Donkey Kong Country (It’s Been More Than A) Week: The Music

I was absent from my blog for about week because I was hit with a cold and needed rests (I have doctor’s advice written on a certificate to prove this!), so I couldn’t post my next entry for DKC week on time. I’m not sure this blog has any readers, especially since it’s new, but for the sake of me talking I’m gonna imagine I have. So dear imaginary readers, if you’re sick of reading me rave on and on about DKC, I apologize, BUT BEAR WITH ME ONE LAST TIME! I just have to get all my comments about DKC music out of my system. I promise, I’ll talk about something else next, and reserve any opinions I have for Donkey Kong Country Returns, which I have since played and beaten, for a very future time. We cool with this? (imaginary readers capitulate)

Top 5 best music of Donkey Kong Country

Though I got a SNES months after DKC came out, I was then already familiar with it since I spent one whole summer hijacking my cousin’s. I knew that in addition to the visuals, SNES also surpassed its predecessors’ audio, replacing NES 8-bit bleepy chiptunes with sounds that are closer to mimicking live instruments or sounds of real life. Less of “I’M BAAAAAD!!!” that startles you before you understood it; more of, well, sounds that can be discerned.

I noticed the progress in audio quality while playing Super Mario World and Street Fighter II, but I can’t say I really was actively stopping to listen to their tracks. Humming them (to the annoyance of my non-nerd friends) was the farthest I’ve gone since they inevitably stick to one’s head through repetition, as were pretty much all the NES games I played. But DKC was the revelation, for that was where I started to understand music’s potential in adding to a game’s experience. Just give the world map themes of SMW and DKC a listen and hear the difference. One was a brief, chipper track of 16-bit sound effects. The other was complex but not without hooks, with recognizable tunes of piano, and various percussive instruments. I’ll throw you a banana and let you figure out which is which.

It’s nearly two decades after DKC came out, but everytime I listen to its OST I’m still as awestruck as I was hearing it the first time. The sounds SNES can produce are of compressed, MIDI quality, but in DKC composers Robin Beanland, Eveline Fischer and David Wise cleverly masked those limitations by layering various sounds on top of another to create tunes that are nearly like WAVs from CD audio. That by itself is a feat, but what also made DKC’s music stand out from the pack is the diversity of its tunes. Wherever Donkey Kong traverse, the music would match the mood of the scenery, from a jungle teeming with wild life to a factory laid out with mechanical traps. A far cry from Super Mario anything-2d, which had the one sound fits all “main theme”, “obstacle course theme”, and “castle theme”; in DKC, it matters that you feel its backdrops through its music.

DKC is a game that I hold close to my heart, and it’s also a game I hold close to my ears. Here are my favorites tracks:

DK Island Swing

Duke Ellington said that a song don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, which is why I’m convinced that if Sir Duke were alive today, he’d compose for videogames (and wouldn’t that be cool?!). DK Island Swing swings quite hard, with its bongos and drums urging you to thump your feet just as big band jazz did. It’s largely considered to be the main theme of post-classic Donkey Kong, rearranged many times in DKC’s successors (as the bonus theme in Donkey Kong Country 2, and as a level music in Donkey Kong 64 and Donkey Kong King of Swing).

Mine Cart Madness

My brother and I were both acknowledging how fitting this music was for the rage we felt towards the obstacles laid out on the mine cart’s path. I DIED AGAIN CURSE YOU MINE CARTS WHY IS THIS MUSIC SO GOOD RAAARGHHH!!! It would fit Batman Animated Series whenever Batman is fighting crimes, although I can’t for the life of me remember Batman having encountered a railroad track so obnoxious in how broken it is.

Ice Cave Chant

The world’s greatest injustice is that every Christmas songs are overplayed, yet a videogame track that captures much the warmth I felt in hearing those Christmas songs the first time can only be heard in ONE LEVEL.

Fear Factory

For some reason this track reminded me too much of Terminator 2. Like Robert Patrick in that movie, I just refuse to keel over and give up in Fear Factory levels no matter how many pits I have to leap across.

Aquatic Ambiance

Forget about giving me a Yanni CD. Forget about getting me in touch with new age-y consciousness mumbo-jumbo through crystals and dream-interpretation manuals. Aquatic Ambiance is my zen music and no stress is too much that I can’t overcome it by playing this track in my head. Who says games are only art? They can be therapy too.

