Music is such a fascinating art form because it is ubiquitous yet elusive. It’s something that can resonate by just having it on in the background. Songs evoke specific feelings and specific moments in one’s life, and when well-placed can transform a scene in a movie or game into something truly special. Consider the comic strip above. Jimi Hendrix died over 40 years before Minecraft was created, but that badass lyric from Voodoo Child has an entirely new meaning as a result of its existence. I love that kind of stuff, so here are some other songs that are almost certainly not about video games, but that sync up really nicely as a companion piece of sorts.
*If you want to hear all of these songs, go to the bottom to check out the Rdio link and enjoy.
Black Mirror by The Arcade Fire – Metal Gear Solid
Their names are never spoken
The curse is never broken
The curse is never broken
Un! Deux! Trois! Dis: Miroir Noir!
Un! Deux! Trois! Dis: Miroir Noir!
References to being shot by a security camera, being near the ocean on a moonless night, and bombs primed to fall are all present in Black Mirror by Montreal’s Arcade Fire. They’re also highly evocative of PS1 classic Metal Gear Solid. The thing about this song that really triggers MGS thoughts is the idea that the ‘black mirror’ is the twisted mirror image that both separates and unifies Solid and Liquid Snake. In a later verse, there’s even a hint about the existence of Solidus, the third Snake who is mentioned in the post-credits epilogue. It’s also a nice touch having it in French, as a winking reference to ‘Les Enfants Terrible’, the cloning program from which the Sons of Big Boss emerged.
Let’s Lynch the Landlord by The Dead Kennedys – Animal Crossing
I tell them ‘turn on the water’
I tell ‘em ‘turn on the heat’
Tells me ‘all you ever do is complain’
Then they search the place when I’m not here
But we can, you know we can
Let’s lynch the landlord man
Tom Nook. Fucking Tom Nook. Beneath that adorable Tanuki exterior and those sleepy eyes lies the heart of a monster. I own a house now, but I have memories of getting screwed over by my landlord; turning off the heat at night to save money, going into my place when I’m out, raising my rent for no good reason. Anyone who’s ever played Animal Crossing knows what I’m talking about here. You start off finding yourself instantly in massive debt to Nook, who then proceeds to raise the bar ever higher as you progress in the game thus ensuring you’ll never get out from under his thumb. I’ve probably cursed Tom Nook more than some bosses in Dark Souls, and no song captures that feeling of frustration at being beholden to a landlord like this one by the Dead Kennedys.
Kashmir by Led Zeppelin – Journey
Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace, like thoughts inside a dream
Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream
My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again
Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir.
Not only is this song just about as long as an entire playthrough of Journey, but it perfectly captures the surreal and dreamlike aesthetic of this game. Kashmir is about a trip through a sun-baked and mystical land, in search of something far off and elusive. Musically, Jimmy Page’s choice of playing guitar with a bow creates an exotic sound that is as unique a song as Journey is a game.
Accelerator by Primal Scream – Burnout Paradise
Here we come, we’re coming fast
Out the upside into the past
Forced to screaming in my head,
Into the future, into the future
Come on, come on
Hit the accelerator the accelerator
I was 15 when Appetite for Destruction, the debut album from Guns n’ Roses, came out so I have many great memories of Paradise City. While it’s a fantastic song, it’s really not the best one to represent just how balls-out insane the Burnout series can be. It’s an open-world racing game in a city devoted entirely to street racing, tricks, and first-class vehicular destruction. The zen-like balance of driving as fast as you can while barely maintaining control is best exemplified in this gem from one of the UK’s greatest and most underrated bands; Primal Scream. Like Burnout Paradise, this whole song is so ferocious and noisy that it almost seems like it’s going to completely go off the rails, until it pulls back and dives into the chorus. It’s stressful, jarring, and absolutely exhilarating.
Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J – Batman: Arkham Asylum
Don’t call it a comeback
I been here for years
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear
Makin the tears rain down like a monsoon
Listen to the bass go boom
Over the competition I’m towerin
Wreckin shop when I drop these lyrics that’ll make you call the cops
Don’t you dare stare, you betta move
Don’t ever compare
Me to the rest that’ll all get sliced and diced
Competition’s payin the price
LL Cool J is one of rap music’s earliest superstars and one of the genre’s best MCs, but was considered old news by the end of the 1980s. With the release of this song, he instantly became relevant again by showing that his skills and attitude could match anyone else out there. Around 2009, Batman was more popular than ever thanks to the Nolan films. In the video game world however, nobody had really managed to nail down the gameplay and tone of what made him such a great character. Arkham Asylum changed everything; it instantly leapfrogged Batman over pretenders like Kratos to the top of Asskicking Mountain and managed to do so without having a lead character who spoke in a stupid Cookie Monster voice.
Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun by The Beastie Boys – Hotline Miami
Looking down the barrel of a gun
Son of a gun son of a bitch
Getting paid getting rich
Predetermined destiny is who I am
You got your finger on the trigger like the son of sam
I am like clockwork orange going off on the town
I’ve got homeboys bonanza to beat your ass down
I’m mad at my desk and I’m writing all curse words
Expressing my aggressions through my schizophrenic verse words
You’re a headless chicken chasin’ a sucker free basin
Looking for a fist to put your face in
This song came out around the time that Hotline Miami is set, and it fits nicely as a nihilistic tapestry in its background. Like the game, Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun is rife with gun fetishization and pop culture references (“I’m a Die Harder like my man Bruce Willis”) that elevate something transgressive into a glitzy and entertaining package. Everyone knows Hotline Miami is heavily influenced by the film Drive, and there are definitely hints of being influenced by the pre-Buddhism Beastie Boys; angry young men out on a rampage and moving so fast there’s no time to stop and think. This is an angry, pounding, and relentless song whose only reason for not being a perfect fit with this game is that it’s not insane enough.
Do It Again by Steely Dan – Fallout: New Vegas
In the morning you go gunning
For the man who stole your water
And you fire till he is done in
But they catch you at the border
Now you swear and kick and beg us
That you’re not a gamblin’ man
Then you find you’re back in Vegas
With a handle in your hand
You go back Jack do it again
Wheel turnin’ ’round and ’round
Shot in the head and left for dead in the post-nuclear Nevada desert is one hell of a way to start a day. As you make your way through Fallout: New Vegas to get revenge for the people who shot you, you encounter all types of people, animals, and everything in between. Do It Again makes reference to Vegas and gambling which are a given here, but it’s the gritty story of crime, revenge, and punishment that Steely Dan tells that really sells this tune. A few narratives are told in this song, just as they are in this game. Do It Again is equal parts languid and badass, which is a perfect companion to Fallout: New Vegas.
So how about you? Are there any songs for you that you’ve always thought are just TOTALLY about a particular game? I’d love to hear what you have to say, so leave a comment. In the meantime, here’s a playlist of the songs from the article: