Welcome to C64Audio.com. Home of 8-Bit Symphony, the Little Book of Sound Chips, Project (Rob) Hubbard, and much much more!
Datahits Rewound (Free)
Introduction by Dan Tootill (mixing / production / cover art)
Datahits Rewoundis a 2023 remake of a 1980s music cassette containing remixes of the themes from five popular Commodore 64 games, made in the interests of preservation, documentation and nostalgia. Although a digital version of this tape can be found online, the only available source was the retail compact cassette and despite remastering efforts, the quality of any recordings is poor. The aim of this project was to reproduce each track as closely to the original as possible, with the highest quality audio possible. The project leverages theSID Effectslibrary, which provides very high quality recordings from real SID chips in stereo.
Datahitswas a short compilation of five computer game themes taken from the Commodore 64’s revered SID chip, "in full fantastic stereo dance-mix form" as described on the inlay. Released in 1986, it sold exclusively in WH Smith stores in the United Kingdom for £1.99 on cassette only. It was produced by Mupados, previously known for developing music applications for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron such as "The Descant Recorder Tutor" and "Micro-Maestro".
On its B-side was a database program called "Softwhere?" for both C64 and ZX Spectrum. Its purpose was to hold the titles and counter positions of the various computer programs you had on tape, i.e. those C90 cassettes with “stuff” on them. You know the ones. It was written in BASIC and took some time to load from tape itself, then you had to load your database from another tape in order to use it and save any changes back to tape once you were done. Yeah, just use a pencil.
Origins of the Chiptune Remix Scene
The original tape is believed to be the first time computer games and synthpop collided, at least it was the first professionally produced, commercial E.P. to feature remixed chiptunes of any kind. While it was regarded as a novelty in its day, it has since gained substantial cultural significance among fans of the SID chip.
For each piece of music, the producers took the original SID tune and added a drum track and one or two extra lines played on a studio-grade synth of the era. Although simple by today’s standards, the effect at the time was striking. A more full-sounding and complete rendition of those tunes we all loved than was possible to hear from the computer on its own.
Bringing Datahits Back
In October 1986, my family paid a visit to WH Smith in Nottingham’s Victoria Centre. It was my birthday and my dad had agreed to buy me a game for my beloved C64, so I choseGreen Beret. As the game was cheaper than some at £8.95, my dad allowed me to choose a budget game as well. Nestling amongst the plethora of Mastertronic and Firebird titles was this music cassette, which I dubiously chose instead of another game and I was not disappointed. It piqued my interest in remixing as a concept, and led me to make cover versions of C64 tunes with (literally) extra bells and whistles on my Amiga years later. Fast forward a few decades and I still love doing this, using modern music production software and hardware.
Being somewhat nerdy (who’d have thought?) it has always fascinated me to know which specific instruments were used on recordings that I know and love. How was this or that sound produced? Could I reproduce it myself and use it in my own tracks as a nod to the music that inspired me? Having also played keyboards in a cover band, I have come to believe that if you’re going to play “Jump” or “Take On Me”, simply playing the rightnotesdoesn’t cut it. Thesoundhas to be as close as you can possibly get, if you want the audience to reallyfeelit.
When remixing SID tunes myself, my mind would often wander back to the sound ofDatahitsand how it might have been created. The list of equipment found in the original sleeve notes is nonsense, with the exception of the Commodore 64 itself. The TRON Digidrum for example was clearly nowhere near this recording. Curiosity got the better of me, and I began trying to match the drum sounds and synths. Distracted by the lack of clarity, hiss and ‘wow and flutter’ that blighted the original tape, I made a futile attempt to clean it up. Then I had the idea of recreating the whole mix from scratch using fresh recordings from my own C64, which was when I remembered theSID Effectsproject and set about recreating “Rambo” around the clean, stereo SID. Although it wasn’t 100% authentic I was so pleased with how it turned out that I decided to remake the whole tape, just for my own amusement. I could hear each track getting even closer to the sound of the original tape as I went along, and “Hypersports” turned out to be so close that I had to revisit the other four to bring them up to the same level of authenticity. The end result becameDatahits Rewound.
Datahitsis typical of small studio productions of the mid-80s, with a single drum machine (most probably the Roland TR-707) and a handful of relatively high-end synths with the reverb knob turned up to 11 on all channels. Each track has its own unique drum patterns and a subtle chorus effect was also applied to the sound of the Commodore. I did my best to reproduce all of these, using the equipment and software available to me.
TheDatahitsversion is slightly slowed down, presumably to lower the pitch in line with the synths they were using. Aside from the drums there is only one additional track; a particularly menacing octave-stepping bass that sounds like an Arp synth to me, judging by the characteristic “bomp” tone. The Arp 2600 was a staple of studios up and down the land at the time, so that’s my best guess. Without the ‘muddiness’ of the original mix it might not sit as well as it should, but I think it’s pretty close.
You have to admire how nicely this was arranged for the SID by Martin Galway. A more sedate piece and while the drums are still punchy, they are not as heavy as on “Rambo”. There are two added synth tracks, the most prominent being the unmistakableMarimbapatch from the Yamaha DX-7. An analogue horn / string sound (most probably the Arp 2600 again) rounds off the middle eight and the outro.
The drum track does most of the heavy lifting here, with a distinct finger click leading into the snare for extra sass. The stabby chords are the only other addition, with the original SID from Russell Lieblich (sadly no longer with us) doing a fine job of filling in the rest of the mix for us.
The chords are played quite loosely, which was a challenge to replicate but the sound was easier to match than I was expecting. It’s clearly played in real time so it must be a polyphonic synth, presumably a Roland such as a Jupiter-8 or JX-8P. Certain brass patches are common across the Roland family of that era, and I had previously reproduced roughly the same sound on another project in the past (it’s all over Depeche Mode’s second album). It was so tempting to reinsert the cry of “Ghostbusters!” in the opening bars!
Apart from one additional synth part that quietly echoes the first few bars of the main melody, this is all percussion. There is so much variation in the drum patterns, this track took me longer to recreate than the other four combined. The little fill that initially appears at the end of every fourth bar took me several sittings to get right, but I had to obsess over the whole thing or the track (and therefore the whole project) would have felt fragmented. Every clave, shaker and crazy-loud hand clap had to be in the right place.
One thing I did notice with “Comets” is that the original mix is very choppy, with a fraction of a beat missing at frequent points within the track, presumably where they had to jump from one take to another. Mupados must have struggled to keep the drums and the SID in time, as there was no time-stretching or submillisecond tempo control back then. “Comets” is also the only track onDatahitswhere the arrangement differs from the original SID. Around 15 seconds in, the first bar of the bass riff from the next part of the song plays over the top of the intro. I had to re-record this myself so I could isolate that one channel, or that part of the track would have sounded distorted (an artefact of mixing two or more identical waveforms digitally).
Most significantly, this is the definitive arrangement of “Crazy Comets” to my ears, as this was the only version I ever heard while growing up. I never owned a copy of the game!
Even after all these years, I don’t think I’ve heard a better arrangement of “Chariots of Fire” than theDatahitsversion. No grand piano, no Yamaha CS-80, the SID is king. The drums and tambourines from the TR-707, Rambo-like synth bass (although it’s subtly different) and the Roland synth brass from “Ghostbusters” all come together for the finale and I’ve always loved how it sounds. This was a joy to recreate.