Walk into a Japanese music or games store. Look left. Look right. Notice anything different, apart from the eclectic colour and anime freaky cartoons screaming in your earhole rendering you half-deaf? Amongst other things, an abundance of video game soundtrack CDs. The Japanese love the aural aspect of gaming, so much so that society has deemed the compositions as a bona fide form of audio art. As such, you can expect to see many original soundtracks (OSTs) littered about the place for any such game.
This trend is catching on in the West, particularly America. The large-scale video games are getting standalone soundtracks. Granted, most of them happen to be either Final Fantasy (whatever else?) or the chav-gathering titles aimed at those who like gritty, grey realism with as much life as a beige sweater. Not that I’m biased or anything, you understand. Jun Senoue’s getting in on the act by doing his best to ensure Sonic OSTs are brought to the US mostly intact.
Funnily enough, that sentiment doesn’t seem to have been shared in the UK, at least by large-scale proportions. We’ve gotten soundtracks to Grand Theft Auto games, but they have been in such high demand due to the sheer mainstream nature of it, nothing else. Driver: Parallel Lines looks to feature its own soundtrack, but only on the same grounds (although nobody can contest a song from Grandmaster Flash).
Don’t ask for anything else though, you won’t get it. We might have only just seen the odd copy of the Sonic Heroes US Soundtrack in Virgin on import, but there is no such love with soundtracks in Europe. Take a look at Sonic’s music history in our continent and then you can judge for yourself. Bear in mind that none of these are actual soundtracks to any of the games.
Supersonic, as performed by Wayne Brown. Wonder why the writer didn’t want to be credited?
You’d think we’d get a soundtrack to a game, perhaps. No. Our first Sonic chart hit (if you want to call it that) was ‘Supersonic’ (05/Dec/1992), a single from “HWA featuring Sonic the Hedgehog”. HWA stands for ‘Hedgehog With Attitude’ by the way. It’s not a real person. I spent seven years believing this to be the case, and feel a little bit cheated to be honest. Wayne Brown performs on this track, and when I say performs… I’m not quite sure what I mean myself. There’s no real vocals to speak of, just some arranging of Sonic sound effects, the odd strangled woman singing in the background, and the familiar BGM being played as a backbeat. I feel a little bit bad talking about this record as if it’s dirt really, considering it was released by SEGA for charity (the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre to help children with learning difficulty communicate via music). When you think about it like that, you’re inclined to think it wasn’t bad for a charity release… “But mama, it still smells so bad!” Still, at least it sounded like it came from Sonic. It hit #33 and spun for six weeks in the UK Top 40, so a bit of a bonus then, considering it was quite niche. I guess the girlies were all into Take Shat That at the time.
Well, Germany are better at football than us, they had to get something completely atrocious. Evens the score a bit.
What we suffered in the way of Sonic the Hedgehog singles was nothing compared to the rest of Europe, specifically Germany. The poor fools pretty much made the country the rave capital of the continent, and by 1996 SEGA Germany put two and two together and came out with ‘They Call Me Sonic’. An equation that still baffles leading mathematicians today, because the song was so terribly bad, a by-the-numbers rave tune accompanied by the most ear-piercing synths and a squeaky voice representing Sonic. It got worse, with the unnamed criminals getting away with making another single called ‘King of the Ring’ (which you’d think would be a call to Sonic the Fighters – instead Sonic talks of bringing you energy when you play with him. We worry about our German friends sometimes…) and even an entire album courtesy of Arcade Deutschland GmbH. Granted, many of the tracks without voices are passable, but when you hear ‘Sonic & Tails’, you are guaranteed to be put off of the entire Sonic franchise for at least a week.
It didn’t used to be like this however – a group called Inter Galactic Dance Club released a Sonic single in Germany in 1992 called ‘Super Sonic Dance Attack’. And yes, despite it being dance/trance/rave/whatever, it perhaps should be respected for at least merging Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage together on a track without butchering either series. It is a dirty pleasure, for sure.
Other uses of Sonic the Hedgehog on a CD in Europe include UK pop group Right Said Fred, who decided to release a single titled ‘Wonderman’ (19/Mar/1994). ‘RSF’ (as they’re known in the ‘hood, obviously) were hired by SEGA to write a song for their adverts during Sonic the Hedgehog 3’s release. Aside from a few cheesy references to the blue blur the song was your standard Europ(l)op and was even worse than their last single, ‘Bumped’ (not that I’m keeping track at all). Funnily enough, Wonderman only stood for a week in the UK charts, hitting the incredible highs of #55. Maybe if we weren’t doused with Sonic Mania as impressionable 9 year old kids we wouldn’t have bought such a single. But here we are, scarred for life. I mean, you look at that face. The face. And how could anyone think he was ‘too sexy’ after seeing those bizarrely coloured limbs and disfigured hands? It gave us a nightmare or two as Fred stared at us from across the room, it did. Note the emphasis on ‘man’ in the title.
Sonic was one of the first game characters to cross the line between hero and money-grabbing pimp.
If you want any more examples of Sonic being slapped on CDs nonsensically, try searching for the various European pop compilation albums that littered shelves with Sonic’s sultry face as the ‘Commercial Pop Pimp’ of the 1990s. Sonic Dance, Sonic Dance Power and even Sonic Mix saw Sonic’s God given right to take the money of adoring girls who were also into Backstreet (ugh) Boys (ugh). ‘Everybody’ and Sonic the Hedgehog? Match made in heaven, that. At least they slapped the Prodigy in one of their CDs, kind of a morbid consolation, that one.
Fast forward to present day. Sonic’s not had much hot press since 1994 in the UK, and aside from the Sonic Adventure 2 box set there’s been nothing in the way of anything that even closely resembles a soundtrack. There is hope yet, however. Remix-Factory, a group of awesome re-arrangers from Blighty have previously worked on two mixes for Shadow the Hedgehog and have (assumedly) finished work on a remix of the almighty ‘Open Your Heart’. There are rumblings of a CD release for this, but let’s be honest here. This is a remix that was made especially for Sonic’s 15th Anniversary. What purpose would it really serve by NOT being sold on store shelves?
With the history of cack Sonic music releases in the UK, surely you must be thinking I’m mad to support the release of a CD most people have hardly heard? Well you’d be right. I am mad. But despite the fact our history has been quite shameful, it’s history all the same dammit. With no Sonic the Hedgehog merchandise to dig into at all these days (save for those horrid Sonic X figures – Space Fighter Sonic, WT-indeed-F?) these crappy CDs are all we have left. And hell, there’s a big cheese culture within the UK. I guess we kinda deserved it. And Open Your Heart’s pretty cool anyway, who wouldn’t want that on CD as a special remix? I hope you’re all nodding your heads right now.
Let’s all come together and make sure it’s released. And actually buy it, yo. We heard a bit of it and OK, it’s hard to do a remix that does the original justice (even though it is Crush 40) but it’s not bad. It’s not a Sonic OST of our own, but it sounds certainly better than ‘Sonic & Tails’ together, forever playing their games (oh, the humanity).