In 1982, Pac-Man was a worldwide phenomenon. With everything from Pac-Man cereal, to Pac Man air-fresheners (the sure sign of an 80s phenomenon) the little yellow guy was everywhere. But nothing captured the craze like Jeff Buckner and Gary Garcia's song, "Pac-Man Fever".
A worldwide hit, it soon spawned an album with the same title that contained 9 other arcade game influenced songs: "Goin Berserk", "Do The Donkey Kong" (their follow up single), "Ode to a Centipede", "Mousetrap", "Froggy's Lament", "Defender", and "Hyperspace".
I was honored to interview these legendary performers to find out some of the behind the scenes info and learn a lot about what they've been up to since.
Gary Garcia and Jerry Buckner
XE: Before we started our interview, I typed in "Pac-Man Fever" and easily found more than a hundred different users you can download that song from. What do you think about that?
JERRY: It's really a simple thing to look at. I know how people look at it on the other side of the coin, and there's a certain convenience to be able to get on Napster and grab a song especially if it's for a research or work effort or a song you can't find...but if you wrote an article, or wrote a song that could be published, and that's your livelihood, and someone could just take it, how long would you keep doing it? You'd have to stop because you couldn't make a living at it. There's copyright laws to stop this type of thing.
XE: With almost all of your current record sales going through the internet already, I imagine that same target audience would still be tempted to just download it for free from Napster.
JERRY: Well one good thing for us, people want the album cover itself, and the pattern sheet that came with the original album. A lot of people want the whole package, so in that sense, we're in better shape than a lot of people, but most people just care about the songs, it's real difficult for them so they're going to have to figure something out. I love the internet and we use it and use everything. But we don't take other people's songs, I won't do that.
XE: So it's 1982, Pac Man fever comes out. I was in 7th grade at the time, probably you're prime target audience. It was such a big deal then. They even had a promotional deal at our local mall where you could play the game and if you got a certain score, you'd win a free copy of the single. How high in the charts did the song actually make it on the charts?
GARY: It went to #9 on Billboard, #3 on Record World, and #5 in Cashbox.
XE: The record went out of print pretty soon, though, right?
GARY: I was on vinyl and cassette, but it never made it to CD. After a couple of years CBS just kept it out of print. Later some folks on the internet were asking for it. Some folks were even trying to share it on the internet way before Napster, but the quality wasn't very good, and the file size was very big, so it wasn't too much of a problem then.
XE: So you guys had to have over 39 different contracts signed in order to get that album released. Why?
GARY: Well different people all over the world had different rights to clear for the songs. Like Pac Man may have been owned by Bally Midway here, and NAMCO had it somewhere else.
XE: Did you have to get the rights all over again for the CD release?
JERRY: Well our manager at the time had the foresight to secure the rights as they say "forever until the end of time" for this very reason.
XE: It probably would be impossible to resecure those again.
JERRY: Well I'm sure the people in charge and the companies are long gone.
XE: You had an appearance on MTV for a "Pac Man Fever Day". That was right during MTV's infancy...what was that like?
JERRY: They took us over to the studios in New York. We were with Alan Hunter, and they put us on display there and devoted a lot of time to talk about the whole phenomenon. It was quite a thing. You tell people now and they say, "What do you mean they made a Pac Man Day", but back then it was a big deal.
XE: Did you ever attempt to make a video for it?
GARY: It was just when videos were just starting to get big. It just never happened. I think it sold so well without one, the studio just didn't want to bother.
XE: Though the Pac-Man craze certainly did a lot to sell your album, your album probably did more to even fuel the Pac-Man craze on top of that. Have you ever got any recognition from the folks behind Pac Man as recognition for that?
JERRY: We got a few mugs and a couple of T-Shirts.
JERRY: I'm serious. That's how they looked at it. But you're right the record really complimented the whole Pac Man and game deal at the time. You have to understand at the time record companies were struggling, I mean kids were busy putting quarters in the games and not buying records, and we had the first record in that period of time that the kids were buying in addition to the games, so it generated a lot of revenue in a lot of areas. I think our song really help put Pac-Man in a whole new league.
