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Friday, August 27, 2010

Take a waka-waka-waka on the wild side

Copyright 2013 Grand Junction Free Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. August, 27 2010 5:02 pm

Take a waka-waka-waka on the wild side

This week, Craven had the chance to see Edgar Wright's witty and kinetic action comedy, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” which, from its eight-bit rendering of the Universal Studios logo and fanfare until its final exhortation to “Play Again,” is a cinematic ode to the arcade games of yesteryear. Ever since leaving the theater, Craven has been thinking about the ongoing love affair between video games and pop music -- a romance that's been burning for more than three decades now.

It was 32 years ago that the Japanese band, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, released its first self-titled album with not one, but two gaming-related songs: “Computer Game ‘Theme From the Circus,'” and “Computer Game ‘Theme From Invader.'” The record was issued in the United States in May 1979, just two months ahead of the debut album from a New Zealand new wave band called Mi-Sex, which featured the similarly titled “Computer Games.”

The next year saw two songs inspired by the popular arcade game, “Space Invaders.” An Ohio disc jockey named Victor Blecman (recording as “Uncle Vic”) landed in the Hot 100 with his song, “Space Invaders,” and the Pretenders' classic debut album included an instrumental titled “Space Invader” that ended with the game's instantly recognizable sound effects.

Pac-Man gobbled his way up the Billboard charts in 1982, when Buckner & Garcia's “Pac-Man Fever” landed at #9 -- considerably higher than the duo's “Do the Donkey Kong,” which stalled at #103.

Since then, video games have proven a fertile subject for rock ‘n' roll and hip-hop artists of all stripes. Former Pixie Frank Black penned an ode to the original video game on his 1994 solo album, “Teenager of the Year,” when he asked the musical question, “Whatever Happened to Pong?”

Electronic groups have sung the praises of various game systems in recent years. European one-hit wonders Eiffel 65, whose “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” dominated dance clubs and radio playlists in 1999, lionized the Sony Playstation in their “My Console” that same year. Five years later, Massachusetts electronic trio Freezepop name-dropped Nintendo's late '80s bestselling handheld gaming device when they released “I Am Not Your Game Boy.” Freezepop's singer Kasson Crooker eventually left the band to become a project director for Harmonix, the video game manufacturer behind music-based games like “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero.”

Speaking of “Guitar Hero,” that game has inspired at least two pop songs: “Guitar Hero,” a track from Amanda Palmer's 2008 solo album, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” which found the Dresden Dolls singer joined by Ben Folds and former Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray, and “Guitar Hero Hero,” from nerdcore luminary MC Lars' 2009 album, “This Gigantic Robot Kills,” which skewered the obsessive game addict's hopes of ever becoming a real rock star:

“I'm a gamer, I'm an addict, guitar strummer, I'm a fan. One day, I'll tour the country in my drummer's beat-up van. But until I learn to play, I'll sit in front of my TV. I'm a ‘Guitar Hero' hero.”

Notes is supported by the Gay and Lesbian Fund, committed to building a better future for all of Colorado by supporting programs that keep kids in school.

Craven Lovelace produces Notes, a daily cultural history of popular music, for KAFM 88.1 Community Radio, You can visit for more of his musings on the world of popular culture.

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