Before I started writing about video games, I wrote about music. An avid record, CD and sometimes mp3 collector since my teenage years, I’ve written about both live and recorded music for a number of different outlets, from my college newspaper to the Oakland Tribune and a daily Web mag I used to edit with some friends. Given that the “Rock Band” games combine my love of video games with my love of music, my enthusiasm for them is natural. But, like anyone passionate about music who plays these games, I have some pretty strong ideas about songs I’d like to play that aren’t currently available. With that in mind, here are 10 tracks I want to see in “Rock Band 3.” Given Harmonix’s game’s emphasis on keyboards and vocal harmonies, all the tracks below feature one or the other.
This isn’t a list of my 10 favorite songs, either. My list of songs I most want to play in a “Rock Band” game starts with Sonic Youth’s “Sugar Kane.” For the most part, these are all popular songs that should appeal to a wide age range of players. Also, given how often Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd are requested, I assumed that Harmonix is already at work, trying to secure rights, and left them off my list.
“Mr. Blue Sky” (Electric Light Orchestra): When I first heard “Rock Band 3” would support keyboards and vocal harmonies, two bands missing from the scene thus far came to mind: The Beach Boys and Electric Light Orchestra. ELO has always been one of my guilty pleasures, and none of their songs is about surfing, so they get the nod for my top spot. “Mr. Blue Sky” is the obvious choice, of course, but “Evil Woman,” “Hold on Tight” and “Telephone Line” come to mind. Though it doesn’t have much in the way of keyboards, we’d flip for “Do Ya” around my house. My unofficial motto regarding “Rock Band 3” is “ELO or GTFO.”
“Since You’re Gone” (The Cars): The Cars’ least-played Top 40 hit, from 1981’s Shake It Up album, also happens to be their best song. It’s held together by some terrific keyboard playing and a fantastic, easy-to-play riff. With the Cars’ classic, self-titled album available to download for the “Rock Band” games in its entirety, this track is one of a handful of songs by Ric Ocasek & Co. that just screams to be released now that the game has keyboard support.
“I Put a Spell on You” (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins): Admittedly, there’s not a heck of a lot for the guitarist and bass player to do in this song, but it’s got piano and would be a treat to sing, or even just to watch as someone sang. There are plenty of songs where the singer has to stand around while the musicians solo; this’d just turn the tables. Legend has it this song wasn’t supposed to be creepy, that Hawkins — who has a fabulous baritone — was supposed to play it straight. But a booze-filled recording session turned it into the festival of strange we all know and love.
“New York Mining Disaster 1941” (The Bee Gees): This one was tough, as most “Rock Band” players will clamor for “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever” or some other helium-voiced harmonies from the Gibb brothers’ disco-era ouvre. But people need to remember how incredibly awesome The Bee Gees were when they were creating carbon copies of Revolver that sounded nearly as good as the Fab Four themselves. And the harmonies are just as good.
“Do You Remember Walter?” (The Kinks): Another group who has yet to show up in “Rock Band.” This song’s got piano and vocal harmonies, so it’s as good a representation as any. Casual Kinks fans would prefer “You Really Got Me” or “Lola,” both excellent candidates in their own right. But this paean to childhood dreams long forgotten would play well with “Rock Band’s” older players, and it’s got piano.
“Ceremony” (New Order): As in real life, bassists in virtual rock groups rarely get a chance to shine. A little Peter Hook would go a long way toward fixing that. With keyboards in the game, the most logical barrier to excluding one of the greatest British bands of the ’80s and early ’90s is gone. If it doesn’t make it into the game, a pack of “Ceremony,” “Blue Monday,” “Temptation,” “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “True Faith” would slake the casual fan’s thirst, while deeper cuts like “Age of Consent” and “Run” would make New Order diehards more than happy.
“Gates of Steel” (Devo): This track, a personal favorite of mine off the 1980 album Freedom of Choice, made it onto the list when I discovered that video embedding was disabled on The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” The Devo song everyone knows and loves, of course, is “Whip It,” but I’m sure plenty of folks have already requested it, and this track is better, anyway.
“Care of Cell 44” (The Zombies): In case you didn’t get it from my selection of the Kinks, New Order, ELO and Yes, I’ve always thought the Brits did rock ‘n’ roll just as well as us Americans, maybe better, depending on the era. The first track off the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle (yes, they really did misspell it) is a classic, criminally underheard slice of late ’60s pop, with perfect vocal harmonies and a hell of a piano part anchoring the beginning of the song. Harmonix has already given us a teaser by making the Zombies’ early singles “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” available as downloadable tracks. Now how about a bit more? With rock radio staple “Time of the Season” on the same album, plus other classics like “Beechwood Park” and “Hung Up on a Dream,” the whole record would be welcome, even if it didn’t burn up Harmonix’s sales charts.
“All My Friends” (LCD Soundsystem): I was gonna include Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” the greatest bad song ever written, but opted for this just to prove that I listen to music that’s not 20 or 30 years old. If LCD Soundsystem ain’t your thing, there’s always the Franz Ferdinand cover.
“I’m on Fire” (Bruce Springsteen): Though The Boss has made it into Activision’s “Guitar Hero” games as downloadable content, we haven’t yet seen him in a “Rock Band” game. This low-key number’s got keyboards, and it’s always been my favorite Springsteen song, to boot. I couldn’t decide between this and Yo La Tengo’s “Tom Courtenay,” so if you want something a little more rockin’, consider that your 10th song. [Note: “I’m on Fire” replaces Yes’ “Roundabout” from my original list, which it turns out is already in “Rock Band 3.” Harmonix, cheeky devils that they are, didn’t include “Roundabout” on the first press release of confirmed songs, but they hid the track as an Easter egg in the DS build of the game they showed at E3, which is why I missed it.]