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.

The Music Of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

This is another post that I was about done writing last month when a person involved with the work died. Actor Ray Liotta, famous for his roles in movies such as Goodfellas, was also the voice of GTA Vice City’s main character Tommy Vercetti. Liotta died on May 26, 2022. RIP Ray.

Video games and music have had a love/love relationship since the point where games had the storage space and processing power to play actual music during the games. Sometimes it’s an original score for the game – the soundtrack to Skyrim has been big business and the Red Dead Redemption series has very acclaimed original songs.

In other cases it’s a soundtrack of curated songs that play while the game is going. The Tony Hawk Pro Skater series is as beloved for its soundtracks as for its legendary game play. And many driving games have a selection of radio stations for fans of many different kinds of music to get their fix as they traverse pixelated highways.

But when it comes to music in video games, absolutely no one got it as right as Rockstar Games and the Grand Theft Auto series. A host of radio stations occupy whichever vehicle the player feels like stealing and interspersed with the songs are a variety of satirical ads, on-theme DJs and even original talk radio programming. The GTA series soundtracks are achievements unto themselves and have been a major highlight of the games.

Today I’m going to talk about the soundtrack to my favorite video game of all time – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Set in mid-1980’s Florida and modeled after Miami, Vice City is a pit of sin and debauchery full of drug deals and a power struggle for the top of the criminal food chain. The game took the revolutionary elements of the wildly successful GTA III and added more voice acting and game play hijinks to really take the series to the forefront of gaming accomplishments.

I could go on and on about the game but this is about the music – and there’s plenty of it. Vice City’s radio stations are loaded with songs. There are seven music stations that offer about fifteen songs on average, the original Playstation 2 release featured 103 songs. Two other radio stations are talk-based programming and are also hilarious, it is Rockstar satire at its best. For anyone who has played the game for any length of time and gotten tired of hearing the same songs over and over again, K-CHAT and Vice City Public Radio offer audio detours that provide absolute laugh riots.

The music runs the gamut of everything great about the 1980’s – everything from pop, new wave, soul, rock and metal, and early hip-hop are represented in the radio stations.

Had this just been a bunch of radio stations with music, Vice City would have been an absolute delight. But wait, there’s more – Rockstar not only provided the music, but also gave each station its own legitimate feel with DJ’s and commercials. The DJ’s fit the spirit of each station they’re on, one personal favorite is the creepy Fernando on Emotion 98.3. The DJ talk fits between the songs probably better than most real-life radio DJ’s can accomplish, at least from what I’ve heard. And of course in-game events can influence what is said on the radio, though this would be something the games would give even more life to in future installments.

And the commercials are a worthy listen on their own. Satirical ads for retirement homes, knives and clothing are all worth a chuckle. And the Ammu-Nation ads pretty much get their own award for their over-the-top portrayals of Second Amendment Rights and also the war we had against Australia. All of it adds up to an experience that rivals or even surpasses actual radio, even back when radio was good.

The soundtrack wasn’t without its subsequent issues – mainly, licensing. Vice City the game has been re-issued and re-mastered for many new console generations as well as mobile. But being able to put the music on the new versions of the game would require new licensing for the songs, something not every record label was behind. Sony was most notable in demanding a king’s ransom for use of their songs, which Rockstar declined. This removed a signature track from both the radio and game’s opening, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” (It also removed Ozzy Osbourne’s “Bark At The Moon” from the metal station).

Almost every radio station was affected by licensing issues – only Wave FM was apparently untouched by the problem. It has become a standing issue in video games, as it is lucrative practice to re-release classic titles on new hardware. It has also affected the game streaming community, as a Twitch user is fine to broadcast video game play, but if they are playing copyrighted music during that broadcast, it becomes an issue. Yes, even if the game publisher secured a license for the music to be in the game. These game and music licensing issues will likely continue to play out as entertainment evolves but the recording industry does not. (This is also why there are no videos with cool gameplay footage and the radio going – content creators have to mute the songs when they play).

One funny aside about the songs – if you reload a save, the exact same songs play when you re-enter the game. Some of the side missions can be very difficult and this results in hearing the same few song snippets over and over and over again. I got a few pointed words thrown my way by my girlfriend in the past when I was doing something like the vigilante missions over and over and she heard the same few bits again and again. But hey, there’s nothing like flying an attack helicopter to wipe out drug dealers along with the sweet sounds of Night Ranger, Mister Mister and Hall And Oates.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was a masterpiece at tying music and video game together. Everything in the game and the music evoked the 1980’s atmosphere the creators sought for the game. ’80’s music of all genres cranks out from the game’s stations, and the developers took the extra steps to make sure the radio personnel and commercials supplemented a totally immersive experience. A player truly is in Vice City when playing, it isn’t just a case of farting around with casual interest in a game.

I’ve spent all this time talking about the music of GTA but I barely mentioned the rock and metal station V-ROCK. That’s because it gets its own post, coming Friday.

The ads from the radio stations in one big video