The Music of Maniac Mansion (NES)

The NES port of Maniac Mansion is a game that's very near and dear to me, and a huge part of my love for the game is it's unique soundtrack. It's unique to the NES version, and at first it was going to be a mostly silent game like it was on the C64 and Amiga, with only a small handful of arrangements. However, Nintendo wanted the game to have wall-to-wall music, so they agreed to a contract extension. The game's sole sound person, David Warhol, reached out to composers he had met in his life and work, consisting of George Sanger and Team FAT, as well as jazz-fusion musician Dave Hayes, and the rest is history.

Today, we explore this game's unique soundtrack, and just kinda bask in the fact that four of the six musicians associated with it are named David. All YouTube videos are courtesy of the channel explod2A03, who post a lot of unique and underappreciated retro game music.

Maniac Theme

Composers: Chris Grigg, David Lawrence, David Warhol

Here is a link to a video of the intro proper. Sadly I couldn't find a version with the complete song or decent audio. The version below is the best I've found, but only has audio in the right ear. I'm merely using it as supplementary content to show how it's used in-game; all timestamps will be referring to the OST video to the right.

But yes, this is the intro theme to the game, and it really sets the tone for the experience you're about to have. This is an arrangement of the song originally made for the C64/Amiga version of the game, as credited to Chris Grigg and David Lawrence, but translated to the 2A03 by David Warhol. If you're not familiar with Warhol's unique sound design, this is a great introduction to it.

The way there's a beat after the meteor lands and the drums kick in while the lights in the mansion start turning on is a great touch. Right away you'll start hearing that cool duty-swapping pulse bass this game is known for. Then after some nice dissonant notes, a really nice touch. Listen to the way the note fades out at 0:17. This is a combination of volume decay with the 2A03's hardware sweep pitch bends. You'll be hearing this effect a lot in this OST.

At 0:30 is the song's main melody, fleshed out quite a bit from the original version on the C64, replacing the chirpy call-and-response notes with an extension of the melody. Then it goes into a bass and percussion loop before abruptly ending (which is fine, since we've been on the CSS for a while now and we've probably already started listening to character themes).

The Boys Are Still Back (by Fat Patty) Composer: Dave Hayes

While we did just talk about Maniac Theme, I would argue THIS is the true main theme of the game. Dave is the leader of the bunch, and you'll know him well because he's the only party member that is mandatory. But that's OK because he has arguably one of the catchiest and most interesting songs in the game.

The song was very clearly inspired by Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town", as evidenced by it's name, and follows a similar style and chord progression as well. The pop-rock vibe of the song fits well as a main character theme; energetic and fun, but accessible.

The way the song progresses is something I love about it. It starts off very simple with some chords, with any melodic structure being carried by the bass line. Then around 0:10, you get the main melody. This beautiful melody in the key of A major, accompanied by a rhythmic bass line and percussion, topped off by a cool triangle-wave arpeggio. I might be biased towards A major, but this is honestly one of my favorite melodies in any song, ever. It hits this really satisfying melancholy tone, but it knows when to pull back and not resolve in a cliche way.

Then around 0:30, you get into the blues-ier part of the song, and this is where the lead guitar (well, lead pulse wave) starts to get a little more free-form. Listen to the way the melody gradually becomes more complicated and ornate in this section. It starts off low and slow, playing along to the chords with a couple little flourishes, but then around 0:44, the song starts going into full guitar solo territory (spoiler alert, it stays in this territory until the end of the song, and it slaps).

At the 1:00 minute mark, the song circles back to the same backing from earlier, but the guitar solo is still going, now starting to seamlessly complement the new chord progression it's been introduced to. At about 1:10, it begins to crescendo, with the guitar licks becoming so fast that they're now trilling, then concluding by going right back to the simple chords from the beginning. It's SUCH a satisfying journey!

No No Never Never Well Maybe Sure OK (by The Void)

Composer: George Sanger

A punk rock song for a punk rock girl? Novel! Give it a chance and you'll go slam dance, because this song does a really good job of capturing that punk rock spirit. Maybe even a little too good of a job...

It starts off playing a simple chord progression with the classic downstroke-style that you associate with punk rock. Then at 0:10, you get what are supposed to be the "vocals". Many people think this sounds like a car horn, and certainly it can be repetitive, maybe even annoying to some, but maybe that's the point. 0:21-0:32 is a solid breakdown, the percussion really works here, but it's the part after that which really makes this song fun: the guitar solo. Distinctly different from the one in The Boys Are Still Back, this one doesn't try to carry a melody as much, rather going for a more frantic rocker energy.

There really wasn't much to talk about with this one. The composition is pretty simple, but still cool.

Comp-U-Nerd (by The Rocket Scientists)

Composer: David Govett