Greatest Ever Grand Theft Auto (GTA) Songs
Published on 12 December 2023
It’s not a game series, it’s the biggest selling media product that has ever existed. It started in Dundee as a cheeky laugh and ended up influencing the way video games are developed, the way different fashions and cultures are represented, and of course, it made stealing cars cool.
Well, perhaps not that last bit, but the Grand Theft Auto franchise (henceforth referred to as GTA) is an entertainment behemoth. The first two games were a different format, but once GTA came of age, as it were, and started incorporating licensed music, it really started to become a compelling example of the zeitgeist.
The real genius was in forming fictional radio stations, complete with carefully curated, era-correct songs. This really sealed the atmospheric deal, particularly in the 80s Miami Vice/Scarface hybrid that was GTA Vice City (loads of polished 80s pop) and its West Coast Alt Rock/Hip-hop referencing sequel, GTA San Andreas.
Never before had immersion been quite this…normal in a game. As a result, many players remember the particular songs (and the ‘radio stations’ themselves) with a real fondness, and, as the world has just experienced a trailer for the long awaited GTA 6, I’ve compiled this top ten of the greatest GTA tunes. I’ve looked to the whole franchise for sonic gems, though I admit that Vice City and San Andreas had more of a pull to me than the others.
Check out my list, cast your mind back to the petty/serious/despicable crimes your avatar committed on screen as you heard said tunes, and let yourself have a little moment. We all need them.
Never played any GTA games? I salute your curiosity! Your payoff today in checking out this blog will simply be a list of excellent tunes to enjoy for the next little while. Rather than focusing on game by game (or station by station, actually), I’m just picking and choosing nuggets of greatness from the now hundreds of potential songs on offer.
Okay gangster, get yourself some wheels and take a drive with me: we’re heading to Liberty City!
Top Ten GTA Songs
Push It To The Limit - Paul Engemann
This one is quite on the nose: one of the trailers for GTA Vice City (based in a fictional Miami) used a tune from probably the most iconic Miami-based gangster flick of them all: Scarface. Not only that, this powerfully positive rock anthem plays at a crucial part of the movie, namely when Tony Montana (AL Pacino) is raking in the cash, getting married to Michelle Pfeiffer and buying a pet tiger (“a tigra, on the law right there, mang”). He’s basically living the life you want for your character in the game, and it’s a perfect cultural shaking of hands between the hot new thing and the OG inspiration.
Ozzy Osbourne - Hellraiser
Radio X on in GTA San Andreas was what you tuned to when you’d grown tired of the West Coast hip hop and needed some good hard rock to drive to!
This cut - which, unfathomably, has nowt to do with the Hellraiser film franchise (missed opportunity) - is classic eighties Ozzy, from the almost petrified vocals to the trusted chonk of Zakk Wylde’s guitar. And what a chorus!
Steve Winwood - Higher Love
The Los Santos Rock Radio channel was filled with power ballads like this one. It made so much sense, too. Maybe it was that curious cultural thing that always happens now, when a cheesy pop song plays over scenes of intense violence in order to heighten the juxtaposition? Could be, but I reckon the folks at Rockstar just watched too much Miami Vice as kids, because even though this tune featured in GTA5, there’s a strong hint of Michael Mann’s iconic 80s TV show in all of the games. Miami Vice invented (or at least perfected) the inclusion of contemporary tunes within the narrative drama, and it’s a trick GTA uses absolutely all of the time!
Jan Hammer - Crockett’s Theme
In fact, they were so into the Miami Vice vibe in GTA, they straight up took the protagonist’s theme tune and put it into GTA Vice City Remastered! Subtle this is not; a perfect choice it most definitely is! When you need to ‘borrow’ a Pontiac from those yuppies at Ocean Beach to go for a cool midnight drive, no tune is more appropriate.
