Composer's Top 10: Grant Kirkhope

By Jared Scott on April 22, 2014, 4:34PM EDT

Video games have always included lots of different elements and it's the make-up of these elements that creates sensational experiences. One of these elements is the music, something which can also be enjoyed as a standalone product. And while not everyone enjoys hearing video game outside of its default setting, the composers of these soundtracks deserve just as much praise as the story writers, designers, and artists.

It's at this time that we should also be reminded of just how important video game music is, with it now becoming more common place in the realm of classical music.

As part of a recurring series, we are going to be looking in-depth at specific artists, analysing their works and detailing what we believe to be the best 10 tracks of their musical careers so far.

To kick things off, we have decided to look Grant Kirkhope, a legendary composer who helped to shape the Nintendo 64 and has continued to work on amazing material up to the present day.

Kirkhope's work in video games can be traced back to the mid-90s on the title Killer Instinct 2. Since then, he continued working on games that are now considered classics, such as GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, and the Banjo series. Some of his more modern work includes music for the Viva Pinata series, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and even Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. Now that the background knowledge has been laid out, let's take a look at the greatest of his musical works.

10. Banjo Tooie "“ Mayahen Temple

As is often common place for music relating to ancient ruins, Mayahen Temple starts out very mysterious and dramatic"¦for the first five seconds. After that, a strange shaman by the name of Mumbo Jumbo begins to chant in one of the most hilarious "languages" you will ever hear.

To make matters even sillier, Grant Kirkhope cycles back and forth between dramatic segments of drums and brass with the xylophone and other light-hearted sounds. The shear silliness of this track makes it one that should not be missed.

9. Donkey Kong 64 "“ Funky Kong

Everyone loves Funky Kong. Whether you met him through the video game series or in the 90s 3D animated TV show, Funky Kong is one of the most likable characters in the entire franchise.

Opening up with a synth-trumpet "Charge!," Funky Kong from Donkey Kong 64 is slam packed with feel-good base guitar, electric keyboard, and unabashed whistling that will put a smile on your face. The best part is that this music perfectly matches Funky Kongs chillax, surfer-dude attitude that makes him so likable.

8. 007 GoldenEye "“ Main Title

The Main Title of 007 GoldenEye is none other than a Nintendo 64 rendition of the main theme of James Bond himself. While the music of James Bond has been around for a very long time, Grant Kirkhope adds just enough originality and flavor that takes the theme to new heights. In fact, one could argue that this is the superior version of the song.

While it's a shame that the track is just under two minutes, you may find yourself putting this song on repeat quite often.

7. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning "“ The Hanged Men Fight

This song is scary. It's even scarier when you realize that the title of the track is about undead men. With shrilling flutes, screeching violins, and blaring trumpets, you won't be able to help but imagine yourself being chased by the wicked undead. And though it suffers from being short in length, it's still an enjoyable track that will keep you on your toes wary of a confrontation.

6. 007 GoldenEye "“ Frigate

While Frigate sounds similar to Main Title of GoldenEye, it has just enough of a rock techno vibe that makes it stand apart and also worth a spot in our Top Ten. Inspired by Duran Duran's rendition of the 007 theme, Frigate contains smooth xylophone segments and old electric synth guitar sounds peppered all throughout track. Listening to this you'll feel as if you are on a stealth mission to retrieve the goods and put a bullet in the head of the villain.

5. Banjo Kazooie "“ Click Clock Wood

If the Banjo franchise ever introduced a dance game, Click Clock Wood would be the first song featured in it. It's a melodic track with instruments ranging from flutes and brass to tweeting birds. Click Clock Wood is another great, feel-good track that only Grant Kirkhope could create and is guaranteed to, at the very least, get your feet tapping.

4. 007 GoldenEye - Multiplayer 5

If you ever played 007 GoldenEye, chances are you spent many hours in multiplayer with your friends and siblings which means that even now you recognize the adventurous sounds of Multiplayer 5.

While not the most original title name ever given to a song, Multiplayer 5 has a very fast paced, oriental vibe that was sure to get players blood pumping as they hunted their friends. Highlighted by deep vocals and other assorted sounds, this song is as exciting as it is impressive.

3. Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise - Oven-Fresh Day

If you could describe the all of the music of the Viva Pinata series in a single word it would probably be either "relaxing" or "peaceful." No other track better encompasses these themes other than Oven-Fresh Day.

This is perhaps the most relaxing song in all of Grant Kirkhopes work as a musician. Making you feel as if you are waking up to a sunny, beautiful day, this string heavy composition is sure to make your time in Viva Piñata enjoyable as well as melt away any stress from a long day at work.

2. Perfect Dark "“ Ending Credits

This song simply makes sense. After an adventure of dangerous undercover work that would make James Bond jealous, the Ending Credits are a wonderful sendoff for Ms. Dark.

This farewell starts off with roaring electric guitars but gradually becomes a stronger experience as "tougher" sounds make their way in. With its metallic percussion and synth harmonizing, you'll be bobbing your head to the beat even after the song tells Ms. Dark "good night."

1. Banjo K "“ Spiral Mountain

The number one spot in the Top Ten Songs of Grant Kirkhope can only belong to Spiral Mountain from Banjo Kazooie. One of Rare's greatest (and underused) franchises, Banjo Kazooie is still to this day seen as one of the greatest titles of the Nintendo 64.

Now, what makes Spiral Mountain so great isn't necessarily its memorability for those who played Banjo Kazooie, but its ability to be nostalgic for all gamers. Somehow, with its silly use of banjos and xylophones, it harks back to the younger days of gamers. The days were we didn't care if a game had great graphics or a well told story, but simply if it was fun to play. Even compared to his other works, Spiral Mountain will forever remain the greatest of Grant Kirkhopes masterpieces.

There are so many great compositions from Grant Kirkhope that it would be impossible to fit it all properly into one article. However, these ten tracks don't just highlight his greatest work, but also prepare you for what you can expect from him as he continues to wow and amaze us in his ever expanding portfolio of music.

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