In 1998, I was trying to rebuild my music collection. We had a house fire over the summer, so I pretty much lost everything.
One day at Fred Meyer, my mom told me to go pick out two CDs from the electronics department. I instantly chose Powertrip by Monster Magnet, as “Space Lord” was my summer jam that year. It was instantly appealing to my then-13-year-old brain. I still love all of Monster Magnet’s first four records. Any band that lets their Hawkwind influence shine through so much will always have lasting appeal to me.
But another CD caught my eye, too. It featured a buff-looking Mega Man on the cover, accompanied by his loyal robot dog pal Rush. It was the soundtrack to the Ruby-Spears Mega Man cartoon.
When I picked up the CD, I only really recognized Skid Row and Sugar Ray on the track listing, but that was enough for me. It came home with me that day.
The CD featured a collection of songs that were used in the ending credits of season 2 episodes. I’ve never seen much of the show, but I remember the toys looking pretty cool. I was also a big fan of the video games and their music.
Since this is an obscure release that means a lot to me, I thought I’d do a retrospective on it and go track by track. Destructoid previously released a writeup on the album, but I found it to be both dismissive and petty. I want to look at the actual songs and see how they hold up and how they (absolutely do not) work in the context of Mega Man.
I also didn’t buy the actual CD again. It tends to sell for at least $30 (if not way more) on eBay, and I don’t want to support Amazon. Also, the only CD player I own is in my car. So we’ll use YouTube instead.
If you’d like to save the full YouTube playlist, you can find it here.
Feel free to listen to each song as you read my blurb about the track– I hope you find something you like!
Track 1: The Hollowbodies – “Driver”
The Mega Man Soundtrack starts off with a bang. “Driver” is a driving, uptempo poppy punk song in the best possible way. The simple, sharp guitar sting on the verses is unforgettable and the main riff is a charging little chug that every 90s Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph band wishes they wrote.
When I say poppy punk, I don’t mean Screeching Weasel or the Mr. T Experience. I also don’t mean Blink-182, Good Charlotte, or Green Day. This is more akin to punk that’s been badly damaged by power pop, in the vein of Sugar, mid-period Replacements, The Lemonheads, or early Soul Asylum.
Like almost every song on the soundtrack, this number has absolutely nothing to do with our hapless little 8-bit robot friend or his Saturday morning cartoon adventures. It is such a fiercely rollicking little tune, though, that you can easily imagine Dr. Light’s Favorite Child running and blasting through those little hardhat guys and demonic mecha-caterpillars while the song plays. In that sense, it’s a perfect fit.
I’d never heard of The Hollowbodies before buying this CD. Unless you were deep into the Virginia alternative rock scene of the 90s, you’re probably not aware of them either. “Driver” appeared on their 1995 album Lame, though the album version is a different, more laid back recording. I just listened to the rest of that record, and it’s overall much more midtempo power pop than it is punk, with the exception of one other total banger.
I also listened to a bit of their second album, Viva La Dregs, and it settles much more into Americana, folk rock, and more subdued forms of power pop. It was not to my tastes, but this version of “Driver” is a perfect opening to this weird little CD.
You can read more about the band here.
Track 2: Skid Row – “Eileen”
As I mentioned in the intro, Skid Row was one of the main reasons why I bought this CD as a kid. I knew “18 and Life” and “Youth Gone Wild” from the classic rock radio station my mom listened to all the time. I’ve since revisited Skid Row and given them an honest listen, and I think they (along with Motley Crue and, to some extent, WASP) are the most razor-edged band that emerged from the 80s mega-rock scene that formed around shallow long-haired men who wore makeup to be ironic. Skid Row was never a hair metal band, of course, but they were certainly hair metal-adjacent.
If you need proof of Skid Row’s bonafides before you embark upon the journey that is “Eileen,” I strongly recommend checking out this live version of “Riot Act” from 1991. Skid Row was great in the early 90s.
“Eileen” doesn’t come from their intense, face-melting second album Slave to the Grind. Instead, it comes from 1995’s Subhuman Race, which was deeply affected by grunge, no matter what Sebastian Bach might tell you. “Eileen” is a moody, swirling song that cuts a deliberate pace. You can feel the Alice in Chains and Soundgarden churning around in the band’s drums and guitars, which works surprisingly well with Bach’s various vocal dramas.
The song does an excellent job of painting a mental portrait of a woman who twirls around in the woods and talks to trees. The lyrics build her up to be some mercurial supernatural force that the song’s narrator is at least slightly afraid of. Which is to say, of course, that it has fuck all to do with Mega Man.
