Monday, 18 May 2015

Opinion Blog: Ranking the POWER RANGERS Theme Songs

Really wish they'd do pics like this for the non-red colours.

After another unexplained absence from blogville (albeit not as long as it looks, given the repeated updates on the Secret Wars post), I feel like I need to do something kinda small and silly to get things going again.  No complex reviews (hence no Age of Ultron reaction post, though suffice to say I enjoyed it a lot) or long nights spent photographing toys.  Just a simple 'here's what I think and why' based on something that's close to hand, and close to my heart.

If I haven't made clear before, Power Rangers?  Very close to my heart.  I was lucky enough to be exactly the right age when the Mighty Morphin' series started - bear in mind, we weren't nearly as inundated with superhero films back in the early-to-mid 90s as we are now, so seeing tights-wearing superpowered types in a context outside of animation on a regular basis felt magical.  And they had huge robots!  And basically everything on the show exploded at some point!  What's not to love?

In more recent years, I've gone back to the somehow-still-ongoing show, and watched its evolutions, even as its production shifted from Saban to Disney to Saban again.  There've been ups and downs - the kind which I think I'll go back to for a future post, time willing - but the principles of the show have remained the same.  Simple moral lessons.  Rubber suit monsters.  Morphing.  Robots.  Martial arts.  Stuff exploding.  Greatness.  Oh, and badass theme songs.  But, not all themes are created equal, so here is my definitive (ish) ranking of all Ranger title themes to date, from Mighty Morphin' to Dino Charge, worst to best.

18 - Operation Overdrive
Series aired 2007.
As if it could be anything else.  Operation Overdrive is a terrible, terrible series on the whole, and its music absolutely sets the tone for that.  For reasons known only to themselves, the producers at the time decided to ditch the usual rawk-guitars of past Ranger music in favour of hip-hop, which likely wouldn't have worked even if the track they picked was good hip-hop.

We'll never know for sure, though, because what they got is atrocious.  The verses barely feel like rap at all, just some guy reading the plot synopsis for the series as fast as he can, doing nothing to stress any point of it as significant, and the chorus refrain (POW! ER! RAIN! JERS!) is unnatural and unpleasant.  Worse, the rhythm of the words is completely different from the backing track.  Said track isn't actually so bad, for the most part, though it never really reaches a big air-punching crescendo to make you go "YEAH, Power Rangers!  Awesome!" the way all the good themes do.  It's just horrible.

17 - RPM
Series aired 2009.
By comparison, RPM is a terrific series - easily one of my favourites, even if some behind-the-scenes struggles meant it was never quite as amazing as it could have been.  Even so, the dystopian reality of the Rangers defending the last enclave of humanity from an endless robot horde was pulled off remarkably well given the show's tiny budget, the cast did far better work than any kids' show would ask for, and the scripts acknowledged some of the sillier aspects of the show in ways that tickle the fancy of grumpy old types like me.

Unfortunately, the theme tune blows.  I guess after the hip-hop experimentation failed, the producers decided it'd be best to back-pedal to rock again...but in the process they swung all the way to the opposite extreme, and wound up with the kind of obnoxious guitar-and-growling combo that Slayer would squeeze out on halfway through lunch.  And then sampled a bunch of laser noises on top.  The opening narration from Olivia Tennet's Dr. K is an effective synopsis, telling you everything you need to know about the show's status quo before any given episode starts.  The actual lyrics on the other hand?  "GET! IN! GEAR! WE STICK TOGETHERRRRR!"  Again, there's nothing clever or grand about this.  It's just 'cars' and 'teamwork'.  Rubbish.

16 - Samurai/Super Samurai
Series aired 2011/2012.
I'm aware of how it looks right now, but I'm not actually picking on all the newer series deliberately.  It's just sort of...panned out that way?  Oh, and I'm counting Samurai and Super Samurai as one single series chopped in half because, well, that's what it was.  Anyway, this was the start of the 'neo-Saban era', and I suppose it made sense, in a way, to remix the old Mighty Morphin' theme as a rallying cry to the fans who wandered off during the Disney era.  A simple way of saying 'everything's gonna be cool like it used to be!'.

Except it doesn't, doesn't, work.  Even if I thought this version was as good as the old one (it's not, it's overproduced and the vocals have a shade too much growl on them), it wouldn't matter because this is the theme of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and the Samurai team are in no way the same.  Even the poorer themes of the franchise are at least unique to their series.  Samurai deserved a tune to call its own, not one that calls back to earlier glories.  I didn't want to put it at the bottom because it's still 'Go Go Power Rangers' and gets the blood pumping something fierce,  Not like this.

