Jerry Buckner Tells The "Pac-Man Fever" Story

by Carl Wiser

There was a time when the most popular video game in America was played with one joystick. You could find Pac-Man at the arcade, the pizza place, the deli or the local dive. It was a sensation, and it had a song.

"Pac-Man Fever" rose to #9 on the Hot 100 in March 1982, the only hit song about a video game ever recorded. It's a nifty pop tune by the team of Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia, rockers from Akron, Ohio (home of Pere Ubu, The Black Keys and Lebron James), who earned a living writing jingles. When the song took off, their label insisted on a full album of video game songs, and the duo delivered with tracks like "Do The Donkey Kong" and "Froggy's Lament." It put their rock aspirations in a coffin, but gave them the video game niche, which they've owned ever since (a Buckner & Garcia track appears in Wreck-It Ralph).

In this talk with Jerry Buckner, he tells the "Pac-Man Fever" story and recounts some of their non-Pac projects, including the WKRP in Cincinnati theme song.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): When did you graduate from high school, Jerry?

Jerry Buckner: Gary and I both graduated together in 1966. A long time ago.

Songfacts: Interesting time period. And you guys were in Akron?

Buckner: Yeah, we grew up in Akron.

Songfacts: Did you head off to college at that point?

Buckner: No, I was going to go to Kent State and then I was playing in a band at the time, making good money and having a great time, so I said, "Hey, I'm just going to keep doing this." I think Gary went to Akron University for maybe a semester but that was the extent of our education following high school.

Songfacts: Did you ever go to Kent State?

Buckner: No, I didn't go to Kent State. I was going to go there but I didn't go.

Songfacts: If you did, you would have been there during the shootings.

Buckner: Yes, we had friends that were there that were caught in the middle of that thing.

Songfacts: This puts you in that whole scene with Chrissie Hynde and Devo.

Buckner: Chrissie Hynde lived in a place called Fairlawn, Ohio, which is a suburb of Akron. There was a guy there who put together a big teen dance in a redone a barn out by this lake called Crystal Lake, and it was called The Castle. Gary had a band at the time – I wasn't in the band – but his band was playing, and everybody in West Akron went out to The Castle and Chrissie Hynde used to come out there and she used to tell us, "I'm going to be a big star one day." And we used to go, "Okay, right." And, of course, she went off and did that.

That was right around 1970. I was in a band called Wild Butter that I put together with Rick Garen, the drummer, and Gary eventually joined that group with us. We were on UA [United Artists] and had an album out and a single, which many people liked. You can see it online and hear some of the songs and stuff. But, at that time, the bass player's brother was recording all those Akron industrial groups like Devo, before they made it, and Chi-Pig. So, yeah, we were a part of a lot of the Akron stuff.

Songfacts: The Akron sound was really interesting because it was this raw punk sound, but then you had a lot of this really quirky stuff, which is what Devo was doing. Chris Butler was doing it with his act, The Waitresses. Your band was a rock band, right?

Buckner: Yeah, we did a lot of different stuff. Moody Blues, we did cover songs, and then we did original songs. A lot of harmony stuff - we had great harmony. But, yeah, we were definitely a rock band.

In fact, a funny story: I had a band prior to that called Rogues Incorporated back when the English stuff was big. Our guitar player quit and at the time Joe Walsh was playing up with The Measles in Kent, Ohio, and I actually called Joe to join our band. The band was really horrible - I was the only one that had any formal musical education and we weren't that good.

But I went up to meet with him but I couldn't find him. He was living in a barn up there somewhere in Kent, Ohio and I couldn't find him that day and by the time I got back home, another guitar player called. But we came close to hiring Joe Walsh. He would have lasted about half an hour with us, we were so horrible.

Songfacts: So somehow you end up doing these novelty songs.

Buckner: Wild Butter lasted about a year and then we broke up. We had some regional success, some singles and stuff, but Gary and I began to write songs together and go to New York trying to sell them. We were operating out of our back pocket - we didn't have much money, so it was really tough driving up to those record companies in New York, talking to these people and basically being rejected and thrown out the door.

So, I got this idea. I was pretty disgusted one night, and I said, "Why don't we just write this song where it's just nothing but a beat and somebody screaming, because that's what they want. Just a crazy dance thing." Gary said, "Well, sounds nuts to me but we're partners. Let's do it."

