Creating original music has been a passion of mine since I was seventeen, plinking away on my Commodore Amiga computer. But for the past few years I haven’t composed anything, and I’ve been missing it lately. I’ve now got access to a spanking new Apple Mac with the GarageBand app, so I thought I would get to know the software by putting together my own remix of a fondly remembered game tune from the 1980s: The Human Race by Rob Hubbard, for the Commodore 64 computer (also released on the game Goldrunner for the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST, which is where I remember it).
Game tunes from the 1980s and early 1990s have a curious longevity, evidenced by the countless fan-made remixes that can be downloaded from sites like remix.kwed.org, AmigaRemix, and C64Audio.com. I think the reason for this lastability, aside from nostalgia, lies in the nature of how the tunes were made. Back then, computers were fairly primitive and could only output three or four single-note sounds (or warbles) simultaneously. Composers were constantly up against the wall of technical limitation, which meant that their music had very little going for it, unless they came up with a distinct catchy melody – and therein lies the strength of those old tunes. In constrast, today you can get away with layering any number of richly textured sounds on top of each other, in the hope that the dullest melodies will sound vaguely interesting. The technical limitations of the old game tunes also meant that those simple catchy melodies were crying out for extra depth of expression, which nowadays leads musically adept fans to now invent their own additional layers based on their own individual musical styles.
Here’s the original Commodore 64 tune (FIXED LINK!), so that you can compare it with my version. I created the following from scratch, by playing live on a keyboard. You’ll hear some electric guitar in the piece; this too was played on the keyboard with some inventive use of the pitch-bend lever and modulation wheel. So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve wanted Goldrunner to sound like, as best as I can imagine it …
[ Play Music ]
(If you’re interested in hearing others’ takes on the same tune, check these out.)
Of course, the real glory belongs to original composer Rob Hubbard, whose name (along with David Whitaker, Allister Brimble and others) is as solidified in the memories us 1980s computer geeks as Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran and New Kids on the Block. Okay, maybe not that last one; I have some standards.