Playlist Creation: Five Favourite Videogame Soundtrack Tunes

As I discussed last week, I’ve not been listening to music in a focused way recently, so I surprised myself a bit last night when I found myself on Spotify, working on my playlists again. I have probably 50-odd playlists on Spotify as my music taste is fairly eclectic, but I hadn’t realised I’d never put together a videogame soundtrack playlist before (other than a specific one for Monkey Island soundtracks). Videogame soundtracks feature frequently on my earworm playlists, as both Geth and I play a lot of videogames and the music is often very catchy, so it’s about time I start collecting my favourites together!

I started this process last night, but it’ll be a little more involved than most Spotify playlist creation processes as most of my favourite videogame soundtracks aren’t on Spotify. As such, I’ll have to track them down separately and store them in my local files in order to put the playlist together. This could be a bit of a long project as a result, but it’d be a great playlist to have, so I will persevere.

I have a lot of favourites, but here are five special tunes that have soundtracked my gaming life (and my life in general as a result).

‘Candion’ (Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare ’95, 1995)

An unseasonal Christmas example to start off with! Having spent about five years obsessively playing PC platformers – starting with Hunchy on the BBC Micro when I was very young and still spectacularly bad at videogames, then moving onto early ’90s offerings such as Jason Storm (I first played it on a black and white screen!), Word Rescue and Hocus Pocus – I spent pretty much all of 1994 and 1995 playing Jazz Jackrabbit, a Sonic-a-like for the PC. Every single one of the soundtrack tunes for the game’s thirty-odd levels brings back so many memories, but it’s this gorgeous MIDI rendition of ‘Carol Of The Bells’ from the game’s second set of Christmas-themed levels that stands out most for me.

‘Type A’ (Tetris, 1989)

I didn’t get a Nintendo Game Boy until 1997, a good eight years after the system had first come out. My younger brother Malcolm was fairly console-obsessed and spent most of the first half of the ’90s unsuccessfully pestering my parents for a Game Boy and/or a Sega Mega Drive. We were both keen viewers of GamesMaster on Channel 4 at the time, and one of my main memories of it is the constant background refrain of ‘ohhh I wish I could play that…’ Of course, having watched the episodes again on YouTube with Geth in more recent years and realising how eye-watering the prices were for consoles and videogames at the time – £50 for a single game in 1993! That’s £105 in today’s money! – I now understand why my brother’s requests fell on deaf ears! I, on the other hand, was perfectly happy gaming on the PC – that is, until I went on a school trip to France in 1997 and had the opportunity to borrow my friend Fiona’s Game Boy during the long boring hours spent on the coach. Realising the usefulness of portability (Mum and Dad were/are keen travellers and so I spent a lot of my life in the backseat of a car at that point), I requested one for Christmas that year. The prices may have been more wallet-friendly by then, as I got my Game Boy – and so did Malcolm, who wasn’t about to miss out on his long-awaited handheld system now that his big sister was getting one.

I had a few games for the system, including, of course, Tetris, which I believe was bundled with every Game Boy ever sold. I always appreciated the fact that you could choose from a selection of background music, something I don’t remember seeing in any other game of any era (I’m sure other examples exist but I’ve not come across them personally!). While I remember preferring the slightly classical-sounding ‘Type C’ when I was playing the game back in the ’90s, it’s the iconic ‘Type A’ that has seared itself into my brain for the rest of eternity.

Addendum: I can’t talk about the Tetris music without linking to the amazing ‘Russian history’ version!

‘The Swamp’ (Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, 1991)

However, on the odd occasion that I wasn’t in the backseat of a car, the second half of the ’90s (and all of the ’00s… and to some extent the ’10s and ’20s and presumably every decade for the rest of my life) were all about LucasArts graphical adventure games. In 1997 (clearly a big year in gaming for us), Malcolm bought a magazine with a demo for The Curse Of Monkey Island, sending us both down an adventure game rabbithole from which I have yet to emerge nearly quarter of a century later. I’ve played many, many classics from the ’80s and ’90s, as well as a lot of great adventure games that have been made in more modern times, but the Monkey Island series will always be the greatest in my eyes. The soundtracks – an inspired blend of Caribbean reggae and more traditional ‘pirate’ genres such as English hornpipe, composed by Michael Land – are so brilliant that I have a whole separate playlist for them, as mentioned above, so it’s hard to pick a favourite track. However, the one that I think I’ve always loved the most is ‘The Swamp’, a spooky epic from the second entry in the series. It’s like a thousand memories in one.

