06th Dec2012

Play It Again, Karone: A Look Back On 20 Years of Power Rangers Music

by Will

Unless you’re new here, you know I like Power Rangers. Heck, if you are new here, that’s probably how you found me. My love has tapered over the years, but it has yet to fully be extinguished. In honor of this weekend’s finale of Power Rangers Samurai/Super Samurai, I decided it would be a good time to look at an important aspect of the franchise that is often overlooked: the music. While many came for the martial arts and “untrained” acting, I always loved the music. I’ve come to realize that there are seasons I love with theme songs I hate, just as there are seasons I hate with theme songs that I love. I thought we should rank them in order of worst to best, and discuss them. What makes me credible to do this? Well, I played piano, sang, took music theory…I know a thing or two about the mechanics of music. Plus, If there’s one thing I’ve learned about lists, it’s that you don’t have to be right. Simply, “if you build it, they will come”. Let’s get started, shall we?

15) Power Rangers RPM

 

So, remember how I said there were seasons I loved with music I hated? This is the best (or worst?) example. RPM is my all time favorite season because it’s what I like to refer to as Disney’s “Screw It Season”. After acquiring the franchise from Saban, The House of Mouse never quite knew what to do with Power Rangers. They had already decided to end production, and were testing a Power Rangers animated pilot. What we got was an older, darker Power Rangers – kicked off by the annihilation of most of the human race! Disney clearly didn’t care anymore, and that’s nowhere more present than in this music. That’s not a theme song for Power Rangers. If anything, it’s from some one-season syndicated sci fi show that probably starred Greg Evigan or Michael Biehn.

14) Power Rangers Mystic Force

13) Power Rangers Operation Overdrive

These are problematic for one key reason: Disney specifically requested demos in a “Black Eyed Peas” style. Now, I’ve always felt that the driving force of PR music is the fact that it’s dated, but in a good way. The best hails from power rock, shredding on the guitar. Even if the MMPR song sounded dated in 1993, you knew what it was trying to evoke. Disney was about to make these themes dated by the time the shows aired. They simply don’t work.

The biggest problem with the Operation Overdrive theme is that it doesn’t respect the “Go”. Power Rangers music scholars will point out that the emphatic “Go” is a common and important aspect of most PR themes, but there’s a proper way to use it. This is not the way.

Possibly related – I’ve never seen an entire episode of either of these seasons.

12) Power Rangers Jungle Fury

I actually don’t hate this one. The main problem is the dated sound mentioned above. If you’re going to go for “popular”, try to go for something timeless. This is reminiscent of stuff like Forever The Sickest Kids. Sure, they were on folks’ radar a few years back, but when’s the last time you heard of them?

11) Power Rangers Dino Thunder

This just didn’t do it for me. I think I wanted something a little more special. In many ways, this was like a homecoming season. The show celebrated its 15th anniversary, there was a multiseason crossover, and we got the return of perennial Ranger, Tommy Oliver. This was like Disney’s reboot of the original MMPR concept – colorful dinos and badass Tommy. This would’ve been a great opportunity for the MMPR remix we eventually got in Samurai. This theme just didn’t acknowledge the legacy, which we’ll talk about later.

10) Power Rangers Wild Force

Remember Disney’s Screw It Season? Well, this was Saban’s. I guess talks had already begun to sell to Disney, making this the worst series and theme of the original Saban era. Still, it’s miles ahead of the worst songs of the Disney era!

9) Power Rangers Time Force

8) Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue

7) Power Rangers Lost Galaxy

These three are bunched together because they share a lot of similarities. First off, they’re not very good songs, vocally – even by Power Rangers standards. What they share, however, is the fact that they all are built on incredible instrumental backbones. They all feature this odd synthesis between electric guitar and punctuated bells. The guitar work is reminiscent of the earlier themes, even though the chords aren’t as epic. Still, the instrumental aspect is almost a more mature version of the stuff we got in the Mighty Morphin days.

