FROM ARCADE TO CONSOLE: SPACE INVADERS

Space Invaders is a two-dimensional fixed shooter arcade video game developed by Tomohiro Nishikado.  Released in 1978, the game system was originally manufactured and sold by Taito in Japan, and was later licensed for production in the United States by the Midway division of Bally.

After he had written the code for Space Invaders, Nishikado had to develop hardware capable of rendering the graphics quickly enough for play. While testing the game, he observed that the speed of the alien’s decent increased as more aliens were eliminated from the screen. This was due the fact that the CPU was able to transfer more and more power away from graphics and apply it to speed.  Rather than correcting this increasing rate of decent, Nishikado left it in. using it as a gaming mechanic. Nishikado based the pixelated aliens on images of squid, lobster and other forms of seafood and entitled it Space Monsters. The executives of Taito wisely changed it to Space Invaders.

Taito sold the game machines to arcades in cabinets for $2,000 - $3000 per unit. By the end of 1978, cabinet sales exceeded 100,000 in units in Japan alone. There were over 60,000 units sold in the U.S. by 1980. The coin-operated cabinets raked in 4 billion quarters ($1 million) in the US in 1981. Entire arcades were devoted to Space Invaders alone. 

Taito licensed the game to Atari to develop a home-play console. The Atari 2600 version, released in 1980, was the first official licensing of an arcade game. It sold over two million units in its first year on sale as a home console game,[31] making it the first title to sell a million cartridges.

Space Invaders was the first video game to popularize the concept of achieving a high score, and was the first game to save the player’s score.

EOTHEN

Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey together bought a 5.7-acre investment property in Montauk, NY for $225,000 in 1972. Montauk Point is the extreme eastern tip of Long Island and the eastern-most point in the United States; the new owners named the estate Eothen, Greek for eastward-looking. For years, the fishing village avoided the fate of the Hamptons, and the lack of ostentation and celebrities drew Warhol to the property, providing him with a respite from the glamourous and frenetic life he led in New York City. 

Designed by Standford White in the 1920, the estate comprised a main house, with seven bedrooms, four and one-half bathrooms and four stone fireplaces; four quest cottages; a garage and stables, all built in the traditional clapboard style of New England (Montauk is closer to Massachusetts than it is to Manhattan). The house and cottages were modestly-scaled and rustically-outfitted. The real asset, however wasn’t the house, it was buffer zone of scrub pine, sand dunes, sea grass and hurricane fence provided by the 122 acres of undeveloped land, part of a conservancy, that surrounded it. The combination of privacy and natural beauty made Eothen a favorite retreat among Warhol’s friends, and he and Morrissey rented the property out for months at a time to Lee Radziwill, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick and Bianca Jagger and their daughter Jade and socialite Barbara Allen. The Rolling Stones spent the summer of 1975 at Eothen, geared up for the recording of Black and Blue.

After Warhol’s death in 1987, Morrissey put the property on the market several times, initially asking $50 million, but finally selling it for $27 million to J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler in 2006. In 1987, Eothen was the single most valuable asset in Warhol’s estate, which included many of his own works of art.

MEATLOAF

Singer Michael Lee Aday and songwriter Jim Steinman began work on their band’s first album, Bat Out of Hell, in 1972. When they shopped the finished project around five years later, it was greeted with blank stares by record executives. The songs, which drew equally on broadway musicals, early 1960s pop and Wagner, performed by a 300 lb frontman with a three-octave vocal range called MeatLoaf, resembled nothing heard on mid-’70s radio. Its climax and proposed first single was an 8-minute operetta, performed by MeatLoaf and background singer Ellen Foley, with recitativo by Phil Rizziuto, about the high school dilema of “going all the way” called “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” When he first heard the demos, Todd Rundgren said no, but its weirdness stuck in his mind, and he eventually agreed to produce and perform on Bat Out of Hell.

Despite Rundgren’s association with the project, the record found no takers, until the small Cleveland International label, having nothing more likely to hand, took a gamble and released it in 1977. The band toured heavily in supported the record and the performance of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” which featured MeatLoaf and Karla DeVito acting and belting out the lover’s quarrel, and ended with the 300 lb singer wearing a ruffled tuxedo shirt and drenched in sweat lying on the stage gasping for breath, became a sensation. Trained in theatre and a natural actor MeatLoaf, who had recently appeared as Eddie in the The Rocky Horror Show on broadway and in its screen adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), tore up the stage, lavishing vocal attention on every note and cliché. His seemingly willingness to risk a heart attack by pushing his out-sized body to the limits transformed his weight from a liability into an index of his commitment to his art and fans. When this take-no-prisoners approach was captured in a dramatic Saturday Night Liveappearance in 1978, the single and album went to #1. It didn’t matter that MeatLoaf didn’t sound like anything else on the radio because for the next year, Bat Out of Hell was the radio.

Since 1977, Bat Out of Hell has sold over 43 million copies—an average of 1 million per units each year from its release to the present day.

YOU SHOULD BE DANCING: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

Although the plot of Saturday Night Fever is only glancingly related to Disco, the film capitalized on the resurgence of dance clubs and dance music that began around 1974, and transformed an urban phenomenon with a jet-set and bohemian following into full-blown craze for group choreography (“Do the Hustle”) at suburban wedding receptions and junior high dances. The film and its blockbuster, double-LP soundtrack, masterminded by Robin Gibb and Robert Stigwood, made the BeeGees and John Travolta into superstars overnight and, when the backlash set in, nearly destroyed their careers, so closely were they associated with skin-tight polyester suits, Qiana, and gold chains.

Set in a depressing, ethnic enclave in Brooklyn less than a mile from Manhattan, the world depicted in Saturday Night Fever is culturally lightyears away from the sophistication and glamour of Studio 54. The screenplay was inspired by Nik Cohn’s long, semi-sociological article "The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," published in New York magazine in June, 1976, which documents the disco dancing culture of working-class New Yorkers. The movie is a classic example of the unvarnished naturalism that made American movies of the 1970s  seem fresh, honest and real. The cultural backdrop to Saturday Night Fever is the dangerous, dysfunctional, ethnically-divided New York of the 1970s, the home to blackouts, transit strikes and crater-like potholes, depicted in Panic in Needle Park (1971), Serpico (1973) and Death Wish (1974), where anyone stupid enough to attempt breakfast at Tiffany’s was immediately mugged. Saturday Night Fever also concludes the series of major 1970s movies about the realities of Italian-American life that began with The Godfather, and includes Mean Streets and Rocky.

This downer setting is well-suited to the coming of age plot, in which a vulgar but naturally talented, protagonist realizes he must transcend his working-class circumstances in order to fulfill his artistic potential. The vain and lazy Tony Manero is a knucklehead living with his parents whose life revolves around Saturday nights spent on the dance floor of a tacky Brooklyn dance club. Happy to be the big fish in a small pond, the show-off Tony performs crowd-pleasing, dance solos to impress his friends and score with chicks. These scenes are the best in the movie—the lithe and limber Travolta tears up the screen, doing all the electrifying dancing himself, which director John Badham didn’t mar with over-editing. (When Paramount suggested the dance sequence be shot close in, to focus on his looks instead of the dancing, Travolta, who had run two miles and danced three hours a day for months to get in shape for the movie, threatened to drop out of the project.) For the drama of having to give it all up to pursue the slim possibility of success alone in an unknown, intimidating place to be believable, Travolta has to make Tony’s tacky, limited universe seem fabulous for a few seconds, and the 23-year old’s expert portrayal of youthful confident and narcissism more than fulfills that genre requirement.

Travolta’s real co-stars are the Brothers Gibb. The contemporary vitality of their lush, urbane, disco grooves effectively figures the allure of the metropolis and high culture. Even though it is not, strictly speaking, a Bee Gees release, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which sold over 25 million copies, was the high point of the Bee Gees career, featuring eight tracks written by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, six of which they performed and four of which “How Deep is Your Love,” "Stayin’ Alive," "Night Fever," and "If I Can’t Have You" (recorded by Yvonne Elliman) were consecutive #1 singles in early 1978—the same period in which Bee Gees songs recorded by younger brother Andy Gibb (“Love is Thicker than Water”) and Samantha Sang (“Emotion”) also rose to #1 on the singles charts. The soundtrack was the best-selling record of 1978 and of all time until the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 1982.

BLONDIE: PLASTIC LETTERS (1977)

For the cover of the second Blondie album, Plastic Letters (Chrysalis, 1977), Deborah Harry wore a hot pink dress with a pencil skirt designed by Anya Phillips, wife of James Chance and co-founder of the Mudd Club. Harry performed in the dress as well. Phillips died of cancer, at the age of 26, in 1981.

Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, keyboardist Jimmy Destri and drummer Clem Burke appear on front and back covers—bassist Gary Valentine had left the band as they were entering the studio to record the album, forcing Chris Stein to double as bass player. 

The release of Plastic Letters marks the end of Blondie’s status as an underground band. The huge success of the lush disco hit “Heart of Glass” on their subsequent release, Parallel Lines (1978) ushered in the period of #1 singles and arena performances.