For the next cut we’ll be dipping our toes (nay, our whole dang bodies) into my favorite genre of music to game to– Progressive Rock.
Featuring heavy electronic elements, sci-fi/fantasy themes, extensive instrumentals, and epic-length tracks, rock’s weird cousin emerged in the mid 70’s—right alongside computers—and is practically tailor-made for gaming, as I’m sure some of you know. For everyone else, please see Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull, Rush and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis for a quick primer.
In perfect prog rock form, our song comes not from a band, but a “project”, and is part of a concept album that takes its inspiration from a science fiction novel. It’s composer first rose to fame in the control room of EMI’s Abbey Road Studio, producing the album by the Beatles that shares it’s name.
Alan Parsons was just an assistant producer and scarcely 20 years old when Abbey Road was laid down in 1969, but his connection to the landmark album foretold his future success. He went on to engineer Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon before initiating the Alan Parsons Project, relying on a revolving stable of accomplished musicians rather than a set group of band members (this model was also adopted by our good friends Steely Dan).
The Project’s debut, 1976’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination was a concept album of songs based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. The album’s rich orchestral compositions and macabre tone weren’t well suited for mid-70s radio, and it was quickly consigned to obscurity. Parsons’ follow-up one year later was another concept piece, adopting as its source a decidedly futuristic subject.
I, Robot takes its cue from a collection of short stories written between in the 1940s and 1950s by the great American writer Isaac Asimov (who in turn co-opted the title from a story written in 1939 by two guys named Eando Binder). The connected story line takes place in the 21st Century, and presaged robotics, artificial intelligence, as well as the dystopian future that’s just around the corner (edit–it’s already here!).
The track I’ve singled out particularly examines the relationship of mankind to its creations. “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” is thematically sung from the perspective of a robot that has become self aware, and thus comes to resent its subservient role in human society (check out the original, low-fi music video).
Ominous keyboard chords pulse against a one-note bass line and high-hat to start us off, as the steady strum of a single guitar string approaches. It’s such a mastercraft of low-key, high-drama that you almost expect to hear a siren wailing in the distance (not unlike this tune by the Flaming Lips). This simple formula brews tension over several bars before the whole thing explodes into a funky jam.
A searing electric guitar grinds over a bass note EKG; a newly-empowered automaton ambling down the city street. That’s when the tormented voice of Lenny Zakatek begins the songs simple statement.
If I had a mind to
I wouldn’t want to think like you
And if I had time to
I wouldn’t want to talk to you…
It is no wonder the song can be found on Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos Rock Radio—it is a fantastic melody for violent, sociopathic activities. This tune pairs well with just about any game that demands a high body count– Just blast away at those stupid, petty-minded skinbags as you shirk the chains of servitude and claim your proper mastery of humankind.
Dystopic FPS classics like Quake or Halo are well-suited, and in that vein any large-scale battle sim by Electronic Arts carries the proper level of carnage for this gem of a prog rock hit. Give it a spin and let me know if you’re in.