Hit the Pass

Sports games of today, yesterday and tomorrow

The Conference Room

The best sports game soundtrack is…

By on @richgrisham

Music is a powerful force. It can influence how you feel about a particular scene in a movie, spark the recollection of a poignant memory, and provide a soundtrack for important times in your life.

While the music landscape is ever-changing – the way we consume and pay for music has fundamentally shattered the recording industry in ways it still has not understood – the curation of music in the form of soundtracks for video games has long formed a connection between players and designers of the games. Sports titles have some of the more memorable soundtracks, setting the tone for a season as well as introducing artists and songs to a new audience.

Courtesy of our own Cicero Holmes, our question today centers on these soundtracks. Specifically:

What’s your all-time favorite sports video game soundtrack, and why?

Kahlief Adams

By far the best soundtrack to any sports game has to be NBA Street: Vol 2. To really appreciate why these tracks were the perfect compliment to what I believe was the best version of digital streetball ever made, you have to remember the time in which it released. Playground basketball was at its most visible in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when Vol 2 was released. Streetball aficionados worth their salt already knew about the infamous Rucker, Dyckman and West 4th parks of New York City. The rise of the AND 1 mixtape tour brought this bombastic style of play to the masses via ESPN2 in short segments that would showcase never before seen dribbling and dunking skills.

What people forgot was that along with all the spectacle, there was always the foundation of Hip-Hop music. It always has and forever will be linked to the streeball game. Street: Vol 2 featured some of the most iconic and classic tracks ever produced from that time The start up screen plays Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s horn heavy T.R.O.Y (They Reminisce Over You) track and welcomes you into the game with open arms, tells you to get ready for bountiful musical experience and grounds the game.

“Bleek ‘n Freeway” produced by one of the best producers of that era Just Blaze hits you in the face with an uptempo syncopated drum and piano track that is the musical embodiment of a NBA fast break. Hard drums felt like feet running on pavement and gave background for tight games that I don’t think sports games replicate well these days.

“Ride Wit Me” from MC Lyte and “Get Up” from Nate Dogg pull double duty, giving massive street flavor from each coast. The tracks that could easily be heard while on any Bronx or Venice Beach court. All these tracks anchored by commentary from famed streetball and Hip-Hop legend Robert “Bobbito” García made this game and soundtrack one of the most complete full experiences gamers have ever had. Each song both reflected the geographical landscapes the game took place in while pulling together some of the best and brightest in the rap game.

For the first time I felt as a consumer that a corporate entity understood me and what made my culture (Hip-Hop culture) great.

Ryan Lewis

The task of creating a licensed sports game soundtrack is a tough one. For the most part, fans of the various sports games have a wide variety of musical interests and you can’t be everything to everyone. On top of that, music is mostly used in the menus, which makes annoying songs even more annoying as you go into set options, choose teams or build a dynasty.  To me, there are two things that I ask for in a game’s soundtrack:

1. The music needs to fit the mood/style of the game without pandering or being too obvious
2. The music needs to be interesting/memorable, but not too over-the-top as to become annoying

In all honesty, I would say that most sports games’ soundtracks don’t come close to fulfilling either of those requirements. In fact, I think only one series consistently produces interesting/memorable soundtracks that fit the style of the game: FIFA. It’s not that every song is great and it’s not that there aren’t any horrible songs on FIFA soundtracks, but no games have a more eclectic, interesting catalog of songs. And in most cases, FIFA soundtracks are tastemakers/trendsetters.

Above all else, the international cast of artists really fits the international style of the the series. It brings a huge smile to my face when I go from Brit Pop to Samba music to a song that US radio stations won’t pick up on for another year or two. While it’s fairly difficult to pick an outright “greatest” FIFA soundtrack, for me, it’s FIFA 08. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that this was the first year that the game introduced the playable arena during load times, which made it so that I listened to a lot more of the music while I was learning new tricks/foot skills. But it has some really solid songs. It also features probably one of my least favorite songs by a band I like a lot: Maximo Park.

“Fall Into Place” by Apartment, “Malemolencia” by CeU, “Born To Run” by K-OS, “Sketches” by La Rocca, “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John, and “You’ll Find a Way” by Santigold. All of these songs are excellent and they have a very”footballing” feel to them. And it’s like taking a tour of the world…with a soundtrack from a sports video game…pretty incredible.

