The Commodore 64 was an outstanding machine, its abilities were pretty amazing for the time and whilst its graphical abilities were good, they were matched by other 8-bit machines of the time. Its sound though? Well that’s another story altogether.
The Commodore 64 was home to one of the most powerful sound processors of the time; the SID.
The SID, or Sound Interface Device, was the sound controller that was used in the Commodore 64, essentially it was an analogue synth on a chip and the range of sounds it could produce were streets ahead of anything else at the time.
The guys that managed to coax the sounds from this chip are legendary in retro gaming circles, the most well-known proponent of the art – Rob Hubbard – is a genius. To this day he remains practically unknown, he truly deserves more recognition for the part he played in the foundation of digital music.
Even now though the SID is still used, primarily in a MIDI sound module – the SIDStation – and the sounds it makes have been very popular with the rap and R&B communities, with many tracks sporting SID arpeggios.
Some producers have been less than honest though. Timbaland in particular. He infamously lifted the entire melody from the Commodore 64 arrangement of an Amiga tune; Acidjazzed Evening and used it in the Nelly Furtado song Do It.
The original composer was given no credit. The whole thing sucked.
Regardless of all that the SID’s sound remains unique and is instantly recognisable to any retro gaming fan or 8-bit afficianado.
It’s good that SID music is still being listened to, and that it’s so easy to get, regardless of the rather dishonest use of those tunes by some.
Jon’s Top Ten SID Tunes
If you’ve never heard the SID belt out a tune on its own – without an overpaid half wit babbling all over it – you’ve really missed a great experience. That’s why I’ve put together my top ten favourite SID tunes for you to listen to. I’m kind like that.
Tetris – Wally Beben
The closest the Commodore 64 got to prog rock was this awesome twenty-five minute epic that accompanied – in hindsight – one of the worst versions of Tetris I’ve ever played.
Of course I didn’t know that back then, it was pure puzzle perfection at that point and – despite only being able to rotate blocks one way and not having the option to speed the block down the well – it felt like fantastic fun.
At the time I seem to recall feeling that Tetris was life changing (it certainly was for Nintendo) but I was only thirteen and it was a cold winter. Nevertheless listening to Tetris’ music and resetting the line counter twice (it reset at 255) was my idea of a great achievement back then.
Actually, it still is.
Wizball – Martin Galway
Good grief Wizball was an amazing game and it was made by the music. This is the high score theme which is all wobbly and mellow, it would often round off a session nicely.
It’s relaxing and spacey and jolly all at the same time. I love it!
The Last Ninja – Ben Daglish & Anthony Lees
Every single tune in The Last Ninja was a corker. In the end I plumped for this one, no particular reason as they are all mini-masterpieces in their own right.
The Last Ninja was as close as you got to a blockbuster back then and in comparison to today’s games it does look incredibly simplistic, though when I first played it in the summer of 1987 it literally left me speechless.
How times have changed.
Firefly – Fred Gray
Tidy little game, nothing special but the music was ace! That said it was quite nicely designed, it just didn’t really offering anything new.
Zamzara – Charles Deenen
A scrolling Contra style affair without the delicate control that Contra afforded you. Given that it was a budget title (£2.99, bargain!) the graphics and music were amazing!
Quedex – Matt Gray
Quedex, or to give it its full title; The Quest For Ultimate Dexterity! I spent about two hours failing the first level because I hadn’t read the instructions.
The only thing that kept me going was the music, my reasoning being that if the music was this good the game must be pretty special. That and the fact that it had got a Zzap! Sizzler.
In the end though it wasn’t really all that amazing. Shame, shame.
Sanxion – Rob Hubbard
Ooh! Sanxion! What a belter this is. Loading a game took ages back in the mid-eighties, so it was always good when you got a rocking piece of music like this to distract you. Mind you I didn’t think that much of Sanxion as a game, it never really did it for me. I suspect I’m in the minority there though.
Cybernoid II – Jeroen Tel
This came slightly later in the Commodore 64’s life and is altogether a bit more full on. That’s not to say it’s not great, because it is, it’s just a bit stronger.
Hunter’s Moon – Matt Gray
Another loading screen tune and what a stunner it is. A driving tune with a slow militaristic beat accompanied by a brilliant loading screen once again really got you in the mood for the game to come. Which, I’m pleased to report, was corking.
As I recall it was also fairly easy to cheat and rack up a whole host of extra lives because of the regenerating nature of the game world. You just had to point your ship at an alien structure, pop a book on your fire button then nip off and have your tea, safe in the knowledge you were racking up big points, as the computer controlled drones went around rebuilding the scenery you were racking up the points for destroying! Happy days.
Parallax – Martin Galway
This piece of music comes from the part of Parallax where you’re running around the deserted cities, usually attempting to find scientists to drug.
In lieu of the ability of graphics to convey the isolation of being in a practically empty alien city, the music did a bang up job of conjuring those feelings up.
Just me then?