In my frenzy to see Scott Pilgrim, like any good fanboy, I was searching for clips and pictures as well as interviews and articles. Through the course of my research, I saw a phrase which gave me pause and suddenly made me feel nostalgic.
When asked what he did to get Nintendo to give him the rights to use their music and sound effects in a movie (something rarely done by the gaming giant), he said that he wrote them a letter including a phrase which described video game music as “like nursery rhymes to a generation.”
I had honestly never though of it like that before but, when you put it that way, it’s entirely true.
One of the most recognizable songs in the world right now is the Super Mario Brothers theme. My generation knows it. The generation below me knows it. The generation above me (for the most part) knows it. Hell, my mom knows it if only just from it playing constantly in her bedroom when I was a kid (because most of us didn’t have TVs in our room back then).
The Super Mario Bros. theme has been chopped up, stripped down, done up, made classy, and dragged through the mud. I’ve heard versions of those familiar tones done by everything from a ska band to a pair of tesla coils (look it up). Metal, techno, classical guitar, string quartet… You can’t throw a rock on YouTube without hitting a cover of the Super Mario Bros theme and having it ricochet off of a cover of the Zelda theme.
Right now, on my smartphone, my ringer is the Dr. Wily Stage 1 theme from Mega Man II. If you played that game, you know the song. Rather than downloading real music ringers, I went for the VG themes. I have Punch-Out (fighting and running), Zelda (overworld, underworld, game over screen), and numerous tracks from the Mega Man universe among many others. I tend to stick with the Wily theme because I have always thought it was particularly awesome.
My notification sound switches between the Zelda discovery noise and a Mario Bros 1-up.
I have downloaded soundboards of Nintendo FX to my smartphone for the purpose of having good quality video game ringtones and for having those particular sound effects at my fingertips for just the right moment.
For people of my age range, the Super Mario Bros theme and other video game music is just as integral to nostalgia as any familiar pop song or summer anthem. Edgar is, no pun intended, right. Sometimes, hearing that music brings us back to our youth.
Every time I hear a theme from any stage in Street Fighter II, I remember riding my bike with a friend of mine to a pizza joint on my town’s main street with a pocket full of quarters and jamming out for the better part of a summer’s afternoon, then going back to my house to go swimming. I can still smell the garlic and onions.
Obscurer music, like the theme from Dig Dug, even holds some meaning to me. I remember playing that game into oblivion in the Penny Arcade at Kennywood. It was the best way to spend a quarter because, if you were good, you got a ton of play out of it.
And, tell me your eyes don’t start to water every time you hear Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies or Korobeiniki, aka the Tetris songs (Nintendo and Game Boy, respectively). When I hear either of these two songs, all I can think of is making lines, no matter what the genre. Tetris for Nintendo ruined the Nutcracker for an entire generation. I went to see it with my wife one Christmas and sat there with my hands up and my thumbs moving. Was I just joking around or was I compelled to do so out of reflex? It was a long time ago and I don’t remember, but I wouldn’t doubt if it’s either.
I have an entire video game playlist on my iPod. Most of this is covers of video game songs done by obscure little bands like Powerglove, a semi-defunct thrash metal band with two albums worth of video game covers, or The Black Mages, a band headed by Nobuo Uematsu and specializing in metal covers of Final Fantasy battle themes.
Some of the playlist is the entire soundtrack to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Some of it is stuff downloaded from Overclocked Remix. All of it is totally blastable through my car stereo and every song on that playlist has seen the light of day at least once.
There’s also a special place in my heart for people going back and using those familiar 8- and 16-bit noises in current music. The 8-bit Universal Theme and techno song during the opening and closing of Scott Pilgrim made me realize that the people of the gaming generation would get a huge kick out of more music like that. Original compositions done in 8-bit. I’m sure there’s a ton of it out there. If someone could point me to it, I’d be more than happy to go.
Gaming music is most definitely like nursery rhymes to our generation. It’s a tough point to argue when you have something like Video Games Live!, the orchestral tour that plays game music both old and new and sells out quickly in every city it visits. Haven’t had the chance to see them yet, but I’d like to the next time they roll through the Burgh.
Nintendo and other gaming companies could make a mint from selling CDs worth of the original 8-bit tracks. Just a thought.
Or, maybe I’m just as much a nerd as Edgar.
Keep fighting the good fight.