Music is a powerful thing. It can bring out different feelings and emotions in people, whether they be happy, sad or nostalgic. I felt it would be interesting to focus on the latter, as in which music makes you feel that childhood gamer who was plugging away at the latest game on their Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, or Commodore 64, or maybe you had a NES or SMS. Maybe you’re from the 16-bit generation & the Amiga, ST, SNES or MD were where it was at. Each generation of gamers experiences a different generation of music from the one before it. I can’t speak for each & every retro gamer out there, but I can share my experiences with you & what music brings those memories flooding back for me. Let’s have a look:
Lately I have been filling my trusty iPod Classic with 80s/early 90s music. This is the era I can honestly say I have the fondest memories of and it was that transitional 8-16 bit era changeover. The Amstrad, Commodore & Spectrum machines were struggling to keep a hold on the video game marketplace but were being replaced by the Amiga, ST and PC machines. As for consoles, the Sega Master System & Nintendo Entertainment System were also seeing out their final days to eventually be replaced by the Super Nintendo and Megadrive/Genesis. Portable gaming was also starting to make a dent in the video game world, with the Gameboy, Gamegear and Lynx creating a new type of console war, although it didn’t last long and had a very clear winner.
As for me, I lived that transitional period through my Amstrad CPC, Gameboy and Super Nintendo. I got my Amstrad CPC a week or two before Christmas in 1988, my Gameboy in 1991 or 2, and my SNES either a bit later that year or early 1993. Childhood memories fail me at times.
Let’s take a look at the Amstrad CPC part of my life & check out the tunes I was listening to during that era. First thing’s first though: why does music remind me so much of gaming from that era? Well I suppose the obvious answer is that I listened to a lot of it. Why you ask? Well during the 8-bit era a lot of video game music was very hit & miss, & that’s if the game had any music in it at all. Don’t get me wrong, the Amstrad CPC was able to play some great tunes & infact it shares the same audio chip as the Atari ST. With a lot of games though, it seemed that music was tacked on as an afterthought. Consequently if a game had either no music or bad/repetitive music the radio would be put on to provide a bit of background noise. Later on it just became habit in some cases, the radio would go on & so would the video game.
Artists that bring me back to that era are:
- Crowded House
- Split Enz
- Michael Jackson
- Duran Duran
- The Police
I don’t necessarily like every song from that period, but they all bring back the memories of playing games like:
Jack the Nipper
Head Over Heels
The list goes on. The games listed above were favourites of mine & listening to a bit of “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran or “History Never Repeats” by Split Enz makes me think of those times where I would be sat infront of the Amstrad CPC6128 which was on my blue desk, a box of 3” discs sitting on one side & some Amstrad magazines on the other. Later on I would have a tape drive & of course everyone had their favourite joystick or controller. I was always a keyboard player as I wasn’t a fan of using joysticks (though I had one) or controllers until I got a Gameboy, so I’d traditionally use the following configuration of keys:
- UP – Q
- DOWN – A
- LEFT – O
- RIGHT – P
- FIRE – SPACE
But I’m getting side tracked. Let’s move onto the Gameboy:
At this stage I still had my Amstrad but every Sunday I would go travelling with my Father. Normally we would go to my grandparents down at Port Adelaide & visit relatives who lived in between (my father has 8 siblings). Coming from my former home in Para Hills for those who don’t live in Adelaide, that’s about a 1/2 hour drive & a decent amount of time to get some gaming out of the way. When I got my Gameboy it went everywhere with me. I got very good at playing on the go in a shaky car, but while the radio was on, I didn’t listen to it. My Father’s taste in music was very different to my own and even today when he goes driving he has to have the radio tuned in to some AM station that plays the oldest music known to man.
Before we would leave on these early morning trips I would listen to “Take 40 Australia” on SA-FM. If we left early enough I would take my walkman with me & continue listening to the show rather than endure the horrors of AM radio. So imagine if you will, I had my walkman clipped to my side with headphones around my neck when I wasn’t listening to anything & my Gameboy in a black Gameboy carrier slung over my shoulder. I must have been a sight, but hey, it was the early 90s!!