XE: Sure, that song is one of the first things you think about when you think of Pac-Man, they're almost Siamese twins.
JERRY: We tried our best to make a really great album, and tried to make them really good pop songs. We wrote it as a song. We didn't just sit down and say, "Hey here's a Pac Man Fever idea, let's throw some sound effects together and hope for the best". People were recording Pac Man songs all over the country, even Weird Al Yankovic. But we wanted to make a good record, and I think we did that. If you listen to the album, they're all really good pop music tracks.
Sadly, no Ms. Pac Man song was ever recorded, as the girl group revival was still years away
XE: I haven't listened to most of those tunes since they originally came out in 1982, but I can still remember most of the lyrics and tunes to them. That's a testament to how good the songs were.
JERRY: What was your favorite?
XE: The Frogger song more than anything. It had a fun quality to it.
JERRY: They talked about making that our second single instead of "Do the Donkey Kong".
XE: Were there any castaways? I mean I'm sure you just didn't write the 10 songs and get all 10 on the album as planned did you? Were there any game songs you were going for that didn't up making the cut?
GARY: Well the Pac Man Fever single was out, and we had almost next to no time to write and get the other songs out for the album. We had to do the whole thing in about 3 weeks, so we didn't have time to make mistakes.
A rare mini arcade Pac Man game from Coleco
XE: Some folks wonder why you never did a second album of more video game songs. Was it just because the whole arcade scene died for a while?
JERRY: It's like a Rocky VI or something. You can only go so far. You're a good example of that, as far as talking about how you remember the record. People in that Generation X age group attach themselves to that video game craze. I think we did the best thing in one album then. We wanted to move on, in fact we had a song called "ET I Love You" and that really was a song that came about because we saw the movie, and we were moved, like anyone else who saw it. We felt like that song was a chance for us to bridge the gap into more regular songs. But it never got out because Neil Diamond had "Heartlight", and he was such a big artist with Columbia...it's a whole nasty story.
XE: So you even got permission from Spielberg to do that ET song, right?
GARY: We never met him personally, but he gave us the rights to do our song, and didn't give Neil Diamond permission to do "Heartlight", but CBS shelved ours and released his anyway, and Spielberg ended up suing Diamond over it.
XE: He was hoping to get that on the soundtrack, wasn't he?
JERRY: Our manager spoke with Spielberg, but there was some thought that they might insert our song into the soundtrack because he liked it so much. But that was before the whole Neil Diamond thing, and it all went down the tubes from there. But it would have been great.
XE: It wasn't even released was it? I remember hearing about it but never even saw it for sale.
JERRY: It was released to radio only. But you know that brings up a good point. If we released that, by itself when Napster was out, everyone would just download it on the internet, and we'd probably just sell 6 copies.
Perhaps the only known cure for Pac-Man fever ... the awful Atari 2600 version of the game
GARY: You're going to lose all your sources of new creativity. There'll be no reason for bands to record and sell new music if they can't make a living at it.
JERRY: Yeah, they'll just do something else.
XE: Well it's got to be frustrating when you're selling Pac Man fever on your page, and someone can also just download it for free on Napster.
JERRY: Well their argument is that they're providing a service. But you know if I got out and steal a truckload of cigarettes, and go park it somewhere and open the doors and say, "Well if you guys want to steal some go ahead, but I want nothing to do with it." To me you're providing a way for people to steal. They need to sit down and find a way to make it work for everybody. I mean it's a great technology, but you've got to be fair. People think the record companies are crooks, and they are, but you're hurting the artist and the guy who writes the songs. It's not fair.
GARY: The Pac Man fever album was the summation of 20 years of struggling and beating our heads on the wall, and for someone to be giving it away for free without our permission is absurd. But the problem stems from the record companies, too, cause they didn't see it coming and they didn't try to put themselves in a position where this wouldn't happen, or at least make an agreement. It's gone too far. It'll take a while, but they'll work it all out.