But if the Ruby-Spears Mega Man cartoon needed a song to soundtrack the Blue Bomber walking slowly through a spooky forest or investigating a mystery, “Eileen” would be a perfect choice. This song is a total joy and I am still captivated by it to this day. The ending alone would have made this song a grunge radio classic, had those stations been more open to Skid Row.
So far, the Mega Man Soundtrack is off to a great start.
Track 3: Smile – “She”
If Skid Row’s song was the token “metal” song on the soundtrack, even if it was more grunge than metal, then “She” by Smile is the actual token grunge song on this record. Smile were an Orange County “grunge” band from the early 1990s. I’d never heard of them when I first bought this CD, and I’ve never heard or learned anything about them since. They do have a full Wikipedia page, though (and thank god, because their name is not SEO-friendly) and seem to have their fair share of fans. They also share(d) a member with stoner rock skate freaks Fu Manchu, which is laudable.
“She” comes from their 1995 album Maquee, and it’s fairly representative of that record as a whole. The album is probably more “post-grunge” than “grunge,” as it’s more of that Silverchair or Bush kind of sound than it is a Nirvana or Mudhoney type sound. The band is much more blues and psychedelic rock based than most of their mid-90s rock peers, but I don’t see that as a good thing. Some of the songs reminded me a little bit of Treepeople, though, which I enjoyed. This one is particularly good.
“She” itself is not bad. It’s got a fairly memorable riff, but it relies too heavily on predictable vocal hooks and a white 20-something’s version of the blues. The song is both kind of mediocre and way too long. It clocks in at over 5 minutes, when a solid 3:15 would have been just fine. The vocals do break into a passionate growl at some point, which is probably the best part of the track.
Other than easily being available via the larger Atlantic Records catalog, I’m not sure why this particular song was chosen for Mega Man. I could see it fitting into an action scene or a one-on-one brawl (like that memorable scene in They Live, but with small cartoon robots), but this track is the first dip in quality The Mega Man Soundtrack exhibits.
Track 4: Sugar Ray – “Iron Mic”
Sugar Ray was the other band I actually recognized when I originally bought this CD. “Fly” was all over the radio in 1997, and one of my friends bought Floored, the album that song came from. We listened to it fairly often. “Fly” is a serious outlier on Floored, as it’s the only poppy, radio-friendly song among a bunch of meathead punk, sleazy nu metal, and frankly embarrassing rap rock songs.
This soundtrack came out before “Fly” did, though. “Iron Mic” comes from Lemonade and Brownies, the band’s first record. And, since the band was named Shrinky Dinx before they had to change their name to Sugar Ray, that album is exactly what you’d expect. It’s seriously juvenile, but has some pretty fun stuff on it. People like to categorize Sugar Ray’s pre-pop era stuff as just “nu metal,” but they were really a melting pot of Southern California Bro-Punk, funk metal, and bad rap rock. They even did some memorable-in-a-bad-way soul and R&B pastiches. I actually highly recommend checking out the video for “Mean Machine,” which perfectly illustrates the kind of band Sugar Ray was before “Fly” changed them forever. It’s also low-key kind of a bop.
“Iron Mic” is an interesting song because of the radio pop powerhouse that Sugar Ray would become once they decided to change their sound. This early song is a perfectly listenable piece of forgettable rap metal that probably checked a certain box for the person who compiled this soundtrack. It’s also about how Mark McGrath wants to set Mike Tyson free, which probably hadn’t aged well even in 1995. Also I am not sure if the “Kick Ass!” refrain in the chorus is half-censored or not, but we all know what he’s saying. Naughty naughty.
Rap rock is a genre perfectly suited for children, so I understand why this song is on a Mega Man Soundtrack. “Iron Mic” is easy to listen to and awakens the urge to throw a couch cushion at one of my friends, which will inevitably break his glasses. Sorry, Ryan.
Track 5: Junior M.A.F.I.A. – “Realms of Junior M.A.F.I.A. Pt. 2”
This song is dope. It also belongs nowhere near a cartoon robot soundtrack for 8 year olds. Despite doing their best to censor the song, the people who put the soundtrack together missed fun little words and phrases like “blunt,” “dick,” “getting high,” and “your girl’s slobbing me” (thanks for corralling all of those for me, Destructoid).
