Not long after the turn of millennium, the nascent idea of retro gaming as a mainstream hobby was beginning to take hold. Within five years, print magazines would re-emerge as a testament to the pastime’s rise and sustained popularity. But now there is a new kid on the nostalgic block, spurning the digital march towards a virtual future. The vinyl revival is in full swing and rather than leave it in the hands of the hipsters, gamers are getting in on the act. So sit back and relax while Gordon Sinclair takes The History of Video Games on Vinyl out of it’s dust cover and carefully lowers the stylus…
Unsurprisingly it was during the 1970s that we saw the first examples of video games on vinyl, though these were usually samples of Space Invaders sound effects crudely shoehorned into ill-fitting songs. Things changed in 1978 when Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra released their debut self-titled album. This early synthpop album featured the song Computer Game, sampling Circus, Space Invaders and Gun Fight. A reworked version of the song was released as a worldwide single, reaching the top 20 in the UK and top 60 in the US.
As the quality of console sound chips improved in the 1980s, we began to see full soundtrack albums released as we entered the golden age of videogame vinyl. Japan of course was the main hub with labels such as GMO (Game Music Organisation) licensing large numbers of game soundtracks for both untouched and arranged productions. GMO’s compilation albums of Konami, Capcom and Taito game themes are great examples of the era, but it is their three Sega Hits albums that are the cream of the crop. Featuring the best of Hiroshi Kawaguchi’s wonderful compositions from Outrun, Space Harrier, After Burner, Hang On and more. A full set, whilst not the rarest, would take pride of place in any collection.
As CDs took over, vinyl was (temporarily) consigned to history for much of the 1990s. Soundtrack albums switched format and this meant that for a while vinyl releases were rare. There was a rise in the use of licensed music in games rather than original compositions making soundtrack albums superfluous. This meant there was little to stick on your turntable than a raft of classic game tunes remixed with a dodgy dance beat, such as Dr. Spin’s Tetris (an Andrew Lloyd Webber production of dubious standard). A nice exception was Wipeout 2097, a double album of techno and house tracks that were so intrinsic to the game that playing them together evokes the speed and futuristic thrill of the Playstation classic.
The 2000s were even more disappointing and apart from Amon Tobin’s excellent Chaos Theory – The Music of Splinter Cell III, turntables gathered dust and collections were packed away into lofts and garages.
The exile wasn’t to last and as the world woke up to the soullessness of a wholly digital future, there was a clamour for the analogue age. Vinyl music suddenly saw a surge in popularity and gamers wouldn’t be left behind. Big games now regularly see vinyl releases of their soundtracks, usually in limited numbers and some of these have become highly collectible (Red Dead Redemption’s double album is currently changing hands for around £300).
The huge popularity of Crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo has revolutionised many areas of the games industry and has seen an explosion in the revival of classic games through books, films and music. We have seen a plethora of campaigns for reworkings of 16 bit soundtracks and many of these include a ‘vinyl perk’, such as Matt Gray’s 12” picture disc of the Last Ninja II soundtrack for his Reformation project. Unfortunately these are often at the high end of the perk scale where you are expected to fork out well over £100 to get your hands on the treasured wax, though a quick email to the campaign organiser and you can often get hold of the perk on its own for much less.
Crowd funding is not the only way to skin a cat though and the 2010s saw a new UK based record label formed and they are now leading the way in quality, collectible releases of classic Sega (and select other publishers) soundtracks. DATA DISCS, working with the original creators, have released a number of fantastic officially licensed records so far (including the hallowed AM2 and Yu Suzuki classics Out Run, Super Hang On and Shenmue). Recorded from original masters or directly from the arcade hardware, these are a purists dream and when you combine it with beautifully authentic artwork, limited edition vinyl styles, art prints and more, it makes the releases a must for any gaming audiophile.
The Megadrive Collection £100 (released in Australia to coincide with the PS3/Xbox 360 game compilation)
Wipeout 2097 – £30-50
Push Start £35 (10” remix album with hardback coffee table book)
Pimania £15-25 (the music of Mel Croucher and Automata)
Sega Game Music vols 1-3 £50-75 each
Super Mario Land 7” £2-3
Parappa the Rapper vs De La Soul 7” picture disc £4-6 (not to be confused with the rarer “I Gotta Believe” picture disc)
GMO (Game Music Organisation), were part of Alfa Records Inc (the label that brought Kylie to Japan!). With more than 20 known vinyl releases in the 1980s including Sega, Konami, Capcom, Taito and Namco collections, GMO are the undisputed kings of classic game vinyl.
DATA DISCS, formed in 2014, they have so far released more than 20 classic game soundtracks from the likes of Sega, SNK and Treasure. Most releases come in three flavours; standard black vinyl, coloured vinyl and limited edition. Some highlights so far have been…
- Out Run
- Sonic Mania
- Super Hang On
- After Burner
- Gunstar Heroes
Tips for buying
Do not buy the first copy you find on eBay. Vinyl has a perceived rarity that is not always the case. You should always validate the asking price by looking at previous sale prices on both eBay and the vinyl marketplace Discogs.com.
Understand record grading and know what you want. If you are just collecting for art rather than for listening to then a high-grade sleeve and low-grade disc will likely be a lot cheaper than the other way around.