Crush 40 – Evolving the Sound of Sonic | PostMesmeric

Crush 40 – Evolving the Sound of Sonic | PostMesmeric


Before we get started, let’s step outside
the Pantheon for a second.
I have a lot of respect for video game musicians,
the men and women who have crafted iconic
games’ soundtracks, but I think there are
many others who simply don’t get the praise
they deserve.
For every Uematsu and Kondo, there are hundreds
of other composers who I don’t think get
their fair share of praise.
Video game music has undergone so many changes
that it’s difficult to know where to start,
and we’re bound to find some unsung heroes
crafting their own scores.
Today, I want to give props to one of those
unlikely candidates, a group that I feel really
gets overlooked when it comes to musical history
in games.
The irony of all this is that the community
is pretty aware and appreciative of this act.
The group has left their mark, but in a more surface-level
appreciation, and I think they deserve more
than that.
Let’s talk Jun Sunoue and Johnny Gioeli, and their band Crush 40.
With the 16-bit console wars of the mid-90’s
winding down, Jun Senoue had already established
himself as a strong composer in Sega’s arsenal,
working on several pieces for Sonic the Hedgehog
3 and Sonic 3D Blast, but once Sega named
him as the lead composer and sound director
for the Dreamcast title Sonic Adventure, all
eyes were on him.
No pressure, really; Sunoue knew how to craft
a classic Sonic track.
It would’ve been a slam dunk to use many
of the same stylistic directions that made
Sonic so popular in the early and mid-90’s.
Call it nostalgia blindness if you feel, but
I have a lot of trouble criticizing those
older songs.
They’re fantastic recordings that have made
their mark in gaming history.
Those tracks melded with the stages’ atmosphere
so deliberately, and even the games that might’ve
missed the mark on a gameplay level still
had quality OSTs.
It all holds up extremely well.
But Sonic’s journey into the third dimension
came with expectations.
This was going to be the defining step for
Sonic as a character and a series, one that
was to show everyone that he’s willing to
go toe-to-toe not just with his rival Mario,
but the entire slew of mascot platform heroes
that appeared since his 16-bit heyday.
There was a lot riding on Sonic Adventure,
but as those early trailers played, it was
clear that things weren’t going to be same.
But it wasn’t just the setting, the tech,
the gameplay…what played over all of these
acrobatics and setpieces was a brand new kind
of soundtrack.
This mix of hard rock and heavy metal was
built to complement Sonic’s new design and
gameplay, and…it stuck.
This all sounded so modern.
It was Sega firing on all cylinders, kicking
things into overdrive, and giving Sonic a
brand new stylistic palette to work with.
The revving guitar riffs and those wailing
vocals from Gioeli gave Sonic Adventure an
extra jolt of aggression and intensity.
Sure, the lyrics were a bit cheesy, but they
channeled the energy of 80’s rock bands
like Guns N Roses and even Bon Jovi.
No other Sonic game had songs like these;
that theme “Open Your Heart” was such
a statement.
All of it confidently demonstrated that Sega
was ready to evolve what a Sonic game could
and would be, and that Jun Senoue had every
intention to deliver a soundtrack that was
just as evolutionary.
Past Sonic games had soundtracks that, while
definitely more aggressive than their rivals’,
never leaned into the kind of territory of
Sonic Adventure’s more epic moments.
The main themes especially had a sense of
playfulness to them, which fits Sonic’s
classic character profile well.
Sonic had his moments of seriousness, but
it was always about him teasing his opponents
before blasting past them in a blur.
Sonic always was a speedster hero who was
also a bit of a troll.
The music followed this; even in its most
serious moments, Sonic’s soundtracks were
whimsical and carnivalesque (and I’m not
just talking about the casino levels).
The bouncy beats of Green Hill Zone, the slick
electronics of Chemical Plant, the chilled
atmosphere of Ice Cap, it was all fantastic,
some of the most memorable in Sonic history.
And to be fair, when you consider the entirety
of the soundtrack, Sonic Adventure didn’t
abandon that mentality.
Listening to the level themes, there’s still
a lot of old traditions lingering in that
OST.
Emerald Coast and Windy Valley still are pretty
catchy, expanding original composition directions
with enhanced production and more varied instruments.
Individual characters themes are diverse in
genres, giving an identifiable vibe to each
member of the cast.
Old tracks from classic games even got newly
recorded versions for Sonic Adventure.
Really, Sunoue and his team were daring to
mix things up with Sonic Adventure’s soundtrack.
But “Open Your Heart” had something else.
It had stakes.
As far as Sega was concerned, this was going
to be Sonic’s finest hour, because all things
considered, they needed it to be.
The Dreamcast had an uphill battle, so Sonic
Adventure needed to stand and deliver.
“Open Your Heart” as a main theme shows
the scope of Sega’s ambition; it was built
to kick things up a notch, even going so far
as being the initial theme of the game’s
true final boss.
The production for the theme was clearly taking
advantage of the Dreamcast’s capabilities,
even more than the rest of the music, but
it was that singular statement that showed
to everyone what Sonic’s future was going
to be moving forward.
The cheerful playfulness of Sonic’s past
was no longer the primary focus, and in its
place, was a battlecry from Crush 40.
Sunoue continued this direction in Sonic Adventure
2, bursting out from the get-go with “Live
