The Joy Of... Video Game Music

Much more than *beep beep boop*s!
June 13, 2016
Music has always been more than just background music or something to break the silence for me. Because of that, I've amassed a very eclectic music collection for my iPod! And I can get past more obnoxious aspects (to me) of a song as long as there's still something I like in it. Which brings us to the topic at hand.. video game music.

I'm no expert, but from what I understand, I think the market for video game music is pretty much non-existent in the USA, but is at least a decent sized business in Japan. But, thanks to the internet, now I can access all the video game soundtracks I want to! At least, in some fashion. Music can sometimes just be background music to move things along in video games, sure, but there are some games where the soundtrack (for me) is a much bigger part of the overall experience. The Super Mario Bros theme is one of the most well-recognized music pieces in the world, though it's extremely simplistic by today's video game music standards. But still, there had to be something about it that made people pay more attention than just being background music would require. Today's games have whole departments dedicated to music for the game, and reviews also take it into consideration as it goes very far in helping build atmosphere in the game. Whether or not it's creepy, barely there, foreboding chords or guitar-shredding, drum kicking metal, it's presence is strongly felt. And even cooler, I know around where I live the state symphony has video game music nights where it plays the most well-known video game music in the world. It's a shame I always find out about it too late... I'd LOVE to go

I have several video game soundtracks on my iPod (Yeah, I know, nerd), and I enjoy them so much I wanted to present them in an article for the RJ world. I know I'm missing tons, but music is a very personal thing, so you may or may not feel that my list needs more albums or definitely shouldn't have others. Hey, no worries, I still like you anyway :-) The songs presented vary from songs that are just happy (for lack of a better term) to genuinely emotional pieces. Sure, it could be that the songs just take me back to my childhood, when I had zero responsibility except to have fun and enjoy myself with no worries... but, whatever the case, I love em! So, without further ado, here they are! From 90s to some more modern songs (that don't quite qualify as retro yet, but are still worth a mention).

Super Nintendo


I've commented on tons of Earthbound articles and was at one point even kicking around the idea of writing my own EB article, but decided against it since it'd pretty much just be a stream of consciousness piece. Maybe some day :-) It's possibly my all-time favorite game. That was achieved through both a great game, awesome, bright, colorful graphics, a silly sense of humor (especially funny to an 11 year old!), a superb story, and (of course) happy, feel good music. Here are a few of my favorites:

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This was the theme song for Twoson. I think it's just the chord arrangement, it somehow just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

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The Coffee Break.. the music was enchanting, and it told the story about how far you'd come from the start of the game, the new friends you've made, how you've gotten much stronger, and so on. It also promised that more challenges awaited. It was, and still is, a song to sit back and reflect to. A few years ago, there was a whole site that was dedicated to the background and the music on an infinite loop. Sadly, it's since been taken down.

The friendly Tessie! We heard here and there throughout the first part of the game about this sea creature named Tessie. As you continued on, you eventually stumbled across the Tessie Watcher's Club and, with the help of a little monkey and his chewing gum could hitch a ride on him. Tessie was a very minor character, and he only had about a minute of on-screen time, but the way this song played through while you were riding him and the way it ends (starts around :48), makes it feel like you're saying goodbye to a friend you've known for years.. amazing how they managed that isn't it?

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You've done it! You've beaten all the Runaway Dogs, shown all those Pogo Punks what's up, stomped out all those Ramblin' Evil Mushrooms, calmed the Annoying Old Party Men, and the world united to defeat Giygas. This song plays as the final scenes unfold, where you say goodbye to your friends and others you've encountered on your journey before being asked to walk Paula (or whatever you named her) home through the peaceful world before returning back home to your favorite homecooked meal and pajamas.

