Atari’s Asteroids, Now on Vinyl
Asteroids was released in arcades in 1979, and has gone on to be one of the most enduring examples of the golden age of arcade games. Although most would probably find it boring today due to its simplistic gameplay and lack of variety, at the time the game’s innovative control scheme (no joystick, just buttons) and momentum-based movement were revolutionary and helped arcade operators rack in quarters by the bucketload. Just two years later, the game made it on the Atari 2600 home console, and kids around the country were playing the game in the comfort of their own home, blasting rocks and competing against each other for the highest score (myself included).
In the years since, the game has been ported and converted to nearly every gaming platform in existence. You can play it on your phone, on the Xbox, the PS3, the PC, you name it.
But did you know that you can play it on your turntable?
Presenting Asteroids, the album. A 1983 release by Kid Stuff Records.
As you can probably guess from the name of the label, Asteroids is a children’s record, one of many video game related albums that Kid Stuff released in the early 1980s (and it won’t be the last that I’ll feature here). Kid Stuff also released album tie-ins to popular toy lines like He-Man and G.I. Joe, as well as several anti-drug and other educational releases.
Typical Kid Stuff releases would often feature short, simple stories that were punctuated with original songs, and Asteroids is no exception.
That’s right, this record is a musical re-telling of the story of Asteroids.
Of course, there was no story to Asteroids aside from “shoot the asteroids” (coincidentally, those are also the instructions on how to play Asteroids), so the people at Kid Stuff had to stretch a bit to come up with something that could fill 15+ minutes of time. What they ended up with was pretty threadbare; in the far-flung future. an interstellar pilot and his young trainee come across a giant asteroid (spoiler!) and in the course of blasting it to pieces they somehow trigger a time warp that takes them back to the distant past of 1983 where they must (surprise) destroy another asteroid before it enters the solar system and wreaks havoc on Earth.
Yes. It is dumb. But, really, its idiocy pales in comparison to the musical numbers that accompany it. Three songs are included on Asteroids. The first, “Atari Theme” is a generic instrumental that was included on every Atari-related record put out by Kid Stuff. It’s bland, and aside from sounding vaguely like the opening theme to Spaceballs, not really worth mentioning.
After the first story track is finished, the album goes back to the musical numbers, and both are amazing 80s relics that made the album worth the inflated price I paid. The title track “Asteroids,” retells the first half of the album’s story. It sounds…odd, like a 70s singer-songwriter stumbled into a room full of the world’s cheapest sequencers and synthesizers and went to town. It’s silly, obviously, but fun, with the best bits being the song’s occasional dips into vocoder territory
And it would appear that the album’s creators knew that as well. Because the following track, “Time Warp,” is built entirely on the vocoder, with robotic vocals repeating the refrain “caught up in a time warp” again and again (and again). It’s an awesome, cheesy example of early 80s electro. I like to imagine that Kanye West heard this before recording 808s & Heartbreak. I hope someday a nerdy-looking b-boy crew incorporates it into their breakdancing routine. It would totally be the routine that would save the rec center.
The album goes back into storytelling mode after that two song intermission, and concludes with a 10-minute track that sees our hero blast the giant asteroid into space dust with the help of his wise-ass ship AI, Chip Brain. Oddly enough, his junior trainee who accompanied him on his journey is nowhere to be found in this final chapter. Did he make it back to the future with the captain? Perhaps it’s best not to ask such questions.
I never had this record as a child, but that’s probably for the best. I suspect that repeated listenings of “Time Warp” would have driven my mother to snatch the LP off my turntable and chuck it into the barren flatlands outside our Toledo home. Also, as a kid, I wasn’t much into “kid’s music,” I discovered the joys of Def Leppard at a pretty young age and my path was set for the rest of the decade. Turns out it would take me 20+ years find the brilliance in something as idiotic as musical versions of Atari games. Maturity. It’s overrated sometimes.
Anyways, this record is a fun little time capsule that most fans of games, silly music, and fucking awesome vocoders should enjoy. But don’t take my word for it, hear it for yourself!
And come back soon for more video game vinyl insanity. Seriously. I got more of this stuff.
I don’t know why, I just do.