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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 7

[Author's note: This is the conclusion of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.]

Season 13:  Pokémon DP: Sinnoh League Victors (We Will Carry On!)

Lyrics: For FUCK’S SAKE, Loeffler and Wolfert! This is like the Nickelback Pokémon intro! The ultimate shitty pop song intro, and it recycles the concept of “carrying on” from my beloved David Rolfe way back in season 7, but makes it really shitty. Ugh. And then someone said, “Quick, bring back the guy whose job it is to shout ‘Pokémon!’ in the background!”

Delivery: Adam Elk, lead singer of The Mommyheads, is the vocalist. It embarrasses me to listen to this one. It’s just so shitty, and then the worst part is the “never givin’ up / So hold your head up” pseudo-rapped* part. Replace the word “head” with “glass,” and you’ve got a Pink single.

*To call it this is insulting to even the worst rap music.

Other: At least this is the last in the Pokémon DP series.

Rank: 13/14

Season 14:  Pokémon Black & White (Black and White)

Lyrics: Written by, you guessed it, Loeffler and Wolfert. OK, lyrically I don’t have a big problem with this. It’s the most ambivalent of the Pokémon songs: it’s not whether you win or lose! It’s the path you choose! (I.e. the WINNING PATH, KID.) I like the integration of the phrase “Black and White” in the theme song, that’s nicely done, although the fact that they use the phrase “it’s not always black and white” seems to undermine the fact that the series itself is called Pokémon Black and White.

Delivery: What the hell? Did someone really think,“It would be awesome to get an off-brand Arcade Fire to sing a Pokémon theme song”? The vocalists for this one are Erin Bowman (again) and Joe Philips, doing their best hipster voices. I don’t hate this as much as season 13’s song, but the delivery is pretty off-putting. It drags like crazy; what happened to the funky, upbeat intros of yesteryear? Also, Nintendo really dropped the ball as far as branding Pokémon goes. It used to be that you could recognize Pokémon by three notes. In the Black and White theme song, they repeat the same boring note! This has been going on for a while, but why? Compare this “Who’s that Pokémon” bit with a new one. Which one is branded better? Hint: it’s the one that doesn’t make you fall the fuck asleep.

Other: At least it’s not rap. UGH WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF. Also, remember the link to that Mommyheads song in the Season 13 entry? Go back and listen to this part vs. this. MIND.  BLOWN.

Rank: 12/14

Wasn’t that an intoxicating journey?  It’s always interesting to watch the complete deterioration of a brand.  I’m being hard on Nintendo, though. Their Pokémon franchise has spawned a TV show that’s been around for 14 years, and that’s no small feat. They must be doing something right. Oh, well. At least now we’re all experts on the Pokémon theme songs. Bring that up at the next cocktail party you attend. Or don’t. You’re more likely to make friends if you don’t.

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 6

[Author's note: This is the continuation of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.]

Season 11: Pokémon DP: Battle Dimension (We Will be Heroes)

Lyrics: I guess Loeffler and Wolfert felt bad after they’d recovered from the drunken stupor in which they wrote the last song, because there could not be a bigger 180 than the one they pulled between Diamond and Pearl and “We Will be Heroes.” This is the first in a series of intros that could pass as shitty pop songs, with no direct reference to Pokémon until someone presumably read the lyrics, remembered what they’re supposed to be about, and tacked on the words “Battle Dimension, Pokémon!” Pretty mediocre lyrics, including the nonsensical “brave and strong, together we will be, it’s our destiny!” What does that mean? The rhymes are solid but uninspired. Does it really take two people to write this stuff?

Delivery: This one was vocalized by Kirsten Price, the first female vocalist in a Pokémon intro (not that she sounds any more feminine than Jason Paige did.) I’m ambivalent; it comes across as Phil Collins lite. At least it’s not rap. You can hear Kirsten Price singing more listenable music here. She’s definitely better than Pokémon quality, but isn’t that what everyone would like to believe about themselves?

Other: This one is hard to remember, even after you’ve just listened to it. Not so catchy. Also, this is an aside, but who the fuck thought that Pokémon DP was a good name to brand a series with?