and Learn”, which to this day, has solidified
its place in Sonic’s history.
As the theme of one of the series’ darkest
and most serious games, it was bound to expand
on the heightened stakes of Sonic Adventure’s
theme “Open Your Heart.”
“Live and Learn” is a feature in Sonic
Adventure 2, playing in all sorts of places,
and like “Open Your Heart”, it plays during
the true final boss fight.
From its soaring chorus, intense guitar solo,
and climax at “hold onto what if”, it’s
downright anthemic, as another major statement
from Sunoue for what it meant to be a Sonic
song.
It just roared.
From that point forward, Crush 40 was inseparable
from the Sonic series.
With each new game came another opportunity
to blast down the doors with another anthem.
With Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog,
Crush 40 continued to experiment, going for
more upbeat pop rock themes in the former,
and darker industrial influences in the latter.
With each new Sonic game, Sunoue and Crush
40 weren’t far behind, and despite the games’
steady critical decline, the soundtracks always
managed to shine through, with Crush 40’s
contributions standing out amongst
the tracklists.
But with Sonic the Hedgehog for the 360 and
PS3, Sunoue’s contributions were far more
subdued, especially with the soundtrack being
handled primarily by Tomoya Ohtani.
Older tracks did make their appearance, but
Sunoue’s hard rock style of music didn’t
appear to fit in with the even grander, cinematic
ambitions that Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 was
aiming for.
With fewer and fewer appearances,
Crush 40 was starting to lose their inherence
to the Sonic the Hedgehog series.
Sunoue’s compositional contributions to
the series began to be reserved to spinoffs
and much of Crush 40’s presence was sectioned
to live performances at Sonic events, like
the Sonic Boom 2013 show in St. Louis, and
the disaster that was Sonic’s 25th anniversary
celebration.
It was beginning to become clear that Crush
40 had an era of prominence with the Sonic
series, and like any era, it was bound to
come to an end eventually.
But I think we often forget just how big of
a deal Crush 40 were during Sonic’s 3D times.
Even though Sunoue and Gioeli were producing
music long before Sonic Adventure, it was
that opportunity to helm original music for
the game that their potential was apparent
to the masses.
Crush 40 evolved the musical identity of Sonic
the Hedgehog games, no question, but doing
that was risky.
Crush 40’s adrenaline-drenched hard rock
and heavy metal direction was not something
you’d associate with Sonic if you saw him
back in the early 90’s.
Yeah, there was an edge to his personality,
but like I said, it was playful.
During the gap between Sonic’s heyday on
the Genesis and his bold revitalization on
the Dreamcast, games were shedding away that
playful nature and trying to make something
more serious.
It was clear as day with systems like the
Playstation making waves; Sega and Sonic evolved
to keep pace with a constantly changing market.
There was a push to take that risk and no
guarantee that it would go over well with
the long-time fans of Sonic.
When we look back and see just how big of
a gamble that was, it makes Crush 40’s lasting
legacy all the more impressive.
There are large groups of people who, if you
asked what musical track they’d immediately
think of when Sonic the Hedgehog is brought
up, it wouldn’t be Green Hill Zone’s theme
from Sonic 1.
Not Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic 2, not Ice Cap
Zone from 3, none of those classic era tracks.
Instead, they’d think of “Live and Learn”
from Sonic Adventure 2.
They’d think of a song that strays so far
from Sonic’s musical roots, if you played
the two consecutively to someone with no knowledge
of Sonic the Hedgehog, they probably wouldn’t
even know that the songs are from the same
series.
They’re that different.
Praise Mario’s music as much as you want,
it does deserve that praise, but Nintendo
stayed a pretty steady course with that series
on a musical level.
There weren’t enormous earthshakers, no
dramatic musical shift from 2D to 3D Mario
games.
Sonic, on the other hand, had that paradigm
shift.
The music changed so dramatically from 2D
to 3D.
I mean, think about the trailer that announced
Sonic for Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
For a character with such an extensive history
entering such a high-profile title, and being
one of the first third-party characters announced
for the series, it would make a lot of sense
to add his most recognizable music track for
the debut trailer.
But what did they play?
“Live and Learn” by Crush 40.
That was the song that defined Sonic at that
moment in time, a song so different from Sonic’s
past, but one that was ingrained in his cultural
identity.
Jun Sunoue pulled off a really tricky move.
For a series with such a footprint, it would’ve
been pretty safe to stick to the classic era’s
guns, and stick with that kind of musical
direction.
It would’ve been alright, I’m sure, but
still…a safe move.
But by taking that risk, Crush 40 didn’t
just jump the gap; they stuck the landing
and got the photo finish to boot.
While their grandest moments are still in
the past, slightly spiked by nostalgia, the
fact that they can still hold that value to
the Sonic community is something worth praising.
Sonic’s gone through so many musical changes
over the course of his entire career, from
classic 16-bit jingles in the 90’s to chiptune
throwbacks here in the 2010’s, but Jun Sunoue’s
daring leap into new territory for the series
was really the one to remember, even decades
later.
Crush 40 changed Sonic music and I think they
deserve applause for that.

77 thoughts on “Crush 40 – Evolving the Sound of Sonic | PostMesmeric”

  1. damn, love this throwback to crush 40. I remember in early highschool back before it was so easy to find information online, a friend and I spent probably a month trying to find more music from crush 40 and Johnny Gioeli. We ended up finding some other bands that Gioeli sang for like Hardline and Axel Rudi Pell. I like how you described the game themes as anthems, that's what always stuck me. Like, these weren't just games with theme songs, they were all performed by the same band, their motifs were distributed throughout the whole game, they gave them an identity.

    Bless up fam this is dope.

  2. When you said that Green Hill and Live & Learn sound like they come from different series, my mind immediately jumped to how different the music for Super Mario Bros' 1-1 theme and the final boss music for Bowser in Galaxy 2 is.

  3. Something I always think about when it comes to Sonic music is how "of the times" it usually is. I remember being a little jaded when Forces had a very electronic/dubstep influenced soundtrack even though I liked the music itself because of how forced it felt in relation to what was currently popular. But in reality, it went from 80s dance to 90s pop to '00s rock. So really, who am I to judge?

    Great video by the way, this was a really fun topic to see the history on.

  4. I unironically love crush 40. The music is so energetic and so full of sincerity, they were essentially a throwback to the 80s movie soundtrack.

  5. I still actively listen and gush over Crush 40 to this day. There's just nothing else that does the trick for me, Crush 40's work is like anything else I've ever listened to. It deserves all of the praise it gets, and I can't imagine Sonic without it.

  6. 9:00 I think I'd like to contest this point. I think Mario music has changed. In some sense you could argue that it's slowly transitioned to a more jazz and big band-inspired style with the more recent 3D games, but I think there's a much bigger evolution of Mario music evident in Odyssey, one that almost certainly took inspiration from Sonic and Crush 40. The main theme of the game being a fully vocalized song is itself a major shift, but one thing that I think definitely shows this influence is (SPOILER)

    The theme of the final stretch of the end level, "Lead the Way," which is a cheesy, climactic pop-rock tune that would feel right at home alongside several of the poppier rock tunes in the Sonic series, like "Escape from the City" or "Sonic Heroes." It's very obvious what inspired that musical choice to represent Mario's bolder, more adventurous outing, and I think it's really neat to see how it drew inspiration from Sonic.

  7. Will never care for the Sonic games, yet it's music. You cannot deny the impact the music has had not just beyond gaming but within social media and memes too.

  8. Man, I love Crush 40's contributions. Live & Learn was the very first video game song I downloaded b/c it was so kickass.

  9. I’ve always praised Senoue’s contributions to the Sonic series & really being something that helped the games stick, even the spin offs.
    Having different character themes & levels in different styles of music to portray who they are & their personality is still one of the coolest things about the Adventure era.

  10. I have most of crush 40s songs on my phone and listen to when I jog. My favorites open your hart live and learn never turn back what I’m made of I am all of me seven rings in hand and free

  11. Sonic Heroes the first Sonic game is ever really played has the coolest theme. One I still sing along with to this day.

  12. Crush 40 blew my mind when I first saw the intro for Sonic Adventure. It was like Sonic on steroids! Open your heart will always be my favorite. I loved it! SONIC'S WILD, BRAH!!!😎😎😎🎆✨🎇

  13. Crush 40 isn't truely out of the Sonic series, though. When the first cinematic tease for Team Sonic Racing after the initial "R"-teaser dropped without the lyrics, people could immediatelly recognize the notes as Crush 40's, which it was, Green Light Ride.

  14. If you like Crush 40, i recommend Johnny Gioeli's other bands, Axel Rudi Pell and Hardline, wich has a new album called "Life" coming out april 26.

  15. I really hope Sega brings Crush 40 back to work on a new game. I know they’re working on TSR, but I mean a non-spinoff game. Green Light Ride is proof that they haven’t lost their touch, but I want to see them go all the way.

  16. I appreciate you for appreciating a band that really deserves more appreciation. c:

    I'm glad Crush 40 is back for Team Sonic Racing

  17. Man, Crush 40 was the first rock band I've ever gotten into. I remember back when I played Sonic Adventure 2 Battle back when I was 8 in 2002. I made it to the final boss, and when I heard the actual song of Live and Learn, I fell in love with it. To this day, it's one of my favorite songs of all time, and Crush 40 still remains one of my favorite rock bands, and no it's not a sense of bias. Without them, I wouldn't have gotten into other rock bands or even the genre itself growing up!

  18. You couldn't have been more right. Crush 40 a name that resonates with all Sonic fans and yet…. almost no one else besides them know even their name. Also I thought you would also cover the fact that Crush 40 have returned to making Sonic music with Team Sonic racing having the first original composition performed by the entirety of Crush 40 since Sonic and the black knight, but I guess that's a topic for another day

  19. I disagree with sonic in the genesis days being mainly "playful" while they aren't as serious as the adventure games, they weren't that lighthearted either and provided an epic experience(I'm referring to S3&K and sonic cd). Besides that, amazing vid

  20. Whats your favorite sonic theme song? Mine is his world because its really good and the best song that represent sonic as a character, but thats just me.

  21. I think you should have played way more of the songs you were talking about, especially the more upbeat ones from SA you referenced explicitly. Why make a video if you barely use a video essay‘s capabilities? This might as well have been a written text.

  22. I just blast Crush 40 on the way home after work, living in a rural place with long roads, im escaping the city maybe not a the speed of sound but still way above the speed limite 😛

  23. Great video! I'm a huge Crush 40 fan, and I feel like they deserve this kind of recognition. I first started loving Crush 40 from the moment I found them as a young Sonic fan and I still listen to them to this day. I'm really happy they're making a return in TSR.

  24. As a Sonic fan myself, I do think that Crush 40 needed recognition outside of the Sonic community, and I am glad you delivered.

  25. It's sad that we're rarely getting c40 songs now
    But I'm really REALLY grateful we had crush 40, I'm a hard rocker, I fell in love with gioeli's voice, that made me search a bit more and know the other bands hardline and Axel rudi pell, also past bands brunette/killerhit and I love it, I wouldn't know it if it wasn't for crush 40 on sonic games

  26. Crush 40 were the band that really opened my eyes to rock and heavy metal, and jun sunoe was and still is one of my favorite composers for video games ever. He's the only video game composer I know of who has a signature guitar and I think that's pretty cool.

