Sunday, July 8, 2012

Frisch's Top 5 Favorite Songs

Howdy howdy, folks!  Check your calenders.  It's been two years and I have something to write.  Okay, it's actually been two days.  Close enough.  Though my intention for this blog is to mostly write reviews...I kind of have to have something to review first before I can do that.  And unless I feel like reviewing some old stuff (which maybe I might do eventually) I don't have a lot of material to work with right now.  So here's a Top 5 list instead...

Frisch's Top 5 Favorite Songs:
Though I'm not much of a musician myself I do love music.  And, in particular, I love soundtracks.  One of the most important parts of any movie or video game for me is the soundtrack.  In fact, the soundtrack of a game often has far more influence on weather or not I like a game than the graphics or gameplay.  (More on that in a future article...)

Here's a list of my five favorite songs of all time and why they have managed to receive this, ahem, prestigious honor.  And for the songs that are commercially available, I'll include the links to buy them.  Because, obviously, if they're my favorite songs they should be your favorites too so you'll want to buy them right away.  I'm always right, after all.

What better way to start off this list than with an incredibly depressing Muppet song, right?  Okay, so it's kind of an odd choice.  And, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure why I love this song so much.  Obviously, Kermit the Frog is no stranger to singing the occasional melancholy melody.  (How's that for alliteration?)  Usually, however, Kermit's sad songs are infused with a sense of hopefulness.  And this one...kind of isn't.  It's just Kermit feeling grey instead of green.  Feel-good fun for the whole family, this song!

But one of the things I always enjoy about the Muppets is that they can be funny, sincere, and a little heart-wrenching at the same time.  And this song is definitely all of those things.  It's also kind of an interesting departure from the optimism Kermit usually displays, and I do love to see familiar characters have to deal with situations different from what we have seen them go through before.  And, even if the song isn't very hopeful, in context you never really question that the Muppet will be able to "harmonize for one more song" so it's really not as much of a downer as the lyrics suggest.  That said, the first time I saw Kermit take a little peek at that painting of Piggy under the curtain without being able to bring himself to actually sing about her, my heart was officially wrenched.

So, yeah, it's odd that out of the many many songs that the Muppets have performed, this would be my top choice.  But with 129 plays in my iTunes library to date, it must mean that Pictures in My Head is doing something right!  Or maybe I just like depressing Kermit songs.  Trust me, folks, it gets less depressing from here on out, I promise.

Pictures in My Head can be purchased from Amazon here.

I can say with great confidence that Grant Kirkhope is my favorite video game composer.  I love virtually every soundtrack I've heard that he created.  The music from the Banjo-Kazooie series has a real tendency to be perpetually stuck in my head.  His music for the Viva Pinata series is also phenomenal, even for one who hasn't played the games like myself.  In fact, this may not be the last time you see him show up on this list.  Kirkhope also created the score for Donkey Kong 64.
DK64 is a game I never got very far in back in ye olden days of youth.  I didn't play it until well after the GameCube had come out.  Collectathon platform games are among some of my very favorite titles, but DK just never quite clicked for me.  About a year ago I revisited the game in college and discovered that I now disliked it even more.  It's long and tedious and relies way too heavily on frustrating minigames instead of rewarding the player for simply exploring the levels.  Ugh.

But the music, courtesy of Grant Kirkhope, is still incredible and Crystal Caves is easily the standout track.  Combining a peaceful but slightly off-kilter melody with haunting orchestration, it suits the mood of the level perfectly.  Sorta goofy and sort of somber at the same time.  It's definitely one of the best examples of why I love Grant Kirkhope's music.  Though it's unlikely to ever occur, I would love to hear Crystal Caves performed by an actual orchestra someday.

The score of How to Train Your Dragon, composed by John Powell, is my personal favorite film score.  I love the movie, of course.  But, more than any other film score, I find that this particular score is very easy to listen to and enjoy independently from the film.  With a lot of soundtracks, there's usually that one track that I skip over because, while it works well for the scene it plays under in the film, it's not that fun to listen to on it's own.  There are no tracks I skip on the How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack.

Forbidden Friendship is easily my pick of the bunch.  Not only does it underscore my favorite scene in the film, it's also spectacular on its own with a quiet sound that's easy to enjoy.  The soothing but building melody is excellent, particularly when the orchestra first starts to build up a bit between about 1:13 through about 1:40.  I love it when scores do things like that.  Forbidden Friendship is great in the movie and it's great on its own!

Forbidden Friendship can be purchased from Amazon here.  But you really ought to purchase the entire soundtrack.  Every track is enjoyable.

The first four games in the Spyro the Dragon series all had soundtracks composed by Stewart Copeland.  Copeland managed to create a very distinct sound for the Spyro series that is unlike any other video game soundtrack.  There's definitely a signature sound to his Spyro soundtracks that make them so enjoyable.

Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly was the fourth and final Spyro game to feature Copeland's music and it shows.  He was clearly at the top of his game when composing this one!  Though the game itself was rushed to completion, leaving the final product riddled with glitches and unfinished elements, the soundtrack stands out as perhaps the best in the series.  Cloud 9 is the pinnacle of Copeland's unique sound.  I've listened to it dozens and dozens of times since I first heard it.  It's Spyro music at it's finest.  With its catchy melody and unique combination of instruments and sounds, listening to it really puts you on...(wait for it) nine.

Though I have to give an honorable mention to Rainbow Speedway, which also plays in the same level.  It's similar to Cloud 9's main music and it's almost as good.  But the main level music itself wins out as the best for me!

I told you Grant Kirkhope would be back!  Much like Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly, the best part about Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts for the Xbox360 was its soundtrack.  Kirkhope's signature sound for the Banjo series translates perfectly to a full orchestra, creating a sound that would not be out of place in a Looney Tunes cartoon or an animated film.  It is without a doubt my favorite video game soundtrack ever.

Showdown Town is the main hub of the game.  It's the home to all the other levels.  And it's also home to the best piece of music on the soundtrack.  The Showdown Town theme is sublime.  From the moment I heard it the song essentially became the soundtrack to college for me, more often than not being the music I had on loop while working on a project or reading an art history chapter.  It has all the trademarks of great Banjo-Kazooie music and even features a callback to the theme of Jinjo Village from Banjo-Tooie, another of my favorite Kirkhope compositions.  Even almost four years later, very few days go by where I don't find myself humming the Showdown Town theme in my head at some point or another.  It's engrained into my mind forever.

But I can't talk about the theme for Showdown Town without talking about the nighttime version of the theme.  In addition to the main version of the theme, Showdown Town features five other variations that play at various points in the game, all arranged by Robin Beanland.  And the nighttime variation is by far the best.  It takes the already great main theme and transforms it into a soothing lullaby version of the song that is amazing to listen to.  Particularly at night!  This song, on loop, was played pretty much every night during my freshman and sophomore years of college.  And I still turn it on a lot of evenings to this day!  It's just that good.

Showdown Town was a no-brainer for the number one slot on this list.  This song alone convinced me to purchase an Xbox 360 so I could play Nuts & Bolts.  Unfortunately, the game itself didn't even come close to living up to the two original N64 games.  Eventually, I sold off the 360, and opted to just stick with a copy of the official soundtrack.  And that's what you should do too.

Showdown Town, in both its daytime and nighttime forms, is available on the Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts Original SoundtrackGo buy it now.  You won't regret it.

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