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Rock & Roll Rules at E3 Gaming Expo

The latest on "Guitar Hero," "The Beatles: Rock Band" and a host of new karaoke and DJ titles from the industry's main event

June 8, 2009 10:00 AM ET

After two mellow years, annual videogame conference E3, which attracted some 41,000 visitors last week in Los Angeles, saw a welcome return to the scantily clad booth babes, pounding speakers and sideshow atmosphere of yore. Between pre-show performances by Eminem, Jay-Z, Natasha Bedingfield and Travis Barker, cameos by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and several high-profile debuts (see Guitar Hero 5, The Beatles: Rock Band), fans were treated to a virtual Woodstock's worth of cutting-edge musical material.

Sparser crowds, one less convention hall and a truncated exhibitor list couldn't keep away audiences fiending for a peek of this and next year's hottest high-tech outings. Fans' enthusiasm wasn't just rewarded with hands-on glimpses of dueling disc jockey simulators DJ Hero and Scratch: The Ultimate DJ either. (Both sporting custom turntable controllers, with the latter touch-sensitive, featuring five buttons linkable to USB microphone-recorded custom samples and co-developed by real-world deck manufacturer Numark.) Karaoke title Def Jam Rapstar, which sees amateur MCs rapping along with Kanye West, T.I. and Young Jeez —, and lets players form crews or share 30-second videos of performances — also made its first public outing.

Ditto for Guitar Hero: Van Halen, featuring simulated versions of Eddie, Alex, Wolfgang and Diamond David Lee Roth alongside 25 classic tracks like 1984's "Panama" and "Jump," which made a surprise showing at Sony's booth. Visually and technically on-par with Guitar Hero: Metallica, its soundtrack will include contributions by 19 additional artists such as Queens of the Stone Age, the Offspring, Foo Fighters, Weezer and Blink-182. Sadly, no instant jump in/out of song or mid-tune instrument swap advances will be offered, as in GH5. In addition, "three signature Eddie Van Halen guitar solos" will appear within the game.

Also making cameos were a cavalcade of sing-along outings allowing aspiring vocalists to channel their inner Freddie Mercury or Chris Martin. SingStar: Queen, coming August 18th for PlayStation 3, offers more than two dozen tracks (20 on a downscaled PS2 edition) from "Fat Bottomed Girls" to "Another One Bites the Dust." Voice recognition features let you browse highlighted tunes or purchase more via digital download by speaking into the mic, with performance videos ready for upload and sharing online. Rival Lips: Number One Hits for Xbox 360, packing a more contemporary set list including Coldplay's "Viva la Vida," Rihanna's "Disturbia," and Timbaland/OneRepublic duo "Apologize," is set to follow in October.

Genre originator Karaoke Revolution is additionally returning in a new edition for PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 come November. Features like customizable avatars, personalized venues and online play on PS3/360 will be bolstered by 50 master tracks including the All-American Rejects' "Gives You Hell" and Lady Gaga's "Just Dance," plus additional track downloads. Kids can instead look to Disney Sing It: Pop Hits for their interactive fix of Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and the Jonas Brothers, arriving for the PS3 and Wii this fall. Families that prefer jam sessions a little less saccharine can always turn to LEGO Rock Band, which gives the popular series' set list a whitewashing and visuals a blockheaded makeover instead. Expect the game this holiday season for PS3, 360 and Wii.

A new Dance Dance Revolution is planned for the same timeframe on all set-top platforms too, offering 50 tracks (Ne-Yo's "Closer," Gorillaz' "Feel Good Inc.") to shimmy along with. Emphasizing fitness, Balance Board support will be built into the Wii version as a hernia-inducing extra in an effort to help players burn additional calories while shaking a leg.

Downloadable outing Fret Nice for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, which splits the difference between rhythm game and 2D platform-hopping outing, may also win fans when it launches in 2010. Compatible with Guitar Hero axe controllers, riff-powered combos and cooperative play options add to the offbeat title's esoteric approach.

Due this fall, equally quirky button-mashing Japanese import Pop'n Music, which sees players using the Wii's remote and Nunchuk controllers to hit notes in time with on-screen prompts, is also aimed at users with more eclectic tastes. Even those on the go can't avoid the onslaught of acoustic-themed outings, with DJ Mix Tour and Guitar Rock Tour 2 both coming in June for iPhone from Gameloft.

As presaged by the May 26th release of Rolling Stone's own Wii title Drum King, it promises to be a banner year for music simulations. With well over a dozen hoping to follow in the knee-high patent leather boots of the billion-dollar Guitar Hero franchise in the next six months alone, here's hoping at least a handful end on a high note.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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