Ah yes, the old suspiciously cheerful theme tune. You know when you’re sitting there, listening to a tune and saying “Well this is all well and good, but…”
This list is dedicated to the tunes that made us feel uneasy in how pleasant they were. Oh sure, they are lovely to listen to and sure, we feel great hearing them still… But, just see what we mean, okay?
10) Porky Means Business – Earthbound
A memorable game needs an equally memorable soundtrack. Whilst a lot of the tunes were “new-age retro” for its time, a reference that probably only makes sense to those who’ve played Earthbound, it’s fair to say that Earthbound had a few tracks that utterly stood out. From the Starmen themes, to the exasperatingly gruesome horror ambience that occurs at the end of the game.
As Porky Means Business starts playing, right before the final encounter, it starts off optimistic. It’s that retro sound we all know and love, right? Right..? Suddenly, as the fight progresses, rather quite quickly into the encounter with your nemesis Porky Minch and the embodiment of evil itself, Giygas, you encounter true fear that you just cannot comprehend. Suddenly, your dear SNES is less family friendly, as it begins belting out a killer metal track that would shake the fabric of music in video games for generations.
9) Brand New Day – Dr. Horrible
A song of triumph and self actualisation, Dr. Horrible has been struggling with an internal conflict, two routes to personal progress open before him, one that will lead him to everything he has ever wanted, the other encouraging him to throw it all away and pursue a chance at a strange kind of happiness that he never knew he wanted. And then along comes a friend from work to offer some insight.
Yes, it’s the song where the heroic Captain Hammer convinces Horrible that he really can kill the hero if he puts his mind to it. He can remove all obstacles in his way with one itsy bitsy little muder, access to the greatest super-villain organisation in the world, his romantic rival gone, he can truly have everything, he just has to drop the Hammer. If you’re in need of a seriously motivating song, something that makes you feel like you really can conquer the world, give Brand New Day a shot.
8) Candyman – Willy Wonka
Oh wow, so when you think about Willy Wonka, or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, your views of it may vary. Perhaps it’s an optimistic film to you? Perhaps it’s pessimistic? There are a lot of ways to interpret the chocolate factory and all of the people who come and go within its walls. From Violet and her outbursts of demands, to Augustus Gloop, the greedy and petulant chocolate-obsessed child, we’re introduced to a cast you wouldn’t want to associate with for real.
But in a prelude to the children visiting Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, there is a scene where a sweet shop owner invites a bunch of kids in to have what seems like infinite free samples of sweets. The song makes it sound like there is going to be nothing but happiness and joy when Charlie would eventually go see Willy Wonka, but it acts as a mask for what becomes a serious rollercoaster of a ride. From children dropping out of the tour due to their imperfections, to potential real injuries from a lack of self-control, the Chocolate Factory is anything but a place where “The Candy Man Can”.
7) Back and Forth – Dr. Steel
Similar in concept to Dr. Horrible, this. We thought we’d celebrate actual geeky music, so revel you toy soldiers, for we’re about to recant the tale of the good doctor himself, Dr. Steel.
He was a mad toy maker, who was intent on making a perfect utopian paradise. Part of the process would be him to build an army of Toy Soldiers, as he referred to them. These men and women were encouraged to spread the word of fun, creative freedom and imagination.
The Toy Soldiers still exist and mostly hang out in a Discord. However, Back and Forth may be the catchiest of Dr. Steels tunes. There’s a foreboding air about the music, which only adds to the already endearing doctor. However, don’t be fooled listener, for this catchy song is meant to get you interested enough in enlisting in the Toy Soldier army!
So uh, yeah, sign up to the army and get your ID card here!
6) Mother Knows Best – Tangled
Most of Disney’s villain songs have some wonderfully sinister overtones, Be Prepared is something of a personal favourite, but it’s pretty unreserved in it’s malevolence. Mother Knows Best on the other hand, it could practically be the opening theme to a 70’s British Sitcom. The world is scary, but not to worry, you have a home, you are protected and safe, so long as you head the advice of the woman who loves you more than anything or anyone.
Of course the audience knows the truth, even ignoring the fact that Rapunzel is a hostage being told that her cage is to keep the outside from getting inside, and being used for her life-giving magicks. We also know that – while it’s rough out there – it’s a more terrible thing to never see it, and even worse when you’re being kept from a fairytale existence. But better to keep it all at bay! After all, mother does know best…
5) The Internet Is For Porn – Avenue Q
Oh the internet is really, really great… For porn!
Ah yeah, I know this website is typically PG-13, but I’m pretty sure anyone with access to YouTube has likely heard this already. This song was a huge success, which really helped cement Avenue Q do exceptionally well as a play. The song may have a slightly more “mature” subject matter, but it doesn’t stop the tune being as catchy, happy and yet talking about something many find uncomfortable.
The song is funny, but it touches on a topic that is… I guess pretty true. We can’t dispute the claims the song makes, in that the internet is filled with lots and lots of porn. However, the song is presented in a beautifully happy and optimistic package. The story may make us laugh, but the topic is one that we certainly shy away from.
4) Professional Pirate – Muppets Treasure Island
Who doesn’t love the suave and persuasive villain, hard to be a treacherous cur when no one trusts you enough to betray them in the first place. Long John Silver is nothing if not suave and persuasive, and the same goes for Tim Curry, so the grand and boisterous singalong shanty that he sings to sell young Jim Hawkins on the idea of the pirate’s life is nothing if not compelling.
And while he’s surrounded by a chorus of muppets singing along to his message of brotherhood and camaraderie, the verses are peppered with warnings of his underhanded and conniving ways that foretell his ultimate treachery, not just to Jim, but to his whole crew. Let’s not forget that he’s a killer, a traitor, thief and a villain without mercy… and yes, that applies to both Silver and Curry.