6) Power Rangers Ninja Storm

Remember how I mentioned that there’s a proper way to respect the “Go”? This song gets it. A little context: this was the first fully Disney-produced season. They needed to set the tone and start out with a bang. I love how the theme just kicks you in the face with “GO!” slightly off the beat. The guitars crank, and it has a sense of urgency.

5) Power Rangers SPD

Here it is: the highest ranking theme from the Disney era. Why? Because this was the return of original Ranger composer, Ron Wasserman, AKA The Mighty RAW. It sounds like it was left over from his MMPR sessions and I LOVE IT. Keep in mind, this is the sound that defined the series. His music was the backbone of every season up until In Space, which is THE definitive arc of the Power Rangers franchise. This was the kind of throwback sound that Dino Thunder could’ve used, but I’m glad we got it whenever we got it.

4) Power Rangers In Space

This may actually be the weakest offering from The Mighty RAW. It’s not that’s it’s bad, but its quality depends more on context, without the ability to stand on its own. As I said before, this is basically the final chapter of Power Rangers Book One. All the Zordon stuff and power transfers and whatnot culminate in this season. Knowing that going in, it kinda makes it more epic. On its own however, it’s decent, but not Wasserman’s best.

3) Power Rangers Turbo

2) Power Rangers ZEO

These 2 right here are the bees knees. They are indicative of everything Wasserman was capable of doing. One of the driving forces behind new PR themes in the early days was that they not only indicated a sense of urgency, but they also, lyrically, stressed the fact that things were about to be taken to the next level. It’s the kind of sentiment that gives toy executives boners: “Make them think these suits and zords are even more powerful so they’ll just HAVE to own them!” A lot of this was lost once Power Rangers switched to the more Sentai-like model of changing actors/powers/zords every season. You couldn’t really say “these Rangers are more powerful than the last” because A) they were all basically on the same level at that point and B) it’s a marketing tactic you can only pull so many times without squandering the goodwill you’ve built up with your audience. The newer model allows for easier access to new viewers, but it’s not a hard model to understand: pretty teens/grads wear spandex and fight aliens. Sometimes they drive robots shaped like things that connect to form bigger things. Still, in those days, if you were an early adopter, each season was like they were cranking it to 11, and there was an ebb and flow. Their old powers wouldn’t be strong enough for newer foes, so they got new ones to become stronger than before. And the music reflected that. Plus, on just a chord level, there is some amazing stuff in these songs. Check out the “Go!” scale in the Turbo theme. It hits, then there’s a crescendo, and then it descends in a minor scale. I mean, just from a music theory standpoint, that’s impressive. Plus, they’re all just variations on a theme. At the core, you can hear that they’re both simply built off of the Mighty Morphin theme. So, just like the powers, he was augmenting the music. Incredible.

1) Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

This is number 1 because it started it all. It’s a dated sound, yet it captures the spirit of Power Rangers. I think that’s a lot of why Saban brought it back with Power Rangers Samurai. At the end of the day, it all comes back to this. Everyone knows “Go Go Power Rangers”, but it was also interesting how the song was actually used. You see, during the first season, we really only got the first verse. Then, when they got the Thunder Zords in the second season, that’s when we learned there was a second verse. And that was the beginning of the whole “each new musical introduction ramps up from the last” thing. Sure, the longer theme allowed for a slower Megazord transformation, thus selling more toys, but it also kinda put the spotlight on what the whole Power Rangers thing is about: They know that the fate of the world if lying in their hands. They know to only use their weapons for defense. And that guitar solo at the bridge? JAY-sus!

So, there ya have it: a look back on the evolution of Power Rangers theme songs. In the end, I found that you can’t do better than the original, but if you keep it in mind, you can still make some wonderful sounds. Who knows what the future holds. Will we find out there’s a THIRD verse for the Mighty Morphin theme if it’s attached to Power Rangers Megaforce next season? Only time will tell. But it wouldn’t be the worst idea…