15 - Megaforce/Super Megaforce
Series aired 2013/2014.
Oh for god's sake.  Just copy everything I said about the Samurai theme, because THAT'S WHAT THE MUSIC GUYS DID.

I'm not even sure why I rate this one higher.  Maybe because I laugh at the "ME! GA! FORCE!" intro for all the wrong reasons.

14 - Mystic Force
Series aired 2006.
Going back to that thing about hip-hop themes, this is where it started.  Because nothing says 'magical knights wielding awesome spells to prevent the rise of ancient darkness' quite like the world's least threatening rapper.

That said, this isn't nearly so bad as the Operation Overdrive disasterpiece.  The orchestral (well, orchestral samples) intro flourish works wonders to establish the Lord of the Rings-lite premise and flavour of the series, and there's a little bit of it in the backing track too.  The lyrics are still kinda mince, with a lot of 'turn it on' and 'get it on' because that's the easiest possibly rhyme in existence, but they're paced to match the music and somewhere in there they do hit a few points with enough oomph to be meaningful.  You come away with the knowledge that 'these are the Power Rangers and they will save us all with teamwork and magic'.  That's acceptable, I suppose.

13 - Ninja Storm
Series aired 2003.
Ninja Storm, the first series of the Disney era, is...okay.  It hits most of the technical points I like in Power Rangers pretty well, and occasionally (like with the Green Samurai Ranger introduction) you get some all-time great episodes out of it.  That said, they try to pull the same self-referential stuff they later did in RPM but with a much less deft touch, and applying so much of it to the villain completely negates any threat they may have had.  Also, the Rangers' mentor is both an idiot and a guinea pig, which...yeah.

'Okay' about sums up the theme, too.  It's fairly basic surf rock strings with some occasional warbling flute because 'ninjas', and the lyrics at least try to make the Rangers' origins and abilities sound impressive.  Unfortunately the delivery of the lyrics isn't forceful enough to really hit the importance home, and the music doesn't really have a peak or a low, it just sort of trundles along at the same tempo forever.

12 - Lightspeed Rescue
Series aired 2000.
And finally we're getting into the classic Saban stuff.  Lightspeed Rescue was the first series to really sever (nearly) all ties to the past.  No more Zordon or other mystical entities to guide our heroes, no holdovers like Alpha Six or the Astro Megaship, and outside of the Lost Galaxy team-up episode, no real mention of previous series' events.  New Rangers, new villains, new mission.  This would come to be the standard with the series that followed it.  It was also the first series to have the Rangers' identities be public knowledge, and for all their tech to be human-constructed.

As its position on the list indicates, this is probably the weakest of the classic themes, though the guitars and shouty vocals still give it some vital energy.  The bell chimes work quite well in the background (though I've no idea why they're here) and there's a good attempt to stress that the Rangers are awesome and do dangerous stuff.  That said, the main rhythm is a little flat and dull, and there's nothing to really explain what makes Lightspeed Rescue unique.

11 - Jungle Fury
Series aired 2008.
You never really hear much talk about Jungle Fury.  Maybe it's because of the mixed messages sent by the title; I for one saw it and thought, "another damn animal series, already?" but, that's not actually what it's about.  The central gimmick this time is that the Rangers are the prize students of an ancient Shaolin-esque kung fu school, which was secretly put together to serve as guardians for (of course) an ancient imprisoned evil.  It trades on a lot of the tropes of Asian martial arts cinema, with the Rangers seeking out multiple masters to study under and much talk of honour and spirit energy, etc.  It's pretty good!

The theme tune is also pretty good, even if the focus on 'jungle' themes with the xylophone bits was kind of a waste of time.  The main guitar has a good rhythm, and the lyrics are pretty descriptive, namechecking the villain (Dai Shi), the fact these Rangers are students, and that they will always win because Power Rangers.  Unfortunately, there's something about the tone of whoever's singing and the key of the guitar that brings to mind the work of punchable skate-rock group Sum 41, which pretty effectively drains all my good will for this show/tune.  Oops.

10 - Dino Charge
Series aired 2015.
To be honest, I've yet to watch much of Dino Charge, so I can't really comment on what it's like or about, other than presumably 'dinosaurs'.  So...yeah.

The music, though?  I kinda dig it.  I know I got heated about how neo-Saban are reusing 'Go Go Power Rangers' when they shouldn't, and that still kinda applies here, but there's enough work done to this version for it to feel like its own thing, with the horn-led intro and "Pow-er-Ran-gers" refrain that really conveys the sense of plodding might that comes hand-in-hand with dinosaurs.  And while it's unusual, the very 80s-pop-style vocals do give the track a very unique sound.  Even so, I can only rank it so high when they still insist on adding the 'Go Go' part.

