Before we delve into … whatever Robocop.mp3 is, I need to point out that I now shriek about video game music on a regular, semi-professional basis over at USGamer. Please check out Note Block Beat Box, which I update once a week, though I’m hoping to expand into the realm of two updates a week. Holy moly, I live dangerously.
What does that mean for Let’s Listen? Nothing, really! I like to believe that I’m allowed to keep writing for $ because I’m generally OK at separating my style according to the audience I’m writing for. So while Note Block Beat Box is more about breakdowns and histories, Let’s Listen is more in the realm of “Check this shit out” and “WTF?”
“WTF” describes the tune we’re looking at today: The main theme from the Robocop Game Boy game, developed by Data East and published by Ocean in 1989.
Though catchy as all get-out, there’s nothing particularly Robo-Coppy about this tune. Personally, I’d expect something more thudding and futuristic from a RoboCop game, but then again, it’s not as if RoboCop is a movie that’s easy to categorize. At a passing glance, it’s a dumb action movie. But when you sit down with it, you find it has a sharp wit, not to mention commentary about corporate corruption and the dangers of unchecked privatization. So I’m OK with the RoboCop Game Boy theme being a little unorthodox.
Besides, the theme holds up very well on its own. Its jangly synth delivers a mellow melody that practically screams “Game Boy” — even though it’s an adaptation of the same theme used for the Commodore 64 version of the game, composed by British game music-maker Jonathan Dunn.
I suppose “all-purpose” is a good descriptor for RoboCop’s theme, and Lord knows it’s popped up in the strangest places. A melancholic remix serves as the background music for Dilbert 3, an indescribably surreal Flash animation by “cboyardee” wherein comic corporate schmoe Dilbert slaughters his co-workers.
Like the rabid, gun-toting depiction of Dilbert it displays, this video is not safe for work.
I wonder how Jonathan Dunn feels about his work prompting Pavlovian YouTube responses like “I think you should kill yourself, Dilbert,” “Sub-Human,” and, “DEHUMANIZE YOURSELF AND FACE TO BLOODSHED.” Personally, I’d be prouder than a mama cat with new kittens.
But Dilbert 3 isn’t the weirdest point of the RoboCop theme’s history, if you can believe it.
European appliance-maker Ariston used the RoboCop theme for a frankly brilliant long-running advertisement that demonstrates how trusty Ariston fridges, ovens, washers, and dryers can help keep order in a chaotic household (check out Mediolana for a great breakdown of the ad). It’s nicely choreographed and soothing to watch, kind of like the Blue Ball Machine.
But the commercial was created in 1994 — ages and ages before society at large gave any serious thought to blatantly referencing a video game in an ad for something as down-to-earth as household appliances.
Hearing the RoboCop theme in an appliance commercial today would barely be worth a double-take. TV shows and cartoons use anime and video games as comedic props more loosely than old-timey shows used pies and banana peels. Right this second, Dragon Ball Z characters are selling cars for Ford.
But in ’94, video games seemed to exist in their own cultural bubble. They were kids’ stuff , not background music for an award-winning advertisement. In this age where movies, TV, music, and video games all blend into one delicious electric smoothie, it’s easy to appreciate how Ariston’s commercial was at least ten years ahead of its time.
So, hey, RoboCop did more than shatter our perception of what an action movie needs to be. He also inadvertently changed our minds about game music, and games’ place in society and advertising. What a nice, helpful cyborg.