gambol free of mother ship turbulence. Lagrange Point is Akio Dobashi’s final demarcation whose forward trajectory flies completely bereft of the weight of his colorful past… and all the more for it.

Essential Tracks : Satellite Base / Theme Of Iris / Physical Energy / Fighter’s Sadness / Fighter’s AwakenDeparture and Arrival / Fortified Zone / Last Fort – Bio Palace

Double Dragon 1

Listen: Mission 2

  1. Double Dragon / Composer: Kazunaka Yamane / Release Year: 1988

It has never been easy to speak of Double Dragon’s rapidly advancing age, but age it has. So much so, that I find it hard to comment on it with any sort of length when asked. It comes with loving something so intently for so long. And I’ve loved…Double Dragon’s the reason I am here now.

Once a record found specially, specifically sewn into the sleeves of my jacket, is now more in line with composer Jerome Kern’s tired, and receding standard The Folks Who Live On A Hill, than Walter Hill’s Warriors. It’s a lazy approximation at best, and one of contempt more driven by the fear of my own passing years, than anything laid within the grooves of its shock black vinyl. BUT. Shaking away those preconceived thoughts, the disaffected memories of some youth long gone, reveals much the savant in its composer Kazunaka Yamane. Double Dragon’s carefully earmarked mix of tracks STILL burns the back of the throat when ingested without caution. A prophet’s goulash of athletic tenor, staccato no-wave, and lowest-brow street funk, Yamane heard the sound of the genre in the oak, LONG before his imitators began bludgeoning his corpse for loose change. While the attraction may not draw the numbers it once did to its storied sights, it remains an essential cassette tape unaffected by warble, and ambivalent to the lost decades. Still snarling and all spittle: that’s my boy.

Essential Tracks: Mission Start / Mission 2 / Title Theme / Mission 1 / Secret Area (cave) / Mission 3 / Boss theme

The end is near, stay tuned!

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

mother

Listen: Dungeon Theme

13. Mother / Composers: Keiichi Suzuki & Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka / Release Year :1989

Think loose and play faster! It’s how composers Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka perform 1989’s NES classic Mother, like some fabled fear and loathing lost weekend dragging around in an addled stupor, down a couple grand, but with just enough energy to make the sunrise. Hilarious, strangely but beautifully cool, defiantly bohemian, and singularly offbeat, their instruments may have died in the making of this experiment, and the pair may have narrowly escaped with nothing more than mail order catalogs, but boy…that was some siesta. Mother’s score is the summit of a towering holy mountain.

Essential Tracks: Fallin in Love / Field Theme / Battle Theme 1 / Magicant’s Theme / Dungeon Theme / Live House Song

Final Fantasy Box Art

Listen: Title Theme

12. Final Fantasy / Composer: Nobuo Uematsu / Release Year: 1987

From every angle, and from any perspective, Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy has no equal rivals. Uematsu’s rudimentary foundation still stands statuesque, born of complexity, and far out measures the available pant sizes found within the NES sound storefront. These pieces push the hardware to limits of shattering exhaustion. For every second of film, our composer is at the reins charging harder and louder and longer than his previous now seemingly infantile siege. The sound of a man, turned new man, turned man alive. To quote the Pixies Black Francis, “Gigantic, gigantic a big, big love!”

 

Essential Tracks: Battle Theme / Garland Shrine / Matoya Cave / Airship Theme / Overworld Theme / Title Theme

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Listen: Little Mac Down

11. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out / Composers Yukio Kaneoka, Kenji Yamato and Akito Nakatsuka Release Year: October 1987

I once likened the soundtrack of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out to that of an operatic Cthulhu: a beast who will wow you with its vocal range, then devour your torso as you have been sufficiently hypnotized and possessed by its disease. Read into that what you will, but I still stand by that statement, as it aptly summarizes the work of our three composers going elbows deep into your brain matter, prodding, and testing…waiting for that one true desired Pavlovian response. Punch-Out remains an elixir of near perfect proportions ingested under the false guise of sugar water placebo, but once absorbed carries all the concentrated wallop of thousands of side effects in full play, all at once.

