Formula 1 Soundtrack, Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis, 1996
If you developed a racing video game in the mid-90s, there was apparently little choice other than to score it with electronic beats. And few companies knew this rule as well as Psygnosis. After all, they actually helped write this musical law with their enormously successful Wipeout franchise. These games helped to take video game soundtracks into the mainstream like few other titles before.
Keeping this in mind, it’s surprising that Psygnosis’ 1996’s Formula 1 soundtrack got a straight out, pure-bred hard rock/metal score. The masterminds behind Formula 1‘s revved-up beauty of a score are Mike Clarke and Stuart Ellis. While Ellis joined the project as a session guitarist, Clarke’s name will be more familiar to game music aficionados. As Psygnosis’ Sound Director, Clarke had mainly worked on Amiga titles before leaping into the CD console era. He would later return to work on the less remarkable Formula One 99. However, more helpful musical references for Formula 1 from Clarke’s career are Lifeforce Tenka and Destruction Derby Raw.
All three scores are guitar-driven howls of instrumental force. But the Formula 1 soundtrack doesn’t go for the grime and grit of the lesser Destruction Derby Raw, or for Lifeforce Tenka‘s processed, haunting feel. Instead, Formula 1‘s pristine instrument sounds and the technical precision of its hundreds-of-notes-a-minute guitar soli match the immaculate high-tech precision of the racing cars that this music underscores.
Psygnosis also licensed music from guitar virtuosos like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani for the Formula 1. That of course meant that the pressure was on Psygnosis’ in-house musicians to match such instrumental prowess. Thankfully, Stuart Ellis certainly lives up to the note-shredding standards set by these guitar gods. At the same time, Formula 1 never turns into a hollow display of instrumental pyrotechnics. Its album release – although it only came as a promo item accompanying French game magazine CD Console – is a well-curated affair that carefully builds towards its showcase guitar heroics.
“Track 1” kicks proceedings off with rock-solid, crunchy hard rock riffage and a comfortable groove. Its bluesy feel might be a rarity on the album, but smoothly eases listeners into the album. “Track 2” is a more pressing and urgent affair. The music picks up speed and mental images of cars hurtling down highways at breathtaking speeds are impossible to suppress. Ellis proves that his riffs are just as excellent as his soli, and like other cues, “Track 2” slows down to catch its breath at the beginning of its last third, before putting the pedal to the metal for a furious finale.
When you put together fast cars and hard rock, it’s difficult not to think of “Highway Star”. And indeed, “Track 3” does sport shades of Deep Purple. A Hammond organ not only adds splashes of colour and character, but also underlines the influence that Ritchie Blackmore’s work has on Formula 1‘s sound. Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Van Halen are other valid points of references that identify the Formula 1 soundtrack as a first-rate representative of classic heavy metal. “Track 3”’s closing rush is particularly exhilarating and builds on the cue’s excellent pacing.
Things only get better with “Track 4”, whose soli tear into the music with hair-raising intensity. Still more interesting is the cue’s central riff. It’s rhythmically tricky, yet unexpectedly grooving show stopper that might be the album’s most creative single musical idea. It regularly changes places with monolithic jack hammer riffing backed by the album’s first use of double bass drums. True, the drumming and bass lines of Formula 1 don’t attract as much attention as the guitar fireworks. Still, their rhythmic support is never less than flawless and at all times maintains the album’s exuberant energy.
After the heaviness of the preceding cues, “Track 5” is a welcome breather. With its care-free attitude, “Track 5” is barrels down the race track with a big grin on its face. Of course, there’s still space for lightning-fast guitar soli that lead to a huge, euphoric finale. Smartly placed at the album’s end, “Track 6” is the Formula 1 soundtrack’s most creative concoction. Clarke and Ellis prove their versatility and mix in funk elements that are as energetic as their rock counterparts, but lighter on their feet (it’s worth pointing out that Clarke had already dabbled in funk rock on the cancelled SNES project Apocalypse II).
The cue’s stroke of genius is the way it electronically chops up the guitar riffs during its B section. It then tosses shreds of the riff across the stereo field in a way that cleverly matches the tracks’ opening stuttering funk rhythms in entirely unexpected ways. “Track 6” ends up Formula 1‘s catchiest and yet complex cue, and its appropriately fierce finale caps off an album that might only present half of the music written for the game, but still finds its way into the annals of Western game music.
Not commercially available anymore – try music streaming services or second hand stores.
This playlist is a curated selection of music from the game rip.
- 01 Track 1 Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis 2:38
- 02 Track 2 Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis 2:53
- 03 Track 3 Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis 2:54
- 04 Track 4 Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis 2:48
- 05 Track 5 Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis 2:58
- 06 Track 6 Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis 3:05
- 07 Track 7 (Game Rip Track) Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis 3:16
- 08 Track 8 (Game Rip Track) Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis 2:34
- 09 Track 9 (Game Rip Track) Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis 2:52
- 10 Track 10 (Game Rip Track) Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis 2:51
- 11 Track 11 (Game Rip Track) Mike Clarke / Stuart Ellis 3:13