I Was a Soundtrack Kid: How Music Defined My Movies

Growing up, I always felt a step behind other kids when it came to being “hip” and “cool.” When portable CD players were coming out, I had nothing. When MP3 players came out, I had just gotten a CD player. When iPods came out, I was showing off my brand-new MP3 player.

You get the idea.

To make the stark contrast between me and other kids even starker, I did not hold any of the latest pop songs within my music devices. Instead, I had a love for movie soundtracks.

I swear, I listened to soundtracks all the time as a kid.

And while my taste in musical genres has expanded, to this day, I adore a good movie score.

Side note: That sick rhyme was totally unintentional.

My all-time favorite soundtrack composers were/are John Williams, Howard Shore, and Danny Elfman.

John Williams is one of the most prolific movie soundtrack composers ever, responsible for classic movie themes that everyone recognizes. He’s done Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter, and Jaws. If you think about it, he’s probably composed the background music to a lot of your movie fantasies. You know, when you picture yourself as a Jedi or a student at Hogwarts? That’s John Williams’ song playing as your imagination runs wild.

Howard Shore did the soundtrack for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I may not have a bead on his other work, but by god, I know his talent from those three films alone. Elves, Rohan, Gondor, hobbits, and the Mines of Moria all had their own unique themes thanks to Shore.

Danny Elfman is most often associated with director Tim Burton since he composed a lot of the soundtracks to some of Burton’s most iconic films. He did Batman, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare before Christmas. Elfman’s devious melodies often accompanied me on long car drives.

I made it a mission in life to try and collect albums of their work so that my everyday life could feel ten times more awesome as I hummed along to their tunes.

When I first started listening to soundtracks, I enjoyed them for the reminders they gave me of my favorite parts in movies. I’d listen to “Love Pledge and the Arena” from Attack of the Clones over and over again because I liked it when all the clone troopers came to rescue the Jedi on Geonosis.

I got crazy good at recognizing the times a track would play in a film. I would astonish and bemuse my parents by reenacting scenes from movies while playing the movie’s soundtrack on our communal CD player.

But then my love for these tracks branched away from just fond memories of the time they appeared in the film. I grew to enjoy the emotional beats I could find in the melodies, separate from the moments they accompanied in the movie. I had a love of playing with toys and creating epics sagas with my action figures back then, so I started playing movie soundtracks in the background while I played with them, applying the songs to my own stories.

Side note: You would not believe the depth of my toy Diplodocus’ sense of betrayal when Spider-Man refused to save his village. I had “Duel of the Fates” playing when this happened.

These days, video game soundtracks have joined my collection of music source material. I’m not as fond of television themes in general, but Game of Thrones is a huge exception to that.

I still use soundtracks to accompany my “stories,” but not with my dramatic toy playtime. Whenever I’m writing, whether for work or for my own fiction, soundtracks are one of the major sources of inspiration I use when crafting emotional moments.

I also have a more discerning ear when it comes to finding tracks I like when watching a film. It’s far rarer for me to find something I prefer these days, but I make do.

New additions to my roster of favorite composers include Ramin Djawadi, Michael Giacchino, and Mick Gordon.

Djawadi did the music for Game of Thrones so you have him to thank for getting that opening credits theme song stuck in your head. He’s also done the soundtrack for Westworld, which has its own collection of fantastic melodies.

Giacchino is the man behind a shit-ton of Pixar film soundtracks. The Incredibles? That was him. Up? That was also him. Giacchino crafted some heckin’ awesome tracks for the Speed Racer movie too, and as anyone who knows me should know by now, that’s one of my favorite movies.

Mick Gordon is the understated genius behind the Doom soundtrack. Though there is currently a controversy going on regarding his music for Doom Eternal, that does not change the fact that I adore his work, and I think Bethesda and id Software did him dirty.

Side note: I am totally not biased.

Soundtracks capture emotion in a way that few songs can. See, soundtracks are meant to accompany a story; that’s what they were created for. So they can follow along with a plot’s ups and downs. They’re perhaps the most transporting type of music you can listen to.

For me, they are a mild form of escapism for my day-to-day life, especially during stressful times.

And given the state the world is in, I think we could all benefit from taking a breath and listening to a good soundtrack.

Top 10 Favorite Video Game Soundtracks

The music behind a video game might be one of the more underappreciated aspects of a game. Everyone always goes ga-ga for the visuals and the gameplay (for good reason, ’cause, I mean, those things are sort of important), but I feel like a game’s soundtrack isn’t as valued as it should be.

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for soundtracks, so today, I’m going to write about my top ten favorite video games in terms of their music.

That’s right, folks. It’s time for yet another list!

Seriously, these are my favorite kind of posts to write.

Let’s do this.

10. Dead Space 2

The Dead Space series is not known for its soundtrack. (Or at least I don’t think it is.) It’s mostly known for its excellent take on sci-fi horror. In Dead Space 2 you play as Isaac Clarke, engineer extraordinaire, as he deals with yet another necromorph infestation. The terror of these nightmarish creatures is brought to life thanks to the incredible audio design. And, as everyone should know, a video game’s soundtrack is technically part of its audio design. (Kind of.) The Dead Space 2 soundtrack is better than just blaring horns accompanying jump-scares and rapid percussion during a chase sequence. The game also includes some pretty somber melodies, with slow strings depicting the tragedy of the story as well as the fright. It hits you right in the feels. (And yeah, the chase sequence themes can give you minor heart attacks as well.)