Everything in moderation.

Essential Tracks: Fight Theme/ Bicycle Training / Opening Title / MatchWon / Game Over

Stay tuned for the top 10!

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

Snake's Revenge

Listen: Searchlights Searchlights and Sentries

15. Snake’s Revenge / Composer : T Ogura / Release Year 1990

Despite Snake’s Revenge being a sloppily ill-coordinated takeover of creator Hideo Kojima’s legendary series (shame this wouldn’t be the last time), it does retain one truly remarkable asset, composer’s T Ogura’s largely, criminally overlooked score sheets. Half a collection of snapshots of some stillborn Bayou Billy sequel and half a mixture of dashes comprised of Life force, Commando, and Contra, Ogura’s compositions cleanse the palette, clearing the slate of the previous decade of Konami soundtracks. This track-list isn’t something that could have been developed in 1986, 1987 or 1988, and it plays fixatedly reaching towards this new decade (you can actually hear it on Searchlights and Sentries). Ogura employs grandiose 17 piece drum sets, where every cymbal has some form of resolute purpose, and hires in excess of a hundred plus session players all contracted specifically to play some VERY heavy bass. There’s so much lobbing about of the thick and heavy, that it’s amazing they were able to stamp and package its contents into something so small, gray and ordinary.

Welcome to the 90‘s.

Essential Tracks: First Mission / Searchlights and Sentries / Boss Battle /

Enemy Train / Metal Gear Fortress / Surrender Theme / Underground Theme

nes_gyromite

Listen: Game A Music

14. Gyromite / Composer: Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka / Release Year: 1985

To Hirokazu Tanaka, 1985 perhaps felt no different than any other year, as his order of day went blessedly unaltered. Up he went sometime about 3 A.M, he’d score out hundreds of sonic billboard legends until around noon, maybe a short ride in the country then a return to tinkering until 2 A.M. where he’d begrudgingly sit (not lie) and catnap, his hands still pressed against the keyboard should the mood strike pre R.E.M. sleep. He’d done it for years; this particular Wednesday saw no cause for alarm. It was just Gyromite.

If you can name it, and it’s NES, chances are Tanaka wrote it, half lucid but STILL dreaming. It’s what separates him from EVERYONE else: That one eye open, one eye shut, never a foot in either plane, all dream, but somehow manifested on very real 8-track reels. In 1985, Tanaka seized the opportunity afforded him by Gyromite’s spastic, haywire hard lines, and one by one, inch by inch, volunteered to unknot the bedraggled mess of coils and strands now somehow impenetrably fused together.

This is at the precipice of the NES, and Gyromite is a crude, oafish and unreceptive choir to Tanaka’s gorgeously resuscitated harmonies. In a gaming music landscape still vastly littered with the likes of Atari’s soulless bleeping Morse-code long-players, Tanaka openly fought the rot, and taught the hardware to sing: bright combinations, doubled keys, and looping scales. It’s all basic, but that makes it no less revolutionary. Sure, there might be others, but here, I’m counting it as a true first.

Essential Tracks: Game B Music / Title Theme / Game A Music / Phase Begin

Stay tuned!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen: Journey To Silius: Stage 2 / Blaster Master: Area 1

18. Blaster Master/ Journey To Silius / Composer: Naoki Kodaka/ Release Year/s 1988 and 1990 respectively

Despite everything contained within composer Naoki Kodaka’s recordings for 1988’s Blaster Master, and despite its master tapes indicating in bold that indeed these takes were the finalized project of some many years of work, Blaster Master’s score wouldn’t see total completion until Kodaka and developers Sunsoft released Journey To Silius two years later. The software titles may have been billed as separate projects and created under totally different guises, but their makeup and melody feel largely complementary, logical extensions of each other. Where Blaster Master is swathed in color, more lively, and purposefully artless, Journey To Silius is just the opposite, and plays MUCH more measured and alarmingly grey: a drastic departure from the swaddling clothes of its sibling. STILL. This is ONE single vision split across years, and when gathered together under one roof, it becomes plain that these once adjacent tenets have shared housing before, a line of string laid across the floor being all that separated them. Their matching collection of DNA, makes light of their trivial differences and begins to align and adhere with little fuss made between its molecules. The idea that these scores were sovereign unto themselves was simply an act of subterfuge through business enterprise. This is meant to be heard as a dual album, and one single, startling opus.

