Play It Loud – The Best Music of Need for Speed

The moment the PC Reveal trailer dropped for the reboot of Need for Speed earlier this week, I’m sure many PRC.net readers were anticipating a lengthy article tearing Electronic Arts a new asshole. Advertising basic racing game features like manual transmission, steering wheel support, and an unlocked framerate as groundbreaking implementations intended to woo die-hard gamers, the 64 second video above is proof that the entire racing game genre is set to implode in the near future. Electronic Arts and Ghost Games did not create a piece of virtual entertainment with Need for Speed 2015; they composed a product purely to show up on a revenue report in six months.

So I’d rather go in an entirely different direction today.

The large budget Electronic Arts have provided the numerous different developers of Need for Speed over the years comes with some mighty fine perks. While most will immediately criticize EA for using their billions to snatch up the exclusive Porsche license – effectively crippling the car roster to an extent in superior racing games – many overlook the biggest asset that comes with a nearly unlimited flow of cash being pumped into the series: licensed music. Dating all the way back to the series inception in the mid-1990’s, the sheer variety and quality of music Electronic Arts have blasted through your living room speakers has provided a memorable soundtrack to an entire generation of car enthusiasts. Need for Speed may have died a slow, agonizing death, but mere guitar riffs can transport us directly back into the glory days.

We here at PRC.net are going to look at the ten best songs to ever show up in a Need for Speed title. I love my loud guitars, so there’s going to be some bias towards the rock end of the spectrum, but I believe EA has managed to give us an extremely diverse group of quality music regardless, and that will be reflected in this list to the best of my abilities.

#10 – Queens of the Stone Age – In My Head

The tendency for Electronic Arts to inject a heavy dose of modern rock into the Need for Speed games of the early 2000’s was often a mixed bag. Screaming vocals and unintelligible lyrics weren’t everyone’s cup of tea, though occasionally a diamond in the rough would offset some of the angst-ridden teenage wailing. Queens of the Stone Age enjoyed mainstream radio success with “No One Knows” and “Go With The Flow”, and EA managed to snatch up the California band early by including them in past editions of the NHL series. The steady-yet-mellow tempo of “In My Head” proved to be a natural fit for the long hours of grinding away at the career mode in Need for Speed Underground 2.

#9 – Junkie XL feat. Lauren Rocket – More

Many readers of PRC.net might be fans of Junkie XL without even knowing it. Calling Europe home, Junkie XL most recently composed some of the soundtrack pieces for the recent blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road, though his work can be seen steadily throughout the video game and film industry. The electronic track featuring Lauren Rocket on vocals was the first collaboration between the two artists, with another entitled “Cities in Dust” appearing in 2008’s Burnout Paradise. Heavily censored in order to show up in Need for Speed: Pro Street, “More” was predictably written about dropping ecstasy and partaking in numerous sexual encounters. No less than five different versions of this song were included in the 2007 edition of Need for Speed, drilling the chorus into our subconscious whether we liked it or not.

#8 – The Crystal Method – Born Too Slow

The original reboot of the Need for Speed franchise took place in 2003 with the release of Need for Speed Underground, and this catchy track by The Crystal Method was the lone soundtrack inclusion in the game’s PC demo. A radical departure from the guitar-driven pieces that had complimented the previous year’s release, what’s now one of The Crystal Method’s most well-known singles was the final piece in the puzzle that helped establish the first major shift in development for the Need for Speed series. Due to the song’s constant references to cocaine, many vocal parts were removed in order for the track to make an appearance in the first Need for Speed: Underground title. Underground fans may argue that Lil’ John’s “Get Low”  from the main menu evokes a much stronger feeling of nostalgia, but at least you can listen to “Born Too Slow” in 2016 without feeling like you’ve stumbled upon a Weird Al record.

#7 – Paul Van Dyk – Nothing But You (Cirrus Remix)

Featuring trance singer Jan Johnston at the helm of an already fantastic electronic composition, the Cirrus Remix of “Nothing But You” became a sleeper hit on the soundtrack of Need for Speed Underground 2 simply for being atmospheric. Serving as a throwback to some of the more elaborate instrumentals featured in early NFS titles, the Paul Van Dyk creation upped the tempo of the source material and provided an appropriate vibe to the neon-infused environment of Bayview.

#6 – Pulse Ultra – Build Your Cages

For 2002’s Hot Pursuit 2, Electronic Arts spent a fair bit of money obtaining the master tracks to all fourteen songs available on the game’s soundtrack, and proceeded to remix them in-house to achieve a uniform album-like sound. While Rush’s “One Little Victory” and Course of Nature’s “Wall of Shame” were turned into beefy gut-punching entries, no one track benefited from the remixing process more than “Build Your Cages” by Pulse Ultra. Already an extremely heavy and melodic track, the Pulse Ultra composition became the song in Hot Pursuit 2 that begged to blow out your speakers each and every time the clean opening riff began.

#5 – 30 Seconds to Mars – Edge of the Earth

After a flurry of titles failed to innovate the Need for Speed franchise into the household name it once was, the future of the series was handed off to ex-Burnout developer Criterion Games starting in 2010. Their first of three similar titles, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, used “Edge of the Earth” by 30 Seconds to Mars as the title screen music. The epic instrumental buildup, followed by a grandiose chorus, were a perfect fit as the theme song for the series reboot. Unfortunately, the rest of the game’s extensive soundtrack doesn’t live up to the level as “Edge of the Earth, instead offering generic electronic tracks quickly drowned out by the roar of supercars.

#4 – Wolfmother – Joker & the Thief

Hailing from Australia and capitalizing on the theme of re-inventing classic rock bands for a new generation of fans, many tracks from Wolfmother’s debut album found their way onto all sorts of movies, television shows, radio stations, and video games. Considered by many to be their finest work, and routinely blasted through the public address system at large sporting events in place of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”, “Joker & the Thief” was the centerpiece of which the rest of the Need for Speed: Carbon soundtrack revolved around. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like this song.

#3 Snoop Dogg feat. The Doors – Riders on the Storm

Despite its lyrics referencing gameplay elements not actually available in Need for Speed Underground 2, such as Ferrari’s and the presence of law enforcement, this poor remix of a classic Jim Morrison tune accidentally became the anthem of a generation. due to the success of the game itself. On paper, combining Snoop Dogg and The Doors is a preposterous idea, and had this been released as a proper single, it would have been considered one of the worst songs of all time and temporarily tarnished Snoop Dogg’s reputation. However, the widespread acclaim Need for Speed Underground 2 received from both critics and fans alike eternally tied this song into the memories of many. Play this one at work, and a portion of your staff will stop in their tracks, reminded of a simpler time.

#2 – Jeff & Angela van Dyck – Headless Horse

Prior to the Need for Speed franchise taking off in the gaming world, Electronic Arts consulted local talent for the artistic side of their releases. Based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, EA hired Jeff van Dyck and a handful of his friends to compose original soundtracks for not only the first batch of Need for Speed titles, but for several yearly EA Sports offerings such as Tiger Woods, NHL, and the world renowned FIFA series. “Headless Horse” was a composition many became familiar with in Need for Speed II, featured as the theme song for the Proving Grounds circuit – a high speed test track intended for beginner drivers. Van Dyck’s wife Angela provides the haunting background vocals, which are actually just descriptions of the different tracks available in the game. Saki Kaskas may have the better guitar skills, but Headless Horse is what people remember.

#1 – Rise Against – Help Is On The Way (Gladiator Remix)

One of the many bands to sign on with Electronic Arts right as the company first began to include EA Trax into their games, the politically-charged group from Chicago has made numerous appearances throughout EA titles over the past decade. While “Paper Wings”, “Give It All,” and “Lanterns” all saw airplay in games such as Burnout 3: Takedown and NHL 13, the Gladiator Remix of “Help Is On The Way” – an aggressive number penned about the events of Hurricane Katrina – takes the top spot in our list. Tim McIlrath’s fiery rants regarding the government instead take a back seat to a large symphony arrangement; one intended to set the mood while browsing the main menu of Shift 2: Unleashed. While the game itself wasn’t very good – full of the same bugs owners of Project CARS have been subjected to with no end in sight – hearing Rise Against presented in a manner like this is more than enough to make you temporarily forget that Shift 2 was awful.

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23 thoughts on “Play It Loud – The Best Music of Need for Speed

  1. Build Your Cages was based. Shoutout to “Ordinary” by The Buzzhorn, too.

    “I Am Electric” by Heaven’s Basement is a fucking fantastic tune hidden away in Most Wanted 2012. “Scavenger” by Killradio in NFSU2 was brilliant too. I miss the days when games had original music, but I won’t deny that licensed soundtracks have shown me some great tunes.

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  2. The Test Drive series was kinda meh physics wise but at least they had licensed major artists’ music. Fear Factory, KMFDM, Eve 6, etc.

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  3. My Personal List:

    Avenged Sevenfold- Almost Easy
    Static X – Skinnyman
    Skindred – Nobody
    Styles of Beyond – Nine Thou (Superstars Remix)
    That Story of the Year song that was in NFSU1
    And many of the OST songs in NFS 3: Hot Pursuit

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  4. Solid list, but a bit too much from the modern games IMO. Some of my own favorites:

    Romulus 3 from NFS3
    Let the Music Move You from NFS5PU
    Kimosabe and Supermoves from NFSU
    Under my Wheels from NFSMW

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  5. If SMS ever got one thing right in their games, it’s the atmosphere. No other simulcade/sim titles give me the fuzzies the way Shift 2 and pCARS do.

    As long as I’m not actually driving the cars. And as long as the game isn’t crashing.

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  6. I would take the entire NFS SE track list instead any time of day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxnpfiTIPOk
    Saki Kaskas for the win :3 In NFS III, however, it’s Matt Ragan who takes the lead (pun not intended).

    Ok, getting back to racing. We had Codemasters come up with a sim. Or at least something claimed to be one. Then there were those guys who made Forza 6 (whoever they are). Not sure if it has any physics at all, but I’m quite eager to try.
    Then there was Milestone with theirs. I’m still shocked they managed to do this. It really has good physics indeed.

    Now imagine… Electronic Arts. Still with the Porsche license, I guess? Make a sim… out of… Need For Speed. And it turns to be… wait for it… good! I don’t know about you, guys, but I’d probably die laughing.

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  7. addendum

    Or most likely they’ll choose the Codemasters way with all of the sim-related features in, yet no decent physics engine to back them up.

    Beware of big name publishers realizing the revenue potential of a proper simulation while it’s starting to become a trend.

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  8. As a fan of electronic music, I would like to add to the list Hybrid – The formula of fear from NFS Undercover and Saki Kaska – Callista from hot pursuit 2 which was also used in Mass Effect 2 (playing in the Afterlife club in Omega).

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