A few years ago I picked up an Atari 2600 and a bunch of games at a thrift store. I never had an Atari as a kid. I always had to go to the neighbor's house to play his Atari, which was frustrating because he could give me a sound thrashing on pretty much every game. Finally, after much begging, I did get my own videogame system, but it was, dammit, Intellivision ("intelligent television"). 16 bits be dammed, it just didn't have the cool games, and instead of having the cool kids over to my house, I ended up stuck playing Poker and Golf with the adults in my family. Boring! That's my step-brother and I looking not-so-psyched about our new gift in the photo.
Finally getting my own 2600 proved to be cathartic, even if I did lose interest in most of the games rather quickly. Still, there's nothing like a lazy Sunday afternoon with the old-school Atari, and just the right music playing in the background. Music like this and this and this.
I enjoy the background music/video game combination so much that I decided to rename all of my cheesy Euro-disco and New Wave and Glam and Classic Rock. It is now, according to my iTunes, "Atari Music". Of course, I wasn't the first to think of this. Why, during the early 80s there was already such a genre...and it all revolved around quickie albums released to cash in on the booming video game craze.
In 1982, the record label Kid Stuff started putting out records based on the most popular video games. The first three albums were for Atari's flagship games: Asteroids, Missile Command, and Yars Revenge. Each included an incredibly catchy theme song followed by a usually rather nonsensical adventure story. Thanks to the 365 Days Project for turning me onto this a few years ago.
Heck, while we're at it, let's do one of the stories (with the theme songs included).
"While on a routine mission, the Cosmic Space Patrol ship, Intrepid, is trapped in a time-warp and is rocketed into the past! It's up to Captain jim Stanton and his computer sidekick, Chip Brain, to find their way back to safety. Blast off for adventure with Atari's Asteroids!"
More nefarious is the promotional flexi-single for the video game company Data Age. Their games were incredibly lame and quickly forgotten (though they did make the classic Journey Escape game, featuring, yes, the band Journey), but this psychedelic mind-warp of a kiddie record, appropriately titled "Mindscape", deserves to be placed in a time capsule. I don't recommend trying to play a video game with this in the background. But it is good for other *ahem* recreational activities.
The Digital Press video game sounds database includes all of the above, as well as tons of sound effects clips from actual games, and a collection of recent electronic music inspired by classic video games (arcade and home). And right here on the BoB you can find some Nintendo-inspired music.
While some were marketing silly stories and songs, a small company in California was trying to cash in with a video game record of their own - this one without music, or much of anything else.
Curtis Hoard, an "Atari champion finalist" (whatever that means), recorded Conquer the Video Craze, a spoken word album describing how to play the hot arcade games in detail. The excellent Dinosaur Gardens blog did a good job digging up a bit of information about this album, and also posted the whole thing for download. Go check it out, but in the meantime...
Here's an mp3 sample: Cenitpede
Now, I've played this game maybe a thousand times, and still can't visualize what the heck Curtis Hoard is attempting to describe. "The centipede line always comes out from just under the foruth digit reading right to left, or the third digit reading left to right," which basically means, you know, at the top. I can't imagine trying to follow this record without having it on your walkman and standing right in front of the game - and there's no way you'd hear his soothing monotone over the racket of an arcade.
It wasn't just the kiddies and cash-ins that embraced video games on vinyl. Of course, yes, there's Pac Man Fever, but there are also quite a few other examples of video game inspired pop songs. One of my all time favorites is by D.C. go-go pioneers Trouble Funk. Their truly inspired "Arcade Funk" mixes break-dance beats with arcade style - or break dance style with arcade beats, either works. And speaking of arcades, how about Black Randy and the Metrosquad's kinetic no-wave song "I Slept in an Arcade", as featured in the film Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. Hmm, come to think of it, that may be a different kind of arcade. Whatever, it's a great song, and posting it gives me a good excuse to share this photo of Randy.
But what about the Atari 2600? It didn't feel the musical love until recently, thanks to North Carolina rappers Little Brother, who made this Isley Brothers meets RZA schmoove groove in honor of the #1 classic home video system. Fuck Playstation and Dreamcast - Atari 2600 is for the children! Heck, this song alone makes this whole post worth reading through.
mp3: Atari 2600
But, really, no Atari lover can really hold a candle to this guy.
More Video Games on Beware of the Blog:
Commodore 64: Music System Shatner
Mario Brothers: Kill Warrio! ACapella Orchestral
Video Game Field Recordings
And, of course, I am completely addicted to WFMU's own Asteroids machine.