Cue The Intro

Please don't hold my mum's taste in music against her. She also liked Barbara Dickson and Five Star. I accept absolutely no responsibility whatsoever for her taste.

For as long as I can remember, music has been a prominent driving force in my life and one which has, over the years, helped to firmly commit specific instances or experiences to memory with a fusion between visual and auditory recollection. Whenever I hear David Soul’s “Don’t Give Up On Us Baby” which, granted, really hasn’t been very often at all (if ever) within the last twenty years or so, I immediately drift back to being in the back of my mum’s car one morning. As we reached the Mill Street police headquarters, a JCB was crossing from one lane to the next as I asked “Where are we going?”. In that briefest of moments, the stillness was broken and she almost shit herself because, up until that point, I’d been sitting silently in the back seat quietly taking in my surroundings and thought nothing of her driving miles past the school, assuming she was going to surprise me with something. I was, of course, very wrong and she’d just forgotten that I was even there. My point is that I can recall every minutiae of that experience and I believe that the song playing on the radio had a lot to do with cementing this memory. I say that it was on the radio, as I don’t want to even consider that my mum ever actually bought a David Soul album.

The incidental music within video games has the same effect on me, where I’ll either associate a game with a song or immediately think of a game whenever I hear a particular song… just as I immediately associate Dr Alban’s “It’s My Life” with menstruating women on rollerskates with fluffy dogs. This intellectual marriage is by no means uncommon, as we naturally attribute specifics to particular memories which further reinforces our ability for recollection at a later date, but there is another very important aspect to video game music which is all too often overlooked. Beyond being able to set the ambience and manipulate our senses to either add or alleviate tension, and outside of its ability to serve as an early warning system to gently notify when enemies approach, there are those tracks which are not incidental music but which are, instead, commercially licensed and exist to compliment particular game genres where a dedicated soundtrack isn’t necessarily required.

Note: In order to listen to the tracks on YouTube, you’ll have to right click the links and select to open in a new window as our lightbox somehow wants to play them itself… sorry!

To some gamers, these licensed tracks are nothing more than an annoyance which, if the developers have been generous with their programming, can be disabled or replaced by a custom soundtrack. I speak from personal experience here and, while there are a few decent tracks on the Burnout Paradise soundtrack, this is only a smattering of brilliance within a murky sea of mundanity. A quick glance at the full soundtrack shows that there are a total of six songs which I haven’t already disabled from the game or immediately skip past whenever they start to play – Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Jane’s Addiction, Faith No More, Depeche Mode’s unconventional cover of Route 66 and, for some reason which I can’t actually explain, Junkie XL featuring Lauren Rocket usually has me reaching for the volume control to crank it up to eleven and yes I DO prefer it to the original… I’m such a heretic. Let’s not discuss Avril Lavigne’s particularly abhorrent attempt at music in this instance.

So, while the above complaint may have you believing that I am against licensed music in games… that couldn’t be further from the truth. All it means is that my own particular taste didn’t necessary gel with the developer’s choice for the Burnout Paradise soundtrack and so, rather than it being something which I looked forward to, it became nothing short of a distraction because I really don’t play the game enough to warrant going through 92 tracks to disable 86 of them and so my finger regularly jumps for the right bumper button to continually skip to the next track.

There are, however, so many other games which have taken lesser known artists or songs and catapulted them squarely into the forefront of our realisation through nothing more than them being well placed within a particular video game. If done correctly, these licensed tracks can not only breathe life into any given situation or brighten up the world, but can also spark an interest in the artists. Although it pains me, albeit by proxy, to admit this… Lorna had somehow managed to reach the age of thirty one with her only experience of David Bowie being through the movie Labyrinth, and never extending beyond the film’s soundtrack. Her recent love affair with Alan Wake, however, introduced her to two classic artists in the shape of David Bowie and Nick Cave and, while Nick Cave isn’t exactly what you’d call mainstream or widely known, his music is certainly something which should be experienced if you lust after something that’s off the beaten track then Nick Cave is your man… but without Alan Wake, Lorna would never have known.

