Geesh, what a week I’ve been having. First my car got hit and needed repairs, then my rental car was a no-show for a couple of days leaving me with no transportation, then finally, the random, atmospheric noise dictated that I must listen to Buckner & Garcia’s novelty pop album, Pac-Man Fever and comment on it.
For those of you under 30, you may find it hard to believe there was a time when video games were considered a pop-culture fad, like Hula-Hoops and boy bands. But that’s exactly what it was like in the early 80’s when every corner store had an arcade machine and popular video game characters, particularly Pac-Man, were merchandised out the wazoo. This album is probably the most famous example of the… well… “Pac-Man Fever” the world was suffering from at the time.
As you may have already guessed, this album consists of novel pop songs about various video games that were popular in the arcades. Obviously, the title track paid homage to Pac-Man, but there were also songs about Frogger, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Defender, Mouse Trap, Centipede and Bezerk.
I never actually listened to this album in it’s entirety before. The title track was quite familiar (it was inexplicably a hit single) but I had never mustered up enough courage to listen to the other seven songs… until today. I can honestly say I wasn’t missing anything. Pac-Man Fever was everything that was wrong with 80’s music. Most of the songs sounded like they belonged in some B-Movie montage, or worse, the soundtrack to a smut film. If these were commercial jingles, I’d boycott the product.
And I can’t, for the life of me, imagine why some of these tracks lasted for more than four minutes when they should have ended at the two minute mark. “Ode to a Centipede”, at over five-and-a-half minutes, is a particularly egregious example, filling time with lyrics like “Come here little Centipede, I’m gonna chase you down now, You can’t fool me by changing colors, Here I come” before looping the chorus, “Oh, Centipede, you can’t run away, you can’t run away” ad nauseum. These are the ramblings of a drunk person playing a video game, not song lyrics.
At this point, you might be wondering why I own an album for which I have nothing but contempt. Well, besides vinyl, I am an avid fan and collector of classic video games as well. This is currently in my work room:
This is an album you buy as a conversation piece, not for listening. And lest you think otherwise, the album is not all terrible. It only has eight tracks so that’s a good thing. And the songwriters enthusiasm for the games did make me want to fire up my machine and play them.
But make no mistake. This album was a cash-in on a fad, a fad that crashed and burned a year later. I’m sure Buckner and Garcia are good, talented guys. But it takes a lot more than video game sounds effects and prose about arcade machines to make a good song.
And if I have nightmares about Keytars tonight, I know whom to blame…