As you probably already know, I love music. It’s been a part of my life for at least 20 years, though for several of those early years, it was a subconscious companion, entering my brain at all times without appreciation or recognition. (That is actually 80% of the reason I love 90s rock) It wasn’t until I started playing music myself around age nine that it really became an integral facet of my existence.
As a kid I played a lot of video games. Back in the 90s, video games had awesome music. Some still do today, but back then it seemed that everything out there had a unique and compelling soundtrack. Sometime around 1996, we had a collection of shareware games by Apogee thanks to the ancient practice of putting game demos on full game CDs. Among these games was Duke Nukem II, a cheesy platform shooter from 1993. As a seven-year-old, this game was addicting and somewhat challenging. It also had a kickass soundtrack, much of it based upon the hard rock of the era. It played as I smote man-eating plants with my flamethrower, explored two-dimensional maps expanded only by my imagination, and absorbed the sights and sounds of alien worlds. One of these particular tracks, along with the imagery of the map itself, stuck with me for years.
Something about that smooth synth melody combined with the dark, shimmering mechanical environment clicked in my head.
Fast forward a few years to late 2003. I’m now in my freshman year of high school and I’m regularly listening to mix CDs on the bus ride to and from school. Not being internet savvy enough to get away with acquiring my own music, I relied mostly on the tracks my brother downloaded/bought to satisfy my wants. A few of these songs were by a band called Muse, relatively unknown at the time but growing in popularity since the release of their latest album, Absolution. Being an appreciator of classical music, I was drawn instantly to Muse; their music has always been heavily influenced by the likes of Chopin and his ilk, and Absolution really brought that to the forefront. However, the song that really pulled me to them was a track called “Bliss,” from their second album Origin of Symmetry. It starts with harp-like arpeggios over spacey pads, before the sudden entrance of urgent drums, clean guitars and wandering crunchy bass; the verses featuring vocals over that same synth undercurrent.
The dark blue shimmering imagery of that Duke Nukem level had never failed to manifest itself in my mind’s eye whenever I listened to Bliss. I immediately loved it, and to date remains my favorite of the Muse catalog, but it took me a few years to realize exactly why I was so drawn to this song and why such images popped in my head as I listened. Enter music theory. Upon learning keys, scales, and chord progressions I had a moment of clarity. I sat down at the piano and plucked out the intro to Bliss along with the melody for the aforementioned Duke Nukem track. To my amazement, they were not only in the same key, but started with the same chord progression. C minor, B♭ major, F minor. Incredible. I had no idea these songs were so alike, but clearly my brain did. Over the next few years I discovered more and more songs tied to seemingly unrelated memories, connected by nothing more than similar chord progressions. This actually explains quite a lot about my musical taste, but I think I’ll save that for another time.
A pair of extra thoughts before they escape me:
- If it wasn’t for Doom, I wouldn’t be a much a fan of Alice in Chains as I am today. In fact there are many other things I love today that ultimately trace back to playing Doom as a kid, but it would take some time and effort to collect them all.
- The chorus of my favorite Jack’s Mannequin song “Miss Delaney” has the same progression as the chorus of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” just raised a half step. Despite everything I said above, I still don’t care for Adele.
- For both musical appreciation and nostalgia reasons, I have an extensive library of my favorite video game music. Yes, I’m a nerd.