SID-licious is a series of blogs where I post Commodore 64 SID tunes. They'll be available for download until the next entry goes up, when I'll be pulling the previous file(s) down. I'll probably have the mp3 floating around, though, so if there's some tune you're reading about in a past blog and want to grab a copy, shoot me a PM.
Okay, so I've been away from blogging for a while, but I'm gonna try and make this a regular thing again. And what better way to return than with my favourite C64 soundtrack of all time? Strap yourselves in, because I predict I'm going to have a fair bit to say.
Back in 1989, my mate Russell Strang and I (both C64 owners, although I was probably more proud of this fact) decided that we'd go halves in a game. There was one game we'd seen running on nice PCs that just looked brilliant. The animation, the concept and the execution of this particular title amazed us, and that there was a C64 conversion meant we simply had to have it. That game was... Battle Chess!
We pooled our savings, purchased Battle Chess and returned to my house, keen to chuck the 51⁄4" floppy into the drive along with a quick LOAD"*",8,1. The disk drive whirred to life. It then rattled, grunted disapprovingly and then fell silent again, as it flashed its little LED to signify there'd been a loading error. Repeated attempts to get the game working yielded the same sorrowful result. Russell took it with him to his house to see if it would work in his disk drive. No joy there either.
With leaden hearts, Russell and I soon returned the useless disk to the store. Of course, this meant we had to choose another game in its stead. While perusing the shelves, we saw the cover for something called Ghouls 'n' Ghosts. We both loved Ghosts 'n' Goblins on C64 - was this some sort of knock off?* I mean, the artwork on the cover was rubbish, so it couldn't have been a very good game, right?
Well, Russell and I decided to take a punt on it. This obviously turned out to be one of the best decisions we could have made.
Russell eventually got more interested in things outside of the Commodore 64 (girls, probably) and the game just came to live at my house full time. C64 Ghouls 'n' Ghosts is an excellent conversion, with slick graphics and bone-smooth playability. That said, I never managed to complete it without resorting to the cheat mode: Just enter WIGAN RLFC (with space) as your name when you get a high score, and then in-game you can press A to get your armour back and S to skip a level!
But of course we're not really here to talk about how the game played or looked, or even my brain's ability to remember useless shit like cheat codes that you, dear reader, will never use. Nope, it's all about the music, and the soundtrack for C64 Ghouls 'n' Ghosts is killer.
Tim Follin is my favourite C64 composer. He always manages to get the SID chip to do amazing things, from sound effects to emulating real world instruments, all draped in prog rock sensibilities. He also knows how to juggle and manipulate the SID chip's three channels to make some of the best layering, delay effects and harmonies the C64 has ever known. And all of his tricks are on show in the Ghouls 'n' Ghosts soundtrack, a collection of songs I loved right from the off and still listen to today when the mood takes me. I even hooked my C64 up to the stereo when I was a kid so I could have a recording of the title screen music on cassette.
[ Here's where the music was. I've probably still got the mp3 if you wanna PM me! ]
I've included a lot of tunes this time around because they're all great; they're all pitch perfect for a G'n'G title and in my mind they all come together to form part of a perfect whole, regardless of their origin. The funny thing is, I didn't realise how short each song really was – with the exception of the title tune, they're all under 3 minutes – until I started making the MP3 files for this blog. I guess it's a testament to Follin's talent that I never fully realised how repetitive the songs are at a mechanical level.
Because this is my favourite soundtrack (and because it's my blog, dammit) I'm going to be a little self-indulgent and give some quick track-by-track notes.
Title Tune - This sets the tone straight out the gate. Rain and wind effects with a burbling, urgent undercurrent of a riff that builds to a tolling bell and a menacing harpsichord melody. Then, the sound of a screaming woman... or is it a wailing demon? More harpsichord (with some great harmony work) that gets bolstered by a great bass part joining in. And just as it all peters out, Follin quickly fades back in with some suitably spooky and mournful stuff. Notice that it's the opening riffs revisited? Great stuff. It finishes with just the moody bass over what sounds like someone (or something) banging on a large door, before a heartbeat and heavy breathing rise and cease.
Level 1 - The echoey opening isn't included at the loop, so you only ever hear it once, but I always feel it's such an essential and iconic part of the composition because it's the first thing you hear when you hit the fire button to start. The warm bass sound, the harmonies and the percussion are all top notch in this tune. Plus there's the usual Follin prog flair to it all.
Level 2 - The opening to this is very jolly (and, if memory serves, it's all very close to the original) but it's where Follin starts going all progressive at 1:45 that I really love. Oh, and that harmonica sound is brilliant. Actually, now I'm thinking about it, the whole thing reminds me of something out of a Zelda title.
Level 3 - Okay, this tune's just prog as all fuck. Follin gets all noodly Wakeman in this one, and I love it. Actually, I'm surprised I like this song so much, considering it's the level I used to routinely lose all my carefully garnered lives in. The bit where you've gotta run along the tongues AND shoot shit AND not fall off into the abyss below? Argh.
Level 4 - The shortest of the bunch, but also one of the best. The off-kilter chimes that evoke the crystalline forms of the level's landscape are great, and the brooding nature of this song's opening salvo is so well delivered. But it's when the song builds to a more rousing gallop (complete with flange effects) that it really impresses, especially when Follin drops out of it momentarily before coming back and hitting hard again.
Level 5 - As is befitting the final level, this song has a great sense of grandiose bombast. It includes a few different styles, but moves flawlessly from one to the other, and the way it staggers into the loop is just some canny-as-all-hell stuff from a composer on top of his game (no pun intended).
There are a bunch of other excellent incidental tunes in the game as well, but I've presented the important stuff here. Also, as a bonus, here's Binster's incredible remix of the Level 4 music.
*Hey, this was before the internet was a really real thing, and we were living in a country town that didn't exactly have ready access to more information.