‘It’s Detective Gumshoe, Pal!’ (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, 2001)

I’m generally a late adopter of console and handheld systems. In my case it’s because I have such a backlog of old games that I don’t mind waiting a while to play the new ones (exceptions over the last year have included Paper Mario: The Origami King as I bought into the hype, Beyond A Steel Sky as I’d been excited about it for years, and Bravely Default II (arriving Friday! so excited!) as the previous entries were my favourite 3DS games ever. Geth is the same, which has probably been for the best this last year; I think we would have been inordinately stressed if we’d tried to partake in the PS5 / XBOX Series X launch palaver. I’d still like to get one or the other, but I’m happy to wait for a couple of years!

As such, I only got my first 3DS* in early 2014, three years after it had come out. Geth and I had been avid Wii gamers since the turn of the decade, but the Wii seemed like it was dying a death, as the official Nintendo magazine focused more and more on 3DS games. These 3DS games sounded REALLY good, and so I bought my 3DS for my 29th birthday. It was my first handheld since the Game Boy Colour (something I still almost regret buying** as I never actually bought any games for it, just used it to make my old Game Boy games look slightly more colourful. I only bought one because Malcolm spent the entirety of our 1999 summer holiday in France trying to find an affordable one in the supermarkets, and by the end of the holiday I wanted one too. Don’t buy into the hype!).

I love the 3DS and still play it a lot, even though I’ve got a Switch Lite too now. The system has provided what are now some of my favourite games of all time, such as the first two Bravely games, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and of course the brilliant Ace Attorney series, which was my first introduction to Japanese visual novel-style adventure gaming.

The Ace Attorney soundtracks are fantastic. The games were originally released in the early ’00s in Japan before being upgraded for worldwide release on the 3DS a decade later, and so the music is still very MIDI-sounding and retro. All the tracks are great, but my favourite is the character theme for Dick Gumshoe. (He’s not my favourite character but he has far and away the best music!)

*I’m now on my second. My first one died bravely in battle (like, literally in the middle of a Bravely Default battle) in 2016. That was a bad day.

**Almost, but not quite. Due to the vagaries of cartridge decay, my copy of Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land now refuses to play on my Game Boy, but plays perfectly on my Game Boy Colour. My Game Boy is still fine with my other cartridges, so it’s just one of those technical mysteries!

‘Leaving Earth’ (Mass Effect 3, 2012)

Around the same time as I was enjoying the Ace Attorney games for the first time, I finally got round to playing the Mass Effect series.

I mentioned earlier in this post that Geth and I are late console adopters, but we’re not as bad as we used to be. Back in the early ’10s, we waited a whole console generation so that we could pick up an XBOX 360 for cheap when the XBOX One came out in 2013. As such, we didn’t own the Mass Effect games until then, and though I watched Geth doing a couple of playthroughs in 2014, I didn’t get round to playing them myself until the following summer.

Mass Effect was a huge and important gaming experience for me. It was what inspired me to start running (because I watched Commander Shepard running around the universe and thought ‘I’d like to be able to run forever, too’). It shifted my expectations and perceived baselines around videogames, and has become a major comparison point for me when I’m evaluating new ones. Unlike the other games on this list, however, I wouldn’t say that the Mass Effect soundtrack is uniformly brilliant or even that memorable. It’s one particular track – ‘Leaving Earth’ from Mass Effect 3 – that stands out so much that it will always be one of my all-time favourites.

I always find it lovely that ‘Leaving Earth’ – along with many other soundtrack classics – was composed by Clint Mansell, who in the late ’80s and early ’90s was in Pop Will Eat Itself, one of the greebo bands loved by a teenage Geth back in the day. Greebo and epic soundtracks are worlds apart to me, but maybe not as much as I think!

In closer-to-home musical news: the Zoom band night I was attending on Wednesdays has come to an end for now 🙁 However, I intend to keep doing a bit of ukulele practice at the same time every Wednesday so that I don’t get out of the habit again. Maybe I’ll start learning some of my favourite videogame soundtracks on ukulele!

More musical thoughts next week.

A musical interlude

A slight bit of blog business today. Now that I’m caught up with all my pre-pandemic gig reviews, I’m planning to make Wednesday ‘music day’ on the blog. I’ve not focused on music posts for a while, as I’ve not been focusing on music so much in my everyday life, for a couple of reasons. First of all, gigs are obviously on the back burner for now. Secondly, I’ve not been listening to music in a focused way during the last year – I’ve been finding I concentrate on work better when it’s quiet, and when I’m out for a walk with headphones I prefer to listen to podcasts. When I do put music on (largely at the request of Geth when he wants some background music), it’s always an old standby like ’80s pop or synthwave or videogame soundtracks – it’s been a long time since I’ve deliberately listened to an album or sought out new music.

