C64 Games with Awesome Music

The Commodore 64 was the first computer I ever owned, and as such it holds a very special place in my heart. It's due partly to the quality of software on the machine, and partly to the great music found within some of these titles. Some of the game musicians of that era were sonic wizards, managing not only to come up with fresh compositions, but also making their creations work within 3 channels of sound.

Great music wasn't just confined to games either. Many demo and standalone tunes were produced for the C64, and you'd never even hear them unless you did some deep investigatoring on the the High Voltage SID Collection (HVSC). If you've any interest in SID tunes and haven't already hooked into this, I recommend you check it out.

The other thing to remember is that these are games with good music, but that doesn't necessarily reflect the amount of non-musical entertainment you'll glean from playing.

List items

  • It's a dead heat between this and the next entry for my favourite C64 soundtrack of all time. Fred Gray's musical contribution to this quirky game only consists of two tunes, but they're both hypnotic gems. The main theme is an evocatively epic song, with some unusual sounds used so cleverly you'd swear that more than 3 channels were being used. The other offering is a very driving song, full of urgency and menace but laced with brilliant subtleties.

  • For me, this is undoubtedly Tim Follin's finest moment on the Commodore 64. The title tune alone moves through so many stages and has so many brilliant effects sprinkled in (screams, heartbeats, breathing et al) that it still stands as one of the best songs ever to come out of the 64's speaker. The rest of the music is just as good, with every tune bringing something new and exciting.

  • Tim Follin is my favourite C64 composer. He was actually able to make prog music on a C64, and could massage sounds from the SID chip that would be eerily close to real life instruments. Violins, pipes and harpsichords all make an appearance in this admittedly small contribution to a game that didn't even get an official release on the Commodore 64.

  • Another group of ace Tim Follin tunes. Obviously he had to make SID versions of the arcade machine, but in many cases they're his take on them and as such can go in some interesting directions. Subtune 6 (for those listening along at home) even has a cheeky nod to John Williams' Star Wars score, with 7 seconds of Binary Sunset slipped in.

  • Rob Hubbard's amazingly atmospheric and sweepingly majestic score for this sci-fi blaster is still spellbinding to me to this day. I'm listening to it as I type this and, as always, it's managing to stir something within me; it's kinda got that Terminator Theme vibe about it. The odd thing is that I can't reconcile what I'm hearing with what Rob Hubbard has said about the tune, "it was good rhythmically but the rest was a piece of junk." I don't care if he wrote it, he's wrong.

  • Another one that Rob Hubbard was involved in. Not much to say here, apart from the fact that it's a very danceable little number which veers more into experimental electronica as it continues through its 7 minute running length.

  • And so Martin Galway makes his first appearance on this list. Yes, I know I said that Tim Follin's my favourite musician, but Martin made more great songs that I instantly associate with the C64. Strap yourselves in, because it's about to become a Galway tribute for the next few entries. Kicking it off is this crunchy beast of a title tune which utilises sampled drums for the hard-as-nails beats.

  • Galway's short theme tune to this Defender-with-boobies shooter begins with the sound of insects buzzing noisily, before it melts into a spacy (and bassy) affair. Galway has mentioned that it's a song that deserved to go on for longer, and I totally agree. It never really gets off the ground after the brilliant opening, but what's there is still enough to make it worthy of this list.

  • One of Galway's better known soundtracks, and with good reason. True to his style, he impresses with a few expansive multi-layered and floaty tunes, as well as some spot on incidental music. He also manages to get a great game over tune cooking, presented with a bitchin' electric guitar sound. Lord knows how he managed to emulate that, but it's a pure grin-inducing moment when you first hear it.

  • This is it. This is Martin Galway's mighty behemoth of a tune, clocking in at 11 minutes and 23 seconds. It's a Tour de Force, starting out with echoing plinks and wails that give way to a more expansive take on the theme which churns along, building as it goes. Just when you think all this brooding rhythm and sound is starting to get a bit wearying, the song emerges triumphant on the other side. Finally it lapses into a long and winding dirge that collapses in on itself and fizzles away, before the friendly opening notes strike up again to remind you of where you started this epic journey. Honestly, this song leaves me kind of exhausted and breathless every time I hear it in its entirety. Fucking nuts.

  • This moody digi-fuelled piece by Anthony Crowther has some pretty powerful percussion and a vocal sample saying "phobia" over and over. Short and sweet, in a spooky and windswept way.

  • Jeroen Tel contributes a couple of bouncy-but-meaty tracks that really suit the dark humour of the game.

  • Jeroen's sample heavy renditions of the coin-op's songs are great, especially the awesome electro version of Magical Sound Shower used as the intro.

  • The in-game tune is brilliant, and sounds like a 'roided up Ghosts 'n' Goblins cut.

  • The music that burbles away beneath the action is nothing really that spectacular - it's short and simple, and it just loops in the background as you punch the spit out of a bunch of ninjas. But what really cements it for me is the fact that Jonathan Dunn managed to make the whole thing work on a single channel of sound. That's pretty bloody clever.

  • A few more catchy little ditties from Fred Gray, especially Subtunes 1 and 2. Not a patch on his work on Mutants, but they're still some very tight and slick efforts.

  • Ahhh, the Great Giana Sisters. A good game, yes, but obviously not as good as the game that "inspired" it. The same can arguably be said for the music, but that's not to say that the tunes found in this lawyer-baiting platformer aren't still top notch. I spent many hours as a kid bopping along to the main tune for a few levels before really getting into the galloping "dungeon" theme.

  • Ripping versions of the arcade originals here. The excellent title screen music really sets the tone of what you're about to hear in the levels to come. The music for level 2 has always been a personal favourite.