No Accounting for Tastes

Which Theme Goes With Everything?

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #114. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Adam examines the reasons why he and the pop culture consensus differ in opinion.

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Among the most widespread and familiar pieces of music in games history is Guile’s theme from the score for Street Fighter II, composed by Yoko Shimomura and Isao Abe. I played a lot of SFII as a kid and, like many who spent innumerable hours with the game, its music embedded itself in my memory. Recently, however, I discovered an issue: none of the versions of Guile’s theme out there match the one I remember. They’re all the same song, of course, but they sound to me like covers, not the real thing. This prompted a search to make some sense of the situation.

In the process of trying to locate the real Guile’s theme, I learned a lot about Street Fighter II. For example, I was previously unaware that the game was ported to the 3DO and that the soundtrack for this adaptation absolutely shreds. Check out that snare drum!

I also learned that Guile’s Street Fighter II music exhibits some similarities to the track “Travelers” by Japanese fusion band T-Square, who released the song in 1984, about seven years before the debut of Capcom’s blockbuster sequel. For someone who grew up with Guile’s theme, listening to “Travelers” can feel a bit like listening to a medley of other, unknown songs that occasionally incorporates the SFII track. Hints of Guile’s theme show up sporadically throughout – it hits right at the opening, but then disappears until around 1:26, vanishes again, and then reappears for a second at 1:55. It’s a little disorienting but also completely fascinating.

The version of the theme that most closely resembles the one in my memory might be this arcade rendition, but it’s not quite right. The general timbre of the instrumentation is accurate, but note choice is off. On the repeat of the intro, for example, the bassline should hit octaves above the roots of the first two chords, but this one doesn’t. The octave jump shows up in the earliest editions of the track, like the one from the original SNES port, but was altered in later releases of the game (a grievous mistake). Maybe I just played so much of these two iterations of the game that their soundtracks sort of fused in my recollection, combining two versions into one over time. The problem with this theory is that I didn’t play Street Fighter II for arcade or SNES. I played it almost exclusively on the Genesis – Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, I think. And that port’s take on the theme sounds totally unfamiliar to me now.

Maybe I just played so much of these two iterations of the game that their soundtracks sort of fused in my recollection, combining two versions into one over time.

It’s probably not a coincidence, though, that the one that sounds closer to “correct” is the one that was used most often when the “Guile’s theme goes with everything” meme took off. Video edits with that interpretation of the song populated YouTube for years. My guess is that after hearing so many repeats of this version, from something familiar but not immediately so (I haven’t played SFII in a very long time), this track just sort of . . . replaced the half-remembered one I’d picked up as a kid so many years ago.

I am not an expert on memory (or anything else), so there may be some flaws in this assumption and the logic behind it. But human memory is notoriously fickle. A professor introduced this idea to a class I was in a long while ago by relating a very specific memory he had of the moment during the school day in the 5th grade when he learned of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The professor revealed that, in actuality, he was not old enough to have been in 5th grade when JFK died, and so the entire classroom memory that was so vivid in his mind was a fabrication constructed over the years, unintentionally and without active participation, as his own recollection mixed with news reports and other people’s accounts of a historic moment. Or maybe the story was that he was too old to have been in 5th grade, or maybe it wasn’t 5th grade at all. Whatever the case, it was incorrect, much like the story I’m telling here.

And so is my memory of the music that plays on Guile’s stage in Street Fighter II, apparently. I have made peace with this. But I will probably not be revisiting any other songs on this particular soundtrack for a while.

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Adam Boffa is a writer and musician from New Jersey.

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