Craig Palmer ‘Industrial – Volume 26’ (Network Production Music, 1983)

At some point, the entertainment industry will have to relax its choke-hold on 1980s nostalgia. They’ll finally realise that video arcades aren’t coming back, that the £150 million used to produce ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ could have fed legions, and that Matthew Broderick now looks more like a well-padded university professor than a member of the Brat Pack. Still, until that occurs, it’s worth noting that a fair portion of today’s hipper sounds can be plumbed right back to the library music of that decade.

Take the work of Craig Palmer, for instance. The Californian pianist got his start working with American TV host Regis Philbin and pop/rock crooner Gary Puckett, before going on to record a shedload of compositions that underpinned scores of sports programmes and adverts. By the time synths had become a commonplace production tool, his electronic arrangements were the kind of top-shelf commercial stuff that was highly in demand.

Which is exactly how I came across his work. In the middle of putting together a small film for a presentation, several hours deep into hunting through vintage library music to get a suitable 80s vibe without much luck, I discovered ‘Byte By Byte’, a track Palmer had put together in 1983. It was a very “huzzah” moment, but before I could start patting myself on the back, a colleague chirped up and said, “Oh, I know that tune!”. What?

As it turned out, ‘Byte By Byte’ had been employed as the theme tune for ‘Computer Chronicles’, a pioneering American public television show where the computer-curious tuned in for pre-internet information on whatever was currently riding the PC wave. The track’s gurgling analogue intro is accompanied by the kind of lovely polysynth horns that would also eventually propel Chicago house music. ‘Byte By Byte’ appeared on the ‘Industrial – Volume 26’ album, which also featured ‘Electric Rain’, a track that feels like it could have been directly lifted from Wendy Carlos’ soundtrack to the original ‘Tron’ film. ‘Data Bank’, meanwhile, projects the vibe of a tear-jerking, John Hughes-style cinematic love scene, and ‘Mission Control’ brings on the sort of tension you might get from a thrilling Olympics montage or during the opening titles of an old-school police drama.

Originally part of the WhisperDisc series from the Network Production Music label, the collection can also be found on most streaming platforms under the title ‘Technology Age’ by the Network Music Ensemble. Under either moniker, however, Palmer’s workmanlike output is a thread that both the synthwave and vaporwave kids of today tug on vigorously.

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