VGM Entry 25: Meanwhile in Europe…
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)
It can be pretty easy to get boxed into a NES perspective and forget that, while Nintendo may have controlled the majority of the gaming market, they weren’t a total monopoly. The Commodore 64 in particular was still a close rival in the area of gaming music.
The same small handful of names seem to pop up everywhere I turn for C64 music. I don’t know if there were in fact fewer musicians, if their works drastically outshines the competition, or if most C64 composers have been unfairly forgotten, but I can tell you this much. Between 1985 and 1987 Rob Hubbard composed the music for over 60 video games. That is completely unheard of for any other time and any other system. Monty on the Run, the first Hubbard work to catch my attention, also happened to be one of his earliest. He would carry on the innovative tradition for many years to come, with such original (to the best of my knowledge) compositions as Nemesis the Warlock (Martech, 1987) rivaling his more famous 1985 works.
The tendency towards covers continued as well. Rob Hubbard visited Larry Fast and his Synergy project again on Zoids (Martech, 1986), this time arranging “Ancestors” from Audion, the same album that featured “Shibolet”. This time around, a version of the original music is conveniently available.
Which Hubbard music I post from here is really quite arbitrary, because the quality of his works is consistently high. Delta (Thalamus, 1987) is among my favorites. Delta is an interesting example of just how low-key video game development used to be. The sequel to Sanxion (Thalamus, 1986), both Delta and its predecessor were programmed by Stavros Fasoulas and composed by Rob Hubbard. To the best of my knowledge, that’s it. Perhaps this is why Hubbard was not composing ending credits themes.
I’ve read that the music to Delta was inspired by Koyaanisqatsi by Phillip Glass, but I have no reliable source to confirm this, and I have not heard the song myself.
Ben Daglish is another prolific C64 composer with dozens upon dozens of titles to his name. It’s pretty easy to miss soundtracks like Mountie Mick’s Death Ride (Ariolasoft, 1987) in the sea of material out there, especially with Daglish not getting quite the excessive attention of Hubbard and Galway. A great stand-alone song, Mountie Mick’s Death Ride also achieves a much higher level of game relativity than the average C64 composition. Unless this video is misleading, the game doesn’t seem to have had a seperate sound effects track at all; Daglish’s composition incorporated the chug of the train into the basic beat of the music.
(This video must have been removed in the past day or two, and I could not find a replacement nor did I have time to overhaul my article to adjust for it. I do hope this was deleted by the poster’s choice and not another victim to the most recent string of copyright threats by these media conglomerates who seem to be buying up massive quantities of obscure, out of print material and erasing all record of their existence. A whole ton of similarly innocent videos from different users seem to have vanished in the past few days.)
A Commodore 64 composer I drew attention to in an early post was Martin Galway, for his work in Yie Ar Kung-Fu and Roland’s Rat Race. I didn’t quite realize how significant the guy was at the time, but the more C64 soundtracks I look at (at least up through 1987), the more he comes across as the guy who scored every soundtrack that Hubbard didn’t. The two both put out ridiculous numbers. To Hubbard’s 60+, Galway can add another 30. Just how many games were released in this three year span?
By 1987, Galway seems to have gotten pretty experimental. A lot of his works don’t feel quite as “safe” as Hubbard’s. Game Over (Imagine, 1987) is a case in point. Weird as it may be, the first 1:50 still constitute a functional game soundtrack. But as the melody all drops out and nothing but Galway’s bizarre experimental drumming is left behind, well… whatever your take on the composition, I think you’ll be hard pressed to conceive of a relevant gaming context.
Maybe it’s just Game Over‘s cool box art that makes me think a relevant gaming context matters in the first place. I mean, if you tried to musically capture the title screen of The Baby of Can Guru (Rainbow Arts, 1987) you would probably be fired. So just as he did with The Great Giana Sisters that same year, Chris Hülsbeck said “to hell with this” and wrote whatever pleased him.
I mean, if the significance of what you’re now hearing hasn’t sunk in yet, let me try to clarify:
THIS GAME has a wicked soundtrack.
Anyway, this about wraps up my thoughts on SID music up through 1987. I will leave you with another Martin Galway piece: the Commodore 64 port of Arkanoid (Imagine, 1987), which is really just as absurd as Hülsbeck’s music for The Baby of Can Guru when you consider that the game is nothing more than a Breakout copycat.
Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway were not the only two people writing music for the Commodore 64–I still know next to nothing about David Whittaker, for instance–but it is consistently their works which strike me as noteworthy in the mid-1980s. Chris Hülsbeck, or Huelsbeck if you prefer, seems to really start to make his presence known in 1987, and the works of Jeroen Tel would soon follow. Tim Follin, the mastermind behind the Bionic Commando port arrangement, would also start to really expand his impact beyond the ZX Spectrum in the late ’80s. ’85-’87 might for many people constitute the real glory days of Commodore 64 music, but there was much greatness still to come.
Notice: Square Enix have apparently deemed one of my soundtrack reviews a copyright infringement and demanded I remove the offending content (brief audio samples from an out of print ost). I have complied, and I kindly encourage you to boycott all Square Enix products in the future. Since their games are terrible these days anyway I am probably doing you a favor.