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Pop music in Amstrad CPC 464/6128 games

A red transparent vinyl record, sitting on top of a blue coloured recordWill you spend your Woollies voucher on the latest single, or an Amstrad CPC game? The game, of course, but you needn't miss out. As Sean McManus reports, a number of games had pop tunes built in. Here's our chart of hit singles in games, counting backwards to number 1.

This article includes YouTube videos with excerpts of the music mentioned here. Thanks to the people who created and posted those videos. To experience the music in full, why not play the original games?

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Amtix CPC logoThis article originally appeared in issue 3 (February 2022) of Amtix! CPC, the new 60-page print magazine for the Amstrad CPC community. The publisher has licensed the brand and Oli Frey's artwork from the original Amtix magazine, and is now producing a quarterly A5 magazine, with the familiar feel of the magazine from the 80s. The new Amtix magazine covers new games and old, as well as art, tech, and features on the Amstrad CPC community.

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  1. Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins

    This minor hit for Kenny Loggins (who previously charted with Footloose) featured in the movie and game Top Gun. Danger Zone charted at number 45. The Amstrad version confusingly uses the same sound for the voice and synth parts, but is otherwise a solid version of the song. The Top Gun game also features the Top Gun Anthem by Harold Faltermeyer, which won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1987. Of the two tunes, the anthem is the stronger one.

  2. Captain Blood – Jean-Michel Jarre

    In 1988, Jean-Michel Jarre played landmark concerts in London's Docklands, with searchlights, fireworks, and projections turning the industrial landscape into his stage. That same year, Captain Blood was released, with Ethnicolor as its title music. It's the opening track on Jarre's pioneering sample-based album Zoolook. The tune is often masked by the distorted vocal samples that sound like the most wonderful alien jungle on the record. Think of the CPC version as a novel remix, stripping away the samples to uncover the core melody.

  3. Peter Gunn – The Blues Brothers

    If you missed out on The Art of Noise and Duane Eddy's cover of Peter Gunn, you can hear the tune in The Blues Brothers game. The loping bass line that holds it all together is double tracked when there's a channel free, so the bass sounds as fat as possible. The single charted at number 8 in 1986, but the tune originally dates back to 1959. The game also features Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, with some bluesy vamping behind the melody line and power chords for one of the vocal sections to break it up. That song follows the title music, and Peter Gunn features later in the game at about 13:27 in the video below.

  4. The Time Warp – Damian

    Hot Patootie! I really love that rock n' roll! The Rocky Horror Show is a musical about a transvestite alien who teaches two up-tight Earthlings how to party. Among other new experiences, Brad and Janet discover the Time Warp, a dance with its own song (or a song with its own dance, depending how you look at it). Damian took his version to number 7 in in the charts in 1989. CRL got there first, with The Rocky Horror Show game launching in 1985. A lot of Amstrad tunes sound like either synths or bells, and this one's a "bells" one in parts. It captures the rock n' roll spirit that underlies the original song, with each part feeling like it's performed independently, as if by a band. The only glitch is an odd low note just before the tune loops. If you don't know which way to jump or where to put your hands, see the title screen for dance instructions.

  5. The NeverEnding Story – Limahl

    This song was composed by Giorgio Moroder, performed by Limahl, and reached a peak of number 4 on the UK chart. You can hear it in the game of The NeverEnding Story. The Amstrad version (like the single) starts with such a gentle fade in that you don't notice it at first. At the end, it washes away, too, creating the illusion that the music – like the story – is eternal. There are no drums on this, but the synth arpeggios keep the momentum up, and the Amstrad hums the vocal lines beautifully. Full marks for capturing pretty much all of the single, including the solo. Bonus points for adding a pop song to a text adventure, which is rare. If you haven't seen the film, do watch it. It's magical.

  6. Bad – Michael Jackson

    Jackson was multimedia before there was multimedia. Already famous for his cinematic pop videos, Jackson starred in pixelated form in the Amstrad game Moonwalker, based on the film of the same name. Jackson's single Bad reached number 3 in the UK single charts. The Amstrad rendition in the game is not bad at all. The game also plays Smooth Criminal (a top ten hit at number 8), and The Way You Make Me Feel (number 3). That last one plays near the end of the game, but it's no reward. It sounds terrible, with a beepy synth voice and frequent laser blasts interrupting the flow.

  7. Ghostbusters – Ray Parker Jnr

    Ray Parker Jnr took the Ghostbusters theme to number 2, with its memorable refrain of "Who you gonna call?". It's almost a rap in parts: tricky to do on a computer. The first Ghostbusters game gives you a karaoke rendition that displays the words for you to sing, a neat solution. Ghostbusters II remixes the song with oomph, and adds a melody for some of the rap parts. It's surprising in places, but it works. The Real Ghostbusters game offers another catchy interpretation. Those last two versions sound funkier, but it's most fun to sing along to the original. I ain't afraid of no ghost!

  8. A View to a Kill – Duran Duran

    This Bond theme reached number 2 in 1985, performed by Duran Duran with a 60-piece orchestra. Not much to live up to then. The version in the A View to a Kill game uses the original melody and adds some nice trilling bass effects. As a b-side, if you like, you get a strong performance of the Bond theme in the game, too. The game itself is nothing special. If I'd bought it, I'd probably have played the music more than the game.

  9. Axel F – Harold Faltermeyer

    This song also spun out of a hit movie. The instrumental track Axel F was named after Eddie Murphy's character in Beverly Hills Cop and hit number 2 in the UK chart in 1984. The Amstrad version in the Beverly Hills Cop game is such a perfect cover, you could almost believe it's the original. Sure, the drums sound scratchy (especially at the start). The Amstrad's sound chip, much as we love it, is no match for the Jupiter 8 and Moog synths that performed the lead and bass of the original. But, everything is where it belongs, and sounds great. It helps that the original has a minimalist arrangement, with perfect interplay between the bass and lead parts.

  10. Frankie Goes to Hollywood

    Driven by tabloid headlines, controversial videos, and endless remixes, Frankie's first three singles all went to number 1 in the charts. Their game saw you completing challenges to become a complete person, with a murder mystery and a number of arcade-style minigames. There's a version of the band's hit Two Tribes while you play, which is our highest charting song in a CPC game. It's a short loop, but it captures the riff of the original nicely and overlays the melody well. As a bonus, the original game box included a tape recording of a live version of Relax. With either of these songs, you'll have the tune going through your head all day.

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