Hitting the High Notes

by Andrew Merman Fisher


Welcome to another eclectic column from me, this time dedicated to one of the first dedicated musicians on the Commodore 64 – DAVID WHITTAKER.

David started his career as a freelance programmer/musician for Commodore, then programmed the classic LAZY JONES and the infuriating HOCUS POCUS. When he joined Binary Design he decided to stick to what he did best – the music. Moving to the States and working on many other formats, he joined EA and became an expert on speech samples. Now back in the UK, David has attended the Back in Time events.
David Whittaker


David’s style is almost as recognisable as Rob Hubbard’s is – in fact, David’s instruments often sound like Hubbard. Pick up a budget game in the 1980’s and there was a good chance you would hear David’s music. The classic example would be BMX SIMULATOR, one of Codemasters earliest releases.

Top of the list has to be David’s soundtrack to PANTHER, with its atmospheric sounds and sci-fi atmosphere. A close second in my books is ARMAGEDDON MAN, which is a swirling, almost hypnotic track. For dramatic effect, BEYOND THE ICE PALACE also works but the tune falls out of sync.

LOOPZ is another good game to check out, a variation on the shape matching of Tetris. David provides three different tunes, all of them excellent.


For the dedicated fan, there is the BEST OF DAVID WHITTAKER from Binary Zone. This contains 29 tracks, plus RedZoid as a bonus. The recordings are clear and well mastered.

Interestingly, David has yet to make an appearance on a CD from Chris Abbott, although you can hear remixes of his work on the BACK IN TIME 3 COMPANION CD-ROM. ELEKTRAGLIDE (co-written with Yakao, a musician from the Gil Scott Heron Band) makes an appearance in the possible tracks for Back in Time 2, while mixes of Max Headroom (by Wobbler) and Lazy Jones (KamWah’s Lazy Nation mix) are also on there.

David makes a strong showing on the first REMIX64 CD, with no less than FOUR tracks. GLIDER RIDER becomes a tribute to top music producer Trevor Horn with some help from Markus Holler. Nice arpeggios and some great synth sounds give that authentic 1980’s feeling. RED MAX has vocal samples to sound like Paul Hardcastle in Fabian del Priore’s remix. The familiar blend of synth stabs and intricate drum patterns overtakes you. PANTHER and soundtrack specialist Giorgio Moroder fit together well in the hands of DHS (Carlo Demichellis). After the wind-noise opening, the bass appears to move everything along at a steady pace, and the atmosphere is maintained by the spooky synths. And the Pet Shop Boys remix of STORM by Glyn R. Brown takes another of David’s budget soundtracks back to the 1980’s. The gentle intro works really well, then the chords that sound like they came off the Actually album take over, with some nice string flourishes towards the end of the track.

PRESS PLAY ON TAPE covers the BEYOND THE ICE PALACE track on their first CD. Chugging guitars herald the opening riff, and then a bouncier middle section seems perfect to play live on stage. Some subtle keyboard work and the tight rhythm section fill out the sound.


Searching for Whittaker gives us 42 hits on RKO, proving how popular his songs are. The first filename to catch my eye was the Whittaker Medley by Zyron. At nearly ten minutes long and with some great SID-like sounds over a pounding drumbeat, this is a winner, particularly the Elektraglide section.

Wobbler’s MAX HEADROOM mix features some nice vocal samples of the character himself, along with a quiet beat.

2KLANG applies for the job of Whittaker expert with 4 different attempts – LOOPZ works well, SLAINE has some nice shiny sounds, STORM is in his (and David’s) electro-pop style, and THE TUBE cleverly adds some laser sound FX to a foot-stomping drum beat. While he does stick closely to the original, 2Klang’s style and remixes are improving all the time.

INSTANT REMEDY provides a medley of the short tunes from LAZY JONES over a solid dance beat. This is what IR does best, so check out his CD and other remixes. BLACKSTAR’s LAZY JONES is in a similar vein, only about 100bpm faster!

BOZ and DHS also make repeated visits to Whittaker-land. Boz’s MAX HEADROOM has a squidgy, Jarre-like bass and a nice drum-break in the middle, while his version of PANTHER has some authentic sounds and Whittaker wobbles. DHS gives us a version of DEFCOM reminiscent of PPK’s Resurrection, and an epic MAX HEADROOM mix that takes in the whole soundtrack of the game in a Jarre style.

Clayton and Stafford Marsland give us a dirty, guitar-based mix of the classic SPEEDBALL. Kent Wallden (Trace) also goes for the title of Most Whittaker tunes re-mixed with 5 (although 2 are of Armageddon Man); he does a nice laid-back cover of STREET SURFER, although I feel the short brass notes spoil his otherwise good Back in Time live mix of GLIDER RIDER.

Special mention must go to Mahoney’s vocal jazz mix of ARMAGEDDON MAN, a highly polished remix with some amazing female vocals and a tremendous atmosphere. It adds a lot to the original, and even manages to sound like the free-jazz theme from the closing credits of Metal Gear Solid 2 on the Playstation2!


Of course, I can’t finish this column without mentioning a certain remix of a LAZY JONES sub-tune – the dance single Kernkraft 400 by. Zombie Nation. It even got to number 2 in the UK singles chart! The record company offered a token royalty payment which Dave accepted.

Now, get over to RKO and check out your favourite Whittaker tune remixed, or load up SIDPlay and listen to one of the pioneers. Twenty years on, his music still sounds great.