Sierra Entertainment’s Silliest Theme Songs

sierra entertainment, adventure game, music, songs, gabriel knight, freddy pharkas, phantasmagoria, king's quest, inca

Video game theme songs have been around for quite some time, but none were as terrible memorable as those from Sierra’s CD-ROM games from the 90s. With the advent of CD-ROM drives in home computers, developers had access to loads more storage space than previous mediums. This had to be filled with something, so Sierra crammed original songs into as many of their games as possible. The songs had corny lyrics, low fidelity, and a cult following.

Run your setup.exe file, test out your sound card, and pop open a can of Surge. We’re taking a look at a selection of silly Sierra Songs.

“The Ballad of Freddy Pharkas”

Lyrics by Josh Mandel, Music by Al Lowe

As See In — Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist

sierra entertainment, adventure game, music, songs, gabriel knight, freddy pharkas, phantasmagoria, king's quest, inca

Game designer and composer Al Lowe (of Leisure Suit Larry fame) lightened things up with 1993’s Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist. Pharkas’ bouncy tone, cowboy tropes, and short length make it a decent example of Sierra’s graphic adventures from that era. And its Western setting is just the cherry on top of the cow pie.

“The Ballad of Freddy Pharkas” opens the game. Al Lowe and Josh Mandel wrote an infectious ditty that tells the backstory of the titular character. It was even advertised on the back of the box: “Learn (and quickly forget) the real words to The Ballad of Freddy Pharkas!” Al Lowe had to sing the song himself when they couldn’t find a capable singer — you can ever hear him flub the lyrics!

“Der Fluch Des Engelhart”

Music & Lyrics by Robert Holmes

As Seen In — The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

sierra entertainment, adventure game, music, songs, gabriel knight, freddy pharkas, phantasmagoria, king's quest, inca

Designer Jane Jensen followed up the acclaimed Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers with The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery. The Beast Within forgoes the pixels of its predecessor for full-motion video that was all the rage in the mid-90s. Jensen’s script blends a German murder mystery with the hunt for a lost Wagnerian werewolf opera (how great is that?).

In one of the game’s many lengthy cut scenes, you see snippets of the fictional opera “Der Fluch Des Engelhart” being performed in German. Composer Robert Holmes did a great job at composing the show, though the crappy audio and video quality does his opera little favors.

“Girl in the Tower”

Music & Lyrics by Mark Seibert

As Seen In — King’s Quest VI: To Heir Is Human

sierra entertainment, adventure game, music, songs, gabriel knight, freddy pharkas, phantasmagoria, king's quest, inca

King’s Quest was always Sierra’s premiere franchise. In King’s Quest VI: To Heir Is Human, designer Roberta Williams crafted a tale that combines elements of Arabian Nights, Snow White, and Alice in Wonderland into one best-selling game.

After completing the game, players are greeted with the unfortunate end credits theme “Girl in the Tower.” An obvious knock-off of Disney’s pop single “Beauty and the Beast,” “Girl in the Tower” is all clichés and no heart. The electric guitar solo, warbling vocals, and slow tempo make this a soppy mess. Mark Seibert’s music is competent enough, but the lyrics are too over the top.

“Inca People”

Music & Lyrics by J.M. Marrier

As Seen In — Inca

sierra entertainment, adventure game, music, songs, gabriel knight, freddy pharkas, phantasmagoria, king's quest, inca

Inca is a weird game. Set in the future, it has you play as Incan warrior El Dorado, fighting against Spanish conquistadors — in space. It combines Wing Commander space sim flight sequences with first-person puzzle solving. Improbably, a sequel came out a year later, Inca II: Wiracocha. The 90s were a weird time, what can I say?

The CD-ROM version of the original features an exclusive intro, the song “Inca People” by J.M. Marrier. Somewhat earnest lyrics are undercut by a dopey chorus (“We keep on flying into the night / Inca People looking for a place to go”) and several pan flute solos. “Inca People” is a hysterical track that must be heard to be believed — it even baffled the Giant Bomb crew.

“Take A Stand”

Music & Lyrics by Mark Seibert

As Seen In — Phantasmagoria

sierra entertainment, adventure game, music, songs, gabriel knight, freddy pharkas, phantasmagoria, king's quest, inca

Sierra dove into the deep end of full-motion video adventure gaming with Phantasmagoria. An M-rated title featuring rape, decapitations, and a big blue demon, this was as far from King’s Quest as designer Roberta Williams could get. It shipped on a massive seven CDs, and the story featured horror genre staples with great gross-out moments.

After performing a ritual to defeat the demon at the end of the game, the player hears the horrid vocal track “Take A Stand” as the end credits roll. Sung by a Tina Turner sound-alike, “Take A Stand” is a more fitting single for a Lifetime movie than a horror game. Lyrics like “I want you back with me / The way I know our love could be / But I know I’m lying to myself / And I can’t take anymore” clash with Phantasmagoria’s spooky milieu. It’s especially baffling because the game’s introductory theme, chock-full of mock Gregorian chants, is quite effective. How Mark Seibert wrote both pieces of music is beyond me; one is pain, and the other is pleasure.

 

Article by contributor Mat-Bradley Tschirgi.

5 thoughts on “Sierra Entertainment’s Silliest Theme Songs

  1. Great article, I was a big Sierra fan in the 90s. Kings Quest VI was probably my favourite King’s Quest game, and I played the floppy disk version (remember those?) which didn’t have the “Girl in the Tower” song, just a small sample that you could play as a special feature that motivated you to buy the CD-ROM version. I thought the actual melody was good, as it’s used throughout the game. When I finally borrowed a friend’s CD-ROM version I heard the song at last, and I thought it was immediately super cheesy.

    Gabriel Knight The Beast Within, it’s funny out of the three games I don’t think I can go back to any of them except the first one (the original not the remake), because the second one is a weird grainy as heck FMV video and the third one is really hard on the eyes 3D graphics. I bought an edition of Gabriel Knight the beast within that included the CD soundtrack, so at least I heard the music as it was intended to be heard, but I’m not a huge fan of German opera so it didn’t really grab me but I commend the work put into it.

  2. Thanks for liking the article! I agree, a Sounds of Sierra VGMpire would be great. The Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry games in particular had great brassy and jazzy soundtracks, respectively.

    Re Gabriel Knight 2, the FMV was interlaced, so there was tiny black bars all through the video. Combine this with poor video compression at the time, and you had a smeary experience. GK 2 has the most interesting story, although the pacing gets really slow.

    You might like an interview I did with Gabriel Knight designer Jane Jensen on my old podcast, the Sequelcast: http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/sequelcast-podcasts-sequelcast-video-game-sequelcast-sequelcast/e/video-game-sequelcast-16-gabriel-knight-pcmac-guests-jane-34729260

  3. I remember hearing a crazy rumor about “Girl in the Tower” years ago, and Wikipedia (for what that’s worth) seems to verify it:

    “When King’s Quest VI was first released on floppy disc, a pamphlet was included with the game listing various radio stations to which the song had been sent. Buyers were encouraged to call in and request that the song be played, but this campaign was unsuccessful.”

  4. Wow, that’s crazy. I recall hearing it got airplay on some radio stations in California (possibly the ones listing in the pamphlet)…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *