Soundtracks is a series where we take a look back at the use of licensed music in games. Go here if you want to know a little more.

Today’s game is Need for Speed: Underground, the point at which Electronic Arts’ long running racing series transitioned from middle-aged Top Gear territory into a street racing game aimed at the cool kids.

We were possibly a little too glib in our now rather ancient appraisal of its merits, but if the review is of interest you can read it via this link here.

For more about the music, however, read on below!

This seemed like an interesting one to tackle for a number of reasons: firstly, while it wasn’t the first NFS game to use licensed music or even the dreaded EA Trax branding (as with the so-called ‘Virtual Stadium’ in the 90s, you can always depend on EA to stick a label on something that most other games of the era have – in this case music – as well), it did seem to herald a wider expansion of soundtracks from a handful of licensed tunes to a whole album’s worth of music and beyond. Plus, as we mentioned, Hot Pursuit 2 was a bit of a tired and uninspiring effort and its music (sorry, Trax) certainly reflected this.

On a personal level, it was notable how little I knew about the music and artists here in 2003 compared with the tracks in 1999’s edition of FIFA. I guess the latter was always likely to have more of a UK slant compared with a Fast and Furious inspired racer, but in truth I also fell quite quickly out of touch with music once the peer pressure to stay up to date, from being in school or university, subsided. The 90s was my decade; the 00s a gradual decline into being completely out of touch.

It’s also one of the reasons we won’t be forensically examining every track featured here (or indeed across the series): I don’t have something to say about each one, other than whether I liked it or not, and even if I did, it turns out I’m the type of person who’s happy to enjoy a single song that’s been plopped onto a soundtrack without feeling the need to do any further research into an artist or their back catalogue.

That said, I do genuinely, unironically, love this soundtrack, and it’s completely appropriate for the game, combining with the powerful blurry neon of the night-time city to overwhelm the senses and immerse you completely in the experience. Or something. It’s tempting at times to think that just plonking any relatively genre-appropriate stuff over a game that the player is bound to spend many hours in front of will ultimately cause those tunes to seep into their brains, but it’s not quite as simple as that (as this game’s own immediate sequel proved).

Anyway, here’s a look through selected highlights:

The Crystal Method – Born Too Slow
(V2, 2003)

Does anyone remember the film based on the comic book Spawn? With Michael Jai White and John Leguizamo? It’s been a while since I saw it (I don’t think it was very good) but it had a pretty decent soundtrack, which was assembled using the following formula: take a rock band and pair them with a dance or hip-hop act, and either collaborate on a new track or muck around with an existing one. (I loved One Man Army, the Prodigy and Tom Morello effort; was mildly disappointed with the Orbital/Kirk Hammett version of Satan; and had a good laugh at the flat-out bonkers No Remorse (I Wanna Die) by Slayer and Atari Teenage Riot).

Anyway, I mention it because it sort of sums up the approach of Underground: equal parts rock, rap and techno, a fusion of commercially viable young people’s music to cover all bases. Plus, the lead single saw Filter team up with The Crystal Method for Can’t You Trip Like I Do, a reworking of a previous Method hit.

Born Too Slow, likewise, featured vocals from Kyuss singer John Garcia and guitar from Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit (It’s my ambition at some point in this series to describe a member of a band collaborating with another as [bandname] wordsmith/axe-wielder/sticksman, even though that’s something Zane Lowe would do and I’d be deserving of a big punch in the face).

It’s perfect soundtrack fodder, as its repeated use elsewhere (Gran Turismo, The O.C. (The O.C!), CSI (CSI!)) indicates, but particularly for a racing game such as this, because if you’re TOO SLOW you won’t win the race and get respect on the streets.


Rob Zombie – Two Lane Blacktop
(Geffen, 2003)

This is, again, perfect for this game, because not only is it a song about driving, it also shares a name with the cult 70s movie of the same name. (A film, incidentally, that features the acting talents of Beach Boys sticksman [thwack] Dennis Wilson). Also, it’s a hell of a tune, a perfect accompaniment to spending 2 laps thinking you’re an awesome street racer and the hardest bastard alive before a minor prang on the last lap ruins it all.