“Realms of Junior M.A.F.I.A. Pt 2” is also an interesting historical artifact. ”Pt 2” was released both as a B-Side to the “I Need You Tonight” single and for The Mega Man Soundtrack. It’s a remix and reordering of “Realms of Junior M.A.F.I.A.” from the group’s debut album Conspiracy. But this version on The Mega Man Soundtrack includes Lil’ Kim’s full verse, which was cut for the regular album release. It also totally cuts out Lil’ Kim’s intro from the original song, so we’ll have to ask Big Momma how she feels about the whole thing. Please feel free to leave me a note in the comments, Kim.
Lil’ Kim’s verse is incredible and it’s worth this soundtrack’s price of admission on its own. This song functions as this CD’s obligatory rap song, but the corporate heads did a good job in picking out Junior M.A.F.I.A. from Atlantic’s artist stable. Rap was justifiably becoming the biggest genre in the world in 1995, and the Notorious B.I.G.-mentored Junior M.A.F.I.A. was a great choice for inclusion. This song goes extremely hard.
Kids in 1995 were probably stoked about this song being on the soundtrack, but it’s kind of the “odd one out” in every possible way. And it lets us in on one very interesting fact– Mega Man always loved East Coast the most.
Track 6: Machines of Loving Grace – “Tryst”
Machines of Loving Grace were yet another band I’d never heard of when I got this CD. And I hadn’t really looked into them more until doing research for this article. But they were a surprisingly popular industrial rock band in their time and their frontman Scott Benzel is responsible for a vast amount of cool art. Seriously, the dude does not fuck around. He’s a renowned visual artist and composer, a respected curator, a teacher, and a 90s industrial hunk all in one package.
Peering into this band’s back catalog sent me reeling. They are fantastic. Their signature anthem “Butterfly Wings” is the Platonic Ideal of 90s industrial rock. It fires on every imaginable cylinder. They also had a song on The Crow Soundtrack, which I somehow never realized. But I’ve never claimed to be a credible goth.
“Tryst” is only barely an industrial song. It’s more what we’d probably consider “alternative metal,” but it is a haunting slab of aggressive bass, guitars that both chime and chug, and eerie virtuoso vocals. Benzel’s croon effortlessly shapeshifts around the song’s loud-quiet-spooky dynamics, resulting in an unimpeachable 90s rock classic.
I was a bit older than the target audience for The Mega Man Soundtrack when I got it in 1998, but I imagine the line “Angels bleed easy” was maybe a bit too intense for some 8 year olds in 1995 when this disc came out.
Still, this song is cinematic enough that it could probably fit on any 90s movie soundtrack without much effort. This is one of the best songs on the entire cartoon robot album.
Track 7: Extra Fancy – “Sinnerman”
When I first heard this soundtrack, I was unaware of “Sinnerman”’s legacy as both an African-American spiritual and a hit for Les Baxter, the lily-white Texan hero of 50s swing, easy listening, and exotica. When I heard Extra Fancy’s version of “Sinnerman,” I only heard a rousing, breakneck punk song.
As a kid, this was my favorite song on the soundtrack. The intense riffage and gruff-but-clean vocals posed the question “what if Social Distortion actually played fast and hard instead of being sad they weren’t a country band?”
I’ve since learned more about Extra Fancy. The band’s singer, Brian Grillo, was one of the few openly gay people in punk or alternative music in the mid 90s. And was certainly the only gay punk singer signed to Atlantic Records. Also, before Extra Fancy he played in a band called Lock Up with Tom Morello.
If you watch the original video for “Sinnerman” (slightly NSFW), it becomes clear how subversive this song is. If we take the famous Les Baxter version into consideration, the song and video play heavily with the concept of sin and how gay men were viewed in mainstream America in 1995. This is some baller shit.
One of my childhood friends thought Extra Fancy’s version of “Sinnerman” was a Christian punk song, so he always made fun of it. Of course there was no way for us to know about Extra Fancy’s actual legacy back in 1998, search engines were rudimentary at best back then.
I’m not saying the Extra Fancy version of “Sinnerman” beats out Nina Simone’s or anything, but this is a fantastic song. I see why it’s on The Mega Man Soundtrack, as it checks the box for “punk” and the lyrics themselves are quite safe for the average child, at least in a fire and brimstone kind of way. But when you look under the hood and understand the actual context of the song, it’s probably a bit too dangerous for our favorite 6-bit android and his fan club.
Also, you can read the huge fucking bummer of a story about what actually happened to Extra Fancy here.
