I’ll never claim to being a committed gamer, nor would I consider the Grand Theft Auto series to be one of my favourite franchises growing up, but it does undoubtedly boast the most carefully chosen and incredible soundtracks in gaming history. Period. No better is than that of Vice City, released in 2002, with the cars’ radio stations reflecting the big city ambience of Los Angeles as one drives around to hustle with gangsters, evade the pigs, and cause havoc at strip clubs. Just as Anthony Burgess (and Stanley Kubrick) managed to link ultra-violence with Beethoven, Rockstar Games has achieved the same feat with popular music. The soundtrack’s sixth volume, Fever 105, contains the game’s most consistent collection of tunes; funk, soul, and disco numbers which added some summery vibes to any young teen’s dismal basement room, free to carry out virtual crime away from their parents’ prying eyes. The parents that definitely bought the games for their children too. Those were the days.
But I digress. What made Fever 105 so wonderful was its ability to bring a younger generation into direct contact with their parents’ best loved club anthems. Personally, absolutely every track here can be found amongst my dad’s minidisc collections (they actually exist), and thus it makes a game based around criminal activity acceptable to those that condemn it as ‘a waste of time’. There really is nothing wasteful about disco, mate.
Fronted by the crooner that is Oliver “Ladykiller” Biscuit, the radio station is littered with hilarious intervals with his deep, resonating voice adding some sexiness to compliment the tracks themselves. They authenticate the soundtrack as being a continual radio station, and show Rockstar’s thorough creative process in choosing the correct music for the game. Even the adverts are sublime. You know the strange, unbelievably unsubtle, innuendo-laden donut one I’m talking about – didn’t understand it as innocent kids, did we?
“Super smooth and delectable”
The collection’s first tune, The Whisper’s And The Beat Goes On, is a sure-fire disco classic. One can vividly imagine the moustached group performing some hip synchronised shuffling and finger-snapping to its infectious bassline and deliciously funky guitar lick, some exquisite instrumentation which is lost in translation when sampled in Will Smith’s ‘Miami’. Whilst his 1998 track remains pretty tasty, it can’t live up to The Whisper’s effortless harmonies. “Can y’all feel me?” Not really, Will. The 80s original is far superior, a recognisable classic that can be played at a middle-aged wedding or any disco themed club night and get the same response. Super smooth and delectable, this track opens up the door (and dances through it), to the next soul classics that follow.
Considering my family’s love for all of this disco stuff, Fat Larry’s Band were an unknown entity. I suppose the title to their track Act Like You Know really resonates then. Now we know, Larry. One of the band’s biggest hits from 1982, it has one of soul’s greatest basslines alongside Bernard Edward’s renowned ‘Good Times’ (Chic), Freddie Washington’s dizzying ‘Forget Me Nots’ (Patrice Rushen) and, of course, Marcus Miller’s punchy ‘Never Too Much’ (Luther Vandross). With some playful and constant interjections by “Fat” Larry James himself (“yeeeeaaah, you outta knooOOOW!”, “well, well, well”, “Uh huh huh hooooo”), it is a bloody fun track and a definitive floor-filler. As is Oliver Cheatham’s Get Down Saturday Night. Its plucky, muted guitar riff is terrific, as is Cheatham’s chorus, made all the more popular by Room 5’s ‘Make Luv’ which became a club sensation in 2003 and really should be brought back to the airwaves. Even Michael Gray’s ‘The Weekend’ (2004) samples the track’s outro. Clearly its O.G. disco status has transformed slightly to continue delighting club-goers, but that’s no bad thing.
I can only hope that the Pointer Sisters’ track Automatic was selected as some sort of tongue-in-cheek joke. If that’s why, well played Rockstar. Gun puns aside, the song is bouncy, with some synth-heavy lead melodies, working in conjunction with the group’s unison vocals. Ruth Pointer’s singing sounds strangely masculine, but it’s impossible not to join in with that bellowing bloke who chimes in with the eponymous “automatic” every now and again. Sensationally catchy. To revert back to talk of samples, René & Angela’s track ‘I’ll Be Good’, whilst having a pulsing synth introduction, is inferior to Foxy Brown and Jay-Z’s 90s rap tune ‘I’ll Be’, which accentuates the original’s vocals, synth bass, and lead samples. However, René & Angela provide a welcome juxtaposition to the collection’s overly joyful cuts, adding a slightly more sinister feel with the song’s jarring electric strings.
