In dark, noisy corners of today's malls lurk machines of increasing complexity. For a dollar or more, visitors to the arcade can sit down in a simulator with virtual surround sound and blast realistic-looking enemies in a kill-or-be-killed world.
But some of us remember when things were different… when gaming was just beginning, and a quarter at T.J.'s could last an hour. We remember the golden years of arcade games: Pac-Man, Asteroids, Frogger, and others. And lest we forget, Gary Garcia and Jerry Buckner are here to remind us with a re-issue of their 1982 album, "Pac-Man Fever".
If you missed it on American Bandstand or in The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, "Pac-Man Fever" is a compilation of original songs about the arcade games and gamers of the early Eighties.
Though video game soundtracks are becoming more popular, "Pac-Man Fever" is not about recording the audio aspects of arcade games. Various game sound effects and the occasional theme are used, but the music is all new. With artists on guitar and bass, drums and percussion, and vocals, this is music you'd expect to hear on the radio (but not the dance floor). The lyrics are often from the point of view of the player, or of the role the player assumes when playing the game. The songs fall under the "pop" category, yet contain variety enough to be fresh.
In "Froggy's Lament", a tribute to Sega's Frogger, a gravely bass voice – just what you'd expect from a frog — sings of the trials and tribulations of a frog crossing the road, while a resounding chorus offers encouragement. The verses are slow and rhymed, almost like a rap.
Berzerk was a game of endlessly roaming a maze, screen by screen, while destroying robots and avoiding the bouncing smiley face, Evil Otto. This game's song, "Goin' Berzerk", begins with a lovely piano rendition – until a robot breaks in with an "Intruder alert!"
If this album has a low point, it's "Ode to a Centipede", the CD's longest track. The music is fine, but spoiled by the corny dialogue of a player treating Centipede as a game of hide-n-seek ("I'm coming to get you! Here I come!").
Other songs include "Hyperspace", named after the button in Asteroids that saved many a player's life ("Push on the button and I'm back in the race!"), "Do the Donkey Kong", "The Defender"… and, of course, "Pac-Man Fever". What better subject for a song than gobbling pellets and blue ghosts?
The music is re-recorded from the CBS Studios original album, but stays faithful to the original. Many of the original artists participated in the CD, which is dedicated to Ginny Whitaker, the original drummer who recently passed away.
The CD's release was not a random decision, but one demanded by aging gamers. "About two years ago, we noticed a renewed interest in our record," said Buckner. "Web sites started popping up, radios started playing our song, and we began receiving requests for interviews. No one could find the album, and people wanted to buy it."
Retro-gaming is indeed on the rise. While games like Asteroids and Defender have always been available for home systems such as Atari, Colecovision, and Intellivision, updates and re-releases of the classics are running rampant. Game Boy cartridges collect the games in sets of two, while the 32-bit Sony PlayStation has experienced new settings for classic titles, such as Asteroids and Frogger (for the better and worse, respectively). Even Centipede will be getting a facelift later this year, courtesy Hasbro.
The CD is available for $15.99, plus $3.50 s/h, from Buckner and Garcia's web page. A second volume is planned, though the highlighted games are a secret at this time.
This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 28-Jun-99