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Commodore 64 Covers

Dr Kenny McAlpine discusses cover versions of popular music on the Commodore 64.
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While the C64 wasn’t the first of the home video game systems to feature musical covers in its soundtracks, the scope and the musical capabilities of the SID chip took them from pale imitations of the original tracks to computer synth pop covers that in some cases surpassed the source material on which they were based. [THEME - CHARIOTS OF FIRE]
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Imagine’s port of Konami’s button bashing, arcade classic, Hyper Sports, for example, features a very credible cover of the theme to Chariots of Fire. In his review for Zzap!64, Gary Penn noted that “The loading screen is brilliant with some outstanding music. C64 music really is reaching a stunning peak.” And it’s hard to disagree. It’s a beautifully evocative and texturally dynamic track that re-imagines the original by Vangelis. Denton Designs’ Frankie Goes to Hollywood also shows how, with the right balance of creative interpretation and technical execution, a music themed video game tie in could work very well. [THEME - WELCOME TO THE PLEASUREDOME]
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Frankie Goes to Hollywood taps into fan culture, bringing together the social symbolism and the overtly sexual themes that had made the band both notorious and ubiquitous in the summer of 1984. As the game begins, the player is presented with a bland, featureless avatar in the land of the mundane, the objective being to complete tasks and, through experience, develop the different facets of Frankie’s personality and help him to become a real person. Throughout, the music is superb, and the composer, Fred Gray, demonstrates how effectively synthpop could be stripped down to suit the features of the SID’s characterful but limited output.
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The loading screen is accompanied by the band’s Relax, while the bass riff to Welcome to the Pleasure Dome drives out insistently throughout the game. Every now and then, Frankie finds himself in a night time field in the Flower Power mini game. It’s oddly calming, as one of the most soothing scores ever written for a C64 game takes over, and Frankie finds himself with flowers falling gently from the sky. [COMPUTER MUSIC PLAYING]
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There are lots of examples of music covers on the 64, from Jean-Michel Jarre, whose music crops up in Yie Ar Kung-Fu and Bomb Jack, while Datasoft’s turn-based strategy war game, Theatre Europe, uses a cover of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance to provide a meta commentary via the soundtrack. And that ultimately was the real power of the SID chip. As a standalone synth, it had its quirks and its limitations, and it was far from easy to work with. But as the chip that gave computer games a new and expressive voice, it was unmatched. And that’s what we’re going to go on to discuss now.
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I’d like it to download and listen to a selection of music from some of the games that we’ve looked at this week. What I’d like you to do is think about how the music of the Commodore 64 compares to the music of the Atari and to the Spectrum. To what extent was this improvement in quality down to musical technique? And to what extent was it down to technical innovation and coding technique? Please post your thoughts on the discussion group.

The Commodore 64 was really the first 8-bit machine that had a sound chip that was sophisticated enough to allow composers to create cover versions of popular music.

Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Yellow Magic Orchestra, John Lennon and Kraftwerk all ended up in C64 soundtracks at one point or another. In this video we’ll introduce the notion of covers and think about what might be involved in translating the original tracks for the SID.

Once you’ve completed the video step, click on the link below to the article step that follows, where I’d like you to download and listen to a selection of music tracks from classic C64 titles. We’re going to compare and contrast these with the music from other platforms.

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Video Game Design and Development: A Bit-by-Bit History of Video Game Music: Video Game Sound and Music

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