Rob Zombie used to be in White Zombie before pursuing a solo music career and an interest in directing horror movies that mainly seem to be quite badly received (although I can’t say I’ve seen any of them myself). This song made me wonder if I’d like his music, but I’ve not listened to any more of that either.


Lostprophets – To Hell We Ride
(Visible Noise/Columbia, 2004)

Sigh. So am I really going to talk about Lostprophets on the internet? Yes, I’m going to talk about Lostprophets on the internet.

Prevailing critical opinion regarding the merits of nu metal was, as far as I remember, not favourable. Personally, I was more kindly disposed towards it than some, because it either heralded or coincided with a return of rock music to radio and the pop charts. As previously noted, the post-Britpop hangover of the late 90s led to a prevalence of house and dance in the UK charts, and guitars were suddenly out.

It’s hard to say whether there were any nu metal acts deemed critically acceptable; of the big ones, Limp Bizkit seemed to attract the most oppobrium, perhaps due to Fred Durst’s advancing years and obvious inauthenticity. I do remember, though, during a brief spell among the rarified company of wannabe music journalists at the student newspaper, it was mooted that Welsh act Lostprophets were the best example of that kind of thing, if you really must like it.

After early hit Shinobi Vs Dragon Ninja (aren’t those computer games, too? Skillo!) Lostprophets’ material seemed to become more commercially targeted and they became a moderately successful mid 00s chart rock act. To Hell We Ride, taken from their breakthrough album Start Something, is a fairly typical example of their shtick and again seems fairly suitable as a background for pretend urban street racing.

The band’s comedown in 2012 was swift and unpleasant however, when lead singer Ian Watkins was accused and found guilty of a series of sex crimes against children. (And so I think we’ll give the music video for this one a miss).

Petey Pablo – Need for Speed
(Soundtrack exclusive, 2003)

Nothing quite sums up the vibe of Underground‘s soundtrack as a hip hop song that shares the name of the series, with the repetitive refrain “I got a Need for Speed” for a chorus. A bit tacky, perhaps, but pretty catchy nonetheless.

Along with Smashing the Gas (Get Faster) by Mystikal, this was one of two songs written for the game. This one seems to be about driving, and specifically that Petey Pablo is very good at driving.


Dilated Peoples – Who’s Who
(Capitol, 2004)

I was in my early 20s when this game was released, which arguably placed me in the likely target demographic, although I no more had a genuine interest in street racing culture then than I do now. I suppose for someone who tuts loudly at irresponsible driving and has owned a succession of boring and practical second hand vehicles, it is slightly unnatural to have maintained such a focused interest in the NFS series over the years.

Who’s Who reminds me of playing Underground on the PS2 with my friend PG, who was always more of Gran Turismo man and recoiled slightly at the gaudier elements of this more shallow racer. The main hook of this song seemed to stick in our heads as representative of the vaguely ludicrous spectacle that was two uncool white guys crouched in front of the TV listening to hip hop while choosing which souped-up Japanese sports car to take to the fake streets with.

For these nakedly nostalgic reasons, as well as the fact that it’s a pretty good track, it’s one of the few songs to make the transition from game soundtrack to real-life playlist (and indeed the CD player of the Civic (with a dent in)) without, as previously stated, encouraging me to explore the artist’s back catalogue any further.


Andy Hunter – The Wonders of You
(Nettwerk, 2002)

PG had a friend called Andy Hunter, who once threatened to take off his trousers during a not particularly raucous or well attended house party. I think this song is by a different Andy Hunter, though: that guy worked in a bank.

[*Goes on Wikipedia*] So it turns out that this Andy Hunter is a purveyor of electronic music and a DJ – a Christian DJ, no less, which means that The Wonders of You is almost certainly about God and not about a tuned up car with a big hot exhaust pipe. This song does sound vaguely familiar, and like Born Too Slow it seems to have been used widely in games, films and trailers during the early to mid 00s. As such, it works a treat here.

So there we go. As we mentioned, the expansion in terms of the number of tracks since the likes of FIFA 2000 is significant, and would continue to be a theme of EA Trax throughout the 00s. And – again – although there are many more decent tunes featured in Underground (an early contender for the best soundtrack of the ones I’m likely to write about) I don’t have too much to say about any of them here. See you next time.