So, we cut this song called "Gotta Hear the Beat" and we made a fictitious name up for Gary called Animal Jack and put this thing out. There are lots of little stories with it but the truth is, radio stations started to play it and it was really a ridiculously horrible record, but it was crazy. It was kind of a joke, but we started getting play from it and Laurie Records bought the master. And Laurie at one time, they had Gerry and the Pacemakers and Dion and all that, so that was our first major label buy. They put it out and it never really caught on, but a lot of people played it.

So, that was our first experience. We got a little bit of attention from that.

With "Pac-Man," we were working in a studio at the time here in Atlanta, around 1981, doing regular stuff, jingles – we did a lot of jingles at the time. We were eating lunch or dinner one night at this restaurant in Marietta, Georgia and they had a Pac-Man machine. Never saw one before. Everybody was playing it so we started playing it too. Well, we got hooked and we ended up sitting in there for two hours instead of going back and working. We did this for a while and I said, "Hey, let's do a song about this," and Gary said, "Yeah, okay, it seems like it's something fun."

Because we were doing a lot of jingles and making pretty good money, we thought we could get play here in Atlanta and get our names out there. We'd put our names on the song and get some local play and that would help us get some commercials. That was the original intention. We never dreamed that this thing could be a national hit like it was.

So, we took it to Arnie Geller, who eventually became our manager and he's still my manager now. He liked the idea. Sent it to all the major record companies and nobody wanted it. They didn't understand it - they didn't know what it was about. They were in their ivory towers, so they didn't know.

So, Arnie put it out locally and it absolutely exploded on a morning show, the 94Q morning show. I mean, just exploded. They had to play it again after they played it once, and you know radio stations never did that sort of thing. They never played a record two times in a row.

So when that happened they pressed some records up and people bought them. They were gone in a day. And when CBS Records heard about that, well they changed their story and they came down here, made a deal and put the single out. And of course, it was a hit.

When they wanted us to do the album we wanted to put some of our regular songs on there but CBS said, "No, we want all game songs." Well, it made sense for them as a record company. I could understand that, but we knew if we did that, it was going to pigeonhole us because we had a lot of great songs - some blues stuff and all that. No one ever got to hear it because we were looked at as guys who did novelty songs.

Songfacts: I believe you coined the phrase "Pac-Man Fever." I don't remember that being part of their marketing campaign or anything else.

Buckner: Yes, we did. We came up with that phrase. And I'll tell you the second thing we came up with that everybody uses: "I've got a pocketful of quarters and I'm heading to the arcade." The first line. In game-related stories, it's used quite a bit. That opening line pretty much summed up the whole thing.

Songfacts: How hard was it to write verses for a song about the game Pac-Man?

Buckner: You know, it was tough. Gary and I, we had a perfect blending together for all things, including writing songs. I always was good with writing melodies, coming up with the hook part, and maybe even coming up with the name of the song and a few lines of lyrics. Then Gary would take that and he would go ahead and do the verses and put that together, so together we would come up with the song.

It's difficult to write lyrics for those songs. Very difficult. Gary was a great lyricist. I wish you could hear other songs that we wrote together, just great songs. But it wasn't easy. The single was exploding and they wanted this album quickly. So, we would go out to a game room or wherever we could find a particular game, and we'd find out who could play it and we'd watch them and write down how the game went. Then we'd go back and work on the song half the night, get up the next day and record the song. That's essentially how we did the album. We had to do it in about ten days.

So, it was tough but I think it come out pretty good. The original album, especially. A lot of people aren't happy with the redo we did, although I think it was very close to the original. At one point, after Gary had passed away, we had an idea about doing a couple of game songs and when I started trying to write the lyrics I said, "You know, I can't do this, it just doesn't click." Not easy.

Songfacts: When did Gary pass away?

Buckner: Gary passed away in November of 2011. It ran in his family. His father had passed away in his 50s, his brother passed away too, both from heart attacks. He was lucky in that by the time he had trouble they were doing operations where they could fix things. So, he got probably an extra 19 years, we figured, but he had some heart trouble and it eventually got him.

Songfacts: Did you run into any copyright issues with using the name Pac-Man and all its associated sounds?

Buckner: That's a good question. We do, but not for the reason you would think. It took I think 24 contracts to clear everything on that album. It was a nightmare for the attorneys. Well, they were written for perpetuity, so we have those rights forever. But what happens now is with the Internet, we have some problems. We put up a new video called "Pac-Man Fever (Eat 'Em Up)." We thought, "Let's do a new version, update the song a little bit." We used Gary's vocal track but we built a whole new track around it and put it out. It was very well received. We did tons of interviews on radio and TV, and then there was this video that these guys had done called Pac-Man Fever (The Fan), which is a movie they're working on.

