Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Go Play Your Video Game

When I hit Feedly this morning the very first thing I saw was this:

What a great way to start the day. I do love me some Charli XCX and her boisterous bounce suits Nintendo perfectly. Well, my idea of the company, at least. Although what I know about Nintendo could be written on a mushroom with a marker pen. We did have a Nintendo system of some kind back when the children were children and I have vague memories of playing some Mario game a few times back then but that's about as far as it goes.

Anyway, Charli gave me the astonishingly original idea of posting some videos of songs about video games on this blog that's about video games and sometimes features songs. I know, right? How did I ever think of it? Sometimes I just amaze myself.

It would be pretty nuts to do a post like that and not begin with Lana's Video Games. The original is in the dictionary under "perfect" but that never stops people thinking they can do better. Boy George, with Mike Nicholls behind the camera, very nearly pulls off the impossible. I can't quite work out whether Nicholls misunderstands the lyrics completely or nails them to absolute perfection. It's genius, either way.

Most of the covers I've seen are either faithful retreads or lostgirl lonely wannabes but this, by the evocatively named The Young Professionals, goes heavy on the gaming, light on the trauma. Way to go to miss the point, guys! And yet they manage do something a lot more interesting than most of the people who "get" it. Comes with a really good example of the kind of fanmade video Lana's songs often inspired back at the start of the last decade. Bonus!

If "video games" isn't catch-all enough, how about "computer games"? We used to call them that back in the '80s. Do we still? George Clinton, Funkadelic/Parliament legend, released an entire album called Computer Games but I'm going for Mi-Sex.

I'm pretty sure they named themselves after the Ultravox song. I always thought they'd sound like a knock-off Japan but they're from New Zealand so I should have known better. This reminds me so strongly of someone but I can't quite place who. Devo, maybe? Goes on too long, which is appropriate. Most computer games do.

Let's just cool it down, as a snatch of a lyric I can't quite grasp has it. Geez, where's that from? Sun 60? Something from the '90s... Oh, for a decent memory...

The past is factual, the future is fictional but the present is fundamental. It's where you find all the best things. If you want proof, here's Billie. Ilomilo was a puzzle game released in 2010 for the Windows Phone 7, apparently. Beautiful flowers grow from the strangest seeds.

Billie tunes into the deeper meaning but Del Tha Funkee Homosapien just loves his games. Proto Culture is a love letter to actually playing the damn things. Check the reportage:

"I remember my homie Ed Coats had the most
A Colecovision-every week I'd visit
Playing Donkey Kong Jr., Venture, Roc'n Rope
Games I thought was dope
While my moms was watching soaps

None of the videos for this are up to much and the one live performance on YouTube is too badly recorded to be enjoyable. This slideshow is the best I could find.

Del's Gorillaz bandmate Damon likes games too. But he's... well, he's Damon Albarn, isn't he? So it comes out differently. The "hostiles" he's singing about are what we'd call "mobs". I have to admit "hostiles" is more evocative.

Del drags up every game he's ever played while Damon asset-strips a concept for metaphor but Publicly Anonymous get so specific this next one comes with a spoiler warning. I've never played Bioshock but I've read so many people going on about how great it is I sometimes feel I must have. According to The Houston Press, Bioshock inspired "a fair amount of songs", which is hardly a ringing endorsement. I like this one, although I'd take some convincing the rap section was a good idea.

And finally, something I'm ashamed to say I didn't know until today; Lou Reed was a gamer.

I know. It makes no sense. How is it even possible? And how did I not know? I was something of a Lou obsessive once. Before he turned into rock aristocracy. And it's not like he made a secret of it. He's holding a joystick on the cover of New Sensations. It has a song on it called "My Red Joystick" for heaven's sake!

There's another track on that album called "Down At The Arcade" but it's about playing pinball, as Lou explains in the introduction to this live version. Somehow pinball seems a lot more New York underbelly than Space Invaders and Pac Man.

I bought New Sensations it when it came out in 1984. At that point I'd bought everything he'd done, on release, since "Berlin", ten years earlier. But by New Sensations my love affair with Lou was starting to fade. I got that one and 1986's "Mistrial", but I barely listened to either. 1989's "New York", his most successful release since "Transformer", I didn't like it at all. Still don't. The only Lou I bought after that was "Songs For Drella" and I only got that because of John Cale.

New Sensations, of course, was the happy Lou. Yes, there was one. He'd just got married for the second time and he was making a bid for chart success. Things didn't go so well, neither the marriage, which ended in divorce or the chart run. The only single from the album, the catchy "I Love You, Suzanne", was a radio hit but it peaked at 78 on the Billboard chart.

At the time I didn't object to his new direction but I didn't jump all over it, either. I have to say it sounds a lot better now. Aged well, I think. Which is more than anyone could say for the extremely eighties video for My Red Joystick. Also, what's with both videos opening on a ringing telephone?

And... we're done. There are hundreds more songs that relate in some ways to video games but most of them seem to be... quite old and not very good. I guess gaming is so mainstream now there's no cachet in call back. These days even very well-known bands are more likely to be writing songs to feature in the games themselves - or even doing live shows inside them.

Let's end with something along those lines. Something extremely au courant . This is Cvrches contribution to current critical darling and favorite of Endgame Viable, Death Stranding. It's... very video-gamey. Ironic, that, considering the supposedly mold-breaking nature of the source material. Also, it's stadium rock. Get your phones out, people!

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