Essential Tracks: Blaster Master: Area 3 / Area 1 / Area 5 / Area 2

Essential Tracks: Journey To Silius : Title Theme / Stage 2 ThemeStage 3 ThemePrologue

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Listen: Ghosts and Goblins: Stage 1 Theme

17. Ghosts and Goblins / Composer: Ayako Mori / Release Year 1986

Composer Ayako Mori’s score for Capcom’s 1986 NES port for Ghost and Goblins, is an indurate drill of reverent Kumbaya simplicity. Mori, not one for lengthy conversation, prefers to illustrate Ghosts and Goblins as an extenuating figure: threadbare, with only a few largely garish and inconspicuous flourishes to fill out the soul of the dehydrated Goblins supplicants. It’s not about the excess of words, it’s about simple statements in the presence of something celestial. Here, Mori places most of her emphasis in Ghosts and Goblins on the sound of stunned deferential gawp. This is a yokelish slack-jawed prayer that focuses on the repetition of single syllables of incantation instead of verbose, sputtering, winded sermons to ingrain its message. Mori’s is a voice both constant and droning, yet her reiterations, her unnecessary repetitions remain incredibly passionate, and likewise should be considered more than just some humble radio amplification…this is an invocation: follow the benediction, these are the words, hallelujah.

Essential Tracks: Stage 1 / Stage 4 / Stage 2

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Listen: Duck Tales: Himalayas Stage

16. Duck Tales / Composer: Hiorshige Tonomura / Release Year 1989

It’s with no considerable lack of graft that I imagine composer Hiroshige Tonomura went about the business of scoring Capcom’s 1989 Duck Tales. The television show on which it was based was mere weeks away from its production end. The idea of enticing its now aging original child audience to look back on Duck Tales both nostalgic and with some measure of retrospection at the curmudgeon age of 10, would be like asking them to provide pointed examples of alliteration throughout James Joyce’s Ulysses: They wouldn’t understand, and it’s never going to happen. This was the year of Batman, not Disney’s Scrooge McDuck. Armed with no tested or gorgeous simulacrum for Tonomura to imitate, and no template with which to vanquish this indifference, our composer ,tottering and disjointed, entered into the contract to conceive the compositions for Capcom’s Duck Tales. Despite the mood, Tonomura succeeded. The temptation may have been to score the game purely with saccharine: sickly glazed, aimless but irritatingly bright, like some condescendingly kaleidoscopic game of stick and carrot. Rather than insult though, Tonomura discards that caloric emptiness for genuine feeling, and succeeds in tapping into all the base emotions of a child: joy, fear, and love. Tonomura muses playfully, gently cajoling his skeptical onlookers to join him, no matter their imagined embarrassment on playgrounds and no matter their psychological need to fight their passing infancy. Tonomaru wants them to realize that there is nothing wrong with being incredibly young and that no harm will come to them for simply singing along. Ardent, funny and unapologetically warm, Tonomura’s recordings demonstrate just how effective tone of voice can be, no matter the passage of time.

Essential Tracks: Moon / African Mines / Transylvania / Amazon

Stay tuned next week as we continue the countdown.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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 Listen: Inside The Tree

20. Wizards And Warriors/ Composer: David Wise/ Release Year 1987

Developer Rare has worn many a wedding ring, and money has changed

hands in pursuit of its exclusive courtship more times and for far more capital than any corporate ledger would likely (within the realm of comfort) admit to. It wasn’t always this way though. At some point, Rare pre-transmogrification to behemoth studio, were just some guys, likely not even guys…dudes: swearing, funny, OCD eccentrics who loved text adventures and who favored command line computer code over vodka and tonic. To be fair, maybe they had a few tiny flasks. Composer David Wise’s score for 1987’s Wizards and Warriors feels like peering through a, for your eyes only, garage days memoir: nuts and bolts, labored failed experiments anchored by dryly comedic notes on the best of days, and single filthy drawings illustrating the worst. Wise’s Wizards and Warriors was an album decades beyond its time, spearheading and prophesizing the intimate attachment of the player to the score laid within the cart. Despite the hiccups in its fevered stitching, Wizards and Warriors remains one of the earliest and best examples of VGM exploiting a feeling. Some prefer later-era Wise, but I’ve always thought this was him at his most candid.

