The 30 Best Racing Game Songs, Ranked

The 30 Best Racing Game Songs, Ranked

From Out Run to Gran Turismo, these are the original tunes that keep our blood pumping through hours of gameplay.

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Image: Codemasters

Driving and music go great together; so well, in fact, that in a time before video games could pull off satisfying engine sounds, music served as a worthy replacement. Truth be told, I never noticed the thin engine audio in those early Gran Turismo games all that much, because I was too busy jamming out to Garbage. This got me thinking: what are the best songs in the history of racing simulator games?

Originally I was shooting for about 15, but I was cutting out too much stuff I wanted to recognize, and that saddened me. I bumped it up to 20, and that still wasn’t enough. So enjoy the 30 greatest songs from racing games — sticking to original music, because if we included licensed tunes it would truly never end. Here’s a handy YouTube playlist including every one of my picks for your listening pleasure.

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30. ‘Honda & Acura’ — Gran Turismo (1998)

30. ‘Honda & Acura’ — Gran Turismo (1998)

We begin with a song that will be familiar to anyone who grew up playing the original Gran Turismo — but only outside Japan. The game’s entire soundtrack was composed by Masahiro Andoh and Isamu Ohira, but when it came time for Sony to localize the game between its Japanese launch in December 1997 and its eventual debut in Europe and North America the following May, every song was replaced.

Andoh and Ohira delivered a very jazzy, very classy collection of songs for Gran Turismo, a style the series would eventually become known for. Nevertheless GT hadn’t taken the world by storm quite yet, and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe was concerned the soundtrack wouldn’t be aggressive and hip enough for western audiences. The company tasked in-house musician Jason Page to rescore the game’s menus, and gave him just two weeks to do it. Many of Page’s songs are rearrangements of the same samples — he did have just two weeks after all — and the theme for the Honda/Acura dealership stands apart with its airy, moody atmosphere. It sounds the way that memorable image in the dealership’s landing page of an NSX cresting a hill at dusk looks.

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29. ‘Theme Menu’ — Porsche Challenge (1997)

29. ‘Theme Menu’ — Porsche Challenge (1997)

Give Page more time to work, though, and he’ll come up with something like this — the lavish, emotional menu theme for Porsche Challenge, a game best described as an interactive pamphlet for the Porsche Boxster that released around the time the car did in 1997. That may sound like a criticism, but it isn’t: Porsche Challenge is a competent arcade racer with impressive visuals for its time and a level of polish and respect for the Porsche brand that you just didn’t see back then. It’s probably the best promotional tie-in/advertising-masquerading-as-product that any automaker has ever signed its name to.

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28. ‘Machine Complete & Get Rewards’ — Racing Lagoon (1999)

28. ‘Machine Complete & Get Rewards’ — Racing Lagoon (1999)

Racing Lagoon is what happens when Square, maker of Final Fantasy and other beloved role-playing games, turns its attention to a racing game during the absolute height of its technological and cultural dominance. A sprawling title with a massive, eclectic soundtrack composed by Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi, Racing Lagoon was never released outside Japan or localized into English. Thankfully, dedicated fans have recently fixed that.

At least you don’t have to play it to enjoy songs like “Machine Complete & Get Rewards” — so named because it’s heard over those menus in the game. It’s a short tune that only lasts about a minute, though it repeats and casts a powerful impression at the end of every race.

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27. ‘Shotgun Kiss’ — F-Zero GX (2003)

27. ‘Shotgun Kiss’ — F-Zero GX (2003)

For F-Zero GX, Nintendo teamed up with the kings of arcade racing, Sega, to make a game so good that the publisher hasn’t figured out a way to follow it up in two decades. “Shotgun Kiss” was composed by Sega’s Hidenori Shoji. It plays in the game’s space casino environment, which seems extremely appropriate the second you hear it for the first time, even without the visual reference.

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26. ‘Title BGM’ — F-Zero X (1998)

26. ‘Title BGM’ — F-Zero X (1998)

Before F-Zero GX came F-Zero X on the Nintendo 64 — a game I personally find much worse to play, with a very different musical style from its successor. In a word, F-Zero X’s soundtrack just shreds. And it never shreds harder than during the game’s title screen, where guitars wail over top of a comic book-style illustration of all the game’s characters. Everything about it kicks ass — especially this full-band version that sounds better than anything you would’ve ever heard on the N64 cartridge, composed by Taro Bando and performed by Ryuichi Katsumata, Nozomi Furukawa and Hideki Matsubara.

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25. ‘Mr. 4WD’ — Gran Turismo (1997)

25. ‘Mr. 4WD’ — Gran Turismo (1997)

You’ve already heard a song from the American and European versions of the original Gran Turismo, and here’s one from the earlier Japanese release, courtesy of Isamu Ohira. “Mr. 4WD” is the quintessential Gran Turismo banger; a song that sounds just as home while browsing showrooms for mid-’90s JDM excellence as it would on the Weather Channel. If you’ve never heard this version of “Mr. 4WD” — which appropriately plays while visiting the Subaru dealer — you may recognize it from Gran Turismo 4's world map, where it appeared in remixed, chiller fashion.