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This song played as the credits rolled for the game. I really liked how prior to the credits they went back through the different places you'd been to and showed the people you met goofing around and playing or just waving. That's one thing that you don't see in games anymore - but maybe that's just because video games have grown up with the players? Or maybe it's just the games I play these days. I guess it would be kinda weird if Roland and Bloodwing from Borderlands 2 came back and started waving bye to me.... This song was an extra emotional experience for me because throughout the game, this photographer would randomly fall out of the sky and take pictures of you, and as the credits rolled you basically went through your "photo album", reminiscing about where you'd gone and what you'd done. It was a very nice touch. The coup de grace was when the final credit thanked you, the player, whatever you'd entered your name as

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

I recently bought a Super Nintendo in pristine condition (the controller hasn't even been broken in!) and had a list of games I absolutely wanted to pick up. Earthbound was of course at the top but DAMN it's hard for me to be OK paying $160+ for it... but Link to the Past was certainly on the list, and I was able to pick that one up for a relatively reasonable price! Woohoo! I spent a whole Summer playing this game when I was a kid, and loved every minute of it. There weren't quite as many happy, feel good songs in the game, but there were a few that still hit me.

This was the song that played as you journeyed through Kakariko Village. It was the first peaceful, happy place you found in the game. It played while you chased down lookalike thieves, magically found chickens in pots and grass, and even talked to a poor kid who had gotten sick and is kind enough to loan you his butterfly catching net.

This song played whenever you rescued another princess trapped in a crystal in the Dark World. They'd always end with the same statement, but at least it wasn't the old "Thank you Mario, but our princess is in another castle!" stattement! It was similar however. Once you collected all the crystals you could then use them to break the seal on Ganon's castle in the Dark World. Onwards to victory!

Yay! You've triumphed over evil and saved Zelda! You rule! This song plays out your victory tune. Like Earthbound, this is another ending that really left you feeling like you saved the world and the people are forever grateful, showcasing this by revisiting the places you've been and characters you've ran across in your adventure. It even includes little mini-stories like "The return of the King", "The bully makes a friend", and "Your uncle recovers". All the scenes of happiness and friendship play out, and it certainly made me all giddy like. Finally, you watched a scrolling view or the country while the credits were rolling, and the sky gradually turned from dark and foreboding (dark world colors) to bright blue and green and sunny, symbolizing that you'd lifted the evil from the land. It may be cliche, but I was so emotionally involved in the game that it still left my teary. And I'm pretty sure this also had the last statement being along the lines of "And, most of all, thanks to you, the player."

Donkey Kong Country

This is another one of my must have games when I bought my Super Nintendo. I remember I originally got it for Christmas the year it came out, and our family tradition was to go down to my grandparents' house Christmas day and the day after. My SNES travelled with me wherever I went! So I took it down and played the hell out of DKC all day and night in the back bedroom. I remember being so blown away by the graphics, and the music was memorable too. Here are my favorites.

The intro was great. I think it was symbolizing how the "Old" Donkey Kong games were about to enter a new generation (which it was). It started off with the original DK (Cranky Kong) turning his phonograph on the red pipes and platforms from the original game, but then DK from DKC dropped his boombox down on top of him and fell into the screen as the music turned into a hip hop upbeat song.

This song played while you were on the map between levels. It's a nice, fun little groove. You can find yourself bopping along to it.

This was one of the background music songs that played throughout the level. As I'm listening to these songs, they sound pretty hi-fi and like much more than keyboard sounds and have an overall pretty fleshed out sound. The tribal drums keep you engaged as the song builds, and I really like the break at 1:24. It makes for a nice transition to the next beat.

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There were several water worlds in DKC. The level design and graphics were nice, but the immediate standout to me in these levels was the music. It's still chill, relaxing and beautiful. Sounds like something you'd hear on a New Age or Smooth Jazz station, and that's including the sound quality too. This was one of the most memorable water theme songs in all video games I think, only being rivaled by Mario 64's water world music. On that note...


Those songs always made me wanna stay in the water way longer than needed. The fill in Mario 64's water theme (starts around 1:45) was very well done. Good thing DK can breathe underwater (donkey gills?) and Mario had his air bubbles!

Killer Instinct/Killer Cuts

OK! OK! I know this is kinda cheating... but it's MY article, so I get to do what I want! Killer Cuts was a limited edition pack-in for Killer Instinct when it was released on Super Nintendo. I picked this game up on release day (or that weekend), so I had a copy, and I listened to it like crazy. It was music inspired by Killer Instinct, not the actual game music. Although, had KI and Killer Cuts been released in later generations, I'm pretty certain they would've been in the game.