Essential Tracks: Forest Of Elrond / Outside The Castle / Inside The TreeTitle Screen

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 Listen: Title Theme

19. Skate Or Die/ Composers: Rob Hubbard / Kouji Murata/ Release Year 1988

When this list reaches completion, if nothing else, please remember the number one spot, and do not forget Skate or Die. For those who argue against the merits of 8-bit generated scores: you’ve truly not heard enough, nor have you heard the right pieces, and most certainly have had no acquaintance with the anarchic proclamations of Rob Hubbard and Kouji Murata’s Skate Or Die.

The orchestration here is beyond the scope of creatively barren company mandates, not by numbers created, nor its complexity stripped for the sake of cash: It’s real.

Skate or Die’s cassette tape demos can be likened to a runner’s high: air in the lungs, a tensing and then relaxing of muscles brazenly insistent on their own immortality, yielding only to moments without law or reason…physically letting go.

The gorgeously reworked album comes courtesy of Konami composer Kouji Murata, who burnishes the original’s instructions by increasing the tempo, lending a spangled falsetto to the treble, and un-muting whole channels of seemingly lost and questionably muddied, scuttled audio layers.

Despite the reins being handed over, this is ALL Murata’s show. Live and altogether unstable, Murata’s presence as a new front man, is one that gives all. Hours later, despite all those bottles to the head and all stage dives gone spectacularly wrong, Murata’s credible and exceptionally authentic. After all, if we are being real here, skate boarding is nothing more than a wheeled rock show waiting for a bit of glass.

 

Essential Tracks: Title Theme / Skate To Jam / Skating To Downhill / Skating To Pool Joust / Skating To Ramp Freestyle

Stay tuned next week for more of the very best NES soundtracks.

Dedicated to Jacob Thorp.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Measuring the worth of hundreds of Nes musical scores isn’t something I would call an enviable task. For one, you’re somewhat limited by your own scope: what you’ve heard, what you love, and what your definition of classic consists of. No matter what you do, someone’s bound to disagree. Then, there are the lines that have already been drawn out: it’s been done to death; we’ve already seen this particular pattern play out… what could possibly be different here? Instantaneously, a short list of candidates begins forming inside the head: it’s Zelda, Metroid and Mario Brothers, or some switching of position of those three. So, I’ve chosen to disregard this common holy ground: You might not see them in this countdown…I know. BUT. If we can’t even have an open dialogue about what also might be just as worthy of those top spots, then we’re not being realistic. Let’s have some fun!

Agree or disagree, here are 25 of the very best NES soundtracks ever made.

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Listen: Castle Entrance

 25. Shadowgate/ Composer: Hiroyuki Masuno / Release Year 1989

Composer Hiroyuki Masuno, was no stranger to the crafting of beautiful things when he signed on with Japanese development house Kemco in 1985. Early on, Masuno’s arrangements show promise, and his employers, eager to build upon his sparse balsa wood compositions, are desperate to provide him with a fitting muse.1986’s Uninvited plays a minor footnote to 1988’s palatial Deja-Vu, but it is Masuno’s 1989 score for Kemco’s reinterpretation of Icom Simulation’s Shadowgate is where he finally leaves all fragility behind. Shadowgate is a sequestered bitter labor of protracted, carcinogenic stanzas and boreal darkness. All stone, all remoteness made possible through the draft created by Masuno’s frigid echo.