Well, the video was killer and the image effects were great so we talked to them and they agreed to do a video with our song and added some new stuff to it. So, we put that together and put it out. It's had a phenomenal reaction - over 3 million views on YouTube.

But somebody filed a claim. You know, sometimes we get in YouTube or some of these other places, we have to prove that we own the song, prove we own the rights to the images we're using. So, they took our monetizing effect off for a while and it took forever for us to get it straightened out. But we did, and we're back on, monetized and everything.

But, yeah, I keep all the information, the copyrights and all that stuff, so we can send it anytime there's a problem.

Songfacts: You had done some things under all these different names like the Vigorish and Animal Jack, and here you are and you're "Buckner & Garcia." Why didn't you create some wild name for that one?

Buckner: Well, the idea behind doing the song originally was to get attention around town from advertising agencies so we could make more money doing jingles, because that's really what we were making a living doing. We were still writing songs, but it's a tough business so we had to make a living. That's why we said Buckner & Garcia, for that reason. I'm glad we did it now because it's been beneficial in a lot of other ways.

Songfacts: You guys didn't make a video for this song, even though MTV was already on the air.

Buckner: Okay, MTV was just on the air and we were on MTV. In fact, they had a video game day and featured us live on TV for two or three hours - it was pretty cool. But, unfortunately, MTV was still in its infancy and I don't think they were in Atlanta yet. There's a picture of us on MTV, you can see it online. They played the song and helped us a bunch.

They were trying to get attention any way they could. I think we may have performed it on there - lip-synched maybe - but I know they played it some. They would never play it today but back then they did.

Songfacts: Somebody was going to do something with Pac-Man and you guys got there first. It seems like there must have been DJs and parody artists across the country that were brewing ideas. Weird Al was around but I don't think he was as prolific as he is now. Did you hear of anybody else trying to beat you to this or after the fact?

Buckner: Yes, sure. We counted up about 14 other records that were local that were put out on Pac-Man, including Weird Al. Weird Al, he did a parody of a Beatles' song, but like you say, he wasn't that well known.

Weird Al's "Pac-Man," a parody of "Taxman," didn't surface until 1995, when it showed up on Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes No. 4.
By the way, the girl that played drums on "Pac-Man Fever" - it was a female drummer [Ginny Whitaker] who played drums on our record – she eventually, years later, ended up in California working for an agent and one of his clients was Weird Al. She said he was in there bitching about how we were first, acting like he would have had a hit if it wasn't for us.

The truth is, his was just a real basic parody, it wasn't that great. Most of these other records that were done, they would throw in sound effects and stuff, and they were really horrible. But we approached it as songwriters because we were songwriters, pop songwriters, so we said, We're going to write a pop song first. We're going to come up with a song with a good hook and have an actual record that would have a chance on its own as a pop song, versus just throwing some drums and bass together and cashing in on sound effects, which probably would have worked for a week or two but really wouldn't do that well.

So, that's why I think our song not only was the hit, but it lasted. It was on the charts for several weeks. It was not a true novelty record. A true novelty record is not going to last long. That was the problem with them back then. If companies thought they were going to have a hit, they would have to press up a bunch of records and have them waiting because the song is going to go up the charts very quickly and back down very quickly. So, if you want to make any money you've got to have product ready. If you guessed wrong then you're stuck with half a million singles nobody wants.

But our song, because it was a regular song and had some substance to it as far as being a pop song, that helped it to stay as long as it did and still have appeal today.

Songfacts: Yeah, the novelty song thing is just a designation that Billboard gives it and it's very secretive. Nobody will tell you who decides what's a novelty song and what isn't. But yours got that tag even though, as you say, it's just a regular song. But it's far more of a real professional piece than something like "Disco Duck."

Buckner: "Disco Duck." Yeah. I appreciate you saying that. We're not under any illusions that it's a completely normal song. Of course not. I think the sound effects play a big part of the novelty of it, and of course, the subject matter. But there's really a lot of songs you could call novelty, it just depends how you want to say it. But we did it with all the songs on the album. We tried to come up with pop songs that were good hooks and fun and we didn't say they were anything other than that.

Songfacts: Is this the biggest hit that is about a video game?