I was worried I'd lost this one forever when I couldn't find it after I'd retired my CD cases and replaced them with my first iPod, but I was able to track down the tracks online. Hooray internet! I could easily post every song from the album up here as I genuinely love almost all of them, but I'm going to try to limit myself to a few favorite favorites. If you like these, I'd definitely suggest you check out the complete soundtrack on YouTube or wherever else you find music. Just don't expect it in iTunes or Rhapsody or Amazon Music! So here we go.. KILLER CUTS!

This song kicked the album off and was inspired by B Orchid's stage music. It's a fun song for one, but I also had a total crush on Orchid. At that time, I just thought she had a hotass body, and triangular and ridiculously perky boobs apparently didn't bother me:

It turned me on even more when I saw one of her "No Mercy"s, which had her flashing her opponents. Sure, we only saw the back and the people died of heart attacks from it, but still.. I was like "DAAAAAAAAAAMN I wanna see!"

And then they went and made her even hotter in KI2:

She inspired a whole generation of fanart and fantasy drawings. Just do a quick google search on "killer instinct orchid fan art" and you'll see what I mean. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.. as much as I loved the song, the first time I heard it starting around the 1:53 mark and up to 2:32 mark, I couldn't help but turn beat red and be overwhelmed with embarrassment. Just check it out and you'll see :-) After that, I dubbed the song the orgasm song and never played it aloud with anybody around me. That is, until I got a car and could listen to it on my own with the windows up. Woohoo!

This was the theme song for Killer Instinct turned up to 11. I actually really like the screeching guitars and the driving beat in the background, but the real kicker for me is the "stinger" of sorts. The main song ends around 4:10, but then a new song kicks in at 4:11. This little snippet is just so badass. I turned it into one of my many ringtones after some clever editing to make it loop. It's a simple beat, but just makes me like "FUCK YEAH". I could easily imagine this song being played in any big time action movie these days. The heroes of the movie have defeated the enemy and they think victory is theirs.. and then.... the biggest, toughest, baddest motherfucker in the whole universe shows up with this song playing. WOO!

Sabrewulf's stage music featured a watered down version of this song. It was very fitting. He was a werewolf and his stage was a haunted castle. This was the song that actually brought me back to Killer Cuts after a long absence. I remembered that I thought this song was a great piece of Halloween music, so when I started building my Halloween playlist, I embarked on the search. When I found it, I was reading the tracks and listened to a few, and then I remembered how much I loved the CD. I still think this song would fit in perfectly at a haunted house. Though I could do without the "Muahahahaha" at the beginning after the door creaking. That made it cheesy, but fortunately it caught itself before it totally fell off my radar. That kinda thing will do it for me!

Later Generations

Instead of breaking it down into systems, I'm just going to compile this list on generations AFTER Super Nintendo. They weren't all CD based systems, but regardless, these were all CD quality recordings.
Twisted Metal

This was the game I remember being demoed with the PlayStation the first time I saw it. TM2 is my favorite of the series, but I really remember the music of the first one. Well, at least a FEW tracks!

There were several cool maps in TM, but this one I remember being the biggest. It was out in the suburbs through nice peaceful neighborhoods. And then... cars and motorcycles roll through shooting missiles and firing machine guns at each other. So much for the peace! I really got caught up in this map, because at the time I'd never seen such a big map with so much detail in a game before. I remember killing off all the opponents except for one, then I would just wander around the map all casual like. It might've been due to poor AI, but whatever it was, I enjoyed pretending to drive my kids to the grocery store in my monster truck (Hammerhead) and parking while they shopped. The building itself and it's sign was grainy as hell, but they had parking spot lines for cryin' out loud. It was enough, and my imagination could carry me where the graphics couldn't!

While the action could get pretty heated, there were times when you'd have to go exploring the map to try and find the remaining opponents. And when that happened, this tasty cut kicked in. I think this is another song that could go well in a haunted house, despite the dark Christmas bells and tunes playing in the background (the Twisted Metal event took place on Christmas Eve). It really had a twisted and evil vibe going through it. The drums are well done too. I was always a little disappointed when this song would be playing and I'd stumble across an opponent and kill the track.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

OK... CSOTN. Wow. Obviously, to each their own, but to me this is the greatest video game soundtrack of all time. Sure there was some keyboard action but to me it sounded like they worked with an entire symphony on several of these tracks. I love 90% of them, so picking a few favorites is tough. If you like what you hear, I'd strongly suggest you listen to the entire soundtrack on your own!

