Game That Tune

Game That Tune: Grand Theft Auto IV

One Last Score

A rock song from Grand Theft Auto IV inadvertently predicts a shift for the series.

By Derrick Sanskrit • September 19, 2013

Game music has the power to earworm its way into your heart long after you put the controller down. Each week in Game That Tune, we highlight a great tune from a great game (or a great tune from a just-okay game).

That most blessed time of the half-decade is here, as a new Grand Theft Auto is upon us. Much has been written and will continue to be written in the coming weeks about the significance of the series, but the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the cities in Grand Theft Auto games feel like real places. They feel alive and bustling, loaded with things to do and people to see, thanks in large part to an unprecedented attention to environmental detail. Players may come for the crime and debauchery, but they stay for the lively characters, goofy in-game advertisements, and the meticulously curated radio stations. Oh, those radio stations. They’re so good, they almost make me want to turn on a real-life radio. Sometimes I’ll enjoy a song on the radio so much that I’ll intentionally fail a mission just so I can go back to the start point and hear the song play all over again, which was the case for me in Grand Theft Auto IV with Tom Vek’s “One Horse Race”:

Originally released in Europe as a b-side to Vek’s “Nothing But Green Lights” in 2005, “One Horse Race” wasn’t made available to the rest of the world until three years later, with its inclusion on Grand Theft Auto IV’s “Radio Broker” station and subsequent digital single release. It is currently the artist’s second-best-selling track on iTunes, due almost entirely to its inclusion in the game. A jangly rock tune with a slightly raw presentation, Vek pendulates between gruff overconfidence and self-aware fragility, all with a constant edge of violence—a description that fits the majority of the GTA experience remarkably well. Particularly fitting, “One Horse Race” was included with the last numerical GTA game to be a one-man show, as Grand Theft Auto V notably features three protagonists who must work together but also live their own very separate lives. Counter to Vek’s claims heard in the previous game, relying on the cooperation of coconspirators throughout GTAV is most certainly a test of faith.

That’s just one song from the hundreds featured in the series to date. What are your favorite songs from Grand Theft Auto? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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40 Responses to “One Last Score”

  1. Smilner says:

    Everything on The Wave 103. That station transformed Vice City from amazing to sublime.

    • Unexpected Dave says:

      Definitely. What I loved most about The Wave is that they picked great, lesser-known songs from artists usually dismissed as one-hit-wonders: Thomas Dolby’s Hyperactive, Frankie’s Two Tribes, Wang Chung’s Dance Hall Days, etc.

    • Andy Tuttle says:

      The Wave 103 is perhaps the best station to ever appear in the GTA games. Even the version in Vice City Stories was good.

  2. SamPlays says:

    Super easy answer:

    “The Message” by Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five though it would have fit better into the aesthetic of GTA IV than Vice City. Overall, GTA IV had a pretty solid hip-hop line-up that was appropriate to the East Coast vibe of Liberty City.

  3. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    I hadn’t heard this one before.  I like the minimally-produced Wire-like quality.
       For me, my most enjoyable moments in GTA IV were driving around aimlessly at night listening to The Journey.  I did this most frequently late-January, early-February when the Minnesota winter-induced cabin-fever made the simple simulation of driving along the ocean with the windows rolled down to the accompaniment of some space trance liberating.
       Vladivostok FM is also excellent when you feel like getting your Black Cat, White Cat Soviet satellite groove on.

  4. Speaking of games and songs, the new Dark Souls 2 trailer ( turned me on to what must be the Massive Attack’s Angel rip-off of the year!

    (I’m saying I like it.)

  5. Kyle O'Reilly says:

    GTA V has “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood so checkmate all other games.

    Though I also really dug “Pruit Igoe” by Philip Glass in GTA IV.

  6. Andy Tuttle says:

    When GTA: San Andreas came out I remember driving out to the desert for the first time in the game. It was night time and America’s “A Horse With No Name” came on and it totally fit the mood, it was perfect. Not only is it a great song, but its somber tone and smooth rhythms made my night time trek one of the most memorable moments I’ve ever had in a video game.

    • Chum Joely says:

      Makes me wonder if the choice of songs on the radio (let’s call it the “DJ AI”) was partially influenced by where you were and/or what time of day it was in the game.

