Irish Proverb: The Irish forgive their great men when they are safely buried.

The third annual Blockparty (now I believe the longest running US demo party) took place Saturday night at during Notacon. Demo parties are competitions where coders enter their programs and audience members vote on them. Along with the standard “demo” category, the organizers of Blockparty expanded to include several different categories. One of them was music, so I decided to write, record and enter my own song.

My interest in demos and the demo scene goes back to the Commodore 64, so I knew up front I wanted to record a tribute to the 64. I know nothing of 8-bit recording techniques, so that was out. I considered recording samples from 8-bit games into a modern program and restructuring them into a song, but I didn’t want to create an entire song out of other people’s sound samples, so I dropped that idea too. While listening to Run DMC during my recent road trip to Pennsylvania, it hit me — I’ll record a rap! Raps are relatively easy to write and perform as is loop-based music, so that’s what I decided to do.

The end result was “You Can’t Handle the Commodore,” a three-minute song written in the style of an old-school “rap battle”. Rap, and especially the rap I used to listen to growing up, has always been filled with “battle” songs — you know, “I’m so bad” and “I could kick your butt” and stuff like that … so after listening to several hours of old Run DMC, Ice-T, NWA and LL Cool J albums to get me in the mood, I sat down and wrote the lyrics to my song. Here are the lyrics, with a ton of notations added to explain all the jokes. Note that unless you are familiar with the C64 and much of its library, most of this won’t seem very funny.

You Can’t Handle the Commodore

[First Verse]

Listen up kid, it’s time to put down the Wiimote
Drop the 32-bits, hop into my boat (1)
Talkin’ trash like a punk emcee,
I’ll punch you in the face like the Ninja from Bruce Lee! (2)

My kid is the son of an 8 bit, (3)
In front of a sixty-four’s where I sit. (4)
I like to battle, but I won’t bark on,
I’ll toast your ass like the Phoenix from Archon. (5)

I’m great at a million games man,
When you were in diapers, I was cleanin up Wasteland.
Summer Games, Winter Games, World Games, too, (6)
California Games cured my summertime Blues (7)

Wanna play? Bring a DB9 Stick, (8)
I got an old Epyx that I’ll kick your ass with. (9)
You want mercy? Well you better start wishin,
You beatin’ me’s an Impossible Mission. (10)

Like HERO, I’m about to fly, (11)
With a disk notcher I’ll use your backside, (12)
Like Load Runner you’ll drop your load,
Then I’ll pick up your package of gold. (13)

You’re a headbanger, cuz you bang your drive’s head (14)
You’re like a zombie, and you’re already dead,
And I’m a serial killer with a serial cable, (15)
Cuz you’re retarded, or should I say disabled?

Let’s play Pitfall, you know what to do? (16)
Well take notes chump and I’ll give you a clue.
Jump over the logs, then swing on the vines,
And then you gotta UH OH out of time! (17)

This battle’s over, I’ve already won,
Cuz you come last like comma eight comma one. (18)
Feelin’ lucky? Wanna test your ability?
You beatin’ me? Realm of Impossibility. (19)

[Chorus]

I’m the king of (20) [the Commodore]
You don’t want none of (21) [the Commodore]
You can’t handle (22) [the Commodore] (23)

[Second Verse]

So bring what you got, whatchu think, you’re bad man?
Well I got skills yo, but I ain’t Rad Man (24)
Cuz he does art, yo and I play games, yo
so pick up a stick and I’ll bring the pain, yo

Cuz here is the church and here is the steeple,
your only friends are Little Computer People (25)
In Skate or Die (26) you always fall,
So you can suck on my Wizballs (27)

I’ll cut your head off, like Barbarian (28)
I’m bout to school you like a librarian
Your expectations are never gonna be met
I’ll rip you apart like Racing Destruction Set (29)

You think your bad, you better get your facts on,
Cuz I can rock a perfect score in Zaxxon, (30)
Wanna play some Hacker or Hacker II, (31)
Well look it up bitch I wrote the walk thru. (32)

Your face is red, I can tell your pissed,
Cuz I whipped you in the Way of the Exploding Fist (33)
Cuz I kick ass, and I never come in last,
And I’ll beat your ass at Boulderdash (34)

Player one, player two, it just don’t matter,
In Karate Champ (35) your face will splatter,
I’ll whip you, like a goddess wearing leather (36)
You can Stay a while, but don’t stay forever. (37)

In Beach Head (38) you took two the dome,
You gonna need a Space Taxi (39) to get you home.
Yes I’m better than you, you’re not just paranoid,
and I’m a 999 in Paradroid (40)

Three minutes and this track is through (41)
I’m number one and you’re 6502 (42)
We’re done here, and there’s the door,
I was right, you can’t handle the Commodore.