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After you complete the prologue (a throwback to Castlevania: Dracula X), then you're presented with the story of Alucard and what's happening in the world while this track plays. It's scrolling up as the story is told, and at the top or the landscape you see Dracula's castle perched on a mountain top silhouetted against the moon. As the music reaches it's crescendo, the backstory wraps up and "Castlevania" fades in. For me, that was a total awe-inspiring moment. I remember being like "WHOOOOOOOOOOOA..... let's do this shit"

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As you selected your save file, this song played in the background. I don't know the proper terminology to describe it, but to me, it's a beautiful, gothic, romantic sound, and the women chanting perfectly set the tone.

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Admittedly, I couldn't recall where in the game this was heard so I had to look it up. All I know is years later when I tracked down and downloaded the soundtrack, I thought this was one of the most beautiful and warm songs on the OST. Turns out, you can hear it when you pick up the fairy familiar (thanks wikipedia). I don't speak ANY Japanese, but this is just an example of when the voice and lyrics of a song are turned into another instrument to me.

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This was the one of the first songs that really made me like "Wow, this music is amazing" when I was originally playing the game. I still enjoy it today (along with everything else on this list!). It played whenever you entered the library. I got to hear this quite a lot when I was on a mission to acquire a Crissaegrim. Then I got greedy and got a second one to drop and equipped both. And with that.... cheesing the game was absurdly easy. Add in a Ring of Vardas and it's laughable how much you dominate and destroy enemies. But I enjoyed the God-like power! I didn't even know this sword existed until several years after I'd originally beaten it and became somewhat of a collector in games, where I want ALL the rarest weapons in the game in my collection.

For shits and giggles, check out this video or what dual Crissaegrims can do. He's using the Ring of Ares which is also powerful, but I believe the Ring of Vardas is even more so. Keep in mind these are the bosses lol

DAMN. Back when games were released and OP weapons and glitches remained as long as you owned the game instead of being patched 2 weeks after it's discovered lol.

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This is one of my most favorite songs from the soundtrack. It played in the Royal Chapel. It manages to portray both serenity AND creepiness. The piercing "vocals" gave it a surreal feeling, and I think this is another track for Halloween! And apparently it paints the perfect picture of what it's trying to achieve too - I played this song for one of my exes and asked her what she pictured with it (no context whatsoever) and she said "It sounds like there should be little ghosts floating around all over the place" Bam, that's what the Royal Chapel and Castlevania was about lol

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Another one of my most favorite songs. Between this and the previous one, I think I've got my top two. This track played through the caverns, a cool stage that also had a waterfall on it. This music set to that backdrop sounded like it'd be something out of a movie once again, with the main characters having just discovered this new world and starting to explore it.

I could add more, but I've already added 7 so... like I said, picking just a few favorites would be a challenge! But hopefully that's enough to whet your appetite. Check out the rest!

Space Channel 5

Ok, this one might kinda be cheating again.. but my article! Space Channel 5 was originally released on the Dreamcast. I remember enjoying the game but not really getting THAT into it. A few years later, nostalgia hit me and I wanted to play it again, so I tried searching for any version I could get, even if it required getting another Dreamcast as I'd sold my previous one. I stumbled upon the PS2 collection of Space Channel 5 1 and 2. I figured "Oh, cool, two games." but didn't have much thoughts about part 2. After beating part 1 and starting part 2, it didn't take long before I was like "HOLY SHIT. THIS GAME IS FUCKING AWESOME". It blew the first one out of the water for me. It was much more refined, more colorful and, most importantly, the music was better. I never returned back to the original.

A quick summary of the game is that Ulala is a reported for Space Channel 5. Aliens always seem to be invading, and she sets out to tame them and save the world with synchronized dancing. Sure, it's preposterous. But damn if it isn't fun! I loved all the songs in this game too, so as with Castlevania, picking a few favorites will be tough. There are no "Good for Halloween" or "Badass" songs to be found from this game, but listen to the songs and you'll HAVE to at least crack a goofy smile. Here goes!

This song was in the second stage, and psycho plants were holding an elementary school band hostage. As you completed each "verse", the kids you saved joined with you and started playing along. You can hear the music building as new instruments are added with each save. Of course, being an elementary school band full of kids, they weren't exactly filling out the music very well.... that is, until you saved the teacher! With success, you have a full band and ensemble singing and jamming as you march into the next area! YAY!

I don't recall "rounds" similar to this one in the first SC5. Pudding is a rival reporter from another network, and pretty much Ulala's biggest competitor. So the scene is Ulala and her group of kids walking through a new location, then a riff tears through the happy go lucky music and *DUN DUN!* There she is! She challenges Ulala to a guitar duel and they shred it out. It escalates until you're surrounded by towers of water, complete with the mood of the music changing. You don't even need to see the game and stage to guess where that happens I bet!

This is possibly my favorite song of the game. The woman singing has a beautiful voice, and it has such a smooth bass line and the keyboard makes it so I can't resist at least doing a shoulder shimmy whenever I listen to it. One of the interesting things about this game is when you go through the second playthrough, it's like a "Through the Looking Glass" version of the original, with even stranger characters. This song, for example, originally had a woman surrounded by birds chirping along (you can tell in the music), but on playthrough 2, it was a bunch of little puppies that kept popping up. If you save all of them, instead of chirping you hear barking and howling, your ensemble looks like this:

As you saved them, the tempo kept picking up and getting crazier. If you successfully save all of them, then the woman starts in with a bird symphony chirping along with her! I just love the girl's voice and the notes she hits.. they just work and make me all warm and fuzzy. Again lol. So much so I can even ignore the chickens and birds and focus on her voice.

This is a twofer. This song plays when you're fighting the boss of the second level, a giant plant that throws flowers at you like ninja stars. I don't particularly care for the first half of the song, so playing through the first part wasn't as exciting as some of the previous songs. But when part 2 of this fight starts, the music changes too, and that's when it once again hits the mark for me. In the vid above, the transition starts at 2:15. It translates into "WALTZ BATTLE!" It's totally bizarre and trippy, as the creature you're battling in this case is looks like a plant with a giant bulb and two leaves for arms. God this game is weird lol. But regardless, I LOOOOOOVE the music. Ulala's ensemble is also dancing with parasols and clever camerawork makes it seem like you're watching a Broadway show on TV. It's so much fun!

All of the above videos are from the second report (level), which was my favorite. You could probably have guessed that.... but, for your viewing pleasure and to get an idea of the weirdness but awesomeness of this game and how it works, check out this vid of the second report:

I'd suggest watching the whole thing (cuz it's awesome), but the timestamps for the above songs are as such:

Band: 1:03
Teacher: 3:13
Guitar battle: 6:11
Birds: 9:25
Waltz battle: 14:52

Another twofer! Skip to 2:47.

Oh yeah.. you're hearing that right :-D

The first time I saw him I was like "What?! No way...... it IS!" The one and only Michael Jackson is a character in this game! He even lent his voice and WOO! to the game. You can tell MJ had a hand in the production of this song. It's got him written ALL over it lol. The funky music, the "ah- eh eh" breaths as a part of the beat. I'm pretty sure he even choreographed the dancing. I see Thriller, the infamous LEAN, and other trademark MJ moves all through it. The second part of the twofer in this vid starts at 11:13. The music breaks down to mainly percussion, building a kickass rhythm that makes me bop whenever I hear it. As the song progresses, MJ starts fighting back with WOO! Admittedly, it got kind of annoying... but still, it was damn cool!

Myyyyyyy sweet hoooooooome...... this wasn't a song you actually played along too, but was the credits song. You saved the President, and he decides to thank you with a song. It starts off sounding sappy, but then after about 45 seconds, BAM it kicks in! I've struggled for years with what kind of genre this music is considered, and the best I've been able to come up with is show tunes. It sounds like something you'd hear Tony Bennett or someone singing at a Vegas variety show. But it's so fun and happy! Go ahead and try to resist at least bopping in your seat a bit... I dare you!