Buckner: I think it is, yeah.

Songfacts: I was trying to think if there has ever been any other. Except for what you've done, I can't name any other song that is about a video game. You think there'd be like "Minecraft Boogie" or something out there. There's not.

Buckner: No, and I think we covered the main ones on the album too. What's interesting is, two years ago we got a call from the music director at Disney, and he says, "We've got a movie we're doing and we'd like you guys to do a song." And it was Wreck-It Ralph which they were working on. Gary had passed away, but they said, "Can you still do it?" And I said, "Yeah, we can use one of the other guys in the band that sings." So, we did it and called it Buckner & Garcia because they wanted that name recognition for the song in a movie.

Unfortunately, because this was decided just before the release of the movie, it's really the theme for the movie but they couldn't put it in the front because they had contractual agreements with Owl City to have the main song. It's part of the business. So, we're in the soundtrack at the end, and people love the song. If it had been in front of the movie like it should have been it probably would have been huge.

It's amazing. A couple of years ago "Pac-Man Fever" was in the Rose Bowl parade. And I'll tell you what was fun: The Simpsons used part of it. They had Homer sing the song on one of The Simpsons episodes ["A Tale of Two Springfields"], and that was so cool. And, of course, The Goldbergs used it for a promotion on one of their shows. We just had an inquiry from Family Guy about using it on one of their episodes next fall, so we'll see if that comes off.

It just keeps rolling and that's one reason why we wanted to do the remake, but these shows want the original. They don't want the remake - they want the original.

Songfacts: Why are you hesitant about giving them the original?

Buckner: Oh, we're not. We just thought maybe they'd like an updated version because it's been so long ago. But they don't, they want the original. That's fine. I have no problem with that.

Songfacts: Devo, for instance, will not give the original because they don't own the performance rights. They insist on re-recording any song that's used in a commercial.

Buckner: Well, now, when I say "original," we did a remake which we give when people want to purchase a master. I'm not talking about the original one with CBS, I'm talking about the original "Pac-Man Fever" that we re-did back in 1999. The "Pac-Man Fever" remake is the same song but a different arrangement, modernized.

Songfacts: So why did you re-record it in 1999?

Buckner: Because CBS wouldn't put out the album. That's when everything was being transferred to CD, and they wouldn't put it out. They never gave us an answer. We were getting tons of requests, emails and stuff, so we said, "Well we better re-record it." So, we did.

And I think we did a good job. It's not exactly the same, but it's hard for me to tell the difference until I hear the guitar solo. It's very, very close. The other songs on the album are close.

A lot of people that really know this album. I mean, the album sold like a million and a half. We had all kinds of people: "Oh, that guitar was wrong there. That keyboard..." They knew the difference. It was pretty amazing.

Songfacts: You didn't own the master, so when it came time to release it on CD, you just did it yourself.

Buckner: Yeah, so we now have our own album. It's like Devo, I guess. It's a remake, but that's what we license because we can't license Sony and Sony won't put theirs out. Which is fine with us.

Songfacts: One thing I love about the whole "Pac-Man Fever" story is that there's this apocryphal tale of how if you listen really closely, you can hear somebody ordering at a deli. Almost like the "Stairway to Heaven" backwards devil message. That's not true, is it?

Buckner: Well, let me tell you the story behind it and then you can make up your own mind. Now, you can sample anything you want. Everything's available. Back then, that wasn't the case. If you wanted the Pac-Man sound effects, you had to go record them. So the engineers went to a deli to record the Pac-Man sound effects and when they came back we said, "How did it go?" and they put them up to listen to them. They said, "Oh, it went pretty good except towards the end somebody was ordering a sandwich or something," and we all started laughing about it.

We obviously didn't want to include that in the actual record, but at the time, several people said they could still faintly hear it in the very beginning in headphones. That's how it started and the rumor just spread around. I can't hear it, but it did happen: When they were recording it in the deli somebody ordered a sandwich and they caught just a teeny bit of it at the very end of the sound effect.

WKRP in Cincinnati went on the air in 1978. A startlingly realistic portrayal of a dysfunctional radio station, its theme song, sung by Steve Carlisle, was very popular but didn't exist as a full-length recording until 1981, when it was released as a single and charted at #65. This version was produced by Jerry and Gary.

In 1982, the same year "Pac-Man Fever" hit, the song was included on a full album of Steve Carlisle material called Steve Carlisle Sings WKRP In Cincinnati.
Songfacts: Jerry, what was your involvement in WKRP?

