You might think that singles based on video games are likely to become one-hit wonders, but that is not entirely true.
In fact, a number of these records were released by some unlikely names with good track records.
And some musicians have a close relationship with video games. For example, in 1992, the Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield told the New Musical Express:
“Spiderman [for the Sega Mega Drive] is the perfect metaphor for my life, much more than any records of the past five years.” (1 February 1992, p.20-21, 41.)
Plenty of video game singles have also charted in Europe. Rayman Contre Les Lapins Encore and Crétins’ 2007 single, ‘Making Fun (Of Everyday Life)’, attained a chart peak of Number 49 in France and spent 16 weeks in the Top 100.
There were ten other singles, though, that charted in the UK Singles Chart.
1. ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’ by Yellow Magic Orchestra (1980)
The majority of video game-related songs from the late 1970s and 1980s were included on albums, such as ‘Space Invader’ by The Pretenders (although it was also the b-side to ‘Brass In Pocket’ in Canada, Japan and the USA) and ‘Ivan Meets GI Joe’ by The Clash.
One notable exception, however, was Yellow Magic Orchestra’s ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’, which sampled arcade sounds.
David Toop’s book, ‘Exotica: Fabricated Soundscapes In A Real World’, said that it “factored the technological ‘folk art’ of arcade game soundtracks into the history of electronic music”.
But, given their long association with video games, this wasn’t much of a surprise.
Principal member Ryuichi Sakamoto, for example, composed the start-up sound for the Sega Dreamcast, and their 1979 track, ‘Rydeen’, was sampled in four games: ‘Super Locomotive’, ‘Trooper Truck’, ‘Ocean Loader’ and ‘Stryker’s Run’.
Although the Japanese group’s export sales were limited, ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’ became their only hit in the UK Singles Chart when it peaked at Number 17 in July 1980.
The single – which was originally released as an album track in 1978 – also had good chart longevity, as it spent 11 weeks in the Top 75. Furthermore, eight of those weeks were spent in the Top 40.
2. ‘Pac-Man’ by Powerpill (1992)
A number of dance singles were based on retro children’s television programmes in the early 1990s – such as Smart E’s ‘Sesame’s Treet’, Urban Hype’s ‘A Trip To Trumpton’ and Shaft’s ‘Roobarb And Custard’ – and many of them became Top 10 hits.
Unsurprisingly, due to the success of the Sega Mega Drive and Super NES, dance records were also based on video games.
But the big surprise is that Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin, was the man behind Powerpill’s ‘Pac-Man’.
James was no stranger to the UK Singles Chart as ‘Digeridoo’ became his first hit single when it reached Number 55 in May 1992.
Four weeks later, ‘Pac-Man’ went one better with a chart peak of Number 43.
In fact, it was James’ highest chart placing until ‘On’ made a Top 40 breakthrough in November 1993.
3. ‘Pacman’ by Ed Rush & Optical (2002)
Ed Rush & Optical have released five albums, but ‘Pacman’ remains their only single to have charted in the UK.
It reached the dizzy heights of Number 61 in May 2002.
Unlike Powerpill’s happy hardcore style, this is a much more sinister version that only sporadically samples Namco’s classic game.
4. ‘Tetris’ by Doctor Spin (1992)
The single – which was released by Polydor and Carpet Records in September 1992 – was co-arranged and executive produced by Baron Andrew Lloyd Webber, and peaked at Number 6 within its first month in the charts.
It is a mildly catchy slice of Eurodance, and the involvement of Lloyd Webber remains strangely appealing, but its real success was down to some strategic market positioning.
For example, in the early 1990s, the core age groups in the UK singles market were nine to 12-year-olds and young teenagers, while nearly 40% of all UK Top 75 hits were dance singles in the first quarter of 1992.
While the ninth edition of The Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles claimed that video games were outselling singles by a 5:3 ratio, Virgin Games’ General Manager, Nick Garnell, stated that British children bought music AND video games. He also said that game centres were a “parallel development to music stores for Virgin”.
When you consider the popularity of video games and singles among children – and the fact that the Eurodance stylings of ‘Tetris’ would be more accessible to a pop audience than Powerpill’s ‘Pac-Man’ – it is easy to see why it was such a big hit.
5. ‘Playing With The Boy’ by Technician II (1992)
Inane is the best word to describe Technician II’s ‘Playing With The Boy’, which was used in a series of Nintendo Game Boy adverts in 1992.
The sound effects are plonky at best, and its breakbeat style sounds contrived, but it defied the odds by making a minor dent in the UK Singles Chart.
It spent one week at Number 70 in November 1992, which was more than it deserved.
Although it was a more tuneful effort, it never charted.
6. ‘SuperMarioLand’ by Ambassadors of Funk featuring MC Mario (1992)
Ambassadors of Funk weren’t the first act to release a Mario-related single, as Turntable Hype’s ‘The Mario Brothers’ was released in 1991, but it was the first to reach the UK Singles Chart.