Rank: 7/14

Season 12: Pokémon DP: Galactic Battles (Battle Cry – [Stand Up!])

Lyrics: Another generic pop intro from Loeffler and Wolfert. Remember the days when the theme song explicitly told you to buy products? Aah, if only. No bad rhymes, just bland again. “We will win the battle! Galactic Battle! Pokémon!” The three-note salute is long gone too. Sigh.

Delivery: Now there’s a feminine voice! Erin Bowman voiced this one, and did an all right but bland job. I do like the part with the steady, driving drumbeat, but oh, how bland a purpose it serves. And I know this probably didn’t have anything to do with Bowman, but when the Pokémon all make their noises at the end, that’s hair-pullingly stupid. Come ON, Pokémon editors! Why do you do this to us?

Other: According to my friend Bulbapedia, Erin Bowman is currently working with JJ Appleton on her first album. I like the thought that there’s a kind of brotherhood of Pokémon intro vocalists out there, helping each other toward record careers. Listen to her most recent Thrift Store Rihanna-style song here. Good luck.

Rank: 9/14

Next week is the final installment! Be ready, and thanks for reading!

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 5

[Author's note: This is the continuation of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.]

Season 9:  Pokémon Battle Frontier (Battle Frontier)

Lyrics: The writing team was swapped out after Rolfe left; this intro was written by John Loeffler and David Wolfert, a combination of writers that, time has shown, creates pretty shitty songs. Pretty conventional lyrics, even to the point of being boring. No attempt to integrate the phrase “Battle Frontier”—although, to be fair, how the hell would you do that? It’s just stuck on: “It’s the Battle Frontier.”  Alright. The one notable thing about these lyrics is that they make the predestination in Pokémon intros more pronounced than ever, by explicitly calling Ash’s decision to be a Pokémon master, “the master plan.” Wow. God Himself wants Ash to be a Pokémon master.

Delivery: Jason “JJ” Appleton was the vocalist for this intro, and I find him very boring. The tune disintegrates around “You got the right stuff” and then turns into really bland rock music. The “It’s the Battle Frontier” part doesn’t do anything for me other than make me want the intro to finish more quickly. It’s just not anywhere near the quality of the last few intros. JJ Appleton is pursuing a serious music career post-Pokémon, though—here’s a video of him singing “Never Let You Down,” and he’s not as bad as this intro would lead you to believe.

Other: Meh. This song wouldn’t make me want to watch the series. (Although, at this point in my life, what should?) And again, tampering with the three-note Pokémon salute at the end? Sacrilege. (Side note: every episode in this season ended with a rap called “Go Pokémon Go!” This was a grim preview of what was to come.)

Rank: 11/14

Season 10:  Pokémon Diamond and Pearl (Diamond and Pearl)

Lyrics: Loeffler and Wolfert, what the fuck are you doing? Holy shit. Who decided that a rap intro was a good idea? UGH. This intro is supposed to rhyme, it’s clear, but seems to adopt an ABCDDECFGF*HHF rhyme scheme. These lyrics are embarrassing and say nothing. (“Behind every win there’s a chance to begin, again”? What the fuck does that mean?) The season’s name is thrown in as if the lyrics were hung on a dartboard and darts with “Diamond and Pearl” scrawled on their tails were hurled in their general direction by a blindfolded drunk. Was this intro written because Loeffler and Wolfert wanted to re-live the glory of the WildC.A.T.s. intro?

*I don’t know if it should be F or H. Does “battle” rhyme with “faster”? It’s sure sung as if it does. If you think it’s not meant to, the rhyme scheme would be ABCDDECFGHIIF.

Delivery: The delivery is worse than the lyrics. Chris “Breeze” Barczynski seems like a competent singer, given this video of him singing “Let’s Get it On,” but the way he sing-raps the lyrics to Diamond and Pearl make it seem as if he’s suffering a stroke mid-tune. It’s so bad. Very graciously, the G.I. Joe Background Singers Tribute Band agreed to sing the words “Pokémon!  Pokémon!” after they’d had a few drinks.

