With Rockstar about to announce the release of Grand Theft Auto V, we're all abuzz theorizing, postulating, and prognosticating about things that the game will or won't have. Totilo's looked at what systems the game might be on, Crecente guessed about possible settings. And then, Stephen got a tip that the game will indeed be set in L.A. and may even feature multiple protagonists.
I wanted to take a second to look back at the thing that has always defined GTA for me: The sweet, sweet music.
When we talk about great video game soundtracks, we're often talking about video game original scores—it's a category that GTA games don't quite sit comfortably in. But it must be said that taken as a whole, GTAoffers some of the most pleasurable musical experiences in gaming. Hell, these guys were cool enough to score a trailer with music by Philip Glass, so it's not surprising that their musical choices are always top-notch.
The way the game's soundtrack melds with the game world is something special—it's basically diegetic, in that the only music that plays is the music on the radio in vehicles. Cutscenes, too, are accompanied by music from radios in the background playing tunes from the various game's radio stations. It's remarkably organic, and as a result, a frantic car chase might be scored by Miles Davis or Guns 'n Roses… or both, if you're a channel surfer.
Given Grand Theft Auto IV's penchant for off-the-beaten-path music, I'm very much looking forward to hearing more about the radio stations, DJs, and playlists of GTA V.
In the meantime, I though I'd put together five of my favourite tracks from Grand Theft Auto games past. This list sure as hell isn't definitive—it's just five tunes that I love, and that I will always associate with my time playing Rockstar's games. Click on, and rock out.
Fascination - David Bowie
I think it's a sax thing, but few songs conjure GTA IV for me like David Bowie's "Fascination." It always seems to come on in the evening, slinky wah-wah sax (David Sanborn, ladies and gentlemen) accompanying me as I drive across the Broker bridge into Algonquin. Bonus points to Rockstar for having Liberty Rock Radio come on every time a player hops into a helicopter. Clearly Liberty City's pilots know what they're doing.
Miles Davis - Move
I was so flippin stoked that GTA IV had a jazz station… and not just some weird approximation of 1940's b-sides or Squirrel Nut Zippers tunes, but a damned well put-together, legit playlist that focused mostly on hard-bop from the 1950's. Impossible for me to choose a favourite among them (I mean, Sonny Rollins on "St. Thomas" is one of my favourite tenor solos of all time, as of course is Trane on "Giant Steps"), but whenever Miles Davis's "Move" (from his classic "Birth of the Cool" record) comes on, I'm impressed that a tune this hip is featured in a video game. Listen for Lee Konitz's breezy alto sax solo—dude biffs the time in his first phrase. Heh.
Megadeth - Peace Sells
I don't listen to enough metal. It's a thing, like… there's just not enough time to amass the knowledge of some of my metal-head friends, so I wind up missing out on a lot of good stuff. Fortunately, Grand Theft Auto games are super good at metal. GTA IV's DLC chapter The Lost and The Damned put together a killer mix of hardcore and metal, but this Megadeth track from Vice City remains probably my favourite guitar chugger of them all. This tune just screams "blow off your next objective and go start running people over on the beach!"
Heart - Barracuda - KDST in San Andreas
I loved how eclectic San Andreas's soundtrack was—any game that features setting-appropriate gangster rap one minute, followed by a country music backwoods dirtbike race the next is cool by me. But I think that Heart's "Barracuda" is (maybe?) my favourite song from the entire game. The tune is such a "driving song," not in that it has a driving beat, but in that it's perfect for driving. The chuga-chuga guitar buildup, the sinister vibe, and of course, the fact that it's by Heart, and therefore is inarguably, objectively awesome.
Flock of Seagulls - I Ran (So Far Away)
Well, this one pretty much had to be in here, didn't it? Not for nothing: not only was it featured in the famous trailer for Vice City, "I Ran So Far" just about perfectly captures the neon-lit, pastel glitz of Vice City, which still stands as arguably the most iconic Grand Theft Auto of them all. (Note: This song is not to be confused with Loney Island's excellent tribute to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "Iran so Far." Hopping into a speedboat and riding into the sunset while Flock of Seagulls plays will always be a peak Grand Theft Auto moment.