      I haven’t played any of the GTA games, so I have no other point of reference for how the radio stations work, but that example sounds like it might have had some intentional design decisions behind it. If so, it must have been fun being on the design and/or programming teams for that aspect.

      • mizerock says:

        Outside of a mission, I’m pretty sure this is not the case. But when you start up a mission, and are given a specific car, which is tuned to a specific station automatically … well, maybe! Otherwise, as long as I never sleep, I have never noticed the stations repeating something that I already heard within the previous hour+ of real-time, however long it takes for the program to loop.

      • BuddhaBox says:

        I don’t think that they do, except for maybe certain missions. If I recall correctly, the radio stations are basically pre-programmed, with the same songs going in the same order. Which, given that the DJ chatter is almost always delightful and the songs are generally excellent, is not an issue at all.

        Chalk the experience up to emergent gameplay.

      • SamPlays says:

        That’s a really good question – are the songs randomly cycled, programmed to match the setting or is there a set track order? I’ve never driven around long enough to find out. For me, the best soundtrack-by-design moment was in Red Dead Redemption when you cross over into Mexico… uh, I mean Nuevo Paraiso… for the first time. The soundtrack throughout the game is relatively sparse and instrumental up to that point. Then Jose Gonzalez starts singing and you take a breather to enjoy the vista while riding your horse – sublime!

        EDIT: For some reason Disqus won’t let me “like” any of the comments. For what it’s worth, there’s some great taste in music in this neck of the Interwoods

      • Andy Tuttle says:

        I’ve noticed that when you enter certain cars, and even more so when that car is in a certain area of the map, the radio station fits the motif. For example, when you steal a Yardie car in GTA3 it is almost always playing the reggae station. I believe I chose that classic rock station in San Andreas because I was heading out to the desert and I wanted it to fit the motif of the game. The automatic station choice is more obvious in the current game as each character has their own unique car and thus the station it starts out on fits their personality. Michael classic rock, Franklin hip-hop, Trevor country.

        • mizerock says:

          Oh, now that is done on purpose, for sure. When you steal a nice car from the Mafia, it would be on the Italian opera station. Steal it from a member of the latin gangs, and it’s playing Ranchera. But my impression is that those stations would be playing whatever song the station happens to be “broadcasting” at that time. So if you go into a different car 15 seconds later, and put on that same station, it would be playing that same song (but the part of the song from 15 seconds later).

          And each station does have a loop, that goes in a fixed order. So even if the game skipped ahead to play a specific track [which I don’t think it does, but I’m not 100% sure], it would continue on to the next song in the fixed sequence after that.

          There’s plenty of room for kismet in the games, as many of the songs are well suited for the environment (or one specific part of the environment).

          Oh, the songs that play at the beginning of Vice City? I think those are fixed, and fully appropriate, but they are cut scenes, right?

        • Andy Tuttle says:

          I think cut scenes have music purposefully inserted, sure. Like you said though, a lot of it is kismet. Rockstar are masters when it comes to music in their games and I’m pretty sure they take a lot into consideration when they add a song to the soundtrack. 

  7. Buttersnap says:

    I always found myself staying in the car when the !!! Song Yadnus was on (in 4). Not really sure why, I think I just liked the fasletto.

    Also “Funky Worm” in san andreas. For obvious reasons.

  8. HobbesMkii says:

    I always listen to Talk Radio in GTA…

  9. Merve says:

    I was going to mention Del the Funky Homosapien’s “If You Must,” but some quick Google searching confirmed that I’ve smushed the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 soundtrack and the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas soundtrack together in my head. So instead, I’ll mention Alice in Chains’ “Them Bones” and Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” as my favourite songs to rock out to when I was driving around in San Andreas.

  10. Burger_Bob says:

    Nothing can top the soundtrack for GTA: Vice City.

  11. duwease says:

    If I had to pick a song that I’d never heard before GTA, I’d say “Flashing Lights” by Kanye West.  I don’t listen to much hip hop, so maybe that song’s huge, but it’s probably the only song I downloaded just because of GTA.

