I recently acquired a Playstation 3 for free. I was pretty amped, except I soon learned that all video games are now interactive films, with runtimes dwarfing Jodoworsky’s Dune. Who has the time and intellectual energy to spare for that? Teenagers, of course, but I’m a grown ass man now. It was hard enough for me to get through Final Fantasy VII when I was twelve.
I feared the box was destined to rot on my TV stand as an also-ran streaming device to my Roku, but fortunately, the seemingly undying millennial nostalgia craze extends rather comfortably into the gaming world, and one of the formative games from my teenage years is being rebooted: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
What made THPS great was that it was both fun as hell and completely open-ended. It invited you to practice combos and lines for hours, unabated in the free skate mode, preparing for marathon battles against your friends. I basically stomped everyone back then. No one could beat me, save for my arch-nemesis, who made the same claim about me. My near-perfect record stood until earlier this year, when I played THPS 2 at Silent Barn and got wrecked in about half a dozen games of graffiti. I don’t like to talk about it.
The other thing that made it great were the soundtracks, which, given the amount of time I wasted throwing Christ Airs (left + right + O) with Rune Glifberg back in 1999, did way more to shape my musical tastes than basically anything else.
Much has changed in the gaming world since August 31, 1999; for one, licensing songs for video games has become big business (arguably because of THPS), but the quality of the soundtracks Activision puts together for its skating series isn’t one of them.Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, which is out today, includes tracks from Cloud Nothings, Death, The Orwells, and Death From Above 1979, so it looks like it stacks up well with the old PS1 discs.
In the spirit of continued greatness (and millennial nostalgia-aping in blog form), I give you a completely biased, unscientific ranking of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtracks:
4) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
I feel kinda guilty ranking the original THPS last, but it’s at least partially because it has the shortest runtime with only ten tracks. Despite this shortcoming, the curtness of the soundtrack makes every single one of these tracks memorable. Have you ever even heard of The Ernies? No, but I’m sure you know the next lyric to their song “Here and Now.”
the buzz of electric lamplight
from down on the sidewalk
you struggle, grasp your night-shirt and turn
but the universe doesn’t say what you want it to say
the universe says, just what it says, when it says what it says…
The bands with the most name-rec here are the Dead Kennedys and Primus, who provided two legitimately great songs in “Police Truck” and “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver,” (one of the top five songs in the whole series) respectively. The Suicide Machines and series standbys Goldfinger are here to remind us that ska was still somewhat acceptable in the late 90s.
This game introduced us to the magic of “S-K-A-T-E” and pixelated California schoolyards, so while my heart will always race when I hear Suicidal Tendencies’ “Cyco Vision,” the overall package definitely benefits the most from the rose-tinted gaze of nostalgia. Part of this is because it was the first installment with more modest tech, and putting together game soundtracks was still sort of uncharted territory. That uncertainty manifested itself in a ten track playlist that includes both The Vandals wonkily proclaiming themselves “The ambassadors of kick your ass-a-dors” and blistering noise from Amphetamine Reptile bands.
I don’t mean to take anything away from the soundtrack. It’s solid, if not a little one note. Speedealer are the only band that venture out of a punk sub-genre, and there’s no hip-hop, at all. Despite the relative lack of diversity, there’s not really any filler here, but there’s also probably the fewest amount of truly GREAT songs that I’d still listen to today.
3) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
Tony Hawk 4 suffers from the opposite problem; there are so many goddamn songs that I barely remember any of them. “House of the Rising Drum” by Delinquent Habits? Avail’s “Simple Song?” Those three Muskabeatz songs? Zero recall.
A lot of THPS 4’s soundtrack feels like filler, but there are more truly great songs here than there are in the original installment. My two favorite songs in the entire series, Hot Water Music’s “Freightliner” and Gang Starr’s “Mass Appeal” are almost enough on its own to guarantee this one a medal spot, even with the Goldfinger’s uber-cheesey anti-establishment song “Spokesman” and the inclusion of a System of a Down song that isn’t “Chop Suey”, That Song About Pizza or That Other Song About Pogo Sticks.