Snoop Dogg - Gin and Juice
Driving back to your own neighbourhood in Idlewood is fraught with peril in GTA San Andreas. At any time of night or day, opposing gang members can get the drop on you and send you back to the hospital (again). Best to buff up in the gym, arm yourself with a gat and blast this tune from Snoop as you cruise along an eerily accurate take on South Central Los Angeles. Whatever happens, ‘you GANGsta’!’
All My Exes Live in Texas - Whitey Shafer
I don’t know about you, but I always seem to be on the ‘downlow’ when I end up out in the sticks during a game of San Andreas. That’s when I click over to radio station K-Rose - which has some of the greatest on-air chat of all the stations - and hear tunes like this one. It’s so opposite the vibe of the rest of the game, but it’s also such an important part of it all, too! Good sunsets, mean people.
I Ran (So Far Away) - A Flock of Seagulls
This defiantly 80s anthem is so locked into GTA Vice City that the band even used ripoff GTA artwork when they hurried out a cash-in Best Of album! A grand statement piece, this tune was apparently ridiculed at the time (which I can understand, particularly when you see the haircuts) but A Flock of Seagulls have definitely had the last laugh, creating one of the GTA universe’s most well-associated tracks.
Chet Baker - Let’s Get Lost
I haven’t added too many choices from GTA 4 on here so far, and it’s not because it doesn’t have great tunes. It’s maybe because it’s an altogether more gritty, serious game with less of the deliberate culture referencing.
Nonetheless, it does have some class tunes, and this Chat Baker classic is not only on point with the title (this is basically my life story with GTA), but it also ushers a suitable ‘Taxi Driver’ sort of vibe, a great antidote to the sun bleached madness of the game’s predecessor, San Andreas.
Jane’s Addiction - Been Caught Stealing
Talking about appropriate titles, does it get better than ‘Been Caught Stealing’ for a game about boosting cars? There is perhaps no more an ‘LA band’ than Jane’s Addiction, and so they are a perfect soundtrack to GTA San Andreas, particularly if you are driving into walls and pedestrians in the city of Los Santos. Palm trees, blue skies, a slowly burning car bonnet and Perry Farrell’s maniacal voice are all I need to say to bring you right back into the game, right? Well, that and distant police sirens…
Baker Street - Gerry Rafferty
When you’re gunning your stolen car down a dark Pacific Coast Highway in Los Santos, there’s no better sound to accompany you than the triumphant saxophone motif from Baker Street. Pure poetry in motion, particularly if you’re able to drive for the full length of a street without bashing your car sideways like I do. It’s a real vibe killer.
Some GTA fans are so into this tune from GTA5, that they’ve actually developed full theories on Reddit about how this tune narrates the life of Michael, one of the protagonists. I won’t go that far, but it’s really something to note for how deeply fans feel for the gaming experience, and the songs that go with them.
GTA 6 Rumours
So, you no-good hoods, what do you think’ll be included in the new game? Well, the big reveal is that we are back in Vice City, but what’s not as clear is how big the surrounding area is now. Talk of ‘Leonida state’ has brought speculations about Vice City (Miami, not all of Florida, remember) being just one city in this fictional state. Other areas that are being talked up include an Everglades style setting (expect crocodile attacks and airboat racing, I reckon) and a Florida Keys-style island archipelago setting.
We have a new character reveal too. Lucia - the first ever female GTA protagonist - has been inspiring lots of rumour-mongering, not least because of hints of jail time in the trailer! Who is her unnamed male companion? Is this a Bonnie-and-Clyde situation?
Only time will tell, and that time looks set to be around March 2025, if internet nerds are to be trusted on this one. That’s some distance away! But, thinking about it, when did GTA ever disappoint?
In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed my picks from across the various GTA worlds. Maybe it’s even sparked a notion for you to hunt down some of your own favourite tunes, or even replay some of the (bonkers) missions in the games?
Whatever you end up doing, have fun and don’t get too carried away: Grand Theft Auto is a crime, okay?