It’s been about eighteen months since I wrote my last New Hits Friday post, because I’ve not been keeping up with the chart for the last year (most chart music is not to my taste so I was starting to find it a bit of a chore, though I will go back and catch up because I still find the chart really interesting academically). I’m a few Now! albums behind, and other than the usual Christmas shows, I can’t remember the last time I turned on the music channels. It’s just not been a focus for the last year and a bit; there have been other things going on.

However, I would like to get back into the habit of focused music listening, which is why I’m going to be setting aside Wednesday blog posts for related content. This could take many forms – reviews, features, general ramblings – as I want to keep the scope quite broad. I expect that at first, I’ll mostly be focusing on music topics I already know about, but there’s always the potential to learn something new. Sometimes on ukulele!

Ocarina
Ocarina out of time. Mum and Dad passed this on to me a couple of Christmases ago but I haven’t had much chance to pick it up yet. One day 🙂

Gig Review: LeBrock at the Head of Steam, 6th February 2020

I find it a bit depressing that this last Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the last time I went to a gig. I had so many booked for the rest of 2020, and now so many postponed ones booked for 2021… but as I’ve mentioned before, I expect it’ll be closer to 2022 before we can watch live music in a venue again.

As such, this very belated review marks the end of event reviewing on this blog for now. The next one – whenever it is – will be very special!

I’ve been really enjoying synthwave for a few years now, but this was only the second time I’d made it to a synthwave gig (the first being The Midnight a few months previously). Really hope we get a few more synthwave bands playing in Newcastle once the pandemic is over.

The support band were Tired of Fighting. Our friend George is in this band and is a huge synthwave fan, which is why they asked for the support slot as I understand it. Their sound isn’t very synthy but it was quite high-energy, creating a good atmosphere for what was to follow.

Tired of Fighting
Blurry photography as usual (there were a lot of dancing people in the way!) so I’ve had to cobble the band together in this image.

LeBrock, when they came on, kept up this energy throughout their set – which was surprisingly short, finishing quite some time before the venue closed, but featured all the songs they were best known for. I loved the set but I wish it had been longer – or that the venue had organised an extra band on the bill to fill the gap, as it sort of felt like the night had been cut short!

LeBrock
There was more energy onstage than it looks like in this image.

So with that early finish from LeBrock, that was the end of my pre-pandemic gig-attending. Not a bad way to end, but I’m really looking forward to the return of music events!

Gig Review: Andy Taylor at the 100 Club, 27th November 2019

It’s been a while since I did a gig review… mainly for obvious reasons! I do have a couple of outstanding events to review from the pre-pandemic world, though, so I’ll get those posted while I’m waiting for life to return to the point where I can go to gigs again.

I reviewed this gig for Daily Duranie at the time (though the page is down at the moment as the Daily Duranie folks are currently in the process of sorting out their archives), so I won’t repeat myself too much, but it was a wonderful show. Some background context: my lifelong ’80s pop obsession narrowed to a Duran Duran sub-obsession in early 2017, but for various reasons the band (who since 2006 have been the classic lineup sans Andy Taylor) have not played any public gigs in the UK during that time, and so I have still not seen them in concert (or been able to cross them off my Band Aid baby bucket list as a result!). I was meant to see them twice in 2020… but then life stopped, as we all know. I now have tickets to see them twice in 2021, but we’ll just have to wait and see if that can happen. I’m not very optimistic, sadly; I expect it will probably be 2022, along with all the other 2020 gigs for which I’m still holding tickets.

However, I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the Andy Taylor gig in London in November 2019! Andy was scheduled to release a new album in 2020 (now scheduled for summer 2021 apparently), and this gig at the 100 Club was the first chance to hear some of the new material (along with favourites from 1987’s Thunder and the occasional crowd-pleasing Duran track!). Andy is also a touring member of Reef, and so Reef singer Gary Stringer was on hand to help with vocal duties.

Andy Taylor at the 100 Club, November 2019
My usual standard of gig photography, I’m afraid! Perhaps it will improve post-pandemic…

It was great to be able to get down to London for this (and meet up with other Duranies for the first time). I was so excited to do it all again in Cullercoats in May 2020… but that is another gig that has yet to see the light of day. Whenever it eventually happens, I’ll be there – Cullercoats is Andy’s hometown, so it should be a fantastic atmosphere, and it’s just a short trip on the Metro for me here in Newcastle. A bit easier than travelling to London!

Updated Band Aid baby bucket list progress: song artists 7/37 (18.9%); message artists 2/7 (28.6%); total artists 9/44 (20.5%).