This one has NWA’s “Express Yourself” and Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast.” Agent Orange’s “Bloodstains” and Rocket From the Crypt’s “Savior Faire” are two veritable skate punk anthems. There’s a ton of catchy pop punk, highlighted by The Distillers’ “Seneca Falls” and Bouncing Souls’ “Manthem.” De La Soul, Public Enemy and Run DMC are all here, rounding out the best showing in the series from hip-hop’s golden age. There’s a lot of great stuff here, and in many ways, this is the most fully realized soundtrack of the four (which makes sense, if you follow the narrative I set forth with the next two) but there’s too much fat that needs trimming.
2) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Tony Hawk 2 was a quantum leap forward from the original. It was the first game where you could manual, opening up an entire universe of comboing. It was also a big leap forward musically. Anthrax and Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise” is kind of the bridge track here. The soundtracks were always, at their core, grounded in solid entry-level pop-punk (no different here with Bad Religion’s “You,” Millencolin’s “No Cigar” and Lagwagon’s iconic saccharine-laced number “May 16.”), but suddenly there was space for hip-hop and metal.
While the former is repped admirably by Mos Def and Naughty By Nature on THPS2, the latter had yet to move past the laughable nu-metal of Papa Roach (Blood Brothers) and Powerman 5000 (When Worlds Collide.) Despite these charming miscues (which actually score points with me as sort of a heart-warming snapshot of the early aughts), the one track everyone remembers from THPS 2 is unquestionably Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerilla Radio,” which was heavily featured in the game’s promo. Rage were just as divisive in 2000, but their inclusion gave the franchise a huge rub. They were one of the biggest rock bands in the world, and their presence proved the franchise had legs. THPS 2 scores major points for changing the tide.
1) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 automatically wins thanks to The Adolescents “Amoeba,” which I used to think was specifically written for the game. I thought they were singing “TONY HAWWWWWWWWWWWK, TONY HAWWWWWWWWWK, TONY HAWWWWWWWK, TONY HAWWWWW WWWWWK” instead of “AMOEBAAAAAAA…” in the chorus.
It also captures the height of a certain kind of 90s/aughts-alternative teen culture best. It’s MTV2 to a T. The touchstones are all here. The guy from “Pimp My Ride” has a song, and that weird rapper from that dope animated music video is spitting bars about bad hygiene.
The CKY crew were the biggest thing in skateboarding around the turn of he century, for better or for worse, and they made their presence known for the first time on THPS 3. Bam Margera was a playable character, and his crew’s eponymous band showed up with that one really catchy song they had (no, not “Flesh Into Gear,” the other one.) Jackass had debuted a year earlier, and the first film was about to come out. Haggard was a couple of years away. They were at the peak of their powers, just like the players in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, who could now continue their combos off of half and quarter pipes with the revert. We were ready to go to new and exciting places and the THPS 3 soundtrack was ready to take us.
Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s show-stealing “If You Must” introduced a generation to the funkier, underground side of hip-hop, and he was flanked on both sides by KRS-One and The Nextmen. There’s still bad nu-metal from the likes of Alien Ant Farm (“Wish”) and Zebrahead (“Playmate”), but kids who dug “Smooth Criminal” probably had their ears opened to Motörhead for the first time with the game’s inclusion of “The Ace of Spades.”
“Blitzkreig Bop” is the most vanilla selection possible as a punk 101, but I’ll let it slide because I was gushing about mid-90s Fat Wreck Chords bands a few graphs up (here I’ll gush about pre-crisis AFI and Bodyjar in a similar way) and Henry Rollins kind of balances things out. “What’s The Matter Man” opens the door to Black Flag, Husker Du and Minor Threat. Early aughts youth cheese still prevails here, but there’s something bigger, something brighter ahead.
So while THPS 4 may have more truly great songs, THPS 2 feels like the groundbreaking one, and the original is, well… the original, a trail had been blazed on THPS3. Everything coalesced perfectly around the game. Plus there’s that Adolescents track.