That is to say, my own personal fave top 10, for varying reasons, and in no order! I’ll do this in two halves, as I didnt expect to rattle on so much about each tune
The Last Ninja, Subtune 6(or Level 1 in the game)
Few game soundtracks have evoked so many memories for so many people than the Last Ninja series (just look at the number of remixes ! ), and for me the first holds a special place. I was 13 or 14 years old by the time I saw the game, already a nerdy geek, with a very small number of friends who could mutually understand the gravitas of the 12 individual soundtracks that were rendered in a mere three channels of SID chippyness. The limitations meant nothing to me tho, as in my mind the sound was much grander, and so evocative, so emotion generating.
Of all the themes in the first game that first level was a real showstopper, and went on to define the Leit-Motif of our Ninja protagonist. This is demonstrated clearly by the inclusion of the theme in Matt Gray’s soundtrack in the sequel (last level, giving a sense of nostalgic anchoring to that which had gone before) and in Reyn Ouwehand’s Last Ninja Remix (a somewhat cynical game rehash of the sequel with jazzed up graphics, but some nice tunes)
I would’ve easily suggested the entire soundtrack of the game, but focused on this particular tune
This is a difficult one, as I’m quite fussy – and to my mind no remixer has yet done justice to the piece. Yes there have been innumerable dancey arrangements, but none that seem to me to properly capture the essence of the original, which is – lets face it – a difficult one since its clearly oriental in theme and tone, but with a beat and drum that lends it more to a 70′s Enter the Dragon kind of sound! I like Putzi’s alternative take on the piece, and Pthomi’s guitarous take.. but for me the purest interpretation so far is Chris Holm’s somewhat General-Midi sounding interpretation! I’d love for someone to cover this piece with some really lush instrumentation, but retaining the feel of the original.
KnuckleBusters – in game – subtune 1
What a tune! Raw, aggressive, funky, and one of the most memorable basslines ever Love it. Some of the sounds Rob Hubbard pulls from the C64 in this piece are just fantastic, from wailing synthy screams, to that impossible to describe drum sound! A long piece, but one that tells a story, a countdown – with the song literally counting away seconds at the end.
I remember the game being an odd largely bafflingly unplayable creation, but completely surpassed by the music (title et all) but this in-game piece was a thing of industrial synth aggressive urgency. Key fave points include the Miaowlike wails @ 1:40, the most awesome bassline evar(tm) @ 2:10 followed by the return of the miaows. Impossible Synthy teethbearing sound @ 2:39, THOSE drums immediately following, the funk kicks in @ 2:56.. a less agressive bridge appears @ 3.26… swings down back to the main beat. Genius. Then oh god 9:35 the urgency steps up a notch with a stinger bass and catwail, progressing towards the madcap accelleration towards a pseudo-climax @ 15:28.. followed by a descending tempo, moving towards a 1-second beat that perfectly matched the closing seconds of the time-constrained game – yes, you were expected to finish the game in 16 minutes 43 seconds
the tune is like someone’s idea of good sex – I didnt say mine!
Now this is more of a remix than a cover in that its a mishmash of the themes, but its the only cover I’ve heard that approaches the overall sound how I imagine it.. by which I mean a grungy narky bass, kickass drums, and overall shouty nature
Marcel Donne’s (commercial) cover is more traditional, and I like it, tho it lacks the harshness I prefer in the other remix:
Martin Galway: Green Beret title (subtune 10)
A personally important piece this one My first computer was actually a BBC Micro, my father brought it home one evening (“For doing the accounts”) and since we had them in school at this time, I was the nominated expert Soon the machine gravitated to my bedroom and I was able to enjoy such greats as ” Lemming Syndrome “, ” Elite “, ” Revs “, ” Podd “, and ” Doctor Who ” ! One thing about the BBC was it had very limited sound.. I think 2 waveforms “DOO” and “KRRK” ! In early 1986 when the BBC micro had an unfortunate accident, it was replaced with a C64
My early C64 games were quite limited in the audio dept… FIRE ANT (kr-kr-kr-kr-squeeb) and Cave Fighter until I saved a hugemongous £9.99 to buy my first AAA(!) title (100% machine code!) – Ocean’s Coin-op conversion: GREEN BERET ! Now, not only did this conversion of the game trounce my friends ZX spectrum version, it had music composed by Martin Galway.
