Everyone has their go-to holiday music. For some, it’s Mariah Carey’s version of All I Want for Christmas is You. My family gatherings are unfortunately haunted by Dominick the Donkey (the Italians out there know my pain). This year, though, it’s time for me to pass on my own Christmas traditions with you all, like the videotape in The Ring.
Celebrate the day by throwing on the absolutely unsettling Pac-Man Christmas Album.
Released in 1982 during the franchise’s Hanna-Barbera cartoon era, Pac-Man’s foray into holiday music is almost certainly not what you’re expecting. It isn’t an album filled with traditional carols sung by the TV show’s cast. Instead, it’s an unpredictable 25-minute odyssey filled with original songs that’ll terrify your family.
There’s a story that runs through the album, with spoken dialogue from the Pac-family. Pac-Man generally sounds like a drunk Muppet trapped in a metal isolation chamber, while his children seem to be voiced by heavily pitched-up adults. Things get especially creepy when Pac-Man invites his enemies, the ghosts over, who speak in absurdly exaggerated bank robber voices. I’m convinced that the same actor is performing every voice on the record, including Ms. Pac-Man.
That would all be eerie enough on its own, but the actual music between the narration really makes this a special Christmas nightmare. Each song is an entirely original track, most of which revolve around low-key synth textures and beats that feel like they came pre-installed on an old Casio keyboard. The kicker, though, is that most of them are sung (using that word lightly here) by the Pac-family using the same oddball cartoon voices I mentioned above.
Highlights include timeless classics like Snowflakes and Frozen Lakes, which straight-up sounds like a Kate Bush song. The Pac-family mumbles over air synth loops, occasionally giggling like school children. The final track, Friends Again, is a three-minute magnum opus that approaches outsider art. Like many of the songs, it doesn’t really have to do with Christmas; it just features an actual singer crooning about the power of friendship as the cartoon characters laugh like The Joker.
My favorite song — perhaps even unironically — is a left-field alt-country jam called An Old Fashioned Christmas. It’s a melodically pleasing song about smooching on Christmas (“Give me an old-fashioned Christmas and I’ll give you an old-fashioned kiss!”). It’s notable for a nice little guitar solo that reinterprets old holiday standards into licks. It also features big, wet kissy noises. This is a good time to remind you that we’re talking about the Pac-Man Christmas Album.
If it sounds like I’m dunking on this record, I’m not — well, I’m mostly not. It’s an absolutely bizarre, unsettling collection of music, but one I’ve grown to love with some level of sincerity in recent years. When I listen to it, I’m transported back to the days when gaming companies weren’t so protective over their biggest characters. Oddities like this were more common, making for these charming historical niches. It’s an old-fashioned Christmas record, just like grandma used to make (as the song goes).
So if you’re looking to add a few new songs to your tired old Christmas playlist today, consider tossing on Some Days Are More Important or The Magic of Christmas. Your family will absolutely hate you for it, but isn’t that what the holidays are truly about?
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