Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Deirdre in the Final Dungeon

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of Earthbound, a thoroughly strange Nintendo game that pits plucky psychic children against animate gas pumps, irate old women and, finally, an intangible space demon. I’ve written a bit about the game over the years, and most recently about a weird intersection it makes with Ric Ocasek that would tumble around in my head for years before I’d figure out the connection.


You see, Earthbound composer Keiichi Suzuki made an unusual decision in making the game’s soundtrack: He used samples, many of which came straight from popular songs, and that’s just not something you heard often during the sixteen-bit era. Just recently, I found a video that explained which of the game’s compositions drew from major, mainstream songs by bands like The Beatles.

If you fast-forward to the 4:07 mark, you’ll hear that the game samples “Deirdre,” a Beach Boys song from the band’s 1970 album, Sunflower. This is an album I know. This is a song I’d heard before. But I’d never recognized it in the music for Earthbound’s final dungeon until the video pointed it out.

For long-play comparison purposes, here’s the full track of “Deirdre.”

And here’s “The Place,” the music for the final part of the Cave of the Past.

The Earthbound track isn’t particularly catchy. It’s atmospheric and strange, but it’s basically just a collection of variations on that one Beach Boys sample — the one right at the beginning where they’re singing the name Deirdre. Nonetheless, I liked the track, and it stuck in my head longer than a lot of the other Earthbound music. I wonder if it did because on some subconscious level I knew it was familiar.


Speaking of Earthbound’s strange pop culture connections, there’s one that still hasn’t been solved yet. The game opens with a scene of UFOs destroying some American everycity. (Notably, no event like this actually occurs in the game.)

That guitar, it has been determined, was supplied by none other than Mario’s daddy, Shigeru Miyamoto, even if he’s identified in the end credits as M.D. Seeger. But twenty years later, no one knows what the image is supposed to depict. It sure looks like a digitized photograph and sure seems like something that was also drawn from pop culture, but no one seems know where it might have come from.

Do you?

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