I can hum one bar of Goldfinger’s “Superman” and anyone who has played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater will join in. Video game soundtracks are something that players develop emotional attachments to after spending hours listening and processing their sound. The soundtrack to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater might very well be one of the best.
From their inception until the late 90s, video games had relied mainly on their own composers to create soundtracks and sound effects with the limited technology they had. Some of the most memorable video game soundtracks were created without proper musical notation by using the console hardware to manipulate the 8-bit technologies that the games were built on. These soundtracks were designed to be looped and repetitive, yet also pleasant and catchy enough to not drive you crazy after listening to the same battle music in Pokemon after 10 hours of gameplay.
However, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was a game that changed the landscape of what was possible with a video game soundtrack. Instead of instrumental music by an artist you would never know the name of, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater decided to be authentic to the skateboarding genre and license songs from actual punk and ska bands that skateboarders listened to. This was a trend for the rest of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games, but the original handful of songs in this game are still some of the most catchy tunes.
The first thing that really mattered with these songs is that they all had to pack a punch within two minutes. That was because the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game was focused around letting you roam around a skatepark and complete a series of tasks while racking up a high score in two minutes.
I think the decision to use real songs added unparalleled authenticity and realism to the game despite its graphics and physics still being quite cartoonish compared to the later games. Who doesn’t want to skate to the Dead Kennedys’ surf-rock-inspired classic “Police Truck” while grinding down rails and nailing insane combos? The chorus is literally, “Ride, ride, now we ride!”
Primus’ “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” was also a perfect addition that went well with skating. Something about the screeching guitar riff mixed with quick reggae chords made you feel like you were a pro skater the entire time. The soundtrack also featured “Cyco Vision” by Venice, CA skatepunk hardcore band Suicidal Tendencies, an aggressive song with an amazing sing-along chorus: “cyco-cyco vision, cyco-cyco vision!” It didn’t matter if you didn’t even know what they were saying, that’s not what punk is about!
However, the most popular and best-fitting songs were all ska. “New Girl” by the Suicide Machines was an upbeat fast-paced thrillride that made you feel like you grew up skating pools in Venice Beach.
But the feel of this soundtrack can be boiled down to one song, everyone’s favorite: “Superman” by Goldfinger. This ska classic brought you into the world of skateboarding so much that it didn’t matter what the graphics were like, or if the game engine didn’t have tricks like manuals to make endless combos possible. The lyrics fit to this day and instantly bring back anyone that played the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game. Maybe most affirmatively, it inspired the title of the upcoming documentary about Tony Hawk and his video games, Pretending I’m a Superman.
“So here I am, growing older all the time,
Looking older all the time,
Feeling younger in my mind
So here I am, doing everything I can
Holding on to what I have
Pretending I’m a superman.”
So thank you, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack. You brightened up the game and helped us dive into the world of skateboarding before the days of advanced game physics and realistic graphics. Thank you for making all the bails, spills, and gnarly falls just as fun as winning.