Buckner: Our involvement? A guy named Steve Carlisle was here in town. Hugh Wilson, the guy that developed the show, was in Atlanta originally – he was in advertising here. He got in with Mary Tyler Moore Productions and came up with the show. When it came time to do the theme, Hugh had worked with Steve. Steve was a really good singer, so they came back here and had Steve do the theme. Now, back then when you did themes, they only did like 30-60 seconds of them.

So, years later – this was when "Pac-Man" was happening – we went to Steve because we had some songs that we thought he could sing. We did some demos and went to a company in Cleveland we knew, Belkin Productions. We knew Carl Maduri, and Carl liked what he heard and did a deal with MCA Records for Steve. Next thing we know, they want an album, so we had to do an album. We couldn't do the album with Steve because we were doing the album for "Pac-Man."

So, after they did the album, they put the single out. Well then, radio stations, when they found out that Steve did that song, they said, "Hey, can we get the WKRP song with our call letters at the end?"

We said, "Okay."

So, we had to write more music and lyrics and make it a song instead of just a 60-second thing. We made the whole song, went in and recorded the whole thing, and then, of course, MCA put it out.

I can't remember how many radio stations we did, but instead of at the very end: [sings] "WKRP Cincinnati," it would be, "WGAR Cleveland." That's how the KRP thing happened.

Songfacts: You were doing the production on that?

Buckner: Yeah. We produced the long version, the recorded version that's online. If you look for Steve Carlisle, that long version, that's me playing a piano solo. Gary and I produced that as a completely new session and it's been extended and added onto. It's a co-production.

It was right around "Pac-Man." We did Steve before "Pac-Man," but then it all just got jumbled together.

Songfacts: That had to be mind-numbing work inserting those radio station call letters and cities into that song over and over. Did Steve have to sing those?

Buckner: Yes.

Songfacts: So you did a session where Steve is singing something like "WSVR in Savannah," and you're taking that and editing it on your good-old analog, reel-to-reel equipment.

Buckner: Yeah, literally, physically splicing it in to each song. There were tons of them. I can't remember how many there were.

Songfacts: And then you send all those to the radio stations hoping that they'll play them because they're customized for the station.

Buckner: Right. That was the deal. A bunch of them wanted them, so they did them for everywhere that wanted them, and it was a ton of them. I don't even know where those are now because they weren't pressed up, they were just tapes. It'd be funny to hear some of them.

Songfacts: Yeah, they're probably out there somewhere. I remember Huey Lewis did a song called "The Heart of Rock & Roll."

Buckner: Right, the cities at the end.

Songfacts: Yeah, and I remember locally you'd hear them say, "The heart of rock & roll is beating in New Haven," and we're like, Whoa! It was kind of cool. But you were doing that even before.

Buckner: The craziest record like that that I can remember was when I was a kid, back in the '50s, and I think it was called "High School U.S.A." The original version I guess came out of California, and it had some names in the lyrics of the schools. So I remember they eventually did them for a whole bunch of places. At least with ours it was at the end and we could just do the ending parts. They had to do lyrics for all over the place, which would have been really tough to get everything to rhyme.

In 1980, Jerry and Gary released a song called "Merry Christmas In The NFL" under the name Willis "The Guard" & Vigorish. The song, in which Howard Cosell brings Christmas cheer (yes, he was Jewish) in the form of highlight videos on Betamax, reached #82 on the Hot 100. Gary also wrote a song called "On And On," which Anne Murray recorded on her 1986 album Something to Talk About, which sold over a million copies.
Songfacts: Jerry, you did the Anne Murray song, which was on a very popular album. This was when she was very big. And this song is certainly not like the other songs we've been talking about. Can you explain what led you to write that song and how that happened?

Buckner: Well, I've written ballads over the years and always enjoyed doing it. You know, you get an idea as a writer and this one came to me. I worked on it and I thought it came out pretty good. I was getting a tip sheet at the time on artists that needed songs, and I sent it in. They liked it, so they forwarded it to the Anne Murray people and the producer liked it. But he calls me up and says, "Okay, we like your song but we want the publishing." And I said, "Well, I can't do that because publishing, my partner owns it."

So that's probably why it got stuck at the end of the album, because people love that song as much as the one that was a hit ["Now and Forever (You and Me)"]. I've had a lot of people contact me about the song who liked it.

