In 1981, Atlanta jingle writers Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia entered a Marietta Square restaurant and spied a Pac-Man video-game machine.
Intrigued, the childhood friends came up with their ode to the video-game phenomenon dubbed “Pac-Man Fever” in the same studio 38 Special was recording hits such as “Caught Up In You.”
That novelty song, first played on 790/AM Quixie from Dixie in Atlanta in December of 1981, quickly caught fire across the nation, a classic one-hit wonder that resonates to this day for anyone in the Gen X age range.
Sadly, the vocalist of the song Garcia passed away in Florida Nov. 17 of heart failure, his songwriting partner Buckner told me Tuesday. He was 63. (Buckner said he had heart problems for many years but died in his sleep.)
“This was a great shock,” Buckner said. “We thought he’d keep getting patched up. He was a great lyricist, a great singer.”
Buckner recalls that wacky period of 1982 fondly. He remembers “Entertainment Weekly” doing a piece on them and within weeks, they were appearing on “American Bandstand” and “Solid Gold,” the hit music shows of the day.
Buckner said “Bandstand” host Dick Clark was gracious but surprisingly salty in his language off camera. “We were in awe,” he said. “We couldn’t move our mouths. We were so intimidated!” But he said Clark was supportive of “Pac-Man Fever” and the not-so-successful “Do the Donkey Kong” follow-up single.
He said he has regrets about his choice of dress on “Solid Gold,” which is captured on YouTube. He decided to be wacky and wore a “crazy lab coat” and an ridiculous fake Groucho Marx-like mustache. Garcia came out in regular clothes and sunglasses. “My mom had a fit,” he said. “You look stupid,” she said.
The pair were on a Nickelodeon talk show with a group of mothers who were against videogames. Amusingly, he remembers one mom requesting his autograph for her daughter, then going on camera to denounce the games.
Years later, Homer Simpson sang a snippet of “Pac-Man Fever.” The song landed at No. 98 on VH1’s Biggest One-Hit Wonders. It was recently part of People’s 1,000 coolest pop-culture moments, tied in with the whole “Pac-Man” craze.
When CBS asked the pair to do a full album, they tried to sneak in two non-video-game-related songs into the mix. No go, the record label said. So they ended up being pigeon-holed as those video-game guys and were never able to generate any more hits.
“I wish we had another hit but what are you going to do?’ Buckner said.
The last time the pair played “Pac-Man Fever” together was at a family gathering earlier this year. They also did some music for the website giantbomb.com and had their music interpreted by “Rock Band.”
Buckner used to do characters for morning radio hosts Randy & Spiff on Fox 97 and Cool 104.7. He is now doing voice-over work. He is also the narrator on a new History show, “Big Shrimpin’,” which debuted last week.
“I’m really proud of that,” said Buckner, an Ohio native. “It’s not easy to do. I’m doing a character, a Southern character to match up with the show.”
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk