GTA Vice City – VRock

Yesterday I talked a bit about the unique and game-making soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Today I want to elaborate a bit on the game’s rock and metal station. If anything screams 1980’s it’s rock and metal, and the game got it right on their own metal station, V-Rock.

V-Rock was the quintessential metal hits of the mid-80’s. Here is a complete list of songs from the original release of the game (note that Bark At The Moon was removed and that Love Fist is a fictional, in-game band who I’ll get to in a bit.)

Twisted Sister – I Wanna Rock

Motley Crue – Too Young To Fall In Love

Quiet Riot – Cum On Feel The Noize

The Cult – She Sells Sanctuary

Ozzy Osbourne – Bark At The Moon

Love Fist – Dangerous Bastard

Iron Maiden – 2 Minutes To Midnight

Loverboy – Working For The Weekend

Alcatrazz – God Blessed Video

Tesla – Cumin’ Atcha Live

Autograph – Turn Up The Radio

Megadeth – Peace Sells

Anthrax – Madhouse

Slayer – Raining Blood

Judas Priest – You’ve Got Another Thing Coming

Love Fist – Fist Fury

David Lee Roth – Yankee Rose

That is quite a list of signature 80’s rock and metal. Of course I can listen to this stuff all day and night long and probably make a years-long playlist out of it, but I think this selection really captures the spirit of the time.

A radio station is more than its songs. V-Rock features everything that makes this a true 1980’s rock station. The station has hilarious transition lines like “V-Rock – for people who wear name tags to work” and “While other stations’ listeners are in school … we’re shoplifting!” A few of the commercials, like the “complete the look – goth edition” spot for the Vice City Mall are also tailored to the station.

And above all else, V-Rock has an entertaining and outright hilarious DJ. Helming the mic for the station is Lazlow, who was an intern to the station’s former DJ, Couzin Ed. Ed was fired and Lazlow given the reigns as a cost-cutting move. In fact, Couzin Ed calls in at one point to lambaste Lazlow for being unqualified to host a metal station.

Couzin Ed has been a real-life radio DJ, and Jeffery “Lazlow” Jones was also a DJ and multimedia personality when both were hired by Rockstar Games to be involved in the Grand Theft Auto series. Lazlow is in fact chiefly responsible for the success of the game’s radio stations in his role as executive producer of the soundtrack.

While very accomplished in real life, Lazlow’s in-game character is much less heralded. Lazlow is a loser, being unable to score with a local waitress and having played in marching band while Couzin Ed was doing bong hits. Lazlow even laments that V-Rock’s mascot, the Vulture, gets more airtime than he does. It makes for some entertaining drives around Vice City to listen to Lazlow get cut down by most of the population, such as when biker gang leader Mitch Baker calls in to give Lazlow shit for playing “sissy music.” And this call-in happens right after the station plays Loverboy, if I’m not mistaken.

In a bonus segment only available on the game’s officially-issued soundtrack, Lazlow is fired as the host of V-Rock. Lazlow would go on to find hosting jobs throughout the GTA series, culminating in being an actual character in Grand Theft Auto V. The real-life Lazlow would continue his involvement with Rockstar Games until 2020 when he left the company.

If having compelling music and on-air “talent” wasn’t enough, the game outdid itself by inventing its own band. Love Fist is a group of drug-addled Scotsmen who fit right in with the hair metal scene. A handful of original songs were recorded for the game and feature on V-Rock. Two other songs air in segments during Love Fist-related game content. A Love Fist EP with all four songs present was made available in 2013 for digital purchase and streaming.

The band were given members and personalities to suit the times. Lead singer Jezz Torrent (say his name in a Scottish accent…) is featured in several cutscenes as a party guest. The band also has a series of missions in-game where Tommy Vercetti must help the band escape a stalker, get their needed drugs, and get to their gig. Love Fist’s former members and mentions of their music can be found in later GTA games as well.

The music of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was great overall, and having a dedicated metal station with so much work put into it made the game that much better. I’ve spent countless hours in Vice City, driving my stolen cars and jamming to the great songs on offer. And Lazlow’s work as DJ is great. The game both celebrates and totally rips on metal culture and is a hilarious stew of satire and dark humor. In terms of video game soundtracks it just doesn’t get any better than Vice City and V-Rock.