Track 8: CIV – “So Far, So Good… So What”
Talk about a legendary punk band. Not only is CIV in Walter Schreifels’ huge stable of musical projects, but they were champions who continued the “Posi” movement, which aimed to combat the negativity, violence, misogyny, and homophobia found in many straight edge and hardline punk bands and their associated scenes. CIV shares members with Quicksand, Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, and Judge– which is to say that Walter Schreifels was in the band.
This is a fun, uptempo 90s punk song that’s catchy as hell. This song could fit pretty effortlessly into the first 3 Rancid albums, which is probably the highest compliment I can pay to any punk song. Of course Anthony Civarelli is much better at traditionally enunciating words than Tim Armstrong ever was, but my point still stands. Civarelli does sound a little bit like Lars, though.
This song is a pretty easy fit for The Mega Man Soundtrack. It’s memorable, positive, and fast-driving. It’s all about self improvement and being confident in yourself. And Mega Man is mostly about self improvement and confidence, in the end. Otherwise why would he waste so much time trying to farm E-Tanks?
Track 9: Mr. Big – “Take Cover”
Mr. Big is one of the more recognizable bands on this CD. Unfortunately, they’re still Mr. Big.
I will say that “Take Cover” is nowhere near as corny and schlocky as “To Be with You” is. It also doesn’t quite inspire me to visit Mr. Big’s back-catalog. Fans of the band insist they’re a “metal band, actually” but I can’t get past the hardened outer layer of cheese in order to verify that claim.
The song’s main palm-muted lead guitar line is pretty nice. The rolling drums are also admittedly not bad. But this song’s beak is writing a drama check that its cloaca can’t cash. It wants to be a big, epic affair but is instead just an ordinary Monster Ballad. This is a song you’d hear playing in someone’s lift-kitted F-150 after they got rejected by an old flame at a bar called Hal’s We-Won’t-Tell-Your-Wife Bar and Grill.
Your mileage may vary, but I am not into this song at all. It is a safe, sentimental little slice of hair rock, though, so I can see why the Mega Man execs chose it.
Track 10: The Bucketheads – “Got Myself Together”
When I was a kid, “Got Myself Together” was a track I’d always skip, but I like it much more now. The song is a delightful little slice of electro-funk with heavy house leanings. Which makes sense as Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez, the brains behind The Bucketheads, is one half of the legendary Masters at Work production team.
I’m by no means an expert on house music, or even most electronic music in general, but this is a fun and breezy song. I’d be stoked to hear it on a Neurolux DJ night.
This is also one of the few songs on The Mega Man Soundtrack that would work effortlessly in the context of the show. Put it over literally any action scene, and that scene is going to be memorable. Of course the song only existed in the show’s ending credits, but my point remains salient.
Track 11: Inner Circle – “Signs, I Can’t Take It”
I’m not the world’s biggest reggae fan. In general it’s a genre I don’t get very excited about, with a few exceptions like Burning Spear and Lee Perry. This song is both atmospheric and anthemic in the exact right ways that it just hits a perfect note for me, though. I’ve loved it since the first time I heard it.
“Signs, I Can’t Take It” is a dark, smoldering reggae fusion song from the legendary Inner Circle. The Bad Boys of Reggae started in 1968, which pretty much makes them reggae OGs. They’re responsible for both “Bad Boys,” the theme song from America’s favorite nightly copaganda show, and “Sweat (A La La Long),” 1992’s most fun problematic dance hit.
The song, from 1994’s Reggae Dancer, is a melancholy, electronic-tinged secular canticle, swimming in despair about the state of the world. Inner Circle is a band I usually associate with happy fun times and some of reggae’s more traditional religious subject matter, but this song is all righteous indignation. It absolutely rules.
Both the lead vocals and backing vocals are stellar, from lines like “Damnation, segregation, starvation, how much more do we have to bear?” all the way down to the background “ooh-ee-oohs.” There’s also some absolutely formidable guitar in this song, butting up against synth steel drums and other electronic elements in the perfect way.
“Signs, I Can’t Take It” is maybe a little too gloomy for The Mega Man Soundtrack, but it’s also a great kick in the pants and I’m glad they included it.
Track 12: Mega Man – “Mega Man Theme”
Just complete and utter dogshit. This is the 90s techno song Satan plays in actual, Biblical Hell. Watch the cartoon’s intro instead. It has five whole words in its lyrical repertoire instead of just two.
Thanks for joining me! Hopefully you found at least one song you liked.
Did The Mega Man Soundtrack surprise you? Did you ever own the CD? What’s the weirdest cartoon soundtrack you’ve ever heard? Let me know in the comments!