Top 5 best music of Donkey Kong Country 2

Let me get through this intro real quick. DKC2 OST is as unforgettable as DKC1, but while DKC1 relied more on ambience, DKC2 felt more like movie music. So off we go with my picks.

Hot Head Bop

The first real standout track of DKC2 for me. While the others preceeding it weren’t bad by any means, they sounded too “epic pirate movie with ship-hopping aplenty”. Upon entering a cave I was expecting something akin to part one’s quiet yet ominous ambience, so what a surprise that this sounded as though it’s straight out of disco clubs that were so hip in the 90s. Like those house music by Soul II Soul. Or, for an even better example, the danceable ballads with lyrics about love such as “I AM DYING INSIDE TO HOLD YOU!“.

C’mon, don’t be ashamed to admit that you secretly liked those.

Snakey Chanty

A delightful ragtime melody that wouldn’t sound out of place in a saloon. I can never understand why Rare decided not to make this the tune of the first few levels, because it would’ve made sense. Nerd trivia: Snakey Chanty has an identical accordion intro as the final boss music from DKC. DKC2 began in what remained of Gangplank Galleon, the ship in DKC where the heroes defeated K Rool. So given the connections, why not put this track first before anything else? Questions like this keep me awake at night.

(At least Donkey Kong Land 2 for the GameBoy got the idea right by using it at the music for the first level)

Flight of the Zinger

It sounded nowhere like Flight of the Bumblebee its title were playing on. Bumblebee conveys the frenzy from hordes of bees. If I didn’t see the scene where Zinger gets played, I would’ve mistook it for setting the mood of very passionate night of love, and the piano portion would be when lovemaking swells to climax. Instead, this reflects Zingers (bees basically) in their hives. Insect sex?

Stickerbrush Symphony

I actually sent Diddy and Dixie jumping into a barrel and staying there for minutes because I wanted to hear this track undisturbed. My apologies to the monkeys. Must’ve been dizzying being inside a rotating barrel. But wow, what a beautiful electronica piece.

Forest Interlude

As much as I loved Stickerbrush, this is my favorite DKC2 track. Don’t have anything clever to say here. I love the harmonica, and what I guess is ocarina. There’s so many different layers of sounds here and it sets the tone of an enchanted forest perfectly.

Top 5 Best Music of Donkey Kong Country 3

Going out on a limb here, I think the crews in OCRemix are already arranging a complete DKC3 OST.

That was me being sarcastic. Honest, DKC’s OST is one of the reasons many found the game underwhelming. Even if the developers were to recycle everything from DKC2 while swapping only the sprites of the playable characters, the game would’ve been remembered more fondly if it had a solid OST backing up its uninspired setting. DKC3’s music is not awful, but it lacked the spice and the oomph of DKC and DKC2’s. DKC and DKC2 certainly had their shares of audio compressions, but they weren’t obvious because of smothering them with various sounds. While the composers (some David Wise, but mostly Eveline Fischer) of DKC3 might think that the silences are breathing rooms, they really didn’t do much than to make the compressed audio more audible. One could hear the brass instruments held in volume, lacking the explosive energy from big band swings. But even minus the technological limitations, the compositions were just too laidback and muted, which did nothing to placate the players somnambulating through the game.

Most would blame Eveline Fischer for the poor compositions, but I would disagree, to speak nothing of David Wise’s complete overhaul in GBA’s edition of this game. Maybe DKC3 just were never meant to have the great tunes on par with DKC’s and DKC2’s.

Dixie Beat

It’s sad that I had to include the game’s title theme, only because this is the only tune that sounded remotely like it belonged to DKC’s golden age. It even had the melody of DKC’s infectiously happy bonus room theme, which, before Skullmonkeys, was the greatest bonus room theme yet.

Mill Fever

Yes, perfect. This tune encapsulates all my issues with the brass instruments. It would’ve made a great boogie-woogie track, if the trumpets were allowed to blare loudly.

Water World

I liked this one very much even for evoking a different feel from DKC’s Aquatic Ambiance. That was soothing, this is not. It depicts the waterworld as a chilly place, with hostile sea creatures lurking everywhere. It even reminded me of a Japan folk song.

Cavern Caprice

A decent techno track. I don’t really think much of this (other than it’s decent) but you bet those young hard-partying punks would fall into a trance with this until someone says aloud that this is videogame music. Then they’d be ironically enjoying it.

Rockface Rumble

A face rocking (sorry!) percussion heavy glory music. Play this for boxing. Congratulations, you just got something to replace the overused Eye of the Tiger whenever you’re sparring.

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