  27. Crush 40 was part of my introduction to rock music as a genre. As a little kid I had a PS1 and Dreamcast and was instantly hooked with the soundtracks of Ace Combat 2, and Sonic Adventure. So when I found a lot of my favorite video games carry my favorite type of music, it’s just another reason why I love this stuff so much. Open Your Heart, It Doesn’t Matter, and Believe In Myself stand out as some of my favorite vocal tracks in the Sonic series; I’d be here all day listing every single one. And in my honest opinion, Crush 40 as my favorite band produces music that’s a lot easier to get into than many of the mainstream artists you hear on the radio or inside a store.
    Nobou Uematsu, Keiki Kobayashi, and Jun Senoue are some of my favorite music composers for video games, and the reasons why I love game soundtracks.

    SUPER stoked Crush 40 is finally back in Team Sonic Racing!

  28. Sonic's music is such an inspiring benchmark for my approach with theme's for characters in general. I oftentimes look for other tastes in vocal soundtracks but I almost can never seem to land on anything that's satisfying…at least not frequently. Most music I hear is safe, boring, flat, and unoriginal. But Crush 40 turned up the heat so high you can't help but feel that heat blazing through as soon as you hear their Sonic songs. Open Your Heart, Live and Learn, What I'm Made Of, I Am All Of Me, Seven Rings in Hand, and Knight of the Wind are some of my most favorite songs of all time because they take risks and blow down the walls. And even though the original version of His World (Though there is a Crush 40 version that most people would like the most) was not written by Crush 40, you can't really tell me that it wasn't heavily inspired by Sonic's massive shift in music composition…and that's why it's my favorite song of all time.

  29. Repent and turn to Christ Jesus before it is too late. For after this comes the JUDGMENT. Christ died for your sins and rose on the third day, showing that anyone who trusts in him for salvation, will have everlasting life.

  30. Crush 40 and the Adventure era (along with things like Sonic X) as a whole define what Sonic is to me.

    I know there's many different versions but that is the Sonic I knew and loved growing up, I did play the original Mega Drive games, they were the first games I ever played and I loved them…. But when I got SA2 I loved Sonic in a way that the originals never made me feel.

    Not saying it's better, just saying that to me, Sonic is SA.

  31. Dude I'm so glad you did a video on Crush 40. Someone had to do it and you knocked it out of the park. I totally agree that this music was Sega just going for it when they made that switch to 3D, and I think it was one of the best decisions they've ever made. 10-20 years from now I'll probably still randomly break out and start singing that "CAN'T HOLD ONNNN MUCH LONGERRRR"

  32. tbh if someone asked what song i think of when i think of sonic
    im pretty sure id be stuck on the spot thinking for at least 24 hours

  33. If there is ONE aspect of the Sonic series that NEVER dissapoints, is the music. And Crush 40 is the proof of that.
    Live & Learn will go down as one of my top favorite songs of all time. Thank you for this retrospective

  34. I'd argue that Mario sticking to its guns on its way to the 3D realm was the better decision for it. Super Mario 64 is one of the first 3D platformers, and served as the bridge from 2D to 3D gaming for a lot of people. The very concept of a 3D platformer where you can run in more directions than left and right and rotate a camera, one where you don't just head right to reach the goal, must've been alienating for many of those people, and so I think retaining the same style and environments that Mario's known for gave the game some much needed familiarity.

    Sonic however, has always based its identity on being flashier than Mario, so I think the paradigm shift and grander scale with those elements benefited Sonic in a way that wouldn't've fit Mario

  35. Your crafting skills are well. Your voice is easy to follow and full of life. I hope your views grow. Keep up the great content!

  36. the classic sonic era music has never been that iconic to me, yes it fits and its not bad, some tunes are really good, specially in sonic 2 and sonic cd, but they never stuck as a sonic iconic tune, green hill zone has been more of an imposed thing than an actual icon for the character that earned its place on people and that made me grew tired of it, when i think of sonic i dont think about green hill song or angel island, nor palmatree panic, i think about it doesnt matter, open your heart, live and learn, what ive made of and even that song when you fight metal sonic at sonic the fighters, but no classic era tunes

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