Other: This is by far the worst Pokémon intro of all. I feel bad for any children who regularly had to listen to this song.

Rank: 14/14. Without question.

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 4

[Author's note: This is the continuation of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.]

Season 7:  Pokémon Advanced Challenge (This Dream)

Lyrics: Rolfe and Siegler.  This one takes an interesting perspective compared to what we’ve heard before, since the lyrics essentially amount to “The Pokémon TV show will be around for ALL ETERNITY.” The rhyming is fine, but the choice to insert the phrase “Advanced Challenge!” after “We will rise to meet the challenge every time” seems redundant.  Couldn’t the line have been “We’ll meet the ADVANCED CHALLENGE every time”?  WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LYRICAL SOPHISTICATION OF SEASON 6????

Delivery: First of all, Rolfe (or someone, maybe Loeffler) changed the three note PO-KÉ-MON sign off, which boggles my mind.  It sounds like the opening to a Power Rangers commercial.  Why change the most iconic part of the intro?  The tune itself is pretty boring, and that final “PO-KÉ-MON” seems really badly glued on (although that may be more the editor’s fault than the performer’s).

Other: This one is definitely Rolfe’s weakest.  That’s saying something, though, because Rolfe’s weakest is still a pretty strong opening for Pokémon.

Rank: 8/14

Season 8:  Pokémon Advanced Battle (Unbeatable)

Lyrics: Rolfe and Siegler. Pretty good! This is probably what Ash hears in his head all day long. The rhymes are solid, and the lyrics, while arrogant, make sense. I don’t know if I’d call Ash’s journey an “endless highway,” but that’s pedantic. “Advanced Battle is the ultimate test!” is a pretty great integration of the show’s name, so that’s nicely done. It’s interesting how the lyrics will at some points sound as if Ash is singing them, and then back out and deliver the meta-information that this season of Pokémon is called “Advanced Battle.” Am I thinking too hard about this? I don’t know anymore.

Delivery: Here’s the Rolfe I know and love! Catchy, starts with a great hook, and keeps up the pace. The only thing I don’t like is when he crams in, “Pokémon/Advanced Battle!” but it’s not as jarring as it could be. A great final effort from David Rolfe! And, as I noted before, he has certainly moved up in the world since his Pokémon days.

Other: This one is probably one of the strongest intros, just in terms of memorability and catchiness. This one was on TV long after I stopped watching Pokémon, but if I heard it playing it would certainly pique my interest. And then I’d realize I’ve been tricked into watching Pokémon and feel resentful, but at least the intro is alright.

Rank: 4/14

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 3

[Author's note: This is the continuation of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.  Read about Seasons 1 and 2 here!]

Season 5:  Pokémon Master Quest (Believe in Me)

Lyrics: Written by David Rolfe and John Siegler. The rhyming in this intro is very nicely done. Consistent structure, and a couple slant rhymes, although nothing egregious. If dream/believe is the only not-quite-kosher rhyme in a Pokémon intro, then we’re doing very well. Nice going, Rolfe.

Delivery: This intro has almost the same melody as the second part of season 4’s intro. You can check for yourself; the “born to be a winner!” part from the season 4 intro would fit pretty seamlessly into this song. I consider that a nice touch, since it gives the intros some continuity. What’s more, there’s absolutely no shouting of the word “Pokémon” through megaphones, and no pseudo-hip hop, so that’s a good intro as far as I’m concerned. Simple tune, but very memorable. Nice generic guitar, too.  (Compliments for Pokémon songs tend to be the mildest of compliments.)

Other: That’s 2 for 2, Rolfe.  Let’s see how you do going into season 6.

Rank: 3/14

Season 6: Pokémon Advanced (I Wanna Be a Hero)

Lyrics: Rolfe and Siegler again. This is the first season that came out for the Gameboy Advance games, and the lyrics are pretty excited to remind you about it. Lots of obvious reference to the series at the end, but there’s a sneaky additional reminder when Rolfe sings, “I’ve ADVANCED so far / And still there’s always more to come.” Nice. Really great rhyming in this one; I didn’t see anything that bothered me.