The producer did an OK arrangement on it. You've got to hear the original thing we did with someone by the name of Cheryl Wilson. Cheryl did a fantastic job, I think really a better job than Anne, to be honest with you. Anne Murray is a tremendous talent, of course, but there's games people play in the music business, and because he didn't get publishing I think it got stuck on the end of the album in no man's land.

It was the fourth single off the album, and by the time you get to that it's tough with radio, but it still sold very well. I eventually got to meet her when she was in town. I've written other ballads, but that one got through.

Songfacts: You had a female demo this one?

Buckner: Yeah, and that was Cheryl Wilson. Cheryl is a tremendous talent here in Atlanta. She eventually moved to Chicago and did some of the biggest commercials – national stuff. That's how good she was. She's still up there now doing a lot of studio work.

But Cheryl, at the time, she also demoed a song called "Meet Me In Montana" which was a big hit for Marie Osmond. Paul Davis wrote that. Paul was here in Atlanta, we were friends and so she demoed that song and then she demoed mine, and both of them were hits. I remember she called me and said, "You know, I did both these songs that were hits but I can't get a hit myself." It's just the way it goes. But she is a tremendous talent.

Songfacts: I'm kind of surprised that you didn't write that song for a guy to sing because that seems like more of a guy scenario, where the girl would leave him and he just can't let go.

Buckner: Well, that's amazing that you say that. The song was in a made-for-TV movie and it was used in a sequence exactly like you're saying. The movie was a three-piece - it was a Christmas movie and there were three sections to it. It was several years ago but Anthony Quinn's son was in this particular segment. He had this girlfriend who was a singer and I guess she left him. The song is in a scene where he comes to the studio and watches through the window at her singing. She doesn't know he's there, and then the next scene it shows at the end where he's walking – it looks like Central Park. He's walking on the sidewalk, comes into the park, sits down and they do a wide shot. Beautiful photography. There's a little bit of wind blowing and maybe a little bit of snow.

But I thought of it in terms of a woman doing it. But you're right, it is that kind of story. It's about a girl leaving a guy, you're right.

Songfacts: Was there a personal inspiration?

Buckner: I think it was probably a composite of two or three relationships.

Songfacts: You're from Akron and your voiceover work has this incredible folksy sound, which is terrific, but that's not the Akron accent. I'm impressed by how you're able to adapt to just about any situation. Can you explain how you go about doing that?

Buckner: Well, I'll tell you what happened with the voiceover. In high school, before I got into music, I wanted to get into radio. I wanted to be a Top 40 DJ, that was my goal. But music won out because I was able to make money in clubs. I wanted to write songs and I went that direction.

But, I wanted to be in radio so forward now to after "Pac-Man" and all that stuff we got into in the mid and late '80s. It was tough for us because we left the label and then we couldn't get a lot done together. We had made a lot of money so we were still living OK, but we were running out of money.

Because of the record I got to meet a lot of radio guys and there was a guy here named Chuck Boozer who was working at 94Q. He got a job at a station in Charlotte, North Carolina to do mornings and he knew I liked writing comedy. I always loved to write comedy and do voice characters, just for fun. He said, "Would you come out and help me with this?" So they offered me a contract up there to come up every two or three weeks and work with Chuck and do comedy stuff. I said to myself, Hey, they'll pay me for this. So, I'll do it.

So I did that for a while and then a guy in Atlanta heard about me, hired me here in Atlanta. Then I met a guy by the name of Bill Hoger, an incredibly talented man who's passed away, but we formed a partnership and came up with a comedy service, and ended up working stations all over the country doing comedy and voices and stuff. And that's where I started learning. I was doing characters: a nightclub character, a southern character. And when you do them every day, five days a week, you learn how to do it by hook and crook.

So that ran for several years. We worked on the morning show here, and then when Bill passed away I just lost the desire to do it. But I said to myself, Well maybe I can get some work doing voiceovers and stuff. And I got lucky, I got a Ford commercial. I happened to be in another studio working and a guy came in and said, "Somebody told me you can do voices. Come back here, we're with a company doing a Ford commercial."

So, I go back there and they said, "Do a southern guy." So, I did a southern guy. Well, I get a call a few days later and they go, "We really like you, we want to use you on this campaign." And this campaign went for like a year and a half. I made almost $50,000 off of it. There was days I'd make five grand in an afternoon for two hours work. It was incredible. But that's when I decided, "Hey, I want to do these voices." So, that's what I started doing and still do now.