9. Tetris

Good god, I could hum this theme for hours. I don’t know if the Tetris theme counts as a soundtrack, but I’m gonna include it on my list anyways. If you have never heard the Tetris theme song, I don’t know whether to recommend it to you or not. On the one hand, it is an iconic video game tune that everyone should hear at least once. On the other hand, if you hear it, you’ll get it stuck in your head and you’ll have no one to blame but me.

8. Shadow of the Colossus

If you’re going to be fighting giants in these epic landscapes, you should definitely have great music to accompany you on your quest. I have only ever played Shadow of the Colossus once on the PlayStation 2. (No, I haven’t tried the remake because I don’t own a PlayStation 4.) It was goddamn beautiful. For those of you who don’t know, you play as a guy named Wander who has to take down these slow-moving Colossi. The music is mostly ethereal in quiet moments, but it changes to bombastic, fantastical themes whenever you begin your fight with a Colossus. And funnily enough, the music is able to make you feel simultaneously triumphant and a bit saddened when you bring these magnificent creatures down.

7. The Last of Us

People hype up the story of The Last of Us all the time (as well they should), but the soundtrack should get some love too. It is remarkably simple, poignant, and easily recognizable. If you really listen to it, the main theme can be boiled down to three notes. Gustavo Santaolalla achieved so much emotional impact with such simplicity. It actually reminds me of Jaws’ soundtrack. Not the emotions tied to the soundtrack. (Definitely not.) But how the melody can convey so much by remaining uncomplicated.

6. Red Dead Redemption II

I’ve already gushed about Red Dead Redemption II in its entirety in this post over here, so some of you already know how I feel about its soundtrack. Masterpiece level of music right there. RDR2’s soundtrack rides alongside the story beats in perfect tandem. You know those fortuitous moments in movies when someone is feeling sad and then it starts to rain. That’s how in sync Red Dead Redemption II’s soundtrack is with its story. Something will happen and the music matches it. Also, there is a fantastic selection of songs chosen for choice moments in the game. If soundtracks in general don’t interest you, be sure to at least check out the featured songs sung by many talented artists. My particular favorite is “That’s the Way It Is.”

5. Prey

Prey is a video game that did not get a lot of notice when it came out, which is a downright shame because it is fantastic. It’s a mix of Bioshock, Soma, and Dishonored all rolled into one sci-fi package. Its soundtrack is also great. While it doesn’t stick in your head with defined melodies, it suits the game to a tee. I just found out it was composed by Mick Gordon, who appears in another entry on this list as you’ll soon find out, and I couldn’t be happier. It has a classic synth vibe to it that is nostalgic and futuristic at the same time.

4. Ori and the Blind Forest

Soft orchestral notes greet you as soon as you start up Ori and the Blind Forest, and the high quality of its sound is maintained throughout the entire game. The tempo picks up when your little forest spirit, Ori, is in danger, but it knows when to slow down too. Throughout the game, you travel to various places on a map (Metroidvania-style), and each area has its own theme. Even these background themes are as enjoyable to listen to as the more dynamic story themes.

3. DOOM (2016)

Mick Gordon shines in DOOM. Admittedly, this kind of music might not be for everyone. If you give it a listen and decide it’s not for you, that’s okay. But just try and picture those pulsing and pounding themes as you play the iconic Doomguy, punching and shooting your way through bloody hordes of ravenous demons. No other soundtrack on this list made me feel like a bad-ass the way Doom’s did.

2. Super Mario Odyssey

Okay, I know I’m not including the original Mario theme, which is a super iconic one, but this soundtrack blew me away with how awesome it is. Super Mario Odyssey wowed me on every level. I played it with relatively low expectations, expecting it to be just another Mario game. Imagine my surprise with how playful and delightful it was. The soundtrack embodies the idea of adventure, which is exactly what you go on alongside Mario and Cappy.

1. Halo

Psh. What, did you think I wouldn’t include Halo on this list? Halo is my all-time favorite video game in the history of ever. Its soundtrack is perfection. I love every theme, can predict when each music cue will occur, and frequently play it in the car to the annoyance of my sister. Rest assured, when I say I like the Halo soundtrack, I’m only talking about the Halo games in which Martin O’Donnell was the composer. Halo 4’s soundtrack was all right, with some great tracks like “Arrival” and “117,” but Halo 5: Guardians‘ soundtrack sucked dick. I’m sorry for getting lewd there, but it’s true. You can’t hum a single piece of music from Halo 5 because all of it just sounds like generic sci-fi noise. Anyways, I love Halo’s music so much, I think I’ll listen to some right now!

So that’s it for my list. Do you have any favorite video game soundtracks? Or just favorite soundtracks in general, from movies and TV shows? Let me know in the comments 🙂