The lights are on
The Grand Theft Auto series is responsible for making the
open-world genre one of the staples of the gaming world. However, Rockstar
Games' ambitious soundtracks and superb use of licensed music also changed game
soundtracks. With today's new GTA trailers, which feature tracks by Queen, L.A.
rapper Jay Rock, and country legend Waylon Jennings, it seems like a good time to
look back at the legacy of Grand Theft Auto's music.
As video games moved towards optical disc formats in the
1990s, many developers began to realize that - instead of the relatively
primitive MIDI and "chiptune" music of the 1980s - the CD-ROM format offered
the opportunity to use high-quality digital soundtracks featuring recorded
tracks by popular music artists. Some early examples include Road Rash for the
3DO, which included songs by then-hip alternative artists like Soundgarden,
Therapy?, and Swervedriver, and Naughty Dog's Way of the Warrior for 3DO, which
used tracks off of White Zombie's La
Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1. Also notable were the less-than-stellar
interactive Sega CD games that allowed users to create music videos for INXS
and pre-teen hip-hop stars Kriss Kross.
Still, these early attempts felt more driven by the
publishers' respective marketing departments. Perhaps the first game to truly
present a licensed soundtrack that seemed tied to the game's aesthetic was
Neversoft's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, which featured skatepunk classics like
"Police Truck" by Dead Kennedys and, memorably, "Euro-Barge" by the Vandals.
However, with the release of Grand Theft Auto III, Rockstar
changed the very idea of what a game soundtrack could be. Because so much of
the game was spent in cars, Rockstar North hit upon the idea of creating
virtual "radio stations" that the player could switch between at will. Like a real-world
station, each GTA station was formatted for a certain musical style, and was
complete with DJ banter and satiric advertisements. This idea proved so popular
that the stations soon became one of the draws of the game for fans, rocketing
radio personality Lazlo (a real-life DJ) to cult stardom among gamers.
More importantly, the selection of music was a far cry from
the usual random assortment of current pop, rap, and rock artists placed
through partnerships with major label record companies. From classical station
Double Clef FM (which provided a surreal soundtrack to the game's violent
action) to Game Radio FM (which featured emerging underground rappers like JoJo
Pelligrino and Royce the 5-9), the GTA III soundtrack pointed to Rockstar's
deep knowledge of music. It's not a coincidence that the company's founders,
Sam Houser and Terry Donovan, had roots in the U.K. music business.
However, it was the breakout success of GTA III that allowed
the company to open the coffers and create something truly astounding with the
soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Inspired by Michael Mann's
groundbreaking TV show Miami Vice,
itself an innovator in the use of licensed music on television, Rockstar sought
to sum up the diverse music of the 1980s with a soundtrack of unprecedented
size and scope. The game's seven radio stations ranged from Latin music to '80s
metal, and proved so popular that Rockstar actually released the radio station
as a box set of CDs, a first in games. Simply put, it was a triumph. Lazlo, with
a little help from the game's fictional band Love Fist, spread the metal gospel
on V-Rock, and New York hip-hop legend Mr. Magic pumped out beats on Wildstyle
Pirate Radio. The juxtaposition of sounds was amazing; I'll never forget
gunning down drug dealers to the ethereal sounds of Kate Bush.
Much like the game itself, Rockstar managed to top Vice City
in both size, scale, and quality with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Once
again, the soundtrack sought to encapsulate an entire era of music - in this
case the early 1990s - while digging deep into music history.
San Andreas featured 10 radio stations, each providing an
insightful, well-selected overview of a genre. This time around, both East
Coast and West Coast hip-hop got their own stations, filled with genre classics
(and Playback FM was even DJed by Public Enemy frontman Chuck D). Radio X paid
tribute to the alternative rock revolution of the era, with tracks from Jane's
Addiction, Stone Roses, and Helmet. Contemporary Soul Radio pumped out the New
Jack Swing and R&B jams of the '90s, featuring the likes of Boyz II Men,
Bell Biv Devoe, and Guy.