Spotify Wrapped 2021

I was shuffling around my next few posts a bit and had a bit of a hang-up as I tried to figure out what to do for today. As luck would have it, Spotify would drop some quick and easy content in my lap in the form of their Wrapped end of year data dump.

For those unaware, Spotify provides a rundown of a user’s most-played songs, genres and artists for the year every December. It’s a neat little thing that provides a bit of info and can also be fun and silly. For me and the purposes of this blog, it’s a great way to get some content with just some screenshots and a few words. Let’s have at it.

This is the total minutes I spent listening on Spotify this year. This is by far the most I’ve used the service in a year. For the biggest part of 2021 I had a job where I could play music all day and I’d alternate between Spotify and the digital music collection on my phone. It’s over 450 hours, which is a fair bit of time when considering I didn’t use it all the time.

This tidbit did shock me a little. I don’t really know how Spotify does genres, I haven’t looked at the least how deep they get. I don’t feel like I listened to 35 different genres of music but I’ll take their word for it. If symphonic blackened britpop deathcore counts as 4 separate genres then I can see it. Not sure if I heard any whale sounds in the past year…

Here are the top 5 genres. Shoegaze sticks out a bit on the list but it’s not surprising since I just got into it this year. I did way more exploring of it than I did of anything else. Nothing else is a real shock. I did listen to what I guess is a lot of hard rock this year though I figure some of that might actually be indie rock or some offshoot of that. Again, who knows how Spotify genrefies things.

My most-played song of the year is no surprise at all. I played the ever living shit of this right after I heard it. In truth I’ve played it way more than that because I eventually got a digital copy on my phone and I’ve also played the YouTube video countless times. I’ve probably doubled the Spotify play count. I’ve literally been bitched at for how much I’ve played this song.

One bit of a shocker here. I didn’t realize I’d played Muse that much. I honestly only started listening to them in earnest this year. I wouldn’t have thought they’d rank that high or that Hysteria would be the song that did. The rest are all reasonable – I played LoG a lot because I didn’t own Ashes Of The Wake on any format until a few weeks back. I played the Iron Maiden lead single multiple times a day until Senjutsu released and then I played the CDs or vinyl.

This is absolutely no surprise at all. Emma Ruth Rundle was easily my most-played artist of the year, and I only truly began listening to her about halfway through the year. According to Spotify I spent a total of 3,682 minutes playing her songs in the span of about 5 months. That’s over 61 hours playing the same artist. Yeah, I dig her stuff that much. And this also doesn’t account for when I eventually got her albums on vinyl, which provided digital download copies as well.

Being in the top 0.1% of listeners is really cool, I have never seen that before. I’ll put that on my resume.

Again, Muse is throwing me a bit. I mean, I’m not one to argue with statistics, but still. I would’ve thought Lorna Shore had the number 2 spot in the bag, but I guess I really, really liked Muse earlier in the year. None of the others are huge shocks. I got Rage’s stuff on vinyl about halfway through the year but I was blasting them a lot in the first part of 2021.

I don’t know what the hell this is but I guess I’m bold and wistful, based on my musical tastes of sad indie rock and deathcore. I don’t know, whatever. I’m not really all that bold I don’t think. Wistful is probably right. I don’t how much of my personality I’m going to analyze from a damn music streaming app.

That’s a wrap for the Spotify Wrap 2021. I didn’t listen to Taylor Swift for over 200,000 hours like some people but hey, I did listen to something. We’ll see what the next year brings as Spotify remains more a vehicle for discovery for me instead of what I use to listen to my favorite stuff.

My 5 Favorite Songs From The Use Your Illusion Albums

I spent the week paring down the monstrous Use Your Illusion albums from Guns N Roses into one lean, mean fighting disc. Here is Part One and Part Two of that effort, and here you can find the results of my labor.

With that out of the way but the topic still fresh in my mind, I wanted to take a moment and review my favorite songs from the records. There isn’t any more lead-in than that needed so let’s get right into it.

#5 – 14 Years

This is the song Izzy Stradlin sang the verses on, though an unfamiliar listener could be forgiven for not knowing that since Axl’s voice can take on so many different forms. There is no official confirmation but rumors suggest that the song is about Izzy and Axl’s friendship. Izzy left the band during the tour cycle for Illusion and the band did not play the song again until Izzy did a guest spot on the reunion tour.

