6. Tom Petty - Runnin’ Down A Dream | Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
It’s not too surprising that so many songs from the Grand Theft Auto series appear on this list. As previously mentioned, the variety of radio stations allows the developers to insert a song from any genre and any time they please. Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down A Dream” from his solo album Full Moon Fever is one of the last great songs of the ‘80s, so Rockstar made a great decision putting it on K-DST “The Dust.”
Petty might be runnin’ down a dream, but players run down a lot of other things in the game; at least the title’s first two words apply well. Well, players are runnin’ down the dream of runnin’ people down, so I guess the whole thing fits.
5. Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg - Ain’t Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang | Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Immediately following an east-coast rocker comes two west-coast rappers, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Dre released “Ain’t Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” from his debut album, The Chronic to immediate acclaim and massive popularity, being MTV’s third-most-requested video in 1993 (back when people actually cared about music videos on television).
In San Andreas, players assume the role of C.J. Johnson, who lives in the fictional state of San Andreas, loosely based on California and Nevada. Every type of vehicle one can imagine is operable, from boats to tanks. Driving a tank and shooting down police helicopters with “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” blaring was one of the highlights of the game for me, not least of which because I’ll never drive a tank, shoot down a helicopter, or be a gangster. But thanks to GTA, Dre and Snoop, at least I can imagine it.
4. Bobby Darin - Beyond The Sea | BioShock
The original BioShocklanded on everyone’s lap with massive critical and commercial success. Its story, which has a great-if-somewhat-predictable twist, puts the main character in the once-utopian-now-dystopian world of Rapture, an underwater city with a very 1940s-50s aesthetic.
BioShock’s music is full of the big-band, trumpet-full swinging sound akin to 1950s. Its instrumental version fits incredibly well when players take down gene-spliced enemies by shooting lightning from their hands, and then bearing down on electrocuted enemies with wrenches. “Beyond The Sea” feels appropriate because of the irony that emerges when performing such a gruesome act while a charming love song sways in the background.
3. A Flock of Seagulls - I Ran (So Far Away) | GTA: Vice City
The haircut gets a bad rap. The band does too, especially from those who have a fundamental dislike of ‘80s music. But a song from that era that has an easy time pulling people together is “I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock of Seagulls.
The ‘80s music clichés, mainly synthesizers and modified vocals, are constant in the song, but it’s so undeniably catchy that few ‘80s-music detractors even care.
When a song keeps appearing in commercials, TV shows, movies, etc., after 29 years, you know it did something right. So did Rockstar—again—when they chose this for the station, Wave 103.
2. Jose Gonzalez - Far Away | Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption earned numerous Game of the Year awards and nominations for its Grand-Theft-Auto style of sandbox gameplay set in the Old West.
Jose Gonzalez’s “Far Away,” an acoustic-guitar laden song complete with Gonzalez’s soft delivery, similar to Sam Beam of Iron & Wine, cannot be ignored even though it’s on the quiet side. The guitar stylings sound exactly as they should for an old-west game: heavy with a bit of twang. “Stand in front of a runaway train / just to feel alive again,” the lyrics state, and what better kind of game to incorporate such a line than one set that follows a former-outlaw-turned-bounty hunter intent on getting his family back?
The song fits perfectly as the sun sets and players watch their character ride through the dim lighting, creating the feeling of being a true cowboy. Without having to smell a horse.
1. Jonathan Coulton - Still Alive | Portal
Okay, I know I said that we’d stay songs created specifically for the game, but did you really think there would be a list of the best songs in videogames that doesn’t include “Still Alive?” Plus, I believe it fits the parameters in a way because it can be entirely self-contained; the song doesn’t need the backdrop of the game to be great, and that’s the corollary between all great songs: at any time, in any location, they’re still great.
Portal received countless Game of the Year awards in 2007, and a huge percentage of those voters mentioned the ending song, “Still Alive,” a little ditty ostensibly sung by the villain in the game, GLaDOS, a robot with a huge level of artificial intelligence.
Humor never takes a backseat for the crew at Valve Software, as most every game they create has bits of brevity thrown in. Portal has more than bits. It has a ton, which helps considering the tax the game takes on players’ minds.
Oh, and the cake is a lie.