The trend of Japanese video game music on vinyl is not a recent phenomenon. Frederik "Blipblop" Lauridsen takes a trip back to the 80's and looks at some of the releases available at that time...
If you’re reading this you’re most likely well aware that there is a small boom going on with labels releasing video game music on vinyl. And you most likely know that this include the soundtracks to retro games from the arcades, the NES, the Mega Drive/Genesis, and many other retro platforms as well.
This recent development is not the first boom, though. In the mid-to-late 1980s several different labels released a large amount of different soundtracks, compilations, and arrangement albums featuring video game music. And with vinyl being the dominant format then that is what these were released on. With this guide I will take a look at some of the more productive labels doing so.
Back in 1978 the Japanese synth pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra released their self-titled debut album. It featured two tracks that were arrangement of music (or rather sound effects) from the arcade games Space Invaders and Circus. This is considered the first-ever release of video game music. A few years later in 1984 a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, Haruomi Hosono, released an album titled simply Video Game Music. It featured arrangements of music from different Namco games and marked the first ever release devoted entirely to game music.
This brings me to my first label focus. Hosono’s Video Game Music was released on a label called Yen Records, which was a sub-label under Alfa Records. In 1985 they released a sequel to Video Game Music titled simply The Return of Video Game Music (although without music by Hosono). They first released this on the main label, Alfa, but also reprinted it on a new label – G.M.O. Records (short for Game Music Organization).
G.M.O. is supposedly the first game music focused video game label in Japan (and probably at all). They focused on developer-focused compilation albums released between 1985 and 1988 where they released 25 different game music albums. These featured music from games made by Nintendo, Konami, Hudson, Capcom, Tecmo, Sega, Taito, SNK, Namco, Enix, Falcom, and Irem. That is quite a line-up and it is interesting to see how many of these developers are partnering up with labels today. The Konami and Taito partnerships with Ship To Shore PhonoCo. come to mind, but also Sega, Capcom, and SNKs’ partnerships with Data Discs and Brave Wave among others. It’s not necessarily the same music being released now (although it is in some cases), but it’s a testament to how strong some of these melodies were even back then.
G.M.O. is arguably the most talked about of the old game music vinyl labels today. One of the reasons for this is because some of their releases are the only ones to feature music from certain iconic developers, but it’s also due to some of their titles being some of the easier-to-find Japanese game soundtracks today.
It is not clear if it is due to the success of G.M.O. or due to the general increase in popularity of video games (or a combination of the two and other factors), but other labels followed and began releasing game music on vinyl. One of those were King Records – a notable Japanese record label that dates back to 1936 and still exist to this day. They released a few game titles in ‘86 and ’87, but in late 1987 they dedicated an entire series of releases to just game music – the CGM Series (short for Computer Game Music) with some entries published on the main King Records label, and others on their sub-label Starchild Records.
It was a short-lived series (for vinyl at least) but still managed to include 11 releases put out over just one year. Unlike G.M.O the focus of the CGM Series were more on full game soundtracks. In the short time span they put out titles from Falcom, Konami, T&E Soft, Telenet, and Wolf Team, although some of those were compilations rather than full albums. It seemed they had a particularly good relationship with Falcom with 6 titles focusing on music from the Ys and Sorcerian series.
Unlike many of the G.M.O. titles, the CGM Series releases are a lot harder (and a lot more expensive) to track down. This is likely due to the fact that these were released later during the 80s where CDs were taking over as the dominant music format. In part due to this, the CGM Series are also not as well documented as G.M.O. so it is not impossible that there are more than the 11 titles mentioned here.
Common for both G.M.O., CGM Series, and many of the others out there are that the releases typically include some neat little bonuses. Often this would be stickers with the logo of one or more of the games included, or an insert featuring credits, liner notes and/or sheet music from one or more of the tracks included on the release.
G.M.O. didn’t end in the late 80s, as they continued releasing game music on CD up until the mid-90s, and even if the CGM Series ended in the late 80s, King Records still release game music on CD and digitally to this day.
This is by no means a comprehensive look on the Japanese video game music titles released on vinyl back in the 1980s, but G.M.O. and the CGM Series are among those with the most titles released. There are other labels and series out there with many being poorly documented, so trying to learn more about some of these can be a small treasure hunt in itself, which is my absolute favorite thing about these (besides the actual music of course).
-- Frederik "Blipblop" Lauridsen