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Music Monday: Lemmings

Two dozen years ago last week Lemmings invaded home computers for the first time.

This was of course DMA Design’s fictional, blue tunicked, Doozer-like subspecies rather than the adorable but apocryphally suicidal rodents.

To cut a very long story short, Lemmings frustratingly addictive levels of logic and timing received rave reviews and went on to become something of a phenomenon.

Initially launching on Amiga in February 1991, Lemmings found itself ported – sometimes successfully, other times less so – to at least 23 different platforms.

Oh, and DMA Design went on to make Grand Theft Auto a few years later, as if you didn’t know.

I found the difficulty curve of the original Lemmings as steep as the precipices the hapless critters found themselves smooshed at the foot of.

About half way through the second set of 30 levels (dubbed ‘tricky’), I became terribly stuck and lacked the patience to persist. In fact I only ever saw the 60 mouse-mangling ‘taxing’ and ‘mayhem’ levels by way of the codes printed in the magazines of the day.

Yet still I fell in love with Lemmings and, as is so often the case with me, I think that was as much to do with the game’s soundtrack as it was the titular sprites, with their bouncy shocks of green hair and their endearingly squeaky little voices.

The story goes that the game’s composer, Brian Johnston (DMA artist Scott Johnston’s little brother) had created a set of tunes that featured blatant lifts and actual samples of ‘real’ music.

While this sort of thing was hardly unusual at the time, Psygnosis were wary of any potential law suits that might have been brought about and so commissioned Tim Wright (aka CoLD SToRAGE) to render a selection of well-known but copyright-free tunes for the player to whistle along to as they sentenced countless semi-sentient minions to their squelchy doom.

The resulting pieces were remarkable, and still have the wherewithal to make me grin like an eejit almost a quarter of a century later.

For instance, the sudden contrast between Forest Green (or is it O, Soldier Won’t You Marry Me? Or is it O Little Town of Bethlehem?) and a snatch of Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Or Ten Green Lemmings (Bottles, trad.) suddenly invaded by first the funeral march (Chopin) and then ‘here comes the bride’ (Wagner). Well known selections from other classical composers also made the final play list including Tchaikovsky and Mozart.

It might just be the slightly scratchy sound of the old Amiga or perhaps I really can hear various musical luminaries from the past rotating furiously in their graves.

Other highlights include a deliriously demented reading of ‘How Much is That Doggy in the Window?’ and a skiffley jazz take on She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain when she Comes.

Plus famously some of Psygnosis’ other works featured as cameo levels in the game, with reworked tunes from Menace, Awesome as well as Shadow of the Beast (originally by Dave Whittaker) and its sequel.

Perhaps the single piece most often associated with Lemmings is the delicious muzak interpretation of ‘Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo’, more commonly known as Pachelbel’s Canon.

With excellent Cane and Rinse style comprehensiveness, YouTube user Mystic Falcon has compiled 21 renderings from the various conversions, details are in the description:

As much fun as all that stuff is though, my personal favourites all come from (what I believe to be) the smattering of original compositions among the Lemmings OST, so I’ll round off with a couple of those.

Not to be confused with the fabulous Blondie hit of the same name, One Way or Another:

I do, so I will – here’s Smile if you Love Lemmings:

You can buy and play Team 17’s pretty decent HD rendition – including tastefully arranged music – of the original Lemmings on PS3. It costs a handful of £/$ from PSN, and even features Move support for that authentic mouse-like experience.

There’s also a ‘Touch’ version for Vita, which costs £7.99 (or equivalent).

Let’s go!

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