9 - Lost Galaxy
Series aired 1999.
Lost Galaxy was the point where I stopped watching Power Rangers as a kid.  Blame that one the end of In Space, which did such a convincing job of closing out 6 years of serial storytelling that it was impossible to imagine anything worthwhile following that.  In hindsight, that was silly of me, as Netflix browsing confirmed there's a lot to like in Lost Galaxy.  If you only ever dare watch one Power Rangers episode, make it 'The Rescue Mission', then spend the rest of your days wondering how the hell they convinced TV decision-makers that this was still children's programming.

The Lost Galaxy theme seems to share a lot of elements with the Lightspeed Rescue one, but I think it pulls them off better.  The lyrics are still kinda vague, but all the talk of flying away in search of answers at least hints at the show's scope.  Other than that, the higher tempo works wonders, and there's a little more variety in pacing and tone, so the whole thing doesn't feel like it's stuck in one key.

8 - Time Force
Series aired 2001.
Time Force is the ultimate bait-and-switch of Power Rangers, in that there's almost zero actual time travel after the first 2 episodes are done.  Rangers from the future journey to the present and then...just kinda stay there, hanging out in a clock tower because symbolism.  Even with my hopes of Power Rangers: Basically Just Doctor Who With Karate dashed, though, it is still another very good series, with some of the more interesting villain dynamics and - shock! - a team where the guy in red isn't automatically the leader.

I love how fast the music goes.  It's proper headbang stuff.  I also love how it switches into a very different key when the lyrics hit the "Timeless wonders, fire and thunder" bit.  The lyrics in general are solid and really sell the grandeur of the mission...and all of it is diminished by some idiot's insistence on throwing in literally every sci-fi sound effect they could find and drowning the music in weird random zappy noises.  Why?  Even the instrumental version at the end of each episode still does it!  Stop that!  This could've been top 3 if those noises weren't there!

7 - Wild Force
Series aired 2002.
A.K.A the one starring the guy who killed his roommate with a sword, unfortunately.  Wild Force is...a tricky thing to watch.  On the one hand, its Time Force team-up 2-parter is absolutely amazing, 'Forever Red' is still pure fan-fiction brought to life, the Yellow Ranger is basically just Carol Danvers viewed through a Power Rangers lens...on the other hand, the Captain Planet-ish eco-moralizing is eye-rollingly obnoxious, the main villain is a laughing stock and the acting falls off a cliff about halfway through when someone gets the bright idea of telling everyone to mimic the performances of Japanese sentai actors.  No, I don't know who thought that would work, only that they were so very very wrong.

On the plus side, this theme rules.  Again, very high-tempo, not much in the way of distortion over the main guitars, it switches key at least twice, and the lyrics are honestly great, getting across the environmental focus and emphasizing that these aren't just Power Rangers, they're really awesome Power Rangers.  It's a shame that, once again, the random sound samples attempt to smother it - this time with animal noises rather than lasers - but it's not nearly as bad as the Time Force theme.

6 - Turbo
Series aired 1997.
Turbo was a hell of a stupid series in retrospect.  The Rangers are facing a sub-aquatic pirate queen from space, so they get new powers based  It's not even a matter of their previous powers being destroyed - the Zeo powers still worked!  They just suddenly decided to go with cars.  Plus, when the team line-up changes at the halfway mark, we lose our last link to the original Mighty Morphin' days, with Tommy, Adam, Kat and Aisha all leaving.  That was a hard thing to get over for Kid Me, and if the next series wasn't all about spaceships I don't know if I'd have kept watching.

What of the theme tune?  Oh, it's great.  The guitar work is very simple, but also very raw and fast.  The lyrics work overtime to make the idea of 'Car Rangers' seem cool - "Mighty engines roar, turbo-charged for more, drive four on the floor, go!" - and there's a hint of 'Go Go Power Rangers' in there to remind us we're still under Zordon's ruling, although the tune itself feels new.  I love how the intro chord sounds like a race car, too.  That said, it does feel like it's a little too monotone to really get caught in your brain.

5 - Mighty Morphin'
Series aired 1993.
The originator.  The wellspring from which all things Rangers hath spawned.'s not number one?  Oh yeah.  I went there.

