RETROSPECTIVE AND REVIEW: SPEED METAL
The Music of SPEED RACER, Then and Now
Author: John “Dutch” DeSentis
Special Thanks to Bob Johnson
Nobuyoshi Koshibe interview translated by Shino Sumida
If you were to ask any number of people, be they fans or non-fans, what they know and remember about SPEED RACER the most, chances are they will recall the great theme song which started each episode. In fact, the jingle has become so famous that to have anything Speed Racer related without it would be like having James Bond without the famous John Barry theme. Famous for its whirling beginning representative of a speed engine and catchy lyrics, the song is a recognizable and enjoyable piece of pop-culture. Here we will take a closer look at both the classic and new music of Speed Racer.
THE MUSIC OF SPEED RACER THEN
Both the show’s familiar theme and incidental score were written by composer Nobuyoshi Koshibe. Fans of Godzilla music will no doubt have a bit of deja-vu listening to the SPEED RACER music as it fits like a glove the era in which it was written. In fact, there are times when it sounds like a perfect amalgam of both Masaru Sato’s mid ‘60s style and Kunio Miyauchi’s scores to GODZILLA’S REVENGE and ULTRAMAN. The scores to some of the older Gamera films particularly DESTROY ALL PLANETS (by composer Kenjiro Hirose) also come to mind. The music is fast paced, breezy, percussion laden, and smoothed over with clean guitar tones. There are elements of jazz and surf rock which makes sense due to the fact that surf rock was popular at the time and composer Koshibe was influenced by jazz. Listening to it will no doubt bring back memories of the TV show for those who either grew up with it or (like myself) caught the reruns in later years.
The Japanese version of the theme differs from its US counterpart both in length and, to a lesser extent, arrangement. The vocal melodies are identical, but the songs kick off slightly different. The Japanese version begins with a pounding snare drum over some frantic strings which speak to the “speed” of the piece followed by some accented hits over the sung lyrics “MACH! – GO! – GO! – GO!” before going into the similarly styled verse and chorus. Presented here are the translated lyrics to that version courtesy of Speed Racer: The Official 30th Anniversary Guide by Elizabeth Moran. They refer to the “Mach” as the Mach 5 in the translated lyrics, but it was only the Mach 5 in the US version. It was just the Mach in Japan. Of course Go is 5 in Japanese, so it could go (no pun intended) either way.
MACH! GO! GO! GO!
LYRICS BY TATSUO YOSHIDA AND AKIRA ITO
COMPOSED BY NOBUYOSHI KOSHIBE
VOCALS BY VOCAL SHOP
“The white body of the Mach zipping around a hairpin curve
Nothing can stop him, nothing can scare him
Go Go Gooooooo
With unyielding spirit, Go Mifune drives the Mach
Once he stars driving, he is like a demon
He sees nothing other than the track
He gives everything to win
Mach Go Go
Mach Go Go
Mach Go Go Goooooooo
The sharp looking Mach. Go Mifune
Step on the gas, get more speed
Go Mach, speed up til the end of the earth
Young life flames in his heart
Go Go Goooooo
Watch his fearless spirit race
Speed up, speed up Mach til the final victory
Mach Go Go
Mach Go Go
Mach Go Go Goooooooo”
When the show was brought overseas, the theme song was re-recorded with English lyrics that followed the Japanese version melody. With music by Billy Mure and lyrics by Peter Fernandez, the song was produced and sung by Danny Davis along with Billy Mure, Davis’ boss Don Burkhimer, and his secretary Janet Lederman. For the sake of completion, here are the lyrics:
GO, SPEED RACER, GO!
MUSIC BY BILLY MURE
LYRICS BY PETER FERNANDEZ
“Here he comes.
Here comes Speed Racer.
He’s a demon on wheels.
He’s a demon and he’s gonna be chasing after someone.
He’s gaining on you so you better look alive.
He’s busy revving up the powerful Mach 5.
And when the odds are against him and there’s dangerous work to do…
You bet your life Speed Racer’s gonna see it through.
Go Speed Racer!
Go Speed Racer!
Go Speed Racer GO!
He’s off and flying as he guns the car around the track.
He’s jamming down the pedal like he’s never coming back.
Adventure’s waiting just ahead!
Go Speed Racer!
