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“Yoko Shimomura didn’t have to go this hard” – the bewildering history of the Weather Channel’s hardest track

The Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy track that never was - we sat down with the man responsible.

Custom header with Sora from Kingdom Hearts and weather report logo
Image credit: VG247 / Square Enix / Weather Report

The music of video games is wonderful - an art form in and of itself. Over decades, composers have been blessing games with numerous bangers, sweeping orchestral tracks, and powerful OSTs that have captured the imaginations of gamers forevermore. However, one especially catchy track that could easily find a home in your favourite JRPG doesn't come from a video game at all. It was created for The Weather Channel back in 2006, for storm alerts.

So, okay, here's a bit of context first. If you're American, you may be familiar with The Weather Channel. It's an Atlanta-based Television channel that, for years, has provided the latest weather-related updates for folks. Going for a picnic? Check The Weather Channel. Worried about how long the snow will last as a holiday inches closer? The Weather Channel has your back, baby. Is a storm approaching your area? Not only will you hear the latest from The Weather Channel, you'll be greeted with an absolute banger. A theme that wouldn't be blinked twice at in a Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy game.

Listen to it for yourself here.Watch on YouTube

Since then, this track has grown somewhat of a cult following all on its lonesome from people with fond memories of the track. Many of these people would go on to compare the similarities between this song for The Weather Channel to many of their favourite games. As of writing, the upload on Youtube has 511,401 views.

"Here was this thing that's almost 20 years old and somehow there's all this engagement on it. As I saw that people were really vibing on it, it became a feeling of shock and amazement." That's Chris Kennedy - current assistant professor of Music for New Media at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. Via an interview conducted in Twitter DM's, he tells me more of the re-discovery of his work recently. Initially posting a thread on Twitter in the midst of amazement, I wanted to reach out and dig deeper into the bizzare situation.

Kennedy wrote this song while working at Clean Cuts Music, back in the early 2000's. Alongside his peers, he'd create various demos for clients. The Weather Report Storm Warning theme was apparently part of 15 demos created for the job at the time, but stands out as the sole song to have built up a strange form of love among an online crowd.

As for how Kennedy discovered this popularity, it comes thanks to the "poor UI of the YouTube Music App", which he was using while planning a lesson for the upcoming semester. "I had an idea to do an exercise similar to something I had done for TWC way back when (not related to Storm Alert 2006), so opened up YouTube Music and searched for 'The Weather Channel'. Now it's super awesome that YouTube Music lets upload your own music (RIP Google Music), but it's not a great experience when you go looking for it... So, instead of showing your own uploads, the first page of results is public stuff."

Kennedy continues: "In this case, it was Storm Alert 2006. I clicked on it, and recognized it as my track, but didn't think much of it because I'm used to seeing stuff like that of mine on YT (YouTube Music doesn't show view counts, so I assumed it was in the hundreds). Anyway, when I clicked back, I noticed there were ALSO remixes of that... which is not something I expected."

One such remix is this amazing Kingdom Hearts inspired track created by composer Linus Karlsson.Watch on YouTube

The reaction, as you may have expected, was one of bewilderment according to Kennedy. The initial reaction to a almost 20-year-old track was one of "shock of amazement", followed by amusement at the hunt for the original composer, before finally settling at wholesome pride. "Once those waves of emotion from the discovery passed, it start to hit how this thing I made brought joy to so many people. Like, that's why we set out to create stuff in the first place."

Kennedy has stated publically via Twitter that video games soundtracks didn't play a direct inspiration for the remarkably video gamey Storm Alert theme. However, he was happy to elaborate on what he was vibing with at the time.

"So, interestingly, in a chat with my high school/college friends, one of them mentioned that it reminded him of Steve Reich. Aha! There's an album called Reich Remixed that I listened to a ton back then, and I'm fairly certain that that was probably the strongest influence on this. I think I was trying to distill that minimalistic vibe over a driving rhythm. On the jazz side of things, Maria Schneider was, and is, a HUGE influence. At the time, I know I was also listening to a lot of Wolfgang Muthspiel, Vardan Ovsepian, Steve Coleman, and Brad Mehldau."

Since then however, Kennedy has immersed himself in video game soundtracks, with JRPGs in particular appearing on his radar since he started teaching. He states: "Those were often the soundtracks my students loved, so I felt like I needed to dig into them a bit more to understand what motivates and inspires them."

Storm Report 2006 remixes on Soundcloud
Even SoundCloud has some remixes you can check out. | Image credit: VG247

As for his personal hall of fame tracks, Kennedy was more than happy to provide a few all-time greats:

"So, for me, my hall of fame game soundtracks would include:"

  • Medal of Honor, by Christopher Lennertz. "This was definitely formative one, and I still get goosebumps from the main theme, Dogs of War."
  • Flower, by Vincent Diamante. "Just a beautiful game and a great example of integrating music into the gameplay."
  • Octopath Traveler by Yasunori Nishiki. "This is a master class in composition and arranging. Track after track - each one is amazing. I can listen to this at any time. Have never played the game though!"
  • Ori and the Blind Forest by Gareth Coker. "Just a gorgeous and moving game and soundtrack."
  • Far Cry 5 (!) by Dan Romer. "Hear me out... The score, on its own is fantastic. Anything with a strong main theme, like this one has, is going to draw me in. I also love Americana and folk music, and it captured that sound wonderfully[...]"

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