It’s surely correct to assume that everyone knows Mary Jane Girls’ All Night Long, when they hear it so… we’ll all agree that it’s just a funk classic. Simple. One great thing about this track, however, is witnessing a group of youths joyriding around my neighbourhood blasting this track as loud as it could go with all of the windows down. The game’s soundtrack clearly had more of a direct effect on them. What a sight. This Mary Jane Girls’ track, protégées themselves of drug-fuelled 80s soul and funk superstar Rick James, is pursued by his own song Ghetto Life. It doesn’t quite have the gravitas of the sensational ‘Super Freak’, but that main guitar riff is fiery and just… well, fantastic.
“Why have Avicii when you can have George Benson?”
Michael Jackson. It’s impossible to conclusively pin down his greatest hit, but, subjectively, the opening track to 1982’s legendary Thriller Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ is certainly up there. Whilst ‘Billie Jean’ remains MJ’s most signature bassline in his vast discography, I feel that this has to be the second best. It’s fast, punchy and, overall, simple: the ultimate concoction to get everybody moving. The verses and pre-chorus, with backing singers finishing Jackson’s urgently strained yet flawless lines, are truly superb. How he manages to make the word “vegetable” and its tragic connotations sound so luscious is a skill in itself. Also thrown into the mix is a wicked guitar riff about midway through, and some gospel-inspired a cappella: “ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa”. Lovely stuff.
Evelyn “Champagne” King’s Shame features a driving bassline yet a more laidback tone to the previous tracks. It’s not the most memorable track on the station, but refreshing to hear a lesser known song to King’s ‘Love Come Down’, which would also have fitted perfectly into Fever 105’s funky compilation. Elsewhere, Teena Marie’s Behind the Groove is a rallying war-cry of a soul song, again boasting a strong slap bass foundation (there is certainly a pattern here; it’s bass guitar heaven) and ferocious unison backing vocals which give this sassy track some serious bite.
Slowing things down a touch to take the selection from upbeat, dance-inducing bangers to sensual, lackadaisical chill-time funk is the sickly sweet Juicy Fruit by Mtume. Despite it’s unsavoury lyrics: “I’ll be your lollipop, you can lick me everywhere (JUICAY FRUIT)”, considering the synths are as tantalising as they are, you can’t really blame the lyricist for assuming that their smut would sound like the most attractive thing of all time. Also, it’s expertly sampled for The Notorious B.I.G.’s magnum opus ‘Juicy’, which elevates it to an even greater pedestal. “Mm, that one’s like gravy, baby”, states the ever-romantic, and slightly pervy, DJ Oliver Biscuit. Might as well disregard this paragraph; I couldn’t put it better myself.
Another Will Smith sample? Why not. This time, it’s Kool & The Gang’s instrumental Summer Madness – a relaxing bluesy number which possesses some exquisite chordal sequences and an ice-cold keyboard solo. The piercing lead with its overwhelming crescendo sounds perfect in DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s ‘Summertime’, and it certainly sounds far removed from Kool & The Gang’s other hits, such as ‘Get Down On It’, which unfortunately only reminds oneself of the year-round sale at DFS. That’s when soundtracks go wrong. To cap off the album is Indeep’s Last Night A DJ Saved My Life. It encapsulates everything that we’ve experienced all along; an uncompromising bassline, some jazzy funk chords offered by the guitar, two-step drumming, and a chorus that everyone in the club would rejoice at having to effortlessly sing into each other’s faces. Ironic to talk about saving lives in the context of Grand Theft Auto too. Again, you’ve nailed it, Rockstar.
Nostalgia reigns with this collection of tracks, whether you were a clubber in the 1980s or someone currently in their early twenties remembering when Playstation 2 games were life, being inadvertently indoctrinated to believe that your parents’ music was the real deal. The funk and disco music on display here is both of its time but also in dire need of a resurgence. Why have Avicii when you can have George Benson? These are the types of questions that should face all modern day disc jockeys and clubbers, but I guess we’ll save that for another article.
Image: Rockstar Games