3) Tank – Cowboy Bebop
An anime series that’s widely celebrated, Cowboy Bebop has to have one of the most catchy opening theme tunes for a series that has a rather suspect protagonist. Oh sure, the series itself is energetic too, but with Spike at the helm of the story, you may as well replaced this jazzy opening with something more sombre. But how could this jazzy ensemble hide anything untoward?
So the story of Cowboy Bebop follows Spike who is in a rivalry with Vicious. Formerly, the two were best of friends, but Spike ends up having an affair with Vicious’s partner, Julia. This leads to Vicious wanting to see Spike dead, so tries to get Julia to kill him. Spike ends up leaving the criminal Red Dragon Syndicate that he and Vicious were in together. Smoking, drinking and sentient corgi’s. Disturbing content, indeed.
2) Welcome to Duloc – Shrek
Don’t ask where everybody is, don’t let your donkey friend start up a ticking mechanism. You’re in for a rough ride if you allow the singing marionettes to get started!
A catchy little ditty ensues, with these little wooden puppets all singing in a perfect harmony. They explain that you just need to behave whilst in Duloc, which is absolutely a perfect place. The word perfect is put forward several times, just to really drive home the idea that Duloc is such an excellent place to be. The singing children’s voices are so blissful and happy, how could there be any problems?
Oh sure, they’re ruled over by the pint sized Lord Farquaad. However, the perfect town of Duloc is only as perfect as it is, as their ruler wants to do away with all of the Fairy Tale folk that inhabit the kingdom. From slave-like sales, to outright torture (“not the gumdrop buttons!”), Duloc has a dubious side, but don’t worry, these puppets will make you feel better about your stay.
1) Still Alive – Portal
This may be the most unique song on the list. It’s not filled with false promises, deceit or lies, it doesn’t menace or threaten, or hint at some greater darkness. It’s a simple statement, an analysis of all that has passed in the last couple of hours of gameplay and testing, it’s a handshake, an acknowledgement of mutual success, and a casual reminder that you cannot kill a thought.
GLADoS and Johnathon Coulton come together to create a masterpiece of world history, a less than proverbial cherry on an artistic triumph, and the song sounds politely, demurely triumphant. It’s not a raucous shout of victory, merely a reminder that nothing you can do, no amount of drives smashed, or hardware burned, or facilities destroyed can obliterate a menace that is networked, intelligent, and inquisitive.
She’s like Ultron without the ego.
You better not pout, you’d better not cry, this suspiciously non-christmassy list has some deep roots in the spirit of the season. And if you’re fast asleep and have been good all year, the honourable mentions are coming to town…
Build Our Machine – Bendy and the Ink Machine
Relegated to the honourable list for being a fan-made song by DAGames, Build Our Machine has been made official after the fact, with the instrumental audible in the game’s first act. The song is encouraging, a sweet electroswing number that drives the player onwards with bouncy beats and a fast-stepping piano that keeps a rapid pace throughout. The old-time announcer style vocals and doo-wopping chorus help maintain a thin illusion of cheeriness.
But the lyrics give the game away long before you’ve been haunted by cardboard cutouts or viscous inky horrors. And sure, spoilers beware in the verse that describes the vivisected body of Boris the Dog, or the direct threats made by the abandoned cartoon against the cartoonist’s life. Still, one can’t help but drum the desk and tap a foot before the blood starts spilling.
Shamelessly lumping these into a broader category, there aren’t that many classic rhymes learned in primary school and earlier that don’t have some dark history behind them. Ring Around the Roses, that story of the plague. Humpty Dumpty – fun story – a dumpty is a siege cannon, basically a cauldron of fire. Bloody Mary, Quite Contrary, oh, and did you know that Eeny-Meeny-Miny-Moe has racist origins?
We all know it, it’s hard to avoid knowing that all of these adorable – sometimes nonsensical – little poems tell monstrous tales from history, murderers, diseases, slaughters, wars and general chaos. The softly softly approach by introducing these stories in metre, rhyme and allegory is somewhat undermined when the discovery of their real meaning is so very… very alarming.
Extremely Honourable Mentions
YouTube can also be incredibly cheerful. It’s concerning. It’s infectious, apparently, but here are two examples of internet videos that also are… Suspiciously cheerful.
Mysterious Ticking Noise – Potter Puppet Pals
What’s the source of that mysterious ticking noise? Hmm, who knows, but it’s kind of catchy. So Puppet Snape, Puppet Potter and pals all get together and sing along to the mysterious ticking noise. Eventually, Puppet Ron finds the source of the ticking and would you believe it, it’s a deadly “spell” by the evil Voldemort, a pipe bomb.
Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared
We’ll just quickly talk about “Creative”, which is the first in the series of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, or DHMIS as we refer to it. The series revolves around three puppet friends, who are often antagonised by things that represent concepts: Creativity, Time, Love, Computers and even Food. Creative is a song to encourage you to express yourself (be it through your hair or your art, but don’t be too creative!)
I’m sorry, we’ll never be creative again.
Now that we’re done being so positive and happy about everything, yuck, it’s time for us to reflect on what we’ve learned today. Another week has passed us by, which means we’ve come to the end of another Top 10 list. So keep your ear out for us, listen to the cheerful tunes out there and help us sing another cheerful tune, as we delve into our penultimate Top 10 list next week.
And with that, we’re able to take our headphones off. Listen, the truly positive sound of silence. Or at least humming computers, beeping cars outside and of course, the most positive sound of all: Sirens. Wait, what?