Go Speed Racer!
Go Speed Racer, GO!”
The music to SPEED RACER has been compiled onto two CDs which were released in 2002. The compilations themselves are very complete and contain so many wonderful tracks. Some of the standouts are the “MAIN TITLES”, “THE SUPERSONIC CAR”, and tracks from “THE GREAT PLAN”. There are alternate takes of the “MAIN TITLES” and even the popular US version. The track list is grouped via episode number, then title, then part rather than each individual track being given a specific name. The sound quality is great with the original recordings having been preserved quite well. Here is the information on the two discs.
SPEED RACER (MACH GO GO GO) MUSIC FILE ROUND 1
MUSIC BY NOBUYOSHI KOSHIBE
RELEASE DATE: June 21, 2002.
1: MACH GO! GO!! GO!!!- MAIN TITLES JAPANESE VERSION
2-8: EPISODE 1- “THE GREAT PLAN PT. 1”
9-16: EPISODE 2- “THE GREAT PLAN PT. 2”
17-21: EPISODE 3- “CHALLENGE OF THE MASKED RACER PT.1”
22-25: EPISODE 4- “CHALLENGE OF THE MASKED RACER PT. 2”
26-27: EPISODE 5- “THE SECRET ENGINE PT. 1”
28-30: EPISODE 6- “THE SECRET ENGINE PT. 2”
31: EPISODE 7- “THE RACE AGAINST THE MAMMOTH CAR PT. 1”
32-33: EPISODE 8- “THE RACE AGAINST THE MAMMOTH CAR PT. 2”
34-38: EPISODE 9- “THE MOST DANGEROUS RACE PT. 1”
39-44: EPISODE 10- “THE MOST DANGEROUS RACE PT. 2”
45-51: EPISODE 11- “THE MOST DANGEROUS RACE PT. 3”
52-53: EPISODE 12- “RACE FOR REVENGE PT. 1”
54-55: EPISODE 13- “RACE FOR REVENGE PT. 2”
56-62: EPISODE 14- “THE DESPERATE DESERT RACE PT. 1”
63-64: EPISODE 15- “THE DESPERATE DESERT RACE PT. 2”
65: MACH GO! GO!! GO!!! (SPEED RACER)- ALTERNATE INSTRUMENTAL TAKE
SPEED RACER (MACH GO GO GO) MUSIC FILE ROUND 2
MUSIC BY NOBUYOSHI KOSHIBE
RELEASE DATE: September 25, 2002.
1: MACH GO! GO!! GO!!! MAIN TITLES (STUDIO)
2: EPISODE 16- “THE FIRE RACE PT. 1”
3-4: EPISODE 17- “THE FIRE RACE PT. 2”
5-6: EPISODE 18- “GIRL DAREDEVIL PT. 1”
7-8: EPISODE 19- “GIRL DAREDEVIL PT. 2”
9: EPISODE 20- “THE FASTEST CAR ON EARTH PT. 1”
10: EPISODE 21- “THE FASTEST CAR ON EARTH PT. 2”
11: EPISODE 22- “MACH 5 vs. MACH 5 PT. 1”
12-13: EPISODE 23- “MACH 5 vs. MACH 5 PT. 2”
14: EPISODE 24- “THE ROYAL RACER PT. 1”
15: EPISODE 25- “THE ROYAL RACER PT. 2”
16: EPISODE 26- “THE CAR HATER”
17-21: EPISODE 27- “THE TERRIFYING GAMBLER”
22-24: EPISODE 28- “THE RACE AGAINST TIME PT. 1”
25: EPISODE 29- “THE RACE AGAINST TIME PT. 2”
26: EPISODE 30- “THE SNAKE TRACK”
27: EPISODE 31- “THE MAN ON THE LAM”
28: EPISODE 32- “GANG OF ASSASSINS PT. 1”
29-31: EPISODE 33- “GANG OF ASSASSINS PT. 2”
32: EPISODE 34- “THE RACE FOR LIFE”
33: EPISODE 35- “THE SUPERSONIC CAR”
34: EPISODE 36- “CRASH IN THE JUNGLE PT. 1”
35: EPISODE 37- “CRASH IN THE JUNGLE PT. 2”
36-37: EPISODE 38- “THE SECRET INVADERS PT. 1”
38: EPISODE 39- “THE SECRET INVADERS PT. 2”
39: EPISODE 40- “MAN BEHIND THE MASK”
40-41: EPISODE 41- “THE CAR DESTROYER”
42: EPISODE 42- “THE DESPERATE RACER”
43: EPISODE 43- “THE DANGEROUS WITNESS”
44-46: EPISODE 44- “RACE THE LASER TANK”
47: EPISODE 45- “THE GREAT CAR WRESLTING MATCH”
48-49: EPISODE 46- “MOTORCYCLE APPROACHES”
50: EPISODE 47- “CAR WITH A BRAIN”
51: EPISODE 48- “JUNK CAR GRAND PRIX”
52: EPISODE 49- “CAR IN THE SKY”
53: EPISODE 50- “THE TRICK RACE”
54-56: EPISODE 51- “RACE AROUND THE WORLD PT. 1”
57-62: EPISODE 52- “RACE AROUND THE WORLD PT. 2”
63: MACH GO! GO!! GO!!!- END TITLES
64: CHIM CHIM SOUND EFFECTS
65: GO, SPEED RACER, GO!- US VERSION MAIN TITLES
INTERVIEW: COMPOSER NOBUYOSHI KOSHIBE
Nobuyoshi Koshibe was born on August 21, 1933 in Tokyo and attended grade school while the world was embroiled in World War II. He graduated from the Musical Composition Department of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts in 1957. After joining up with musician Toriroh Miki, he did the music for three Tatsunoko Productions series; MACH GO GO GO (SPEED RACER), HONEYBEE HUTCH, and MOKKU OF THE OAK TREE. In addition, he wrote the theme songs for TEMPLE THE BALLOONIST and DETENA THE FROG BOY, as well as the original IRON MAN 28 (Gigantor). His repertoire also includes comedies such as PARMAN and the first DORAEMON. In 1984, Koshibe’s score for the movie SHANGHAI RHAPSODY was nominated for an award.
What follows is a translated interview with composer Koshibe in which he discusses his life, venturing into his career and, of course, the music of MACH GO GO GO.
Question: Let’s start on your beginning. When did you decide to become a composer?
Nobuyoshi Koshibe: Honestly, it was rather late. That was because I was born in 1933 and I was in 3rd grade during the midst of World War II. When the war was over I was in 6th grade. Until then, music was the last thing on mind. There was no chance or opportunity. We were evacuated during the war but once it was over and we returned to Tokyo and found that the house was completely burnt down.
Fortunately, my grandparents’ house was still intact. We lived in one of the rooms there. As I was playing with my uncle’s guitar, I started to like and really wanted to take the path of music. I was in junior high by that time. I needed to learn the piano so I started taking Beyer lessons. The piano instructor I went to gathered students and had lessons inside of a burnt building.
Q: Please tell us about your experience working for [film composer] Toriroh Miki.
NK: When I was in my 4th year of college, there was a TV program called HOME SONG CONTEST. It was a program to create a song that can be sung by a family and they were accepting contestants. I entered with a music composition and I happened to get 1st place. I was lucky. One of the judges was Toriroh Miki. He invited me to go visit his place and as I was assisting him, I gradually got into the path of composing. I might mention that for the HOME SONG CONTEST, the runner up was Jun Sakurai and the following year’s winner was Taku Izumi [composer for THE X FROM OUTER SPACE].
The three of us went to Toriroh-San’s place to help. There were a lot of other people there including Rokusuke Ei [writer of the international hit song “Sukiyaki”] and Hiroyuki Itsuki. Itsuki-san and I were working together at that time. He wrote lyrics and I composed music for many commercials.
Q: What started you making music for TV/Movies?
NK: It had to do with Jun Sakurai. The director of a kids program told him to make two songs. He felt that was going to be difficult so he asked me to help him make the 2nd one.
Q: What program was that?
NK: TOGETHER WITH MOM (Oka-san to Issho). They had different programs Monday through Saturday and I was in charge of Saturday’s LETS MAKE GOOD THINGS (Iimono Tsukurou).
Q: Did you encounter any difficulties while composing music for such programs?