Buckner & Garcia wrote a song called "E.T., I Love You" after the film came out in 1982. Quite popular among the few who heard it, the song spent just a brief time on Earth before heading back to its home planet.
Songfacts: What's the deal with the E.T. song you wrote?

Buckner: At the time, when that movie came out, they weren't doing the tie-ins like they do now with songs and products and all that. That's just a regular thing now, but back then they weren't doing that. The movie had just come out, and I went to see it with my wife and daughter. And, like everybody else, it really moved me. It was a great movie. It was very emotional, and it just blew me away.

Well, I had just lost this dog I had had for a long time and I was really grieving over the dog. She was a great dog. I had sat down at the piano and had written out some little chords and stuff, just to help me get through the grieving process. And I thought, "You know what? This song might work for this idea." So, I went home and worked on it some. I called Gary and told him about it and he got excited. He said, "Well, let me go see the movie." So I went to see the movie again with him and my manager, and they went crazy too.

We got out and Gary and I wrote this song. We stayed up all night and recorded that thing and Arnie flew to New York with it to CBS Records. He gets up there and he calls us and he goes, "Man, it's amazing, I played the record for Mickey Eichner," the VP at the time. He said, "The secretaries were crying when they heard it. This thing will be a smash."

So he flies out to California to meet with Steven Spielberg about the song, and as the story goes, he said, "I'm sitting in the office there waiting and Spielberg had a copy of the song. He played it over and over and over again, as loud as he could."

John Williams did the music for E.T. He said, "I wish John Williams had come up with this song for the movie."

Well, Arnie comes back and tells us, "I think they're going to recall the movie and put the song in the movie."

Well, we didn't know it at the time, but Neil Diamond had written the "Heartlight" song, which nobody knew about, and he was also on CBS on Columbia. He was a big artist, and they were able to block our song so his could come out instead of ours. They didn't tell us that, but we eventually found out it happened. It was an awful period.

We tried everything to get them to release it. We couldn't get permission from Spielberg and them after that and it just was a mess. It broke our hearts because not only would it have been a big hit, but it was a regular song: more like a movie theme with no sound effects. And I think that would have been a stepping stone for us to do another song. We could have eventually gotten into doing regular pop songs, which would have been great.

So, that's why it was disappointing on several levels. And then years later when I was working in Charlotte, one of the guys there had worked in California on radio and he says, "I played your E.T. Song. We did a Top 10 every night, and it was the most requested song for like two weeks. I kept telling the promotion guy, 'This song is a smash' and the guy kept ignoring me. And finally he said to me, 'Quit telling me about this record. This record is over, it's done. They killed it, it's not going to happen.'"

Songfacts: So, a promotional single went out but it was never released commercially.

Buckner: It was released roughly six months after the movie, after we did it. We were going to sue them, so they did it just to save their butts legally. They put it out but by then "Heartlight" had been a hit and the movie was over. But we still got a lot of play and I remember that a friend of mine in LA said she heard it out there. But they killed it right away and they didn't give it a chance.

Songfacts: Shoot, that's just so unfortunate that Neil Diamond happened to be writing his own E.T.-inspired song at the same time.

Buckner: Everybody at our label was reluctant to put it out because of Spielberg. You don't want to be sued by Spielberg - everybody's afraid of him. Well, months later I saw in People magazine where they sued Neil Diamond but they made an agreement outside of court for $25,000 dollars. We saw that and we said, "Man, we'd have paid $50,000 for the rights if they'd asked us for that."

Our song could have made tons of money. $25,000 was a joke. That was an absolute joke.

Songfacts: I'm kind of surprised that Neil Diamond had to pay anything for that.

Buckner: Well, he did because it was talking about the movie and you have rights to your stories and movies. Not the titles.

Songfacts: But, I don't think he ever says anything specific about the movie in the song.

Buckner: Well, "turn on your heartlight," there was enough in there a jury would have not had any problem saying, "We thought this was about E.T." So, rather than go to trial, they were happy to pay the 25. They were real happy to pay it, I'm sure. Spielberg got beat on that one.

September 7, 2016.
Jerry's website is

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Comments: 2

  • Pj from SydneyNot the only hit song about a video game. Player [1] had a hit with Space Invaders in 1979.
  • John from Los Angeles"My Town" by Michael Stanley Band is another song where they recorded multiple promotional versions for major cities. For instance, there's a version that goes "Cleveland! This is My Town!"
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