The other day, when talking about the Pac-Man Bag in my possession, I linked to a song called “Pac-Man Fever”. Now, depending on how old you are, you either thought that was a one-off song from a bygone era or you reminisced about how that song made it to #9 on the Billboard charts at one time. Or maybe you just liked the song and wondered if there were any other songs by this mysterious group.
I kind of fell into a combination of all three. I knew about that song for a long time, and it keeps coming up from time to time when talking about or having anything to do with video games more than about 25 years old, and I knew that the album existed, but I never bothered to track it down. So, I decided to do a little digging. I picked up the CD and gave it a listen. The songs definitely have an old-school feel to them, but the title track wasn’t quite the same as I remembered. It turns out that due to some rights issues, the original recordings could not be re-issued, so they all had to be re-done. Eh, no big deal, right?
Let’s see what we have here.
Pretty basic stuff. Vaguely Pac-Man-shaped characters on the label, track listing, and not a lot else. No lyrics, no foldout full of album art. But we don’t need frills like that. We’re here for the music, right? So let’s run down each of these songs and see what this is all about, shall we?
- Track 1 – Pac-Man Fever. The title track and most popular song on this collection. It’s got an infectious combination of camp and cheese, which makes it very earwormy. It really captures the excitement of heading to the arcade in the 80’s. Seriously, it’s difficult to stay in a bad mood during this song. Defining lyric: “All my money’s gone, so I’ll be back tomorrow night, because I got Pac-Man Fever”.
- Track 2 – Froggy’s Lament. A little slowed down for this song. From the opening command by our gravelly-voiced singer to “Pluck your magic twanger, froggy” to the fairly matter-of-fact explanation of how Frogger works, this track didn’t do much for me, other than weird me out a little bit. Defining lyric: “You gotta keep on hoppin’ ’till you get to the top”.
- Track 3 – Ode to a Centipede. A song talking about Centipede (obviously). A game notable for being designed by a woman in an era where that just didn’t happen all that often (and still doesn’t happen nearly enough). So it’s weird that this song features a creepy voice telling the centipede that “you can’t get away” and that “I’m right behind you” in just about the most stalkerish way possible. This track actually made me feel a little uncomfortable. Defining lyric: “Go ahead, run your little legs off… do you have Nikes for all of them?”
- Track 4 – Do the Donkey Kong. It’s the dance craze that’s sweeping the nation! You put your hands over your head and stomp on the ground, just like Donkey Kong! Right? No? Yeah, me either. This track tries really hard to be catchy (and succeeds, boy, does it succeed), but the odds that you’ll catch me doing the Donkey Kong in public are pretty slim… unless we can organize a flash mob. Also, keep an ear out for the fake-out fade-out. Defining lyric: “You pick the hammer up and then you put the fire out”
- Track 5 – Hyperspace. Unless you’re familiar with arcade games from the 80’s, you might think that this song is about a game called “Hyperspace”, but you’d be wrong. It’s actually about Asteroids, which, if you look at the arcade cabinet’s controls, had a Hyperspace button. The Hyperspace button would make you disappear and reappear in a random location on the board. It was a definite last-ditch option. This song is pretty frantic, and captures the stress of an extended play session pretty well. The only real oddball thing about this song is the way the singer gives us the word ‘Thrust’. He goes from pretty normal at first to sounding like he’s trying to… erm… evacuate… if you get my meaning. Defining Lyric: “I’m invisible now, but I’ll be back again”
- Track 6 – The Defender. Again, we’re slowed down into what could maybe be a song for a sitcom theme song from the 80’s. For anyone that’s played Defender for any length of time, you will recognize the sounds of the aliens appearing out of nowhere to take the people that you’re supposed to be the defender of… And. They. Never. STOP! Whoa, sorry, had a flashback to playing this game. Defining lyric: “Here comes a bomber now, this is my chance / to fire the laser, and watch him dance”
- Track 7 – Mousetrap. This is the only song based on a game that I have not played. Mousetrap apparently starred you, as a mouse, who had to pick up cheese and stay away from cats. If you collected a bone you could turn into a dog and defeat the cats. Also there was a hawk that gave you troubles. Hey, makes sense to me. Just knowing that makes the lyrics a little less insane. Other than that, this song didn’t do much for me, and since there aren’t any sounds from the actual game, this just kind of stands out as an oddball song in almost every conceivable way. Defining lyric: “I can turn into a dog if I only had a bone, and could press the doggy button, they would leave me all alone”
- Track 8 – Goin’ Berzerk. Ah, Berzerk. Kind of a predecessor to games like Smash TV, this takes you through lots of randomly-generated rooms to destroy robots, with the occasional appearance by Evil Otto (who cannot be destroyed). This song starts off talking about the game, but it kind of devolves into a song that seems to borderline on obsession. It just progressively gets more creepy toward the end. Defining lyric: “Berzerk! Berzerk! Berzerk over you!”
- Track 9 – E.T. (I Love You). This song (and the one that follows) is a bit of an oddity. It’s not about the terrible E.T. video game, but about the movie. I guess it’s supposed to be a slow, sweet song about E.T., but it just seems out of place on this disc. Not to mention a little hokey (but, hey, E.T. was also pretty hokey, so it fits there, I guess). Defining lyric: “I shared your thoughts, your hopes and dreams. I watched you make the flowers grow.”
- Track 10 – Hostage. The last song seemed out of place, but it was at least a song about a movie from the same time period as the games the rest of the songs were based off of. But this song? It came way out of left field (which makes sense, since it was originally from a totally different album). It starts out as a pretty upbeat song, but it soon takes a weird government-protest bent. It kind of turns this CD from a fun trip down memory lane into an awkward political statement. This song usually gets a skip from me. Defining Lyric: “Brady bill, poppin’ pills, people headin’ toward the hills. Devastation, aggravation, politicians kill my nation”
I saw it mentioned that Buckner & Garcia didn’t want to become pigeonholed into being known for making songs about video games, so they branched out and made songs like Hostage. Which is fine, I’m not going to tell anyone what they should do with their careers. I just would have liked to have seen more video-game related music out of these guys because that’s my bag, and after 30 years, the songs they made about video games still hold up reasonably well.