For me it’s just a cool song that I always liked. It has no real personal meaning for me – I mean, I was 14 when the records came out so I had no “14 years or silence or pain” to relate to, just dumb kid stuff. It’s a song that I’ve always playlisted or whatever and when I revisited these albums it was one of the first ones that really jumped out at me.

#4 – November Rain

Yep, the epic, grandiose, and also ridiculous and over-wrought hit is one of my favorites from the albums. This song and video was such a complete spectacle that it was hard to turn away from. Cake fights, explosions, and cars driving off cliffs while Slash solos – what more could you ask for?

I guess this song is about Axl and his personal relations with women. I don’t really know, it’s a bit hard to derive meaning from all the bombast. I do know that when it rains in the winter I always get this song stuck in my head. I think that’s an inevitable part of life for anyone around when this was all the rage.

#3 – You Could Be Mine

The lead single from the records had a glorious tie-in with the hotly-anticipated Terminator 2. The resulting video interspersed movie footage and also some original content, climaxing when the Terminator’s target screen gives a funny message after scanning the band.

The song is a badass rocker that outlines what must have been a crazy relationship. Nothing wrong with redlining things once in awhile, that’s what youth is for. But yeah, it’s a great song and a signature tune for me from these albums.

Interesting that the band didn’t officially upload the video. I guess money and rights issues between them and the studio.

#2 – Estranged

This long epic was always one of the highlights of the double set. It (I think) served as the final single release for these records before the band moved to an uninspired covers album before effectively breaking up for 20 years.

The song is magnificent – with slowly-building movements that incorporate some of Slash’s most tasteful guitar work and very poignant lyrics from Axl. The song builds to a monumental finish around the 7-minute mark – this is the part where Axl jumps off the ship and does his swimming with the dolphins thing in the video.

I loved the song when it first hit, but Estranged has also taken on new meaning as I’ve gotten older. When the albums released I was 14, when the video for this song dropped I think I was 15 or 16. The word “estranged” is something I would have had to look up in a dictionary. I didn’t know the first thing about it.

But all these years later it’s a different story. Sure, estrangement usually refers to either spouses or parent-child relationships. But it can still apply in a broader sense to personal interactions as a whole. As time wears on, we will lose family, friends, lovers, and other people. One day, often without knowing it, we’ll have said the last things we’re ever gonna say to each other. It’s not a matter of death – everyone’s still around living their lives, it’s just that people have fallen away. Maybe some reconnections can and should be made, but by and large there is very much a “ships passing in the night” vibe to how people come together and fall apart.

In this age of pandemics, climate upheaval and social-political unrest, it’s tough also not to consider the personal relationship aspect of life. We’re all twisting and turning toward something that doesn’t really look good, but also the past is dead and gone. Might as well have a bit of midlife crisis on top of the endless supply of existential dread.

Why must it drift away and die? I don’t know, but that’s the way it goes.

#1 – Civil War

It’s time for the champion to come claim its crown, and this battle was never in any real dispute.

Civil War has always been my favorite track from this era. The song is both melodically beautiful and powerful, a masterful attack on the military industrial complex and a look at the formation of unrest and discord through society.

I didn’t quite understand all of that back then but the song always leapt out at me. And now that I do, perhaps barely, understand what it’s about, I’ve noticed I’m far from the only one to gravitate towards it when these albums get brought up. Hell, they play this song on the radio a fair bit these days, even if “radio play” doesn’t mean what it used to.

Rock music doesn’t always have to be high-minded. It can be dumb and fun, both of which are in ample supply on the Use Your Illusion records. But rock is often at its best when it does cover the deeper, darker threads of existence. And Guns N Roses are in top form on this song.

Well folks, that just about does it for my exploration of the Use Your Illusion albums. It was a very interesting time for me to come of age in, both with this ultimate realization of the band’s grandiose plans and the antithesis to that bombast that hit the airwaves at the exact same time. It was pretty fun and sometimes head-scratching to go back through these ambitious albums and the wide variety of songs on offer. I didn’t feel many were that great but there are some absolute masterworks to be found here.

In terms of further explorations of double albums, well, I know there is other work to be done. My next cutting room floor project is sitting on my CD shelf right now (sorry, Trent). I also have a future idea that pushes the bounds of the definitions here but I’ll see how that goes a bit down the road.

To close – thank you, rock stars, for thinking we need these massive double records. If nothing else, it gives me something to write about.