Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Music: Are you ready for that? Driving your car down a desert highway listening to the seventies and eighties rise like zombies from the rippling sand? I hope so.

Mimsy Review: Pac-Man Fever

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, March 20, 2010

“I’ve got a pocket full of quarters and I’m headed to the arcade.”

I was wandering around the record stores a couple of years ago when I saw a full-length album called “Pac-Man Fever”. I vaguely recognized the title, but knew it only as a single. Could I resist buying an album of songs about eighties arcade games? Of course not.

RecommendationSpecial Interests
ArtistBuckner & Garcia
Length35 minutes
Album Rating5
1. Pac-Man Fever 3:59
2. Froggy's Lament 3:27
3. Ode To A Centipede 5:40
4. Do The Donkey Kong 4:35
5. Hyperspace 4:14
6. The Defender 4:09
7. Mousetrap 4:10
8. Goin' Berserk 4:27

In the days of our ancestors, people put out novelty records as singles. Ray Stevens was the master of this, but lots of people did it. Haunt used record shops that carry 45s and you’ll see all sorts of strange titles. If the single took off, they’d either make an album of non-novelty music, leveraging the novelty hit to sell it; or quickly come up with a whole bunch of new novelty songs to fill out an album. The result, usually, is one good novelty song and an album full of bad ones.

Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia did the latter after their 1981 hit Pac-Man Fever. The record companies, who as usual for record companies had no clue, had no idea that kids were spending their money on games instead of music, or that they’d buy music that talked about their games. Buckner & Garcia’s agent released it to the Atlanta area and sold thousands of copies in just a week.

This, plus a CBS executive listening to his kid, got them a contract. They put out an album of songs celebrating Frogger, Centipede, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Defender, Mouse Trap, and Berzerk. And while most of them fell into the filler category, I have to say I like Froggy’s Lament even better than Pac-Man Fever. It’s downright philosophic.

    • Froggy takes one step at a time.
    • The way that he moves has no reason or rhyme.
    • He hops and jumps, dodges and ducks
    • Cars and busses, vans and trucks.
    • Go, froggy, go!
    • You got to keep on hopping ’til you get to the top.
    • Go, froggy, go!
    • You got to keep on hopping, you can never stop.
    • Go.
    • Go, froggy, go.

All of it interspersed with sounds from the original games. They recorded the sound effects in working arcades—or places with arcade games. There’s a story that the very beginning of Pac-Man Fever contains, if you listen closely, someone ordering a pastrami sandwich, because those sound effects were recorded in a deli. I don’t know; I just spent way too much time listening to the opening of Pac-Man Fever on the vinyl and I can’t hear anything except Pac-Man (after listening to it at volume over and over, I’m hearing Pac-Man Ringtone). I even tried listening to each speaker at a time in case it was only audible on one channel. I’m nearly certain it’s just a legend.

Buckner & Garcia weren’t just trying to cash in on the arcade craze. They got the idea because they were arcade fans spending most of their free time popping quarters into games. The inner sleeve for the album contains sample patterns that can be used to get high Pac-Man scores on both a “fast machine” and a “slow machine”. It describes the patterns for safely getting the cherries, strawberries, oranges, and apples “through the ninth key”. I enjoyed the game, but I was never so far into it as to know the patterns or the lingo.

I swear that they were trying to make each of the songs emulate a different style of music. Froggy’s Lament is a bit more psychedelic, maybe R&B. Ode to a Centipede sounds vaguely like Alan Parsons Project—interspersed with Centipede lasers, of course.

  • The centipede twists and bends.
  • The spiders are his only friends.
  • If you can get them before they get you,
  • They go back to the top and you start on rack two!

Don’t try hiding behind the mushrooms! The spiders can’t help you now!

This album is full of useful advice. I would have totally gone behind the mushrooms.

“The Defender” could be played by Foreigner, maybe (their Starrider style) or perhaps Journey. I don’t know; it’s annoyingly familiar, whatever it is. It’s not one of my favorites, so I’m not trying too hard. But if you remember the games and you enjoy semi-serious novelty songs, there are some good songs on here. The songs aren’t so much going for jokes as they are a joke concept: pop music in the arcade world. They’re about the games rather than joking about the games.

It’s not a bad album, especially if you grew up in this era. It’s a treat hearing those noises again. Goin’ Berserk is not one of my favorites (those would be Pac-Man Fever, Froggy’s Lament, and Ode to a Centipede, all on side one), but hearing “Intruder Alert… Intruder Alert” just like it used to sound booming out in the local arcade is a real head trip.

If you decide to go looking for this unique artifact of the early eighties, you might see a CD version. It’s a complete re-recording, and it sounds well done (you can hear the title track on the Buckner & Garcia web site as I write this. But they couldn’t get the rights to the background noises in the original, so many of the arcade and game noises have been replaced. Fortunately, the MAME emulator was able to reproduce most of them. But if you really want to hear the original, where a couple of punk kids showed their parents’ generation that you really can turn your game-playing obsession into a fortune (even if it’s a temporary one), you’ll need to find the vinyl.

The album I’ve linked here is the CD version, so as far as I know it doesn’t contain the Pac-Man hint sheet.

Pac-Man Fever

Buckner & Garcia

Recommendation: Special Interests

If you enjoyed Pac-Man Fever…

For more about vinyl, you might also be interested in Importing vinyl into iTunes and Copying album art with GraphicConverter.