XE: Well speaking of ordering CDs, I noticed you have another CD besides Pac Man Fever called "Now and Then" that you can order through MP3.com.
Can Mr. T bring even greater success to Buckner and Garcia?
JERRY: It's as close to a second album that you'll get from us. There's some pre "Pac Man Fever" stuff on it. There's even a Mr. T song on it.
GARY: No, that one's not on there.
XE: You guys did a Mister T song?!?
JERRY: Remember when Mister T was really hot?
XE: Ha ha! WAS hot? He STILL Is. We love Mister T at XE, he's like our patron saint!
JERRY: We did the song, it's like a killer kickass song. We couldn't get it released as a single though.
XE: What was it called.
JERRY: Just "Mister T". It was great. I looked at your site. You've got like a little area for him, don't you.
XE: We're always doing something to keep up with Mr. T. He's like a force of nature. He's so rich and full
JERRY: Yeah, it was a great great song.
XE: Did you use audio clips of him, was that the problem?
JERRY: No Gary did all the Mister T voices.
GARY: The problem was the record company just didn't want to put anything else out by us, because they just had us down as a one hit wonder, but they wouldn't let us out of our contract, either, so we couldn't release it. They had us by the short hairs.
JERRY: They made their money of us, and pretty much just wanted us to go away. We were still recording songs, so we had some plans, but they didn't plan out with CBS, that's for sure.
XE: Well we'd be able to sell a couple hundred copies of a Mister T song on our site at least, that's for sure.
JERRY: We'll stick it on our next album, and see how it does. You'd love the song, it's killer. It's one of the best things we've ever done. It's kick ass.
XE: Video games have changed so dramatically since then. Back then the most violent thing in videogames was maybe Donkey Kong throwing a barrel at Mario. Eating dots and ghosts is a far cry from tearing people's heads off and blowing them up against a wall.
JERRY: I don't blame video games for the stuff that's going on in the schools but it's ridiculous. I saw where 4 Kindergarten kids were kicked out of school for playing cops and robbers and using their fingers as a gun. Have we got to that point now? It's absurd. Back then we would get in trouble, and the principal would deal with it, but now it's like The Stepford Wives. It's frustrating. I'm glad our songs are at least about games that aren't about killing people.
XE: Well, I guess that Berserk was pretty violent, but that was just robots. But you're not doing Quake and Doom songs, then.
XE: Any favorite web sites?
GARY: Well there's bucknergarcia.com and your site.
XE: That's all you need.
JERRY: No seriously, we're going to keep checking XE out. It's an interesting site. I like eBay, that's fun to look around in, and historic things. We also have a radio station through out site. Pac Man Radio through Live 365. It's our stuff mixed with 80s music, it's pretty fun.
XE's own Matt gets a Pac Man tattoo tonite, an eerie coincidence?
XE: Was it pretty hard to get Pac Man Fever released?
JERRY: It was rejected by every single major record company. It was put on locally on the radio. It took about a week and the next thing you know the Vice President of CBS flew out and made the deal. The coolest thing was getting off a plane in Los Angeles and hearing your song playing on the radio.
GARY: And seeing a giant billboard with your album on it on Tower Recods.
JERRY: Not bad for a couple of yo yos from Akron. It was great...I loved it, and I wish we could do it again.
XE: Well, you never know. Maybe the key is that Mr. T song.
JERRY: Yeah, that could bring us back right?
You can listen to real audio samples of much of Buckner and Garcia's great work by going to the jukebox on their official page by CLICKING HERE.
You can buy the CD complete with the original album art and Pac-Man patterns for each level if you CLICK HERE. And you can buy their latest release "NOW and THEN" featuring many unreleased tracks including the hard to find "ET I LOVE YOU" if you CLICK HERE.
And listen to PAC-MAN RADIO at The Official Buckner and Garcia site for some of their great hits along with other cool retro 80s tunes.