Blurry Gig Photo: Strictly Come Dancing: The Live Tour, 24th January 2017

A new series today where I share some of my blurriest – and yet nicest in some ways – gig photos! Back in the old days when we could still go to gigs and shows, I would always take pictures as a memento, even at times when I wasn’t blogging. Gigs always feel like a one-off special moment that you can never have again, and so I always try to capture the magic. I’m not a great photographer and so am rarely successful, but my attempts usually end up fairly colourful.

Strictly: The Live Tour 2017

I don’t even remember who the couple in the photo were; I would have to check the programme. One of my main memories of the show is that the costumes appeared so much more sparkly in real life than they do on TV, but again this aspect doesn’t show up in any of my photos or videos – cameras don’t do sparkle.

A trip to a music concert next time. I miss gigs.

Back to the ukulele

After my ukulele classes came to an abrupt halt – along with everything else – back in March 2020, I didn’t pick up my ukuleles much. I did have a good strum for a couple of weeks in the summer, as I had a lovely new tenor ukulele that Dad had sent as a surprise, but on the whole I found that I was busy with other things. I really need the motivation of either a regular weekly group or a daily streak in order to keep going with habits – and I don’t have time for yet another daily streak, especially now that I’ve started a cleaning one!

Thankfully, a local organisation has just started a weekly Zoom community band session. It’s free of charge, no experience required, and really relaxed – music groups on Zoom require everyone except the leader to be on mute due to feedback, so I can happily strum away without worrying about anyone else hearing my out-of-practice playing!

Tenor ukulele
Ukulele-ing from the comfort of my own sofa.

Tonight was the second session, and after the first it took me a bit by surprise as there were a lot of new songs and they were a bit tougher for me! It’s great though because it means I’ve got lots to practise before next week, which gives me the motivation I need to have a quick go every now and then. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up a bit better at the next session!

Gig Review: Shakespear’s Sister at Sage Gateshead, 10th November 2019

The second gig of my weekend double-header at Sage Gateshead, following Adam Ant on the Saturday, was Shakespear’s Sister on the Sunday. Geth came with me on this occasion, as he’s probably more of a fan than I am – I like their stuff but am not hugely familiar with it. The November tour was in support of recent reunion album Ride Again, the band’s first new material since the early ’90s.

The support act was an artist called Delena, whose saccharine pop was a bit forgettable. I don’t usually have high standards for support acts, as I think it’s great that artists who are just starting out get the chance to go on big tours, but having enjoyed the Glam Skanks so much the previous evening, I was fairly disappointed this time round!

Delena

Shakespear’s Sister did a very varied set – a mixture of their new material and their old classics. The new stuff has a slight country and western tinge, which I’m not usually a fan of, but I didn’t mind on this occasion (though Geth wasn’t particularly impressed). It was the more well-known songs in the second half that really got the audience on their feet, though. Both Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit were apparently struggling with colds, and so they sang exceptionally under the circumstances!

Shakespear's Sister

On the whole it was a great show with lots of good tunes, onstage banter and interesting visuals. Can’t ask for more.

Updated Band Aid baby bucket list progress: song artists 6/37 (16.2%); message artists 2/7 (28.6%); total artists 8/44 (18.2%).

Gig Review: Adam Ant at Sage Gateshead, 9th November 2019

Another November gig… but far from the last!

I was at the Sage Gateshead two nights running over the weekend of the 9th and 10th November.  The Saturday gig was Adam Ant, who is of course an absolute ‘80s pop legend and thus a must-see in my book.  The tour was celebrating the 1982 Friend Or Foe album, which was played in its entirety, followed by a set of favourites and crowd-pleasers.

The support act were the Glam Skanks, who are an all-female glam rock band: basically, everything I was looking for in a band when I was a teenager.  The image and the music is just right – being from California, their sound leans more towards the American end of glam rock (New York Dolls etc.), but they obviously know their stuff regarding the British history as well and it was a really fun, energetic set.  I loved them and will be investigating their music further!

The Glam Skanks at Sage Gateshead
New favourites!

The energy only ramped up further when Adam Ant and his band came on stage after the interval.  It was most definitely a ‘standing from the outset’ gig (if you go to a lot of older bands’ gigs, where the audience tends to skew a bit older as well, you will know that this is usually not the case!).

Adam Ant at Sage Gateshead
It was difficult to get a photo of him ’cause he wouldn’t stay still!

