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
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
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
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.
Music & Lyrics by J.M. Marrier
As Seen In — 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 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.