VGM Entry 38: Follin’s Ghouls’n Ghosts
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)
Even as the Sega Genesis was coming into its own and the Super Nintendo was on the verge of release, Tim Follin reappeared to give the “old systems” a final touch of perfection. Though his non-ZX Spectrum works immediately following the 1987 Bionic Commando arrangement were fairly insignificant, he had learned a lot (not to mention ceased to be a teenager). By 1989 he was ready to take on the world, and put to the task of reworking the Ghouls’n Ghosts (Capcom) soundtrack for the Amiga and Commodore 64, he suffered a stroke of genius which few have yet to match.
This is the title theme to Ghouls’n Ghosts for the Amiga, released in 1988. Enjoy it.
Even the tracks which were not originally his took on a whole new life. With all due respect to Tamayo Kawamoto, Tim Follin’s work on the Commodore 64 rendition of “Stage Two” was a drastic improvement. From the very get-go, Kawamoto’s oompa tuba and staccato flute are replaced by a booming four-note bass line and a much smoother flute tone. The song exhibits delicious dynamics, with the flute sounding out loud for the first two seconds and then immediately quieting down to make room for a wavy, ghost-tone main melody line decisively more appropriate for the theme of the game than Kawamoto’s clarinet. Kawamoto’s counterpoint on the repeat isn’t entirely convincing, and after one time through the song transitions. Follin avoids layering the melody entirely, perhaps out of necessity, but the creativity of his additional repeats and the awkward yet delightful added percussion more than compensate. Limited in the number of tracks he could produce, Follin had no hope of replicating the second half of the song on a C64, so after faithfully playing out the lower track he just took off into his own imaginative world, leaving Kawamoto behind altogether from about the 1 minute mark on. Where Kawamoto’s entire song loops at 54 seconds, Follin’s is extended to a two and a half minutes and doesn’t loop at all, fading out as a completed piece before starting over.
The music to Level 5 on the Commodore 64 is another Follin original, and it kicks off with enough amplifier worship to make Sunn O))) proud. Unlike pretty much all of his previous works, Follin’s original tracks in Ghouls’n Ghosts exhibit a sense of awareness of the game itself. He wasn’t about to let the needs of the game hold him back, but he was for once shaping his music around an appropriate theme. Follin maintains the relativity until 1:18, at which point we’re suddenly treated to an Emerson Lake & Palmer progressive rockout. The soft distortion in the background of the whistle starting at 1:58 is just brilliant, if by now completely out of touch with the game. It briefly reminds me of foggy seaside songs like Jeremy Soule’s “Pirates of Crustacia” (Secret of Evermore, Square, 1995).
Make what you will of the “End Theme” track which follows. It’s nothing to brag about, but it’s part of the package. I think the “Hi-Score” tune wrapping up the video more than compensates.
So there’s perhaps your first encounter with Tim Follin outside of the ZX Spectrum. He’s by no means forgotten, but not overwhelmingly famous either. His work on Bionic Commando 1987 made a loud statement, and his ZX Spectrum works stand in a league of their own on the system, but the Commodore 64 and Amiga arrangements of Ghouls’n Ghosts are what really brought him into full form for the first time and cemented his place in history. He would never surpass his accomplishments in 1989, in my opinion, but he would maintain an impressively high standard for many years to come, and he would excel on a more diverse range of systems than most any other composer in the business.