However, Rockstar also provided fans with a musical
education of sorts in San Andreas. K-Jah was a great primer to classic reggae
and dancehall, hipping gamers to such cult classics as Dillinger's "Cocaine in
My Brain" and Toots & the Maytalls' "Funky Kingston." K-Rose was packed with
classic country songs by Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and others. Perhaps mostimpressive was Master Sounds 89.3, which was a compilation of classic "break
beat" records by artists like James Brown, The Watts 103rd Street
Rhythm Band, and Bob James - the very records that were sampled by the rap
producers of the late '80s and early '90s.
As the GTA series has continued, Rockstar's soundtracks have
grown in both size and sophistication. Grand Theft Auto IV's more mature tone
was cemented by an early trailer that used a piece by minimalist modern
classical composer Philip Glass, a name more associated with the New York art
music world than video games. GTA IV also added representation of more niche
genres like hardcore punk, jazz, jazz fusion, and trance techno.
As for what's in store for Grand Theft Auto V, we can only
imagine. So far, all signs point towards yet another awe-inspiring soundtrack.
Instead of a familiar pop hit, the first trailer for the game features a
typically canny, evocative music choice by Rockstar - the title track to the
Small Faces' '60s psychedelic classic Ogdens'
Nut Gone Flake. A subsequent trailer was featured Stevie Wonder's '80s hit
"Skeletons," followed by the use of Queen's "Radio Ga Ga," Jay Rock's "Hood
Gone Love It," and Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?"
Given everything we've learned about Grand Theft Auto V, we
expect the soundtrack to be bigger and better than anything we've seen in a
game to date.
To relive some of your favorite songs from GTA history, check out the iTunes and Spotify playlists that Rockstar recently created for every past game.
Email the author Matt Helgeson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
Man I hope this game comes to the Ps4, its gonna be a fun time in GTA V
The soundtracks are just...wow.
I Really liked the Latin Sound Tracks in the Grand Theft Series: They really added some spice to the series.......
Vice City Soundtrack was amazing. Fever 105, Flash FM, Wildstyle... Fernando, 'Lady-Killer'...man, what a game!
"I came a long way to see ya. Now I wish you were dead. Wish you were dead."
I wish GTA2's soundtrack had at least gotten a mention. Quite a few of the songs were written and performed by Dan Houser himself. Considering the gameplay was a top-down view and the graphics were just a step up from the Atari 2600, the soundtrack really made this cartoony other-world where anything goes. Hearing that soundtrack made GTA2 come alive.
I listen to Skeletons by Stevie wonder all the time now since the release of that GTA V trailer
GTA had some awesome soundtracks throughout all their games!
gta 4 soundtrack not as good as the others tho :)
I absolutely loved the tracks from the very first Grand theft auto's. 1 @ 2 ''Both men found their scary, because they were so big and hairy" at that time when the first came out, i must of been only 6 or 7, but it ventured me off to discover music later on.
lol J to the R.O.C. no'mSAYN
As amazing of a picture you paint for me if this revolution I still can't ell but feel it is worthless. Like sure there is a lot of good music in the stations but when I was playing GTA4 I did not listen to the majority of stations cause I don't like the majority of the types of music they have. Also while it is nice that they have take. Advantage of real life music it doesn't feel like something special to video games. It just feels like it isn't specific to video games. I could turn on my car's radio and get a very similar experience . Which was okay back in the day but as radio is aging badly GTA's radio setup can't help but reflect a somewhat outdated model where you have to listen to repetitive commercials and where the same songs play over and over. It was revolutionary but as always eventually we will be in need of another revolution.
I love the use of licensed music in games. There nothing quite like killing enemies, cruising through a town, or an epic boss fight set to your favorite songs. For example: just the other day I was playing Saints Row The Third, during one of the last missions a decision comes up where you either save one of your homies or go kill the leader of a gang, right after the options were displayed the song "I Need A Hero" started playing. I got really caught up in the music so of course I went to save my homie, speeding through busy intersections and barricades. I ran to the rally point at the top of a monument, shooting every baddy in sight, when I finally got to the top and saved my pal, it was just amazing!! It really got me pumped, and made it so much more fun.
This is an awesome article that brings back many great gaming moments