NK: Making the music wasn’t difficult. I was actually a music teacher after graduating from college. I had steady pay so living was stable. When it comes to mass media jobs, it doesn’t work that way. You wouldn’t be able eat if your work load decreases. So when commercial or mass media jobs gradually increased, I couldn’t keep up both teaching and composing. I was tormented to either take stability or adventure. I chose adventure. So that time was constantly accompanied by risk. I still have that habit.
Q: You were acquainted with Tatsunoko Productions from SPACE ACE. Did that help in getting the job to do MACH GO GO GO next from Tatsunoko Productions?
NK: Yes. They probably heard the music from SPACE ACE and thought it’d be okay, so then they let us work on MACH GO GO GO and HONEYBEE HUTCH…
Q: And how was the music planning done?
NK: The majority of the time, there is the script, the conte (continuity storyboards), and then the recorded film. The film isn’t a final version and only has parts of the content that tells you what kind of scene would be put in. The length, however, is already decided such as in how many seconds they would flip over or in a few seconds the fighting will start. So we planned with the director to include their requests while looking at the entire scene.
Q: Was the recording done while projecting the scene on a screen?
NK: There were times when we did that, but we also did it sometimes by using only a stopwatch. The difficult scenes that had changes in tempo, we would project it on a screen. If used that method for the entire thing, it would be time consuming.
Q: For the music that changed in tempo drastically, did you rehearse a few times for recording?
Q: And you personally conducted?
NK: Yes. We had a professional conductor at that time, but it was faster if I did it myself.
Q: Did you have any hardships when putting together the music with the pictures?
NK: There were some restrictions, but after a certain point you get used to it. Like which beat has an accent in this measure, or from this measure we would make the music faster. It was done fairly simple.
Q: In regards to the method of creating the music for MACH GO GO GO, there was music recorded for each episode and not as much reliance on stock tapes. This is a very rare technique. Whose idea was it?
NK: It was either the director at the Music Planning Center or the director from Tatsunoko Productions. I just followed the method. I thought it was normal to record music for every episode.
Q: MACH GO GO GO was supposedly made with intentions of being seen in foreign countries by Tatsunoko Productions from the beginning. Was the music made with his intention as well?
NK: I was not aware of that intent, so I did not think about that. As a result though, it was a huge hit in the US as SPEED RACER. The US staff members re-worked my songs in English.
Q: Was there anything in particular you were conscious of in regards to style?
NK: Not really. It was more of writing what I wanted to write.
Q: Please tell me if you were influenced by any genre or artist?
NK: A song called “Star Dust” got me interested in jazz music. The way the harmony flowed was completely different from what I learned in college. I was probably fascinated by that and it lead to my interest in jazz. I also like Burt Bacharach. Composers in the US typically only make the melody and then someone else arranges it. Bacharach, however, arranged music himself. He is very good at it too especially the way he uses the brass.
Q: So what have you been up to lately?
NK: I like stage and theater music. There are many talented chorus groups in different areas such as what you would call the people’s musical and children’s chorus. I make music for those kinds of fixed musical performance groups. I like original music, but I also like arranging it my way. I’ve arranged music for PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, A CHORUS LINE, and things like that for the children’s chorus group.
Q: Is there any message you would like to send to listeners of SPEED RACER (MACH GO GO GO) MUSIC FILE?
NK: I attended the University of Fine Arts, but I don’t think of myself as an artist. I see myself as an entertainer. Entertainment means to entertain customers, right? So, in my case, the goal is to satisfy the customers listening to my songs. If people enjoy listening to this album, I am very happy.”
THE MUSIC OF SPEED RACER NOW
SPEED RACER (2008) is a unique movie in that the actors were pretty much some of the only live action elements in the highly stylized CGI renderings that cradle the movie. There are many things that can make or break a movie that is so stylized. Actors will often recall the difficulty of performing to a blue (or green) screen in big special effects movies.
Another aspect of this is music. With the subject matter being speed, racing, and with plenty of eye candy, the producers could have easily opted to go with a more “hip” and modern approach. They could have hired the latest Hans Zimmer clone to come along from Remote Control Productions (TRANSFORMERS and IRON MAN, anyone?) to produce something more “mainstream” (which usually involves generic rock beats and the recycling of past Zimmer scores). Instead, they wisely chose to have a score, which would play to the images on screen, and be traditional yet modern in its own right and for this they chose the right guy.