Essential tracks: Title Screen / Subterranean Cavern / Banquet Hall / Courtyard And of course…Castle Entrance

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Listen: Bernard’s Theme

 24. Maniac Mansion / Composers: David Warhol, George Sanger, David Hayes / Release Year 1990 

When looking back through all of your library of NES vinyl, one thing becomes alarmingly, glaringly apparent: Most musical scores were handled by a single individual. At the time, while integral to every game they were written for, the creation of these records was seen as nothing more than a burden put upon game development companies: It ranked a costly expenditure eating away at the collective’s profit margin. Why pay three musicians to do the work of 1? While this stingy method of corporate rancor may have thrived for most of the NES’s lifespan, there are those few rare instances of hiring a dedicated house band. David Warhol, George “The Fat Man” Sanger, his band “Team Fat” and David Hayes all had a hand in banging out Maniac Mansion’s schizophrenia, one frenetic jam session at a time. Maniac Mansion’s score is a towering monolith hemorrhaging thick, slovenly streams of both diatribe and compromise. The confusion all this interplay generates is fascinating, though, as the languages these composers speak tend to stumble over the others’ more complex dialect. Any effort made to make directions clearer, only adds to their voices growing louder, drowning out all aim and meaning. Sophisticated as it is entertaining, Maniac Mansion is potent math rock for 80’s console sects.

Essential Tracks: Dave’s Theme / Razor’s Theme/ Syd’s Theme/ Edison Family Tentacle theme/Bernard’s Theme

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Listen: Stage Theme

 23. Kung Fu /Composer: Koji Kondo / Release Year 1985 

Take a minute, and think of your favorite NES soundtrack. Now, strip and separate each and every layer that you can from it. What do you hear? Chances are, not much. The addition of sound on sound on sound works only when all the pieces are present. The melody you hum inside your head ceases to work once you’ve extracted some of the required pulp. Now, test it further: can you hear the tune in its entirety without omitting any of the piece’s subtler elements…on the blades of a moving ceiling fan? Try it. Can you hear it on the air? Composer Koji Kondo’s flawless translation of arcade coin-op Kung-Fu Master’s single theme in no way relies on the fattening of the anemic source material. Kondo’s take is one to one: Exact. Kung Fu’s rolling monotony, while admittedly meager, rubs on you like an infection, and hearing it for less than 5 minutes comes with a guarantee: As you’re lying there, trying to fall asleep for the night, you can still hear EVERY single inch of it mercilessly rotating overhead.

Essential Tracks: Stage Theme/s

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Listen: Stage 1 Theme

 22. Rygar/ Composer:Michiharu Hasuya /Release Year 1986

It’s 1986 and Tecmo’s Rygar is mere months from completion. Sadly, Composer Michiharu Hasuya’s ardent love of Red Sonia comics and Sundays spent full regalia in a small band of Japanese Amtguard enthusiasts have failed to reach the heights of immersion requested by his employer. Time had grown short, but looming deadlines can be kind. So what makes up Hasuya’s Rygar? All the leather as seen in Krull, all the official D&D rule books by TSR, and ALL the many legions of brass: Exhibit A: the noxiously loud trumpets from Stage 1… fairly hard to forget. Hasuya is THE barbarian, and not Lothar playing amongst barbarians. Heavy costuming aside, Hasuya’s exhaustingly physical musical presence demands examination and multiple replays.

Essential Tracks: Theme For Stage 2/ Theme For Stage 5/ Theme For Stage 6 / Overworld theme

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Listen: Second and Fourth Guardian

 21. Aliens 3/ Composer Jeroen Tel /Release Year1993 

By most accounts, the NES was a dead system by 1993. Yet, there were those still clinging to the innards of a machine whose carcass had no new secrets to reveal to whoever probed it. Dutch composer Jeroen Tel, however, would most likely relate a very different tale. Tel’s last and desperate act of NES console archeology produced this anomalous and sprawling corridor crawl: it’s not about what’s left to be uncovered, but what is already in situ. Aliens 3, however, isn’t just an assemblage of existing sound frames. NO. Tel’s redirection of the old circuitry, produces some rather brilliant scrambles of code. Aliens 3 is all hot solder, and dangerous sparking experiment.

Essential tracks: Prisoners Die , Missions 1 and 2, Missions 3 and 4,

Stay tuned next week as we continue the countdown.

What are some of your favorite NES soundtracks? Sound off below.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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