[Chorus]

[Closing Comments]

That’s right, he’s the king.
You better run/stop your mouth. (43)
Aw your disk is all floppy … (44)
He’s got two kids — Vic, and Sid. (45)
He’s gonna get you with an Isepic. (46)
Yeah, you can’t handle the Commodore …

Notes:

1 – The Wii is a 32-bit System
2 – Bruce Lee = Popular C64 Game (that featured a ninja).
3 – Play on “son of a b***h”
4 – sixty-four = Commodore 64
5 – In the game Archon, the Phoenix attacked by exploding into fire.
6 – Wasteland, Summer Games, Winter Games, World Games, California Games = Popular C64 games.
7 – This was going to be a joke about “M Network Games” who had a commercial sung to the tune of “Summertime Blues” but I decided it was too obscure so I got rid of it and replaced it with this line.
8 – The C64 uses a nine pin or DB9 joystick.
9 – Epyx made a popular C64 joystick, the XJ 500.
10 – Impossible Mission = Popular C64 game.
11 – HERO = Popular C64 game (in which the player flew)
12 – A disk notcher allowed owners to store data on the back side of a floppy. I thought this was one of the wittier jokes in the song.
13 – Lode Runner = Popular C64 game that involved picking up packages.
14 – The 1541 was notorious for banging its head.
15 – The 1541 used a serial cable.
16 – Pitfall appeared on many systems, including the C64.
17 – Pitfall was a timed game.
18 – The command to load a game on the C64 ended in “,8,1″. This is another good line I thought.
19 – Realms of Impossibility = Popular C64 game
20 – “I’m the King of” (Run DMC sample)
21 – You don’t want none of” (David Space from Tommy Boy sample)
22 – “You can’t handle” (A Few Good Men sample)
23 – “The Commodore” (William Shatner from old Vic-20 Commercial sample)
24 – Rad Man is one of the two co-organizers of Blockparty and a famous computer artist.
25 – Little Computer People = Popular C64 game
26 – Skate or Die = Popular C64 game
27 – Wizball = Popular C64 game (and a play on a vulgar phrase)
28 – Barbarian = Popular C64 game (allowed you to decapitate your opponent)
29 – Racing Destruction Set = Popular C64 game
30 – Zaxxon = Popular video game.
31 – Hacker and Hacker 2 = Popular C64 games
32 – A “walk thru” is a file people write that tells you how to beat a game. I did actually write a walk-thru for Hacker years ago but I needed help beating the game.
33 – Way of the Exploding Fist = Popular C64 game
34 – Boulderdash = Popular C64 game
35 – Karate Champ = Popular video game
36 – “goddess wearing leather” refers to the game Leather Goddess of Phobos
37 – “You can stay a while but don’t stay forever” is a popular sample from the game Impossible Mission
38 – Beach Head = Popular C64 game (where you could get shot)
39 – Space Taxi = Popular C64 game
40 – Paradroid = Popular C64 game (the highest level was 999)
41 – The song competition limit was 3 minutes in length. This song is 3:00, exactly.
42 – 6502 = the main CPU in the Commodore 64.
43 – Run/Stop is a key on the C64 keyboard.
44 – The C64 used floppy disks.
45 – VIC and SID are the C64′s video and sound chips.
46 – Isepic was a popular cracking cartridge.

As you can tell, I tried to cram an awful lot of jokes and references into a three-minute song. My minimum goal was one joke or reference every other line, and I tried to put one per line where I could do so without making it feel forced.

The song also contains several samples, both in the actual music and behind the lyrics. The song is composed of a couple of drum loops I actually ripped from vinyl to mp3 using my Ion USB turntable. The main “riff” is comprised of a modem tone, a dial tone, a 2600 tone, and a red box tone. (Surely that ought to earn me some old school cred!) The build up to the chorus is a jet taking off in Raid Over Moscow, slowed down. Most of the incidental samples come from the songs I’m talking about at the time (Pitfall, Little Computer People, Beach Head, etc). The chorus features a 1541 head bang. The bass line was created by hand by manipulating a single bass sample; the dial tone was then modified to play the same notes. The chorus samples were mentioned above in notes 20-23. The whole song was put together in Acid 6.0; I’d say I spent a total of 5-6 hours working on the music specifically, and then another couple of hours laying down (and doubling) the vocals.

I sent copies of the song out to half a dozen friends and the majority of them said, “it’s not as bad as I was expecting.” Based on their feedback I lowered the volume of the modem tone, EQ’ed the voice on the second track a little lower, and added the “end comments” which in the end I didn’t like, but it sounded better than having nothing there.

Blockparty had 15 song entries, and mine was number 14th in line to be played. As the organizers began playing the songs, I noticed something — none of them had any lyrics! They all sounded computer generated, and none of them were “songs” like I was thinking. I slumped further in my seat. I had misjudged the style of music completely. My only hope was that the crowd would be full of C64 fans and that they would like my jokes.

Well, they didn’t, at least not very much. I tied for seventh place out of fifteen songs which put me right in the middle. To be honest, after hearing the quality and style of the other entries I expected to be closer to the bottom of the list. While I’m not exactly proud of where I placed, I’m glad I entered and, if nothing else, forced a room full of a couple hundred nerds to listen to me rap. It’s a trauma I’m sure it will take some time for them to get over.