And, just like Doctor Spin, they had a big hit on their hands, as ‘SuperMarioLand’ reached Number 8 in November 1992. In fact, it entered the Top 10 just as ‘Tetris’ fell out of it.
The charming thing about ‘SuperMarioLand’ is that it was faithful to the game.
It was clear that it was a song made by video game fans for video games fans.
And the video’s setting was Chessington World of Adventures. Which is awesome.
An album, ‘Super Mario Compact Disc’, failed to chart in the UK, but Simon Harris and rapper Einstein were not one-hit wonders.
They had previously collaborated when their single, ‘Another Monsterjam’, reached Number 65 in November 1989.
Einstein featured in two other singles: ‘Turn It Up’ by Technotronic [featuring Melissa and Einstein] and Snap!’s ‘The Power ’96’. Both of them charted at Number 42 in December 1990 and August 1996, respectively.
He also founded the Music of Life label, whose rooster of hip-hop starlets included chart acts MC Duke and She Rockers.
7. ‘Street Fighter II’ by The World Warrior (1994)
Believe it or not, ‘SuperMarioLand’ was not the only video game-related collaboration between Harris and Einstein.
They teamed up again in April 1994 to release their take on the ‘Street Fighter’ franchise.
Once again, it was faithful to the series, but the cheese of ‘SuperMarioLand’ was replaced with a dollop of slickness.
Harris and Einstein’s attention to detail remains admirable, and it’s hard not to get affectionate about it.
‘Street Fighter II’ struggled to break into the charts, unfortunately, and could only manage a chart peak of Number 70.
Additionally, another beat-em-up spawned a single in the form of The Immortals’ ‘Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)’ in 1993.
It failed to chart in the UK but, nonetheless, they released ‘Mortal Kombat: The Album’ a year later.
8. ‘Lemmings’ by SFX (1993)
Can you imagine recording a song about the video game, ‘Lemmings’?
I thought not and, despite their enthusiasm and energy, SFX didn’t quite make the grade with this single.
This was a shame, as it was co-written and produced by Ian Richardson and Nick Coler.
It might have worked if it had been an instrumental but, seeing that ‘Lemmings 2: The Tribes’ always had a wafer-thin storyline, lyrics were always going to be an implausible addition. Even if the Lemming puppets in the video are adorable.
The public’s reaction was very predictable, though, as it failed to peak beyond Number 51 in May 1993.
As far as British strategy simulators go, though, it fared better than DuBerry featuring Elaine Vassel’s ‘Mega-Lo-Mania (Goin’ All The Way)’, which flopped.
Steve DuBerry, the song’s writer and producer, was also a member of Definitive Two.
They were best known for releasing ‘I’m Stronger Now’, which was used as the theme music to Channel 4’s ‘Gazzetta Football Italia’.
9. ‘Supersonic’ by H.W.A. featuring Sonic The Hedgehog (1992)
This single, rather disappointingly, didn’t feature Sonic The Hedgehog, but H.W.A. were another act with chart pedigree.
Jeremy Healy – a former member of Haysi Fantayzee, who attained four Top 75 singles in the early 1980 – co-produced the track.
However, the techno production and vocoder samples of ‘Supersonic’ were rather uninspired. Unlike ‘SuperMarioLand’, the love of video games was not apparent and it sounded soulless.
In fairness, though, all of Sega’s proceeds from the single were donated to the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre.
The track, despite its failings, still performed fairly well in the UK Singles Chart, as it reached Number 33 in December 1992 and spent an impressive five weeks in the Top 40.
Interestingly, a number of Sonic The Hedgehog singles were released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland during the 1990s such as ‘Super Sonic Dance Attack’ by Inter Galactica Dance Club, ‘The Better One Wins’ by T.I.C. featuring Michelangelo and ‘King Of The Ring’ by Sonic.
10. ‘Wonderman’ by Right Said Fred (1994)
Right Said Fred’s ‘Wonderman’ is unusual in that it wasn’t originally influenced by a video game. Hence why Hydrocity Zone was inexplicably portrayed as an abandoned warehouse in the video.
Prior to its release in March 1994, it had already been included on their second album, ‘Sex And Travel’, in November 1993.
‘Wonderman’, however, was rearranged so that it could promote the release of ‘Sonic The Hedgehog 3’ on the Sega Mega Drive.
For instance, “[h]e’s number one, he’s double cream/[h]e’s the naked truth in magazines” was rewritten as “[h]e’s number one, he’s el supremo/[a]ttitude and power sneakers”.
Although ‘Wonderman’ was featured in a television advert for the game, it stuttered at Number 55 in the UK Singles Chart.
However, it was a faint improvement on their previous single, ‘Hands Up (4 Lovers)’, which flopped at Number 60 in December 1993.
Amusingly, his ‘Bottom’ co-star, Rik Mayall, fronted a number of Nintendo adverts during the same period. It’s a small world, isn’t it?