Pinball machines are one of America’s favorite pastimes. They rekindle childhood fervor and friendly rivalry. While these machines are often embossed with animated, pop culture images, many also are endowed with notable soundtracks. Let’s explore five of the most popular musical pinball machines. While music preference is highly subjective, with such as wide variety of pinball machines, there is something for everyone.
Conjuring zany images of fun houses and circuses, this 1990s pinball machine was developed by Pat Lawlor, for Williams Electronics. The music was produced by freelance composer, Chris Granner. The soundtrack features a pre-launch build up loop, the main theme, and a rotating series of offshoot compositions. You can listen to the full line up here. While not particularly melodious, it is hard to forget the pulsing synthesizer. Moreover, Granner’s compositions are the quintessential example of hypnotizing arcade music. In addition to the music, Funhouse features an unforgettable talking doll that responds in real-time to plays and losses of the game. Much like Pavlov’s bell, you’ll find yourself reeling to here the meter’s of Funhouse.
Another way music was incorporated into the world of pinball machines was by honoring popular bands. For example, in 1967 the Williams Electronic Company released the Beat Time, an electronic-mechanical hybrid pinball machine made to honor the Beatles. While the Beat Time doesn’t feature a soundtrack of Beatle’s one-hit-wonders, it does offer the musical tones of pinball bells and whistles. If you’re a classical music fan or pinball historian, you’ll adore the cartoon depictions of Paul, Ringo, John, and George. Moreover, you’ll find it hard to resist this late sixties piece of pinball pop culture.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon
In December of 1992, Midway released this popular movie-inspired pinball machine under their label, Bally. Created by John Trudeau, aka “Dr. Flsah,” with music by Paul Heitsch, Creature from the Black Lagoon quickly became a pinball classic. The machine, seen here, has an energizing soundtrack to go with its flashy hologram backdrop and computer-animated screen. It is hard to pinpoint where Heitsch got his inspiration for the composition, but there are definitely hint of early rock and roll that reverberate in the classic drive-in theater theme. If you’ve ever played this game, you know exactly what we’re talking about!
For hair metal and hard rock fans, there is an oddly wide range of pinball machines inspired by the genre. Bally was the first arcade manufacturer to produce a signature Kiss game, though they wouldn’t be the last. While we aren’t sure what the deal is with these machines failing to play the band’s actual music, they come with their fair share of signature stamps, including bumpers embellished with Gene Simmon’s caricature. According to VH1, for a brief period, these machines were a sure sign you were at a cool establishment. Back then Bally fired off over 17,000. As if that weren’t enough, Stern came out of blue in 2015 with a remake. How about throwing one of these in the man cave?
Imagine for a minute that a pinball machine and jukebox made a baby… Well, Checkpoint, lets players choose between a wide range of musical genres, including country, rock, classical, and soul. The music is simple and subtle and doesn’t overpower the exquisite clicks and pings of the spring loaded plunger and flippers, but it provides a versatile and entertaining soundscape for players. When Checkpoint was released in 1991 by Data East, it becomes a piece of pinball history. No longer did players need to listen to the same song over and over again as their high scores climbed into oblivion, now they could switch between six distinct genres depending on their mood. Plus, Checkpoint was one of the original machines that allowed players to enter their initials. If you ever spent hours wondering who “D.J.” or “J.B.” was, you can probably thank Data East and Checkpoint for that. Brian Schmidt, who shares his name with the Nobel Prize–winning astrophysicist, has entered into his own world of fandom through Checkpoint’s loyal players.
Jessica Kane is a writer for SoundStage Direct, the number one online source for the best vinyl records and turntables.