Delivery: The return of the funky Pokémon intro! Rolfe uses the same technique that he did in season 4, with a fast opening that leads into a more repetitive, catchy segment. And did you catch that autotune? It’s a little out of place, but it’s much better than some dude shouting “POKÉMON!” in the background.

Other: I wouldn’t call this as good as the intros for seasons 4 and 5, but it’s still a solid intro. I feel like it loses a little steam when he has to start telling you what season it is again and again, but at least the concept of Pokémon Advanced is well-integrated into the song itself.

Rank: 6/14

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 2

[Author's note: This is the continuation of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.  Read about Seasons 1 and 2 here!]

Season 3:  Pokémon Johto Journeys (Pokémon Johto)

Lyrics: Written again by the Johns (Loeffler and Siegler), the rhymes in this one are improved (although ‘better’ and ‘ladder’ do not rhyme in any universe), and the core message is back.  Essentially, “Wow, it’s a new season of Pokémon!  It’s not the same as the last two seasons! There are new Pokémon and everything! Even this theme song is completely different! BUT YOU STILL GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!!! (And be the best that you can be, blah blah whatever, kid.)”

Delivery: Another one-intro wonder, PJ Lequercia performed this track. His funky, upbeat delivery is full of energy, and melodically unique from what came before, making this a pretty successful intro in my book. He doesn’t seem to have much of a YouTube presence, but here’s a video of his song, “Does He Know Why,” if you’re interested in some slow R&B by a Pokémon singer.

Other: I still knew the words to this one by heart, even after ten years. Fast, fun, funky, etc. It’s tight and, best of all, has no rapping.  There’s something about rapping in the context of Pokémon that makes music vomit, as you will see.

Rank: 2/14.

Season 4:  Pokémon Johto League Champions (Born to Be a Winner)

Lyrics: Written by the Johns once again. A return to the initial lyrics, with a modified second verse. Strong overall, but the line “I know that I just can’t miss / Gonna show the world” is pretty weak (and “skills” is rhymed with “world,” but the singer pronounces them in a way that almost makes it OK). Overall, the lyrics are not awful. The all-important “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” is out, in favor of the emphasis on predestination which will dominate the future intros. I appreciate that there was no attempt to rhyme the last part; the prose-like lyrics work fine given the delivery.

Delivery: Say hello to David Rolfe. Rolfe performed the Pokémon theme songs from season 4 to season 8, and had a massive impact on the style of the intros afterward. Taking a cue from the funky success of the Johto Journeys theme song, Johto League Champions begins with funk galore. Once the song gets past the rehashing of the original intro’s lyrics, though, it becomes a pretty competent almost-pop theme song. Rolfe’s style is generally to start with a frenetic opening that changes into a repetitive and driven chorus by the end of the song. Rolfe also is the first to stick the iconic three-note “PO-KÉ-MON!” at the end of his intro without even attempting to integrate it melodically. I looked David Rolfe up online, and found some interesting stuff; musically, all I can find is a song for that shitty Yu-Gi-Oh album and a song from The Ride. Professionally, though, he has moved up in the world and is now the head of integrated production at Crispin Porter and Bogusky. He’s even the subject of some banking intrigue. He is a bit of a looker as well.

Other: This intro is not too bad at all. Sets the stage for the next few, and actually has the potential to get stuck in your head. Nice transition from old to new.

Rank: 5/14

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 1

On Christmas Eve, my girlfriend and I decided on a whim to listen to the theme songs, in order, of all 14 seasons of the lucrative Pokémon animated series. I only remembered the first four or five theme songs, and was morbidly curious to know how the series’ themes had developed through the 2000s after I stopped watching. A few minutes later I had my answer, and had suffered greatly for it. It’s only fair that I share this forbidden knowledge with the world, if for no other reason than to feel as if our sacrifice was worthwhile. This is the first of a seven part series detailing the results of my research, in chronological order.

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