    Now Saint’s Row IV on the other hand.. I hadn’t heard most of those songs. “I Just Go” by Djemba Djemba is a great smooth jam, and “Underdogs” by LIZ has the best chorus in the history of choruses.  Seriously, if they create a “Best Chorus” category at the Grammies, this song would win and then they would cancel the category because the apex has been reached.

    • Chalkdust says:

       The Mad Decent station in SR4 has some amazingly goofy songs.  My other favorite: Bird Machine

    • 2StoryOuthouse says:

      Speaking of Kanye and Saint’s Row, when “POWER” plays during that moment in SR3 as you skydive into a pool on top of a building, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the definitive use of that song.

      • Chum Joely says:

        Confirmed. It’s not an uncommon opinion, but it is exceptionally intense in its correctness. That song was made for that sequence.

        • djsubversive says:

          Skydiving through the glass roof while your co-op partner lands in the pool and you both start blastin’ on fools… “No one man should have all that power,” indeed. That’s what co-op is for.

  12. JamesJournal says:

    Machine gun named missy so fly it go yi yi yi yi yi yi  ah yi yi yi ahhhh

  13. The_Primordial_Dr_Zoidberg says:

    LCD Soundsystem’s “Get Innocuous” in GTA IV.  It was right after I saw them live for the first time and I’ve never been so excited to hear a song in a game.

    To celebrate, I immediately mowed down a crowd of pedestrians and shot down a police helicopter.

  14. Alek Hidell says:

    If you’re asking about GTA-originals (like the Vek B-side), I’ve got nothing. The rarities never did much for me. Like Scorsese wielding the perfect Rolling Stones song, GTA is at its best when working with the familiar.

    GTA III: “O mio babbino caro” aria
    Always tuned to the opera station, the mafia cars didn’t come until late in the game. But after they and their theme song hit, no one could accuse this thing of frivolity — fiery, slow-mo barrel rolls have never been so elegant.
    Vice City: Wang Chung – “Dance Hall Days”
    Even if Debby Harry’s “Rush Rush” hadn’t come too early (as part of GTA III), including it in this one’s club scenes would’ve been way too on-the-nose. And I’ll take “Dance Hall’s” dreamy decadence to “Rush’s” over-eager jonse-wave any day.

    San Andreas: Tom Petty – “Runnin’ Down a Dream”
    “I felt so good/like anything was possible…” Do I take the Harrier or the jet pack?

    GTA IV: Phillip Glass – “Pruit Igoe”

    GTA V… All I can say is that I was simultaneously thrilled and heartbroken to hear “O-o-h Child” come out of the TV — now a whole generation is going to forever associate the most beautiful pop song ever with jackin’ cars and icing fools.

    • TaumpyTearrs says:

      Listening to Runnin’ Down a Dream while flying the cropduster plane was perfection. Woo-ooo….woo-oo….woo-oo

  15. I always really liked the song that was in one of the ads when GTA IV came out.  I had to look it up on Niko’s cell phone and its Greenskeepers: Vagabond.  Seems like a good match for Niko’s and Roman’s relationship with each other.

  16. dreadguacamole says:

    Loads of really good music throughout the game. Gotta love Lexicon Devil in the latest one, and Higway Star, which is an incredible tune to drive over people with.

     However, my favorite game radio song ever came not in GTA,but in a lesser rip-off – True Crime: New York.
     The Walkmen’s “The Rat” came on while I was night driving through the rain-slick, trash-strewn empty streets, just exploring. I didn’t know the song was in the soundtrack, and was absolutely bowled over.

    • TaumpyTearrs says:

      I never played True Crime:NY, but the soundtrack to True Crim:LA was definitely one of my favorite parts of the game. Especially since it would actually use specific songs during action sequences.
      Like the end fight, which was anti-climactic and would have been disappointing because its a simple one on one fight. But when you step out onto that rooftop and “Minerva” by Deftones starts up as the lightning crashes in the background… it really felt like you were in the climax of an action movie. Setting and music helped make that moment stick in my head for years despite subpar gameplay.

  17. Riley O'Neill says:

    Johnny Cash’s General Lee is a perfect song for GTA 5, especially when playing as Trevor running from the cops. Basically the only song that entices me to turn on the country station.