You always wonder about your coworkers’ formative musical experiences, especially in an outfit like this one. With that in mind, we posted an informal in-house poll, asking Harmonix folks about their first records, tapes and/or CDs. We were sure we’d find out that our brilliant colleagues were dreaming up music games in the womb, sneaking into CBGB at the age of ten, and absorbing the whole of music history.
But as it turned out, most of us were grooving on Michael Jackson and Weird Al Yankovic. True, lots of us grew up with more exotic choices as well. But there was an overwhelming consensus for Michael and Weird Al—and we’ll add in our defense that both were pretty cool back then.
Far as Michael goes, Thriller was the overwhelming choice—How could it not be, when the darn thing was at Number One for most of the ‘80s? Sound designer Dan Crislip says he got it on tape one Christmas “with a brick-sized Walkman.” “I listened it to over and over until it was too damaged to play right,” confesses playtest assistant Jyllian Thibodeau. Associate Producer Fish McGill was doing the same: “I played/moonwalked/break danced it to death (except for the titular track, too scary).”
Designer Casey Malone concurs that he was “absolutely freaking terrified” by Vincent Price’s laugh. That video had a more creative effect on administrative assistant Emily Gabrian: “There is some awesome 1984/5 home video of my sisters and I pretending to crawl out of non-existent sewers in my living room and acting it out.” QA lead Joseph Pagliuca also recalls strutting his stuff to “Beat It”: “I tried to do the moonwalk and I danced around like a kid does. Good thing I was never filmed, or I hope not anyway.”
We didn’t reach a consensus on which Weird Al album was the one—Maybe this just testifies to the overall brilliance of his oeuvre (even if nobody singled out the immortal “My Bologna”). “His mashup of ‘Money for Nothing’ and the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ started me wanting to play guitar,” says operations associate Philip Hunt. Manufacturing analyst Ben Currier bought Weird Al’s Even Worse for a quarter at a yard sale when he was eight. QA engineer Bret Rouse said he started with Dare to Be Stupid, “…and I’m proud of it!” QA tester Robert Butts had the same album on cassette: “I think my parents and an entire cohort of babysitters would have given anything they had to make that cassette disappear.”
Some of us came to their music awakening in novel ways. Senior software developer John Eskew won a church contest for the best vacation Bible School promotional poster; with a free album as the prize. “Our church youth director was into music—He introduced me to the Eagles, Bob Seger and Cheap Trick. When I won I was taken to the nearest department store, 25 miles away. He talked me out of buying the latest Village People album (I was 10!) so instead I purchased the Electric Light Orchestra’s Discovery.”
And we can’t ignore the influence of music video. Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” struck a chord with QA lead Bill Cook: “I was having some trouble in school (I think I was in 4th grade), and watching these guys tear up a school and terrorize the teacher sparked something in me.” Administrative assistant Hilary Emmons confesses that she watched MTV for a glimpse of the forbidden: “Music videos from the soundtracks of actual movies, which contained scenes from said movies, particularly if those movies were rated R and I wasn't allowed to see them. Omigod. Like a drug.”
“The first CD I ever bought was Metallica's ...And Justice For All. I was mainly impressed by their punctuality.” -- Software developer Geoff Pitsch (Ed. Note: We take no responsibility for Spinal Tap jokes).
“The first record I remember listening to was my brother's copy of Innervisions by Stevie Wonder. I had recently started playing piano, and he sat me down, and told me that someday, if I practiced hard, I could play like that...which was a lie, but a nice one.”-- Composer/sound designer Jeremy Bridge
“The first album I remember seeking out and buying myself was Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York—I think I was 14 when it came out. The years that followed involved a lot of ripped jeans, flannel and misdirected angst, but also led me to a great love of pretty much any music that came out of Seattle.”-- Composer/sound designer Bill Whitney
“When I first heard the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon” (I was probably six or seven), it didn't really strike me musically, but it's the first time I remember having an idea for a movie, which I have yet to make but still want to. As an adult I have decided that it will not feature an actual raccoon.” – Artist Michael Georgeson
“Fishbone’s The Reality of My Surroundings changed the way I think about music by introducing me to elements of rock, heavy metal, funk, punk, rap, ska, reggae and even big band! It was an introduction to the many styles of music that I listen to and even integrate into my own music. Besides, Fishbone is wacky, hilarious and uber high energy so I guess you either love it or hate it.”—Composer/sound designer Kedaar Kumar
“I received a boombox and two cassettes as a Christmas present one year – Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and Madonna’s Immaculate Collection. I still think they’re two of the best albums of the ‘80s, possibly ever.” – Production assistant Christine Jandreau
“My first love, and the first music I remember listening to over and over, was an album I found in the back of my parent's mostly classical and folk record collection: Abbey Road (the Beatles). And I think it still might be my favorite of all time.” – Senior producer Matthew Nordhaus
“The first music I ever heard was a vinyl single of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man”/“What Goes On.” I was five- or six-years-old, and there was an old record player in our basement that I wanted to play with, so my parents gave me the single to listen to and taught me how to use the record player -- turn it on, put the single on the turntable, drop the needle in the groove. I must have listened to ‘Nowhere Man’ hundreds of times. The fact that putting this funny thing which looked like a rubber plate on top of it made voices come out of the speaker was quite the amazing trick.” – QA tester Robert Butts
“First record: Made in the Shade by the Rolling Stones. My mom insisted there was this amazing Stones song called "Bitch" when I was a prepubescent middle schooler. Sure enough she was right; I still give my mom props for helping me find that.”—Associate producer Fish McGill
“My first CD was The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters. It pretty much sent me down a road of listening to tons of alt rock for my entire life, and remains my favorite album ever.”—QA tester Tom Brown
“The first CD I bought was Warehouse: Songs & Stories by Husker Du. This was when CDs were a ton more expensive than LPs, so a big factor in deciding what format to buy an album on was whether it was a double album that fit on one CD” – Senior software developer Dan Schmidt.