Gitaroo Man

As you can probably tell, SC5 made me fall in love with rhythm and music games. Afer I got the bug from SC5 part 2, I purchased Parappa the Rapper 1 and 2 and stumbled across this hidden gem as well, and it treated me to another whole game full of awesome and fun music. It was a story that tons of kids could relate to - the main character (U-1) is kinda nerdy, the girl he likes doesn't think of him as more than a friend, other kids pick on him, and his best friend is his dog. He's just relaxing at home with his dog and then, all of a sudden, his dog turns out to be the next guardian of a line of superhero-like people who can save the world by playing a mythical instrument called a Gitaroo. The ensuing musical journey is wonderful. Not only was the music fantastic, but I loved the graphics style. This is one of my favorite PS2 games. If you're curious, the control scheme is you use the right joystick to turn the cone from the middle of the screen, then press the buttons in the cross-sections while holding down the button and moving the joystick to keep the cone along the track. It was complicated and took some getting used to, but once you figured it out it worked perfectly and presented an awesome challenge. Anyway, here are my favorite songs, with their stage!

This is the first stage. This little demon imp dude wearing a diaper busts into U-1s dimension, and he's given his gitaroo for the first time. He finds out that he's got a whole other guitar shredding badass personality (at least that's what it seems like to me!) that's awoken from it, and the battle commences. This was a killer way to be introduced to the game, and this song was a far cry from SC5's mostly pop-centric music. It's a killer riff, the fill is awesome, and the guitar is talking for sure. The first time I played, it only took a minute or so before I had a huge grin on my face, totally feeling the music and couldn't wait to see what this game had in store for me. They also put a lot of effort into the surround sound design, so it was one of the best sounding games I remember on PS2. In the video above, when the train is coming towards and driving around him, it really sounds like you're right in the middle of the action.

The first song was a hard rock battle, so I thought that'd set the tone for the rest of the game. But, stage 2, and I was playing a completely different style of song. This is a techno-pop inspired track, and I absolutely love it. And, although not too surprising I suppose, all the songs from this game sound AMAZING in a good quality stereo system, car or home. The nice thing about this song is that nobody would have any idea I was listening to a song from a video game. The track starts at 1:38. This is another case when I have no idea what the singer is saying, all I know is she's got a beautiful voice and the harmonizing throughout the song is perfect. There's another break when it switches the song up mid-play that starts at 5:02, and I love the way they do it. The animation fits perfectly with the music I feel.

Here they switch the music up completely yet again, this time into this awesome, fun, funky track. With an equally funky villain! The track starts at 1:18. I'd love to find out how many different versions of this song there are in the game. I know I've heard at least 4 different ones. I don't know if there are cues built into the prior notes that lead to a different version or if it's strictly random, but the variants are played from 3:06 - 4:50

This is a cool metal/gothic/symphonic hybrid. It actually kinda creeps me out when the kids in the stained glass start with their "OoooooOOOOOOO" later in the track. The main dude you're fighting is freaky as hell too with his eccentric motions and unusually high pitched voice and laugh. This was a damn tough song. The music starts at 1:13.

This is getting to the end of the game. The first part of the song is ok, but I really like the change that starts at 3:48. This isn't the hard-hitting, funky riffs from throughout the game, but is instead a beautiful electric version of the theme song for the game (acoustic version is played earlier). This is another song where something about the chord arrangement just makes me giddy and tear up a bit. Happy tears of course.

There were other musical styles throughout the game, and two that I recall are a reggae (what I consider dub style reggae) song and a straight acoustic song while he serenades his dream girl. I'd definitely say check it out if you liked the music above! The full playthrough is available on Youtube, just do a search! I was going to link to it, but, Retro Junk has let me know it can't handle any more videos lol.

So, I guess on that note, that'll wrap it up! The max couldn't have been much better, as I was able to get all the songs I wanted to write about up. Nice how things just work out! And this ended up being a monster article. I considered breaking it into two parts but I think it works well this way too. I hope you guys enjoy it, and feel free to link to your own favorites and share stories in the comments!

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