Yeah hi, I'm wondering if you could tell me if you have a copy of Space Oddity that I could borrow? I think it'd be awesome for the end credits.

The same has to be said for Space Oddity… a track which, let’s face it, we’ve probably all heard at one time or another and undoubtedly assume that everyone else has too even if we know is as “Major Tom” or “Ground Control To Major Tom”, we’re still familiar with the song itself. So to discover that the person you’ve been living with for seven years had never heard it, and wouldn’t have had it not been for the Alan Wake soundtrack, makes me feel like I’ve failed as a music lover. Why hadn’t I already had this blasting out from my Tannoy Reveal R5A speakers? How could those times where I’ve called through “Hey, have a listen to this” have escaped a fundamental musical classic such as Bowie’s Space Oddity? I must explain that, while I myself am a dedicated music lover and musician, Lorna has never really been of the musical mindset and genuinely spends most of her life in silence, save for the odd Carry On movie or episode of The Office (US) in the background. This doesn’t stop me from wishing that I’d done more to introduce her to some of the classic music of our lifetime.

When it comes to music outwith my own timeline, I have to admit that I’m generally not familiar with very much and would perhaps extend as far back as the late 60s but certainly no further without some degree of coercion. When I was first shown the teaser trailer for Fallout 3, complete with “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire” I had already heard the song itself countless times in my lifetime, but couldn’t possibly tell you who wrote or recorded the song. Playing through Fallout 3 and spending hours rearranging all manner of treasures in my home at Megaton meant that I was introduced to a whole new genre of music which had, until that point, passed me by entirely. Granted, there are a few songs on the soundtrack which I’d much rather spend an eternity having never heard, such as “Butcher Pete” and “Mighty Mighty Man” both of which are by Roy Brown and both follow that formula which guarantees to turn me off any song immediately – repeating each line twice with a random “oh” or “yes” thrown in at the start of the second line just to shake things up a bit, and making no effort to actually sing the song, in favour of shouting them in a bland and tuneless fashion.

Now that I’ve expressed my disdain for Roy Brown, I have to change gear to enthuse for the rest of the Fallout 3 soundtrack and those hidden gems which would never have reached my ears if I hadn’t been at home in Megaton at precisely the right moment. The love that I have for Danny Kaye’s “Civilization” (yeah Sid Meier, someone else applied apostrophised ownership to it before you!) knows no bounds and I once kept Galaxy News Radio tuned in throughout and entire evening’s gameplay just so I could listen to this incredible piece of musical theatre. It’s insane, mainly because of the Andrews Sisters and their waspy vocals, but also because of the racially comedic undertones and the fantastic hook of the chorus. The same can be said for Bob Crosby’s “Way Back Home” with it’s disgustingly camp rule of making sure every line ends in a rhyme… even if it means pushing the boundaries somewhat by using words such as “ringiest”, “stingiest”, “singiest”, “clingiest” or my personal favourite… “graziest”.

While I do actually pride myself on having a very varied taste in music I am, as you’d expect, only exposed to a finite number of artists through everyday life, especially as I don’t listen to the radio and rarely manage to step over the threshold into the big wide world. Until I started playing through Fallout 3 for the first time, I had never even heard so much as a note from any of the soundtrack songs and although the style is very different to that which graces my diverse collection, I can’t imagine that I would ever have naturally stumbled across any of these aforementioned gems had it not been for their inclusion in a game. To have a song introduced to pop culture by a movie or television show has become something of the norm these days, whether it’s the ONLY decent part of “that Stiltskin song” being used for a Levi advert or the old Greek folk song Misirlou becoming immortalised by Pulp Fiction, but games aren’t widely recognised as vehicles for such cultural introductions.

That said, had it not been for licensed music within games, I’m sure that a lot of artists out there would still be unknown to a larger percentage of the population than they currently are. When discussing this very article with Lee, he mentioned how it was Bioshock that introduced him to 1930s music, thanks to its prominence within the two games, and the likes of Bobby Darin with the haunting “Beyond The Sea“. Call it product placement, or call it some smart arse developer deciding to pay homage to an era or artist that they love… but it works, and as long as they keep introducing us to new musical textures and colours, I’ll continue to expand my taste.

Last five articles by Mark R



  1. Rook says:

    I’m not a big music person, but music in games is how I have heard alot of music that I enjoyed but probably would never have heard before. The games that spring to my mind when I think of game soundtracks are the Tony Hawk skateboarding games. I’d be completing challenges and exploring different levels to a repeating soundtrack that eventually I’d start singing along to the parts I’d remember.

    While recently playing Mafia 2 the radio in the car or your apartment would play music and after a period of time had passed, for a particular reason, the music playing was rock n roll. Songs by Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochrane, Bill Haley and one of my favourites Buddy Holly. It wasn’t new music but it was music I haven’t listened to in quite a few years, and it was awesome.

    Games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have let me hear and play along with songs both new and others which I already know. Brutal Legend introduced me to ALOT of rock/metal music that I missed out on through the years. So for me, games are a platform for me listening to music that I otherwise wouldn’t spend time doing.

    And the only knowledge I have of Nick Cave is with The Bad Seeds and Red Right Hand from The X-Files Duane BarryAscension episodes; and that’s more because I remember articles making mention of it and not of me recognising it.

  2. Lorna Lorna says:

    If it wasn’t for some of the games I play, I woud never discover some lost gems, such as, like you wrote, ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Up Jumped the Devil’. As someone who doesn’t touch on mainstream music much and who hasn’t soaked up a vast array of classics over the years, games do a good job of hooking me into a lot of things, so for that, I thank them. The Alan Wake soundtrack was superb and the list of licensed songs was clearly carefuly chosen…each song matched the game or chapter in some way or had a relevance.

    Games can also be great for introducing new or little known bands (over here anyway) such as the Finnish band, Poets of the Fall who had their song ‘War’ featured in Alan Wake, as well as providing several tracks for the in-game band Old Gods of Asgard. As for Burnout Paradise, some of the songs are okay, though I actually really enjoyed the classical inclusions…there is nothing quite like burning through the White Mountains listening to some of those tracks.

  3. Samuel Samuel says:

    I’m not sure what it says about me and my musical tastes that Paradise City introduced me to several popular music groups I was unaware of, yet I already knew, liked, and owned most of the artists on the Fallout 3 soundtrack. I feel like such an old man sometimes.

    Interesting article dood, really enjoyed reading it.

  4. Pete Pete says:

    Now what was that Avril track again… :D

  5. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Thanks for the comments people. It actually annoys me that I can’t download a decent quality copy of “that song” from when you visit Moxxi’s Underdome in the main General Knoxx game… the “um-da-um-da-um-da-um-da-um-da-um-de-ooom-de-oo-doo” one. It’s awesome, it’s funky, it gets your head bouncing just a little bit and it’s one of those songs with exactly the right sort of pacing for sex. Plus it reminds me of Moxxi. Not a bad thing.

  6. MrCuddleswick says:

    The one I keep thinking of is “Way to Fall”, a Starsailor song from the end credits of MGS3. It’s so perfect for the game, and both are symbiotic now to me as it’s one of the first things I think of when I hear Starsailor or see MGS. Probably quite a flat song without that context, from a band that many deride as staid, but someone at Konami picked it off of a middle of the road British indie outfit’s album and it was a great choice.

  7. Richie Richie says:

    Unfortunately because of Live and chatting away to folk, I tend to turn the volume right down on games. That, and the horrible possibility that the devs will throw in an Avenged Sevenfold song or something, have really disassociated music and games for me.

    I prefer the 8-bit wizardry of Tim Follin over all game music anyway.

    Good read though Markuz. I too got conned by Stiltskin.

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