“The first cassette I ever bought for myself was .38 Special’s Tour de Force. I wish I’d known then that I was going to be marked as uncool for life with that purchase.” – Senior web developer Allen Holt (Ed. Note: Nah, it just marks you as someone who should’ve been born south of New England).
“My first record was Sesame Street Gold!, the double LP. I had my own record player and would play this album a lot. It got me through the hard times, like the bat in my bedroom, and the monsters that lived at the end of the hall.” – Producer Heather Wilson
“My first CDs came all at once, where we went to Sam Goody and I could pick any three. They were: Tag Team - Whoomp! There It Is; Shaquille O'Neal - Diesel and Ren and Stimpy - You Eediot (by far the one I'm most proud of).”—QC Coordinator Nate Stoddard
“I've been told by my folks that the first music I was excited about as a kid was some vinyl of the Muppets we had. One day my father wasn't around, so I just went over to the record player/stereo system (unsupervised) and hit buttons, turned knobs, until it worked. Unfortunately for the stereo, I had the volume knob turned all the way up when it started, and the speakers didn't survive the first few seconds of the song.” – Artist Mike Montsalvatge
“My first tape was Milli Vanilli’s Girl You Know It’s True—It was a birthday present. After choreographing a few dance routines to it with my sisters, it was abandoned for the Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet tape that my cousin accidentally left at my house. I consider this my true first tape. I hid it whenever my cousin would come over just in case he figured out that he left it there. It was like my rock n roll gateway drug”—Administrative assistant Emily Gabrian
“My family wasn't exactly the best influence in terms of exposing me to landmark rock acts, and gave me my first cassingle as Wham's "Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go)" and my first album as Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms. At one point, Phil Collins and Seal dominated our commutes into school. You may judge, but it was the '80s to early '90s and everybody was doing it.” – Senior designer Dan Teasdale
“I'm pretty sure my first cassettte was Forever Your Girl, by Paula Abdul.”—Playtest assistant Jyllian Thibodeau
“The first CD I got was actually either Vanilla Ice's To The Extreme or Kriss Kross' Totally Krossed Out, which got an amazing amount of play in my CD player.
Clearly, I had an amazing taste in music at that point in my life and a great eye for picking out artists with staying power.”—Manufacturing analyst Ben Currier
NONE OF THE ABOVE
“My first record was the Beach Boys’ single, “Kokomo.” While it is a rhythmic and smooth song, I have no idea why I wanted it. A hyperactive sugar-addled 8 year old and the slowest Beach Boys song ever just didn't seem like a normal combination. I never could quite convince myself what speed the record should be played back at. I would sit for hours, spinning up and slowing down the record by hand. Should it halve in speed every chorus? Should it be Chipmunks high? I didn't know. But it definitely didn't have any effect on my current love of hyper speed ‘80s dance remixes.”—Playtest coordinator Chris Canfield
“My first CD was Tool's Ænima, a gift from a friend in high school. I think it improved my life because I had a place (though not physical) I could go when I wanted some time to myself.”—Software developer Roger Hanna
“I remember stealing my sister's INXS tape to listen to while I cleaned the bathroom. To this day, every time I hear "Devil Inside" I can smell the Ajax.” – Senior sound designer Jeff Allen
“It's cliche, but my first CD was The Black Album. After listening to the album about a bazillion times, I wanted to play drums in the school band, so I signed up with one of those sheets where you mark the instruments you want to play in order of preference. I got stuck with trumpet because there were too many kids who wanted to play drums. So I sucked at trumpet for a few years, then joined the chorus. I haven't picked up drumsticks outside of playing Rock Band since. Damn you for crushing my dreams, Mr. Tomachevsky!”—QA tester Nathaniel Read
“My first vinyl single was the immortal "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight" by Lonnie Donegan. It was all downhill from there”—Web editor Brett Milano