Don't get me wrong, 'Go Go Power Rangers' is an iconic lump of audio pop culture and absolute air-guitar dynamite.  Not to mention the extended version's lyrics do a great job of selling the scale and importance of the Rangers (even if it is weirdly hilarious that "they know to only use their weapons for defense!" is something they felt strongly enough about to actually write it into the damn theme tune).  But...I don't know, I just can't quite put it higher.  Blame neo-Saban for reusing it and making it seem less important by proxy.

4 - Dino Thunder
Series aired 2004.
Dino Thunder (yes, we've already had 2 separate seasons about dinosaurs, not counting Mighty Morphin') was the series that brought me back to Power Rangers, probably just for the spectacle of Tommy's return to the fold, something that's a whole lot less special these days since Jason David Frank is willing to show up in just about anything.  Beyond that, though, it was a welcome course-correction after Ninja Storm, ditching the inside-baseball jokes without becoming too serious, featuring a solid core squad of new Rangers and a properly menacing villain in Mesagog, and had the most badass 'evil' Ranger yet seen.  His visor was red!  How cool is that?!

And the theme tune is amazing.  There's some dumb sound samples in there, yes, but only minimally so, and the actual music has a really great beat that I usually can't stop humming to myself for hours after listening.  Even the lyrics are great!  Right from the start you have the "There's a light, in the distance/with the force of ages..." stuff that makes this team sound like they could arm-wrestle Galactus and win, and the chorus has an air-punching optimism about it that I love.  Why isn't it number one?  Not because of any failings here, but because the next few are even better.

3 - Zeo
Series aired 1996.
Zeo was the first 'new' series of Power Rangers since the first - or rather, after three seasons of Mighty Morphin', this was the first time the title changed.  Beyond that, and a new villain faction in the Machine Empire, it was basically the same show, with the same team, except they'd traded in dinosaur and ninja powers for...shapes?  And a crystal?  Yeah, the Zeo powers didn't make any sense at all, and if the show wasn't right in the middle of its peak popularity this kind of weirdness would've hurt it immensely.

Of course, since it's still the same show, the theme didn't change much...but they changed enough that this is the reason I can't put the original 'Go Go Power Rangers' any higher.  The lighter key used in the Zeo version sounds fantastic, the choral "Goooo Zeeeooooo!" bit conveys a sense of wonder about this new evolution of the Rangers, and the new lyrics hit home that this isn't just new suits, but a whole new level of butt-kicking.

 2 - S.P.D
Series aired 2005.
Despite having a title that sounds like something you don't wanna catch, S.P.D is a series you...really should catch.  It's set in the 'near future' (albeit not so near we don't have laser guns) and casts the Rangers as the SWAT equivalent of that time's police force, with elevated armaments to cope with the extraordinary criminals that came hand-in-hand with Earth adopting an open door policy to alien visitors.  While they don't really make enough use of the Rangers-as-police gimmick as I wished they had, there's still a lot to love here, with really smartly-handled character arcs, serial plotting that actually works, some of the baddest Megazords ever, and 2 great crossover stories with Dino Thunder.

And as for the theme song, holy shit.  Y'know I said Time Force had the headbang factor?  S.P.D laughs at them and shows how it's REALLY done.  This is one of those times where the instrumental version of the song might actually exceed the normal one, as the guitar shredding is so dextrous and multi-toned it tells a story all by itself...but, just to be on the safe side, there's some pretty great lyrics too, reinforcing the emergency-service motif by reminding you these are the Power Rangers who'll answer a 911 call.  Or, presumably, solve a drunken bar fight by morphing and throwing everyone through the windows.

 1 - In Space
Series aired 1998.
When Power Rangers In Space was in production, its makers thought this would be the last series ever made, so they went all-out with it.  Past villains appeared regularly, old plots were resolved, Bulk and Skull got to be heroes (!), and finally, after a mass invasion of Earth unlike anything the show had tried before, Zordon died, letting his life force obliterate the overwhelming mass of evil infesting the galaxy, and even causing nasty types like Rita Repulsa to be reborn, their sins wiped clean.  It was devastating and heartbreaking and right, and even though it obviously wasn't the real end, it was a note-perfect capstone to the first 6 years.

And it's the best theme tune, bar none.  It just is.  Listen to it!  The countdown!  The rising aaaawwaaAAAAHHH!  The lyrics talking about how we're "Flying higher than ever before!"  Just enough of 'Go Go Power Rangers' to be recognizable yet still its own badass thing!  The way the guitar rhythm starts simple then gets crazier as it goes until it's basically a siren of awesome!  IN SPACE~!

As ever, feel free to chime in with your comments.  Just know that I am not changing my mind.

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