The games of a generation helped shape their music taste…
To call the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (THPS) series anything short of a cultural milestone would be underselling it. For almost its entire 25+ year run, the franchise has been praised for its gameplay, graphics, and level design, but one aspect that has always stood out is its soundtracks. The THPS soundtracks have become iconic, and they’ve played a significant role in shaping contemporary alternative music. Let’s take a look at this importance and how they have influenced the genre.
Firstly, what tracks were featured in these games and who picked them? The soundtracks were a healthy mix of punk, ska, hip-hop, and alternative rock and were curated by music supervisor and producer, Brian Bright, and boy did he do a good job. The soundtracks were a perfect fit for the game, and were much more than your average background music; they were an integral part of the experience, and helped to create a sense of energy and excitement that augmented the experience more than anyone could’ve predicted.
While there hasn’t been a game in the series that had a particularly weak soundtrack, it’s the first 4 Pro Skater-titled games that you often see on nostalgic Spotify playlists.
Because they introduced a new generation of kids to alternative music during a time when it was desperately needed. In the late 90s and early 2000s, alternative music was going through a bit of a rough patch. Grunge was dead, nu-metal was on the rise, and pop-punk was starting to get stale. But then along came THPS with its eclectic mix of tracks, looking to shine a light on artists that had been making waves on the pre-internet underground. Suddenly, a whole new generation of kids were exposed to bands like Goldfinger, Bad Religion, and The Suicide Machines, to name just a few.
The massive success of these first games, and by proxy the music that accompanied them helped to legitimise these bands in the eyes of the music industry. Suddenly, record labels were taking notice of these previously underground acts and signing them to major deals. And as these bands gained more exposure, they started to influence the sound of youth music.
One of the most significant impacts of the THPS soundtracks was on the punk and pop-punk scene. Bands like The Offspring, Blink-182, and Green Day were already reaching a peak of popularity by the time of THPS’s release, but exposure on the THPS soundtracks strapped a rocket to this. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that pop-punk wouldn’t be as popular as it is today (for better or worse – mostly worse), without these games.
What’s thankfully much more wholesome is THPS’s impact on the ska scene. Bands like Less Than Jake, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and particularly Goldfinger are now intrinsically linked to these games. I don’t trust anyone who listens to Superman and doesn’t immediately want to pull off a triple kickflip. Ska might not be as ubiquitous in modern culture as pop-punk (a crime, to be sure), it lives on thanks to this series.
Hip-hop was also well represented in the THPS. The game introduced a new generation of listeners to hip-hop icons like Public Enemy, Jurassic 5, and N.W.A, and brought them into a contemporary setting. In my ignorant youth, I often skipped past these, growing up in a house that treated rock and punk above all other genres. But as I grew older and broadened my horizons, I realised how incredible these tracks are. Not only do they match the energy and ethos of anything else on the soundtrack, but the socially conscious lyrics arguably have more place in the counterculture-driven skate scene than cheesy breakup songs.
It would be remiss not to mention the community that these soundtracks fostered too. Whenever I interview bands or musicians, and talk about influences and inspiration, a real common thread is the soundtrack of these games. Whether they be fans of hip hop, punk, metal or any other sub-genre, it’s a shared experience that players can instantly bond over. It may be baked into nostalgia, a reminder of a simpler time, when life was all about skating, hanging out with friends, and listening to music, but is that such a bad thing?
The only real shame is that with regular game releases a thing of the past, and remakes more likely than new entries whatsoever, the chances of us getting a new numbered Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game are looking pretty slim. Maybe this isn’t a bad thing; THPS 5 was abhorrent, and sometimes it’s better to leave the memories alone. But it means we’re unlikely to see another suite of tracks shape a generation quite like we did back in the day. Sure, listening habits have changed and even if it did happen it might not make the waves the games of old did, but I’d wager any band worth their salt would treat a THPS feature as the badge of honour it was, and remains.
Are you a fan of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games? Do you have a favourite track that gets your nostalgic juices flowing? We want to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below.