As a new rule, every time October 7th (the posting date of the first ever Joe Bush dot Net post, though not actually the title) rolls around, I will write a post I’ve wanted to write for a while but I know will capture exactly zero readers. This is the first.
I’ve got a folder fulla drafts that could end up being the one for next year. I’ve probably been thinking about this post ever since the first time I heard Madonna’s Keep it Together in my car after a playthrough of Sonic CD sometime in 2017. The American Sonic CD soundtrack is maybe my favorite in video game history. It captures this spirit both of the game and of the era, taking ideas from pop, hip-hop, and jazz, leaving us with something so atmospheric. A lot of people prefer the Japanese soundtrack, which is fine, but they’re missing out on jammin’ along like “shoo-be-doop-doop” to the Wacky Workbench theme.
Fittingly, the Sonic CD US soundtrack mirrors what went on in the American music scene in the years leading up to Sonic CD’s release. Sonic CD’s soundtrack seems to rest somewhere between British Sophistipop and early American New Jack Swing, which happen to be two of my favorite musical genres.
Ironically, since his actual link to the Sonic franchise would come in Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Michael Jackson’s 1992 album Dangerous seems to be the full album which best represents that era’s sound.
However, the ur-example for a song that sounds like it belongs on the Sonic CD US Soundtrack comes from within his own family.
Janet Jackson – State of the World
Miss Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 is full of tracks that could fit on the Sonic CD Soundtrack. State of the World hits on several themes that come to define the Sonic CD Soundtrack: Orchestra hits, a prominent swung baseline, shouted vocal cues, and perhaps most importantly the sound of the synthesized drums.
I imagine this would fit best in a “bad future” section of a level, which is fitting considering the song discusses a bad present.
Madonna – Keep it Together
I’ve already brought this one up, but it bears repeating. The funk-guitar and prominent synth snare drum sound define this track. This song screams Tidal Tempest present to me, but your interpretation is subject to you.
Cathy Dennis – Everybody Move
This track, off of a criminally underrated album by a criminally underrated performer, would fit perfectly in Wacky Workbench, or really anywhere else in the game. The background vocal samples, the shout-outs, the background vocals, and that electronic, jazzy synth track is practically plucked out of a Sega CD.
Sting – We’ll Be Together
I think I was in a TJ Maxx when I first heard this song and I nearly shit my pants. That fucking snyth bassline with the synth Sax, and that background singer shouting “TOGEEEETHER”! Dear God! And this came out in 1987, a full six years before Sonic CD, years before the blue guy was even a twinkle in Yuji Naka’s eye!
I called Janet’s song the Ur-Example of this type of music, but clearly Sting deserves some respect as a sort of proto-example.
Michael Jackson – Jam
Jackson kicks everything I’d call emblematic of this style of music to the forefront in the first track off of Dangerous. The vocal samples, that drum-beat, the orchestra hits… Shit… I dunno, I know MJ loved the lil’ blue hedgehog and even met him that one time… So maybe it just makes sense that they took inspiration from each other.
I know what I’ve done here is for the consumption of literally nobody except myself so it doesn’t matter if I make a coherent final point, but I think what this proves is that the Sonic CD US soundtrack caught onto a trend in popular music that was washed over by the rise of the subgenres that would come to dominate the next few years (Grunge rock, Gangsta rap, New Jack Swing, Thrash metal etc.) As a result of this quick musical paradigm shift (emblematic of Eric Hobsbawm’s “Short Twentieth Century” theory that culture significantly and quickly changed shortly after the end of the cold war in 1991), Sonic CD’ soundtrack seems crystalized in time, as we never got to experience that genre’s slow assimilation into a wider genre. Which is both a shame and a blessing, as I’d love to have seen Cathy Dennis achieve the recognition she deserved, but I also appreciate that this sound was so codified, enough so that I can triangulate it all into the soundtrack of one Sega CD game.