Michael Giacchino developed quite a fan base with his unique score to the television show LOST (in which he incorporated parts from a plane fuselage as instruments) and has been making a name for himself over the last number of years with scores to Pixar films like THE INCREDIBLES and RATATOUILLE as well as more straightforward fare such as THE FAMILY STONE. Many genre fans are already enamored with his music that accompanied the end credits to CLOVERFIELD and he is set to score J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK (2009). Already being a fan of Speed Racer, it would be hard to think of another modern composer whose quirky and unique style could have fit this movie better. A few do come to mind, but alas there is no need to consider the possibilities.
What is immediately apparent upon the listening to the opening notes is that Giacchino embraced the idea of including the classic and very popular Speed Racer theme into his own music. For a film composer, having to adapt or in this case interpolate is a rather thankless job. No matter how good of a job you do, you will never be able to satisfy the hardcore fans who cannot accept anything but a note for note reprise. For them, disappointment will abound no matter what they are given.
Thankfully, Michael Giacchino put all that out of his mind and did his own inspired and rather loving rendition of the “Speed Racer Theme” (Track 20) which even samples some of the original themes both US and Japanese. A modern take on a classic, it still has that same great, breezy, surf rock feel and tempo but is obviously given a Giacchino spin. Things are going to be updated no doubt, but this is a prime example of being respectful to the source material while refreshing the flavor. You can’t reinvent the wheel, but you can put new treads on it. This track certainly has some great treads.
The incidental score in the movie is also quite good. The action is fast, and the music is fitting. Of course, you will hear those familiar “HERE HE COMES, HERE COMES SPEED RACER” musical notes throttling in and about where appropriate. There is a great mix of traditional orchestra with some modern chorale work and elements of rock peppered in. Track 4, “TRAGIC STORY OF REX RACER” is a nice example of this. If you want action, go for track 17, “GRAND OL’ PRIX”. If you want something easy on the ears, go for the reflective track 7, “RACING’S IN OUR BLOOD”. The music is indeed outside the box at times but also well within the style that we have all come to know and love with Speed Racer.
Overall, the score soundtrack to the new movie is a pleasant and exciting listening experience. Fans may be disappointed a bit that there aren’t as many big and boisterous themes such as in THE INCREDIBLES, but the score delivers what the movie requires and still leaves room for enjoyment on its own merits. It is well worth picking up either at your local music or online retailer or via digital download from iTunes. The book jacket even features some cool photos and a warm dedication from Michael Giacchino to Nobuyoshi Koshibe.
SPEED RACER (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SCORE)
MUSIC BY MICHAEL GIACCHINO
VARESE SARABANDE 302 066 898 2
RELEASE DATE: MAY 6th, 2008
1) I AM SPEED (:37)
2) WORLD’S BEST AUTOPIA (1:15)
3) THUNDERHEAD (3:07)
4) TRAGIC STORY OF REX RACER (4:49)
5) VROOM AND BOARD (3:38)
6) WORLD’S WORST ROAD RAGE (2:41)
7) RACING’S IN OUR BLOOD (1:52)
8) TRUE HEART OF RACING (4:05)
9) CASA CRISTO (4:02)
10) END OF THE FIRST LEG (2:20)
11) TAEJO TURNS TRIXIE (1:37)
12) BUMPER TO BUMPER, RAIL TO RAIL (3:07)
13) THE MALTESE ICE CAVE (2:04)
14) GO SPEED, GO! (1:24)
15) HE AIN’T HEAVY (1:45)
16) 32 HOURS (3:49)
17) GRAND OL’ PRIX (6:13)
18) REBOOT (3:08)
19) LET US DRINK MILK (4:33)
20) SPEED RACER (4:21)
For more information on both the original SPEED RACER and the new Warner Brothers’ motion picture please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- Here He Comes! Here Comes SPEED RACER!
- Part 1: Go Speed Go! A Series Overview
- Part 2: Racers Start Your Engines! How it All Began
- Part 3: Speed Racer is Born! MACH GO GO GO Comes to the U.S.
- SPEED RACER Production Notes
- SPEED RACER: Interview with Rain
- First 7 Minutes of SPEED RACER
- Part 4: The Aftermath of Speed: Remakes and Sequels
- Part 5: Speed Racer Now!