Name That Tune

Name That Tune Game, 1957, gift of Andrew Berton. The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Like many folks born into musical families, I grew up around people always playing and making music. My family takes seriously the learning benefits of strumming guitars and drumming on pots and pans. But developing an ear for rhythm also helped us create our own fun almost anywhere. Playing with music might be my family’s favorite thing to do; we dive into song parodies, genre trivia, impromptu karaoke battles, operatic renditions of Billboard hits, and more. Our music games pop up during road trips and traffic jams, morning house cleanings and lazy afternoons—and no game is more beloved than Name That Tune.

Name That Tune Electronic LCD Game, 1997, gift of Mary C. Valentine. The Strong, Rochester, New York.

For game aficionados, the phrase likely conjures memories of the popular American game show. Originally premiering in 1952 on NBC Radio, Name That Tune enjoyed popular ratings and a subsequent reboot in the 1970s. Aptly named, Tune contestants battled to be the first to correctly identify song titles for cash prizes. Then they had to ace the Golden Medley—seven songs in 30 seconds—to win. Players scrambled to decipher old and new pop hits while navigating challenging twists. For instance, 1950s contestants literally raced one another across a studio to ring a bell first to answer. My personal favorite: the 1970’s Bid-a-Note round where players bet they needed fewer and fewer notes to recognize a song. Television viewers could enjoy the nail-biting back-and-forth until one contestant dared the other to “name that tune.” (And sometimes from only one note!)

Even though my family never made it on the show, we could still play from the comfort of our living room thanks to syndication runs on the Game Show Network. Viewers could also purchase play-at-home game adaptations that sought to capitalize on the show’s success. In The Strong’s collection is Milton Bradley’s Name That Tune (1957), a Bingo version that came with a playable record full of songs. Part of our electronic games collection, the 1997 handheld LCD game by Tiger appealed to those who prefer to play solo. In 1986, the show became an arcade game by Bally Sente with the chip-tune renditions of songs adding extra difficulty.

So how can you play Name That Tune at home? If you are feeling curious, you can watch old episodes of the show online and test your classic song skills. But for the adventurous, try crafting your own version to play. Before my family had internet access, we would pull song titles out of a hat and hum, whistle, or sing the tunes for a guess. If you have Spotify, iTunes, or another digital music library, organize an ultimate playlist and take on the role of game master. Want to play ASAP? Assemble competing teams on Zoom or Houseparty, search for your music-of-choice on YouTube such as “90s R&B mix” or “best K-pop of all time,” and then press play. Here are a few ideas to get a game night started:

Identify the song title and artist in Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top 100 Songs.

Add-a-Challenge: identify the year.

Identify the movie in Oscar Winners for Best Original Song (1935-2016)

Add-a-Challenge: name the composer.

Identify the show in Guess The Game Show Theme.

Add-a-Challenge: name the host. (Bonus points for each correct guess!)

If you’re playing with little ones, maybe focus on compilations of children’s television themes, nursery rhymes, or Disney/Pixar songs. An intergenerational game could include the top Billboard singles from everyone’s date of birth. Give listeners only five seconds to name the tune or maybe they must finish the lyric to earn a point. Craft a Name That Tune tournament trophy or reward your winner with popcorn. With endless possibilities, the fun comes from personalizing the game and rules to fit your friends and family. For all those solo players out there, dive into the myriad music games on the trivia site Sporcle.

Beyond enjoying the friendly competition, playing Name That Tune always sparks great conversation and nostalgic reminiscing in my family about our memories of music. Any Motown song reminds me of my steady childhood diet of “good times and great oldies” listening to 98.7 K-LUV. Without fail, my uncle will guess The Elephant Man when he hears “Adagio for Strings”—rather than the infamous Platoon—with a reenactment of his first movie viewing. Because music tastes are so personal, playing with music can help reveal a bit of who we are to one another. As a bonus, you will likely run across songs you haven’t heard in ages, and any spontaneous sing-alongs and dance parties only add to the fun. If you create your own music game during the stay-at-home pause, we’d love to know! Snap a play picture and share it with us on The Strong’s Play Stories page.

Article written by Racquel Gonzales, Assistant Editor, American Journal of Play, The Strong National Museum of Play

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