If you would like to recreate the experience, turn off all your lights, stay up until 2:30 in the morning, crank up your volume and press play below.

Or, if you would prefer to put it on your iPod and rock out at the gym, here you go:

Direct Download: Flack – You Can’t Handle the Commodore.mp3

If you want to hear some music better than mine, check out the Blockparty Results Page, scroll down to the music section, and get to downloading!

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11 Responses to “You Can’t Handle the Commodore (Song)”

  1. Stephen B says:

    I am not the best person to comment on music. Especially, since half of the time – I cannot understand what someone is saying/singing in a song. I also have zero rhythm and don’t have the best of hearing (especially with a lot of background noise). I enjoyed the song more as it progressed. At first, I had some trouble understanding what was being said. I enjoyed it more as I read along with the song. I really enjoyed the references that were made to various C64 items/games. For some reason, I have the song now stuck in my head. You did what most of us would not be brave enough to do. Good job.

  2. Felix says:

    It made me feel good that I got most of the references until I showed my wife the lyrics. She called me a geek and I felt shame.

    I really do dig this song. Will you be adding a full album to your resume?

  3. Amber says:

    I also thought it was brave of you to do this. I never would have dreamed of putting myself out there like that. My memories of the c64 consisted of entering a great amount of data to get it perform a simple task such as a balloon floating. It would take me 2 hours to enter the information and the damn balloon would not fly and most of the time it would not even look like a balloon. Oh well I tried. I unfortunately got all the bad jokes. I am leaning toward the rebel nerd side. Anyway back to you. I am really proud of you to be able to even compete with such amazing individuals.

  4. hmvh says:

    Broken link, Rob.

  5. Rob says:

    D’oh — link fixed.

    I’m glad you guys liked the song (or at least listened to it). I think the song might have done better at the competition if I had been able to display the lyrics while it was playing.

    An album, huh? Well, you never know …

  6. Mom says:

    OK, I get Amber’s comment. Typing in basic, running it to fix all typos, hoping it will run. That certainly dates her (and me!) Proud of you for competing. Nobody wins first place on the first try. I think middle was a great accomplishment! If you liked it, keep trying. If not, just remember a great experience!

  7. ubikuberalles says:

    Nicely done. Although I’m an Atari geek through and through, I’ve handled a C64 and Vic20 in my time and I got most of the jokes. Very brave of you indeed to stand up there and perform like that.

    I’m also in agreement with much of what Amber and your mom said. I spent a good part of my computing time in the 1980′s typing in programs (either from a magazine or code I wrote myself). Of course, most of that was on either an Atari 800 or Atari ST (and sometimes an Altair) instead of a Commode Door (oops, sorry! Old Atari habit!), but it’s basically the same experience. I would always have a great feeling of accomplishment whenever I finished typing in a program (my most memorable was when I finished entering the code for a Tempest clone from an Atari magazine).

    Nowadays I write my code on notepad (for JavaScript) or I use Visual Studio or even Flash Studio. Not quite the same experience as the old days. Even the sense of accomplishment isn’t as thrilling as it was back then (I attribute that to just getting older) even when my programs now do far more than they did back then.

    I did the BBSing, the game playing and the downloading like you did, Rob but no where near at the same level as you. Don’t know which would be the better experience but I think we both had our fun in those days.

    What label is your new rap music gonna be under? ;)

  8. Jason Scott says:

    I think you’re being hard on yourself, to be honest.

    You entered a competition that, it’s obvious, you didn’t go crazy seeing what had been the big hits in previous years, or what took everything by storm or didn’t do well, and you crafted a standalone piece of music. You had it played in front of the whole place, and then you placed right in the middle of a 15 person competition. Where’s the problem here? By your own admission, you’ve never been to a demoparty and you’ve certainly not been to a Blockparty, which is a variant of demoparties. All this considered, you placed just fine, people had a great time, it’s just that Virt is basically a professional musician, Coda has been winning every song comp that doesn’t have Virt in it, and others have been doing music in a scene way for upwards of a decade.

    By the way, music was in the competition for blockparty since the first one, and music competitions have been part of demoparties for a very long time (I entered one in 1996 and wasn’t even pre-selected to compete!)

  9. Rob says:

    I knew I was outclassed when another one of the entrants (Virt) also gave a live concert that same night!

    Maybe sometimes I am too hard on myself. I did have fun and I don’t regret entering. If I am destined to be the Weird Al of demoparties, I can live with that. :)

  10. Mary says:

    I luv this song! Cool!!!

  11. Nate says:

    So… My cousin is Kris Hale and I was checking her facebook, which led me to her websites, which led me to her links, which led me to your website. Sidenote: Your frontpage article on StarWars is incredible. Your ’82 collection looks a lot like mine.

    Anyway… This song is incredible. In. cred. I. ble.

    I had a C64 for like 5 years. I think I played all of these games. A little sad you didn’t throw jumpman in there (a personal fav of mine). But heck, you can’t get ‘em all.

    This is just brilliant.

    Thanks (smiles)…