Video Killed the Pinball Star

Whatever happened to the good old pinball machine?  Pinball machines were everywhere when we were kids.  I played them in arcades, bowling alleys, even restaurants.  Then, along came video games.  The two games happily coexisted alongside each other right into the mid 80’s but then pinball machines slowly disappeared.  It probably had to do with changing tastes.  Maybe pinball seemed old fashioned in comparison to Space Invaders.  Video games took up much less space too so maybe there was a financial aspect to it.  While I take a backseat to no one in my love for Millipede and Galaga, pinball was my first gaming obsession.  Some of the artwork was tremendous on the machines of the 70’s and 80’s.  Every machine had a different theme.  My favorites were(big surprise) the music and pop culture themed machines.  Let’s run through some of my favorites.  Maybe we’ll get the high score and earn a free play!

There was a brief time in the 70’s where everyone I knew wanted to be Evil Knievel.  He had a kick ass name, wore awesome, red, white and blue clothes,  and flew his motorcycle through the air.  If that wasn’t enough, he had a cool pinball machine.

If you were ever a pop culture phenomena, chances are that you had a pinball machine with your picture plastered all over it, doing something cool.  The Star Trek phenomena slowly grew throughout the 70’s until they eventually brought the cast back to make movies.  I clearly remember running around the neighborhood with my friends, pretending to be Kirk and Spock(no one wanted to be McCoy, sorry Bones).

One of the biggest stars of the decade was Elton John.  It’s no surprise that he also had one of the coolest pinball machines, Captain Fantastic!  He’s pictured here with a Tommy theme.  There was also a Tommy pinball machine but it wasn’t nearly as cool as Captain Fantastic.

Bally’s Captain Fantastic Pinball Machine.  At Pinball Hall of Fame. #EltonJohn (at Pinball Hall of Fame)

Last, but certainly not least on our list, is KISS!  Talk about a pop culture phenomena, for a few  years there in the late 70’s, KISS were everywhere you turned.  Does anyone remember their cheesy, amusement park movie?  It’s no surprise that they also had a great pinball machine.  I loved the fact that, if you hit right the targets on the machine, it would play a snippet of “Rock and Roll all Night”.

If I close my eyes, I can still here the sounds of these machines from the arcade room at North Park lanes, with my glass bottle of coke and my quarters lined up.  Of course, The Who would be the obvious choice here and I truly love the song, the double album, and the movie.  Pinball Wizard is too obvious though, so in keeping with the title of this blog entry, I’m going with The Buggles.  I never got a chance to see the band but I did see two of their members, Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn, with Yes, on the Drama tour(in the round, 12th row, floor, 9-16-80).  Drama was a divisive album for Yes fans but I loved it, and still do.





2 thoughts on “Video Killed the Pinball Star

  1. Finally.. a post I know something about.. Because they are mechanical they are very complicated and expensive to maintain vs a solid state video game machine. Any idiot can rip the guts out of a Ms. Pacman and replace them with a screw driver and a bit of instruction. A pinball machine is a heavy, complex, mechanical *thing*… you needed to be an electrician, machinist, carpenter, etc to keep them running… and.. because they had lots of moving parts they wear out and break more often than a software based system. The people that I know that collect pinball machines have a few common traits.. 1.) Rich, 2.) Unmarried.. or.. at least no kids, 3.) Mechanically inclined.


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