Now remember, I was a recently elevated BBC Micro peasant, so when I was hit with the triple-whammy of
1: Loading Picture,
2: Loading Music,
3:AMAZING SOUND – it was quite the monolith to the monkeys of 2001…
However… whilst the loading tune impressed, it was the actual music of the title theme that blew me away. To mine ears the instruments were fantastic, the tune magnificent. I remember being baffled that my mum thought to disagree when I would play back the music (recorded onto tape!) to her proudly! I still remember happily “Doo! DOO! Doo! DOO! Doo-doo-DOO-DOO!”-ing along to the end of the tune with its drums But from a musical point of view it just really struck a chord with me, and amazed me with what was possible from this little beige box! The drum kick in @ 1:15, followed by the lush melody, then the doubling of the lead instrument @ 1:48, and then that oh so beautiful high @ 2:00.. with the doubleback arpeggio giving way to the aforementioned drums This is the game that made me want to be a musician myself
Random Trivia: When playing this game back in the day I used to stab the enemy in time to the in-game drumbeat! Stab-stab-stabbitystab-stab-stabstab !
Also – my other half (“The Boffin”) had a near identical C64 coming-of-age, except her experience was with another Galway tunage: Rambo!
Once again (for me) there is not yet a definitive remix I’ve heard, but the one I like best is Sonic Wanderer’s Distant Dreams. Mainly because I like his nice choice of instruments, its got a nice synthy, laserdancey sound I like, plus his own personal touch both in terms of melodic expansion, and additional layers of instrumentation.
Notable mention to Allister Brimble for his orchestral take on the piece, which I think is cool and mighty, but doesent give me that hairs on the back of the neck rising feeling the original does with its melody.
Tim Follin: Ghouls’n'Ghosts (all of it, but especially subtune 11/last level)
See below for download/listening link
Now… in much the same way that Green Beret was a revelation to me in terms of what the C64 was capable of over its other 8-bit rivals… Tim Follin’s amazing work on C64 Ghouls’n'Ghosts did the same thing all over again over what was possible versus other C64 audio, and that includes the technically awesome sounds made possible with samples and the like. Follin’s work here is not only technically stunning (use of synthesis and instrumentation) but also quite genius musically, on par with the dramatic flowing works of Danny Elfman – and thats a disservice to Tim, but there is a similarity in styling. Another reference might be John Williams’s score to “The Witches of Eastwick”
G’n'G had some stand out pieces, the harpsichord title theme featuring “must be a sample” sounds of screams, and howling wolves. The wonderful OoomPah-OoomPah level 2 tune, the downright creepy tinkly level 4 theme… and then the absolutely mad, wonderous, musically masterful final level. I cant begin to comprehend composing something so flowing as this piece on something so “mechanical” as a C64 (few modern sequencers either!) – it really sounds like something scored and played by musicians in an orchestra, rather than a synthetic chiptune! To this day the warm, filtered isolated bass line in this piece gives me a warm fuzzy feeling The later parts have that manic Elfman/Williams-esque sound to them that is so distinctive, and so different to most other game soundtracks in complexity and storytelling.
Now, to present this tune to you I’m cheating a bit, I’m going to link you to a recording I made of the piece with per-channel reverb + echo, because to me its what the game should have come with in the box, some kind of cartridge sound-expander to allow the music breathing room in the soundscape
NONE! As it should be I cant imagine hearing it any other way than the original (or with FX as above!) – there are however, some pretty nice remixes of the other tunes in the game, special mention to Nada’s laidback lounge tracks
Maniacs of Noise/Jeroen Tel: SAVAGE! Intro
(sorry – this guys nice recording bafflingly has a speaking clock near the start!)
Ok.. had to get a 4-channel SID in this first 5 somewhere I had already heard some 4-channel tunes on the C64 and not really though about it… Arkanoid , Combat School , but aside from maybe SKATE OR DIE they had been merely “nice” – then I heard Savage, and lo, I was agog. 4 Channels? Sounded more like 5.. no.. 6! Not just Zokks! or burps! – the first 30 seconds of this track is nothing but 1-channel of C64 samples playing! Amazing, hadnt heard anything like it. The Maniacs of Noise would become kind of a hit factory (in a good way!) with games over the next few years by doing title tunes of this calibre for games, often making a game a “must” purchase even when the game itself was poo – but this was often the way with C64 games, especially those composed by Martin Galway or Rob Hubbard.
Its not just the sampled instruments that make this a great piece tho – freeing up SID channels by having drums+bass interspersed on the sample channel meant that 2 voices could be used for a single instrument, giving rise to some truly startling instruments of any description. (@1:15) Then you have absolutely masterful use of the sample channel (@2:03) – thats just one channel playing (one track polyphony) – absolutely amazing.
@3:34 – giving all the SID voices over to playing a single lush chord… but backed up by the samplechannel underpinning everything.
One only, and very good Chris Abbot did a very authentic take on the piece which sounds great, but it can’t compare to the technical wizardry presented in the original. However, there were some other great tunes in the game which have been covered, my favourite is level 2′s pseudo-disco jive.