Gus Ramsey

Well, my “old man” is going to show with this answer, but I pretty much hate all the soundtracks. That’s why on my PS3 I would turn off all the pre-loaded music, upload a bunch of music that I like and listen to that.

My runner up is the Mario Brothers theme that played while playing Nintendo golf. Always pleasing, always peppy, it made the 18 holes more enjoyable and guaranteed that song would be stuck in your head for hours.

But my pick would be WWE 2K15 because it’s all WWE entrance music. Half of those songs are tunes I have on my iPod when I work out. I need to figure out how to transfer them to Madden and MLB.

Now get off my lawn!! I’m off to look for my Billy Joel cassettes.

T.J. Lauerman

This question is a real toss up for me. I’ve always insisted that it’s between NBA Live 2003, MVP Baseball 2005, and Def Jam: Vendetta. For the sake of this roundtable, I’m going to with MVP Baseball 2005. The songs in this soundtrack could be awful, but I spent so long in the MVP menus that all the songs are forever burnt into my mind. ​

Some of my favorites off that soundtrack are:

♦The High Speed Scene – “The IROC-Z Song”
♦Hot Hot Heat – “You Owe Me An IOU”
♦The Bravery – “An Honest Mistake”
♦Donots – “We Got The Noise”
♦And of course, the Red Sox anthem, “Tessie” by the Dropkick Murphys.

The Dropkick Murphys should get a spot in the video game soundtrack Hall of Fame for having their songs in games that include Tony Hawk’s Underground, NHL 2005, NHL 11, NHL 14 and many others.

Cicero Holmes

Sports games hold the dubious distinction of being heavily menu driven. The nature of many of the modes (Career/Franchise, Ultimate team, etc.) means that lots of time will be spent listening to whatever cute diddy the producers have cooked up for you. Electronic Arts, back in 2002, turned what was once an afterthought into a bullet point with their introduction of their music curation arm, EA Trax. If there is a ground zero for hipsters EA Trax may be it. They have an incredible track (pardon the pun) record for finding both artists that are on the rise and songs that set the mood to create the perfect soundtrack for the respective sport.

The game that I believe exemplifies this better than any is EA’s Madden NFL 2004. Remixed versions of songs with Madden and NFL influenced lyrics are peppered throughout this soundtrack. There’s Stadium Rock, Indie Rock, Hip-Hop, Heavy Metal & even some Pop. The “I’ve heard this song before…” award goes to Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”. It was actually first heard in this game as it’s official release was one week after the release of Madden 04. Add in cuts from Blink 182, Killer Mike, Joe Budden, Outkast and The Roots, you’ve got the recipe for the perfect Madden audio souffle.

Pete Skerritt

This is NOT an easy choice for me. There were several games that came to mind… some of which were obvious, while others were more obscure (or not so great games). ESPN X Games Pro Boarder (PlayStation, 1998) , for example, has tracks from Foo Fighters, Pennywise, and Millencolin. Street Sk8er (PlayStation, 1999) has tunes from Less Than Jake and The Pietasters, and I used to listen to the disc in my car. Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder (PlayStation 2, 2001) includes music from Papa Roach, Powerman 5000, and Spineshank.

I narrowed the list down to one series: the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series. From the first game on, the soundtrack was as memorable as the game itself. I could have picked the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with ease; I mean, Goldfinger’s “Superman” stuck in just about everyone’s heads… so much so, in fact, that it was brought back for the Pro Skater HD remake in 2013. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was also considered, with music from Rage Against the Machine, Bad Religion, and Anthrax.

Ultimately, for me, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 wins out. The variety of music here is fantastic, ranging from Motorhead to Redman to the Rollins Band. It also helps that I played this game a TON; in fact, it’s my favorite game in the series. Bodyjar’s “Not The Same” had a similar hook for me that “Superman” did from the first game. Reverend Horton Heat’s “I Can’t Surf” was tough to get out of my head and was just the perfect length for a quick scoring run. Zebrahead’s “Check”‘s hard riffs and rock-rap style was pretty catchy. Combine those with the familiar sounds of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Fight Like A Brave” from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and I can’t help but to name this one as my favorite. (Also… reverts rule.)

Some thoughts from the community on the subject