Arcade Jukebox: The Video Game Mixlist
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1. Pixies, "Theme From NARC"
(from Complete "B" Sides)
What do you call the theme song to a violent late-'80s video game about killing drug dealers when it's played by an influential late-'80s alterna-rock band? It isn't just a throwaway B-side, it's a seminal throwaway B-side, highlighted by Black Francis' periodic vocal reminders that, yes, this is the theme from NARC.
2. Buckner & Garcia, "Ode To A Centipede"
(from Pac-Man Fever)
Buckner & Garcia scored a fluke 1982 hit with "Pac-Man Fever," but different strains of the same fever apparently compelled them to record songs based around other arcade favorites–songs like "Do The Donkey Kong" and "Froggy's Lament." "Ode To A Centipede" continues NARC's revenge theme, and includes chilling, threat-filled spoken-word segments with lines like "Go ahead and run your little legs off / Do ya have Nikes for all of 'em?" Oh, snap, Centipede! You just got served!
3. Chilly Kids, "At The Ice Arcade"
(from The Sugar Hill Records Story)
When video games went through their first wave of popularity, they came under heavy criticism for warping the minds of young, obsessive fans. For five glorious minutes, the never-to-be-heard-from-again Sugar Hill act Chilly Kids not only fesses up to this, but revels in it. "I flunked my test / the teacher's annoyed / but we rock the Ice Arcade playing / Asteroids," goes a typical verse. Sound effects, some of which actually match up with the games the Kids rap about, interrupt the old-school-by-way-of-the-playground flow.
4. Mr. Bungle, "Theme From Tetris (Ska Version)"
Not Britney Spears, not Linda Perry, not John Lennon or Paul McCartney–no one has written a song as burrowing-brainworm catchy as the theme from Tetris. (Coupled with the falling bricks, it's like virtual heroin.) Mr. Bungle, the spastic experimentalist act led by Mike Patton, knew not to mess with a good thing too much when it recorded this surprisingly faithful, six-minute ska version. It hasn't been officially released, but patience and your favorite file-sharing service should yield a recording. While you're at it, look for Mr. Bungle's equally mind-warping take on the Super Mario Brothers theme.
5. Sunny Day Real Estate, "Guitar And Video Games"
(from How It Feels To Be Something On)
In the middle of Sunny Day Real Estate's driving reunion album is the manifesto-like "Guitar And Video Games," which tackles love, death, and "the rules of fashion." The solution to life's questions: "We'll play guitar and video games." That may not be the song's central message; then again, maybe it is.
6. The Advantage, "Zelda-Fortress"
(from The Advantage)
Before video games had the capacity to include boring-ass alt-rock songs in their entirety, creators had to rely on relatively primitive sounds –elemental ones, some might say. The original Nintendo Entertainment System spawned some of the most memorable bloop-bleep music in history, and The Advantage pays full homage, faithfully reinterpreting old Nintendo soundtracks with a standard rock-band lineup, and even breaking the songs into component parts. "Zelda-Fortress" is way more tense and compelling than any Nickelback track, too.
7. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, "Human Video Game"
(from He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper)
In this kind-of unintentional sequel to "At The Ice Arcade," the future Will Smith offers a harrowing tale of life as a video-game addict. "Some nights I might sleep on the subway," Smith recalls, "or outside of the arcade 'til it opened up the next day." What saved Smith? Human beatbox Ready Rock C, whose ability to imitate sound effects from Donkey Kong and Pac-Man apparently satiated Smith's need to play the games themselves. [Note: At press time, The A.V. Club could not confirm whether Smith still has Ready Rock C on his payroll, or has sought out alternate means of therapy.]
8. Guided By Voices, "Kicker Of Elves"
(from Bee Thousand)
This short acoustic track may just be another of Robert Pollard's random flights of fancy, but it sure sounds like he's singing about Golden Axe, a game in which elf-kicking is a key to survival. Or maybe he just doesn't like elves.
9. Minibosses, "Castlevania 3"
(online at minibosses.com)
Another cover band devoted to the original Nintendo Entertainment System, Phoenix's Minibosses rework their source material to its rockin' fullest, replacing the bleeps and bloops with bass, drums, and two guitars that aren't afraid to get a little psychedelic. This version of the Castlevania 3 theme doesn't just bring back memories of the vampire-slaying classic, it, like, totally takes listeners to the place called Castlevania in their mind, man.
10. The Video Game Pianist, "Mario Fantasy Suite"
(online at videogamepianist.com)
In his online mission statement, The Video Game Pianist voices some bold hopes for his work: He feels that, by interpreting video-game themes for classical piano, he can bring the instrument into the mainstream. The artist formerly known as The Blindfolded Pianist isn't limited to the classics—he dips into later installments of the Final Fantasy series—but his takes on the various Super Mario themes made his name, as it were, and they're available as free downloads. Better even than the songs themselves are videos of The Video Game Pianist, who clearly takes unusual joy in tackling the speedy, repetitive songs. There but for the grace of God...
11. Aqueduct, "Gameover: Thanks For Playing"
(from I Sold Gold)
When the quarters run out and carpal-tunnel syndrome sets in, what lovelier way to say goodbye than a plaintive instrumental? And remember, former FBI director William S. Sessions still believes that winners don't use drugs.