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Jukebox Heroes: World of Warcraft's soundtrack


Recently I cleaned out my closet and discovered, tucked away with several older storage mediums (i.e., CDs), my World of Warcraft collector's edition soundtrack. Honestly, I had completely forgotten it was there. Within minutes, I dusted it off and had it playing on my computer.

Non-ironic wow, I thought. That takes me back.

If you were one of the players who spent any amount of time in what's now referred to as "vanilla" World of Warcraft -- before the Burning Crusade released in 2007 -- then it's just about impossible to hear these tunes and not be transported back to those first couple of years of discovery and conquest.

WoW's original soundtrack was composed by Jason Hayes, Tracy W. Bush, Glenn Stafford, and Derek Duke, each of whom brought his own take on this MMO version of Warcraft. I had a blast re-listening to all of these old tracks and wanted to share with you a few of my personal favorites.

1. Legends of Azeroth (World of Warcraft main theme)

Let's start with the very first notes anyone ever heard in the game: the login music. It begins with a heavy thudding beat but transitions into a dreamlike fantasy around the 0:50 mark. The music is quite urgent and pressing, and if you've only listened to the first minute or so until you zoned in, then I encourage you to play it from start to end.

It's just a masterpiece of game music and by far my favorite WoW title theme to date (although I haven't heard Mists of Pandaria yet).

2. Tavern

Before WoW came out with a couple of dozen tavern themes, this was pretty much it -- and oh, what a song it was. I'd often just hang out inside the game's taverns to hear it a few times.

The song certainly has a renaissance faire aura to it, with light bongos, strings, and a central flute melody that takes us through a brisk one-plus minute runtime. It's the kind of song you totally can imagine hearing if you were at a medieval tavern in real life, with a crackling fire to one side and tables of ale and meat to the other.

3. Shimmering Flats

If I had to point to just one track as the one that prompted the most personal nostalgia for the game, thar she blows. The funny thing is, it's not the type of song that I'd normally go for. It's far more atmospheric (which usually means "just jumbled notes giving off an emotion") and extremely laid back, yet dang if it doesn't jibe with my soul. Sometimes it starts to give you a genuine song, but it sounds like the music is coming from three hilltops away.

I think the reason I like it so much is that Shimmering Flats did such an excellent job of putting you into the spirit of wilderness and adventure. I strongly associate it with the Barrens, and while the chat there was bad, I'd leave the music on for hours while I explored there.

4. A Call to Arms

I don't recall whether this song was used in trailers, but I suspect that it probably was. In any case, it's a tremendous piece that plays it cool for the first minute or so before launching itself at you around the 1:10 mark with a whole bunch of Latin chants. "My marching into death, we are delivered," that sort of thing.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I had to pleasure of seeing Video Games Live at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It was a terrific show, but there were a few minutes when my arm threatened to transform into permanent goosebumps. The choir going into a Call to Arms probably evoked the most pointy of them all. I was like a cheese grater.

5. The Shaping of the World

All of the tracks in this column and several others that I didn't have the space to add have their excellent moments. The Shaping of the World is one giant excellent moment with pretty much no downtime.

The funny thing is that while this is on the original soundtrack, I don't recall ever hearing it in the game back then. According to other players' testimonies, it was replaced prior to launch and only recently repurposed. That's a shame because this would've been a totally kick-butt song for dungeon runs or world bosses.

So there you go: Here's the best song from vanilla WoW, and we never heard it in the game back then.

6. Song of Elune

This track is the reverse of many others; it starts all loud and synthy, then backs off to give us a strong, soothing tune. While I may not have liked the game's brand of elves, they knew how to play the top 40 hits, and I've always loved the mystery that Song of Elune evokes.

You know what I think of when I listen to this? Oddly enough, the Princess Bride. The movie relied heavily on a synthesizer to provide its fantasy score, and this feels like an extension of that. Yet it's not just a carbon clone because Song of Elune adds a lovely voice to the mix and a few other elements that make it its own beast.

That's all the space I have for this week! Feel free to share your own favorite vanilla World of Warcraft song in the comments below or perhaps put in a bid for an MMO score to appear in this space.

MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every other Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!

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