The Grand Theft Auto series has always placed a lot of importance on music. Hell, even before the heavily licensed content of later games, the early games had an original soundtrack put together by Rockstar Games staff, which is pretty nifty.

As the games progressed, so too did their music, which eventually saw real-world artists playing on in-game radio stations and recently, brand new tunes have been played for the first time ever inside GTA Online. Picking the best soundtrack is no easy feat, but I reckon I’ve nailed it, folks.

Here are the main GTA games ranked by their soundtrack, from least good to fucking rad.

Grand Theft Auto (1997)

All of the music on the very first GTA was created specifically for the game by Rockstar employees. In other words, there were no licensed tracks in this game.

That doesn’t mean the music was bad, though, it was actually pretty fucking awesome. It went for about an hour in total and was mostly music, no spoof ads and very minimal DJ chatter.

Check it out below.

GTA 2 (1999)

Like its predecessor, the songs used in GTA 2 are mostly originals written for the game. Where this title stood out, though, is that it was the first to introduce spoof ads into the mix, as well as humourous conversations by radio DJs.

In terms of licensed tracks, there’s work by artists like FlytronixDavidson, and Bula Matari, but essentially, this is a slightly better version of GTA 1’s soundtrack.

GTA III (2001)

Ok look, I understand I’ve just gone in chronological order at this point, but bear with me.

While the GTA III soundtrack really expanded on the DJ chatter side of the radio stations, the music itself was still fairly limited. Many of the songs were written specifically for the game, but did feature real-world musicians in some cases, though they were fairly unknown, particularly at that point.

One feature I fucking loved on this game was the MP3 player, which let you put your own songs into a folder on the PC version, which would then be accessible as a radio station when you got in a car.

You can check out the GTA III soundtrack below if you got a spare four hours.

GTA IV (2008)

The line between GTA IV and San Andreas is so fine here you can barely see it, so please know that I obsessed over who to put in this position for quite a while. While this game had far more songs packed into its radio stations, the latter just chose the right tunes for its vibe, but I’ll get into that later.

GTA IV has some fucking belters, folks. Not only was it the first GTA game to have a station dedicated to hardcore, which speaks to me on many levels, it also had an exclusive song that’s so catchy it’s fucking criminal. I’m talking, of course, about ‘No Sex for Ben‘ by The Rapture.

If you’re not screaming about Ben Rymer being trash people after the first chorus, then I simply must conclude you have no soul.

The humourous chatter and fake ads are all here, but the breadth of music littered across the game’s 19 radio stations is enormous. There are songs by Kanye West, Miles Davis, Aphex Twin, Cro-Mags, Bad Brains, Cannibal Corpse, Queen, Black Sabbath, The Doors, Ginuwine, Major Lazer, and literally fuckloads more.

Another reason San Andreas got the upper hand here is because a long list of tunes were removed from GTA IV recently as their licenses expired.

GTA: San Andreas (2004)

San Andreas is set in 1992, meaning all of the tracks featured were released prior to that point. While that sounds like a hindrance, it absolutely isn’t. This entry into the GTA series was the first time every single song was licensed, which is the complete opposite of GTA 1. Instead of using a set playlist for each station, San Andreas was also the first title to randomise the songs, putting DJ commentary in between.

The song selection throughout is simply perfect. It’s like the best snapshot of the early 90s which reeks of nostalgia, including tracks from 2Pac, Ice Cube, N.W.A., Helmet, Faith No More (arguably their best fucking track, ‘Midlife Crisis‘), Soundgarden, Rage Against the Machine, Alice In Chains, and heaps more.

There’s also plenty of tracks from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The songs are just so well curated for the game that nothing feels at all out of place. Its original theme song is also dope.

GTA V / Online (2013)

Boasting 21 radio stations, GTA V and GTA Online has the most expansive collection of licensed songs in the franchise. Not only that, the playlists for GTA Online are often refreshed, adding new songs regularly. The best example of this is the latest update, After Hours, which features tracks from a number of real-world DJs you can hire to perform in your very own nightclub.

GTA V was also used to create the first legit music video shot entirely within the game. Solomun‘s clip for ‘Customer is King‘ features the artist as an in-game character doing a bunch of jobs while dodging the chaos of Los Santos.

GTA Online has also debuted new music from Tale Of Us as a live stream event recorded in the game. It was fucking rad, so you should check out the video below.

Rockstar will also be doing the same thing with new music from Dixon. The game also features mixes created exclusively by Gilles Peterson, Flying Lotus, Frank Ocean and Soulwax.

In other words, GTA V / Online has the best of all the previous games’ soundtracks, along with some very cool and creative ways of bringing the real music world into its own. The only reason it didn’t get first place is… Well, you’ll see.

GTA: Vice City (2002)

A virtual city based on an 80s Miami demands an amazing soundtrack and fuck, the team delivered. The whole experience of Vice City is like a colourful flashback to overzealous synths and some of the best guitar riffs ever written. There’s no way this game wasn’t topping the list, folks.

Some of the songs, like Michael Jackson‘s ‘Billie Jean‘ were even triggered to play during certain points in the game, which only adds to the vibrant 80s aesthetic. There’s just something so insanely satisfying about driving around while A Flock of Seagulls‘ ‘I Ran‘ pumps in the background.

Unlike the previous games, Vice City’s soundtrack was mostly licensed content and only featured 5 original songs. There’s tracks from Run D.M.C, INXS, Go West, Yes, Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister, Foreigner, and heaps more. Hell, it even has Slayer‘s ‘Raining Blood‘ and Toto‘s ‘Africa‘. What’s not to love?

Essentially, the game is a clusterfuck of 80s bangers and I absolutely adore it for that reason.

Image: Rockstar Games