Why Green Hill Zone music is a royalty nightmare
Dreams Come True has released a new take on a classic Sonic scene theme – and it has come full circle in the game’s music licensing story.
Sonic the hedgehog is one of the best-known video games of the 16-bit era, with the game and its titular blitzing hedgehog becoming the behemoths of pop culture. One of the most memorable aspects of the game and the series as a whole is the music, namely that of the iconic inaugural level, Green Hill Zone.
However, many players ignore the links between Sonic music and a Japanese band – not to mention the fact that Sega doesn’t own the music from the first two games. Japanese group Dreams Come True recently released a lyrical version of the classic Sonic theme of the scene, and it came full circle in the game’s music licensing history.
Green Hill Zone Act 1991
Green Hill Zone is the first level of the very first Sonic game, kicking off the franchise with its colorful pixel art style that was heavily influenced by the Memphis Milano art of the time. Beyond his design, he is best known for his music, which is immediately recognizable to this day. The game’s soundtrack, as well as that of its sequel, was composed by Masato Nakamura, who was a member of the recently formed J-Pop group Dreams Come True.
This association with SonicNakamura’s success led to an increase in Nakamura’s popularity, with its demand rate to work on future games doing the same. Likewise, it is he, and not Sega, who owns the rights to the music of the first two Sonic Games. This is why Nakamura and Dreams Come True were able to take both the melody of “Green Hill Zone” and the ending theme for Sonic the hedgehog 2 to create their own songs called “Marry Me” and “Sweet Sweet Sweet”. This is also why remixes from this era of the franchise were rare for a long time, as Sega had to pay royalties to Nakamura every time the tracks were used.
In the case of the latter situation, a first beta remix in Sonic Spinball the theme of the credits of Nakamura for the first two Sonic games had to remain unused, and that’s also why Lego Dimensions had to use a loose facsimile of tracks from the Genesis games instead of actual remixes. That didn’t stop the franchise from bringing the Green Hill Zone theme back to the modern era, however. Games like Sound adventure 2, Sonic Battle, Sonic Generations, Sonic Mania and Super Smash Bros. have all used the track in its original or remixed form, with only Sound forces using the scene without a version of its classic theme. Considering Sonic’s popularity again, it makes sense that Dreams Come True would benefit from the music of the Green Hill.
Dreams come true on the green hill
During the Blue Blur 30th Anniversary Symphony, Masato Nakamura announced a new song Dreams Come True which functions as a remix of “Green Hill Zone” with lyrics. This song was first heard in the background of an advertisement for ITO EN’s Oi Ocha tea, ITO EN partnering with Dreams Come True to promote their products. It was recently released in its entirety, with the same song titled “On the Green Hill”.
The lyrics have nothing to do with Sonic and his adventures, but rather a leisurely afternoon in which the singer again wishes to climb a familiar and pleasant hill. It just shows how, due to the rights stipulations, Nakamura and his company can pretty much do whatever they want with the songs of the first two. Sonic games with or without Sega approval. This reflects the similar copyright situation with Sonic the hedgehog 3.
Given that Sonic CD had its own musical controversies, Sonic & knuckles is essentially the only one of the classic games in the series whose music isn’t mired in some sort of conflict. Still, the release of the new song to coincide with Sonic’s big birthday is probably no coincidence, with the enchanting tune always and forever associated with Blue Blur’s first adventure.
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