Missile Command – The Record
Even before I dropped the needle on the Asteroids record, I knew that the album’s creators probably had to stretch a bit to come up with an original story that could fill 20+ minutes. Asteroids has no plot. You shoot rocks. That’s it. Not much to go on there. Not surprisingly, the story they created for the Asteroids record ended up being pretty threadbare, but when you consider their source material, it’s amazing they were able to piece anything together at all.
So I was a little more excited when I found out that the same label, Kid Stuff, also put out a “soundtrack” album to Missile Command. Because, while you may not know it, that game is actually about something. Mainly, that game is about World War III.
You aren’t shooting down random missiles in Missile Command, you’re shooting down ICBMs. And the cities aren’t no-name metropolises from another word; they’re California cities Eureka, San Francisco, San Luis Obsipo, Santa Barbarage, Los Angeles and San Diego.
You can’t beat most games from that era, but in Missile Command that actually means something. No matter what you do, no matter how good you are, no matter how many extra lives you earm, eventually you’re going to lose in Missile Command. The missiles will fall. The world will end. Everyone will die. That is what Missile Command is about.
And then someone at Kid Stuff saw the game and said, “let’s turn that into a children’s record!”
Needless to say, changes had to be made.
That’s the plot to the Missile Command record, and going that route certainly made sense. By removing Earth from the equation completely, they effectively turned the plot into the kind of thing you’d see on a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s safe, kid-friendly and entirely without teeth. The Zardonians are 100% good guys, so much so that the point is made early on that they’re missiles are for defense only, even in war they’re non-violent. Meanwhile, the Krytolians are giant, evil reptile monsters, complete with creepy vocoded vocals, and they’re intent to wipe of Zardon no matter what the cost, without any clear reason other than “hey we look and sound really evil so I guess we should probably be evil?”
It’s a simple story, but the writers sure did choose a strange way to tell it. The record’s first story track is split into two parts. It begins with a conference held by a chief military official, as he briefs his people on the new threat of intergalactic war with the Krytolians. Then the record cuts to Kryton(?) for an exciting scene of diplomatic talks between heads of state. Of course, the record is called Missile Command and not Diplomatic Relations, so that shit doesn’t work out well.
From there you get two songs, and I’m sorry, but after the vocoded brilliance of “Time Warp” from the Asteroids record, these were both a huge letdown for me. They still have that odd electro-by-way-of-Sesame Street vibe that the Asteroids album has, but they lack the full-on synthesized wackiness of that record. It seemed like the songwriter(s) were much more interested in continuing the story via the music than crafting catchy, fun children’s songs. “Missile Command” is straight-up boring, but at least “Zardon Commanders” has its fair share of weirdness. It starts out like a militaristic anthem, but then the Krytolians get their own verse, and then it sounds like electro sci-fi Sabbath, dark and menacing minor keys with snarling, sinister vocals (via vocoder). It’s no “Time Warp” but it’s still fun.
Also, both tracks (as well as the tracks from the final Atari album I’ll be posting next week) all use the same basic, cheap Casio beeps. And if they sound familiar that’s because they’re the same beeps that Trio used for their international megahit “Da Da Da.” (Thanks to Twitter user Hey WTF Records for that tip).
After the brief musical interlude the story picks up with a 10-minute conclusion that has the brave Zardon commanders successfully blasting the evil Kryton missiles out of the sky before any substantial damage can be done. I’ll give it to the Kid’ Stuff team, for something as silly and ridiculous as a record about Missile Command, they sure gave bits like this a hefty amount of gravitas and depth. There’s even a bit here about how strong female commanders are commonplace in the Zardon army, and that the progressive society has long since moved past such petty things as sexism and racism. I guess that was their educational content quota.
Yeah, it’s silly, stupid and probably shouldn’t have been made in the first place, but it’s still a lot of fun. So check it out for yourself!
Tell me what you think of it, and stay tuned later this week for the final chapter in my trilogy of posts on the Kids Stuff Atari records. I saved the best(ish) for last.