The Friend Or Foe section was a good romp through the album tracks (including a rousing ‘Goody Two Shoes’, probably my highlight of the gig), and then things really kicked off for the rest of the set.  I was so happy to hear ‘Xerox’, my favourite track from the Ants’ earlier and slightly gothier days, and of course the crowd went mad for the big hits.  Here’s a video I took of ‘Antmusic’:

It’s getting really hard to choose my favourite gigs from among the many I’ve been to this year, but this one is definitely up there!  I’ll do a 2019 gig roundup next month.  But I’m not quite done yet…

Gig Review: The Midnight at Manchester Albert Hall, 7th November 2019

Both Geth and I have been getting into synthwave in a big way this year. It’s the perfect modern ’80s-aping genre for me, while Geth was starting to get fed up with what was happening in industrial and needed a new type of electronic music to listen to. As such, we’ve been listening to it lots and have a few new favourite bands!

The Midnight are my favourite synthwave band, so when we heard that they were playing a few dates in the UK, it was an absolute no-brainer that we were going to go see them. A few friends from Newcastle had the same idea, so it was a good crowd in Manchester last Thursday for the gig.

The support act, Violet Days, were already playing when we arrived at the venue and found seats (a really good space on the balcony right above the stage!). I wouldn’t say their music was particularly standout to me, but it provided a nice bit of background while Geth got the drinks in and bought a couple of t-shirts at the merch stand.

Violet Days
Loved this viewpoint over the stage! Not too crowded either, so if I’m ever back at the Albert Hall I’ll know where to go.

While I love going to see classic artists who have been going for forty years or so, the sheer depth of their back catalogues means that there’s always a good few songs I don’t know (even Duran Duran, who are my favourite band and whom I listen to every day, have a few deep cuts and side projects with which I’m less familiar). For newer bands like the Midnight with only one or two albums, this is not a problem! I’ve been listening to their stuff so much this year that I knew every single song played, and was able to sing along to most of it (I don’t usually hear lyrics when I’m listening to music due to being hard of hearing, so this was a big deal). I don’t think I’ve come across one of their songs that I don’t absolutely love, so it was a brilliant, energetic show. In fact, the band have done so many great songs that there were a couple of my favourites (‘Crystalline’ and ‘Kick Drums And Red Wine’) that didn’t get played – but I didn’t mind, because everything they did play was brilliant too!

Setlist here.

The Midnight
It was nice to be close enough that even with my blurry photography, you can still tell who it is!

I just want to give a quick shout out to the Manchester Albert Hall, which is a brilliant venue. Hoping to attend a few more gigs there in the future! I will also be looking out for more synthwave gigs next year.

Gig Review: A-ha at Leeds First Direct Arena, 2nd November 2019

Geth and I had both been looking forward to A-ha for months. We’d booked the tickets back in February, just after our previous visit to Leeds First Direct Arena to see Tears For Fears, and even then it was tricky to get tickets as they were selling out so quickly! I’m so glad we got to go.

There was no support act, as A-ha were scheduled to be playing for a good two and a half hours – but this did mean that the doors opened a whole two hours before the band were due on stage, and so even though we hadn’t rushed to the venue, we were still stuck in our seats for an hour before the band came on! It would have been nice if the times had been made clearer beforehand.

When the band did come on, they were accompanied by some brilliant visuals in the style of the ‘Take On Me’ video.

The tour was aimed to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Hunting High And Low album (or the nearly-an-anniversary at any rate – the album came out a few months after I was born and I’m not quite thirty-five yet!) As such, one of the t-shirts they were selling made no reference to the band whatsoever – it was just a black and white striped t-shirt with ‘1985’ emblazoned across it in red. Did I get it? You bet I did. Birth year represent!

A-ha 1985 t-shirt
A new favourite t-shirt 🙂

The bulk of the show was constituted by the Hunting High And Low album being played in its entirety, so for the most part the audience knew what to expect next. Having seen the band perform on a BBC ’80s nostalgia show a couple of years ago, I’d assumed Morten Harket was finding it difficult to hit the high notes on ‘Take On Me’ these days, as he’d taken it down an octave for the BBC show. At the gig, however, he managed the original arrangement admirably, which was much appreciated!

After they’d done the album tracks, there was an interval, and the band then launched into a few bonus favourites. I was a little disappointed by the lack of ‘Touchy!’, as it’s a beautifully silly song and thus appeals to me hugely – but to be honest I wasn’t really expecting them to play it, nice as it would have been! They did finish with a wonderfully crowd-pleasing ‘The Living Daylights’, which I think may be the first Bond theme I’ve ever seen performed live by the original artists (note to self: must not start new bucket list).

Setlist here.

A-ha at Leeds First Direct Arena

On the whole, it was a fantastic show and well worth the wait. I expect it’ll be a few years before A-ha come back to the UK, but I’d love to see them again sometime!