Music that featured on the radio during that era included:
- Crowded House
- Michael Jackson
- Vanilla Ice
- MC Hammer
- Right Said Fred (Remember them? “I’m too sexy”)
These songs bring back memories of:
Super Mario Land
Simpsons: Escape from Camp Deadly
I was still playing my Amstrad a lot during this time as well while I was at home. The problem was that due to the availability of Amstrad games in Australia a lot of the games I played were on Amstrad Action covertapes, but there were exceptions. Some of those games from that early 90s period include:
Space Crusade (A demo on an Amstrad Action covertape)
Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles
Just a bit of “Love Shack” by the B52s, or “Weather With You” by Crowded House brings back memories of taking Mario through his first Gameboy adventure. A little “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice or “Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer makes me remember playing the Space Crusade demo that came with on an Amstrad Action covertape over & over again. It was only 1 level of Space Crusade but it was so much fun & took over an hour to complete that I played it over & over again. I always thought that Target Renegade was a bit of a poor man’s Double Dragon, but I still played it. From memory my friend James liked it more than I ever did.
Let’s jump forward to the Super Nintendo era. I started this era as I left the last by listening to “Take 40 Australia” on Sunday mornings (though I think it changed timeslots sometime around here), but by 1994 I had my first job & by 1996 I was buying myself CDs. It was during this time I became a massive Crowded House fan, which is rather ironic as they were in the process of breaking up at the time. They have since reformed thankfully & are still as good as ever, even without the deceased “Paul Hester”. Now, you can’t be a Crowded House fan without being a fan of the original Finn Brothers band Split Enz & I was a huge fan of them too eventhough they broke up in 1984. The Finns weren’t the only musicians I was listening to during this time, though “Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House” got a lot of spins in my CD player. I also started to get into Blur with their “Great Escape” album. My friend James started to get into Green Day so I was exposed to a bit of that as well. I believe the Offspring also featured a bit during this period & the Presidents of the United States of America. They were the first “fun” band I remember listening to.
This was the era of Megadrive vs SNES, of Street Fighter 2 vs Mortal Kombat & Of course Mario vs Sonic. It was also the era of an ARIA award winning comedy duo who were on the radio every weekday: Tony Martin & Mick Molloy. The Martin/Molloy albums were 3 of the finest comedy albums ever released. I bought them as they were released & remember sitting there playing either one of those, or one of my music CDs while plugging away at:
Turtles in Time
Super Mario World
Street Fighter 2
James had a Super Wildcard, which was a SNES backup system. This meant that the world of SNES games was open for us. All we had to do was hire a game we wanted, James would copy it & every time we got together we could play it. When I got access to the Internet that world expanded to include downloadable ROMs. Some of the music from that later era reminds me of those days of playing all those SNES games with the Super Wildcard.
(Above: Tony Martin & Mick Molloy)
It was also during this time I started to get into PC gaming. A nightly ritual for me would be to get home from school, listen to Martin/Molloy on the radio while I played Warcraft 2. Warcraft 2 was an addiction for me, the same way that World of Warcraft is for a lot of gamers today. When you had played all the missions you could create your own levels which really made the game stand out from other real time strategy games of the time.
On a down note, Warcraft 2 was also the game that taught me about video game addiction. It is the reason I don’t play World of Warcraft or any other game people become addicted to quite easily.
I’ll leave the reminiscing there. As I mentioned at the start of this feature. I’m getting a lot of this music on my iPod. I have since bought another Amstrad CPC (my parents sold the first one), but I never got rid of my SNES or Gameboy. I also kept all the albums from that day, except Blur’s “The Great Escape”. My little sister swiped that one… Well that happens.
That’s my musical history & the video games I was playing when I first heard some of these tunes. Let us know which songs or artists remind you of playing old video games on the forum. It would be interesting to compare notes with some of you.