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24. ‘Track 7’ — Extreme-G (1997)

24. ‘Track 7’ — Extreme-G (1997)

Simon Robertson and Stephen Root’s soundtrack for Acclaim and Probe’s futuristic N64 racer Extreme-G is chock full of techno and trance bangers front to back, and it’s all so good it gives Sony’s Wipeout franchise a run for its money. Its only shortcoming is, well, being tied to the N64, a system not exactly celebrated for its low-bitrate audio and stifling compression. That’s not a problem for this full-quality mix though; thank god for the internet.

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23. ‘Track 6’ — Test Drive Le Mans/Le Mans 24 Hours (2000)

23. ‘Track 6’ — Test Drive Le Mans/Le Mans 24 Hours (2000)

The best game that has ever been made and probably will ever be made about the world’s greatest race, Le Mans 24 Hours — or Test Drive Le Mans as it was known here in the States — is a stunningly polished pseudo-sim racer for the turn of the century and arguably the Dreamcast’s best driving title. A good deal of that is thanks to Gavin Parker’s exceptional jazzy, drum-and-bass score. Peak Jalopnik nerd moment: I once rearranged the soundtrack in a specific order and named all the songs so that it would tell the story of a 24-hour race in sequence.

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22. ‘Horizon’ (Time Attack) — Sega GT 2002 (2002), Sega GT Online (2004)

22. ‘Horizon’ (Time Attack) — Sega GT 2002 (2002), Sega GT Online (2004)

If racin’ jazz is what you want, it really doesn’t get much better than this choice cut from Sega GT 2002 — the Xbox-exclusive kinda-realistic racing game that was often pitted against Gran Turismo in a world before Forza Motorsport.

Sega GT 2002 isn’t perfect, but it has an attitude all its own, not to mention a novel conceit for the time in which it released. The car roster was curated around generations of cars, grouping successive versions of popular nameplates. For example, the U.S. cover featured an original Ford GT40, GT90 and 2002 GT Concept; the game also featured every Skyline GT-R and every Lancer Evolution version, before anyone really did that. Perusing the annals of automotive history to this killer track from Masanori Takeuchi was a formative moment for me as a child.

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21. ‘Divas’ — R: Racing Evolution (2003)

21. ‘Divas’ — R: Racing Evolution (2003)

In 2003, arcade racing games were kind of on their way out. Realism was everyone’s aim, which prompted Namco to chase after the likes of Gran Turismo with R: Racing Evolution — a game that mixed Ridge Racer’s flair with licensed cars and a real-world motorsport setting. The game was far from perfect and has a cringe-inducing story mode in which an ambulance driver is plucked from her day job to return a racing team to glory, but hey — “Divas” from Ridge Racer legend Hiroshi Okubo is the perfect companion for lapping Suzuka in a De Tomaso Pantera.

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20. ‘Splash Wave’ — Out Run (1986)

20. ‘Splash Wave’ — Out Run (1986)

Someone, somewhere was browsing this list waiting for the Out Run mention. Everyone has a different favorite from Yu Suzuki’s seminal ’80s game about the joy of driving, and truth be told, this, “Magical Sound Shower” and “Passing Breeze” are each excellent. All were composed by Sega’s legendary Hiroshi Kawaguchi, a.k.a. Hiro. For me, “Splash Wave” finishes first among the trio for its sunny, driving bass and calming melody — but especially the soaring, beautiful way in which it ends, beginning around the 2:20 mark. I am not kidding — the conclusion literally brought a tear to my eye as I typed this.

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19. ‘Light Velocity Ver. II’ — Gran Turismo 4 (2004)

19. ‘Light Velocity Ver. II’ — Gran Turismo 4 (2004)

If the masterpiece that is Gran Turismo 4 could be distilled into one song, it’d be Isamu Ohira’s remix of “Light Velocity”, a song that actually appeared first in Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. The GT4 cut appeared in the game’s Arcade Mode and is smoother and a little more subtle, owing to the sequel’s worldlier, more luxurious feel.

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18. ‘Theme’ — Colin McRae Rally 3 (2003)

18. ‘Theme’ — Colin McRae Rally 3 (2003)

Look, I can’t say for certain if Jonathan Colling, the composer of the only song in Colin McRae Rally 3, was trying to copy The Chemical Brothers’ “Star Guitar” here. All I can say is WRC II Extreme, the official WRC game developed by Sony’s Evolution Studios and released within weeks of CMR3, prominently featured “Star Guitar” in its menus. Maybe Codemasters tried to get it and was rejected, or couldn’t/didn’t want to pay up, so they made their own. Who cares. I may be a Chemical Brothers fan, but Colling’s take is better anyway.

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17. ‘Headless Horse’ — Need for Speed II (1997)

17. ‘Headless Horse’ — Need for Speed II (1997)

I know most of the inclusions in this list are from the ’90s or early 2000s, but “Headless Horse,” composed by Jeff Dyck and the late, great Saki Kaskas, might be the most supremely ’90s song here. How else would you describe those robotic female vocals; the spaceship tractor beam synths behind guitar licks so jagged they leave everyone within earshot bleeding? Need for Speed II is a weird game — the epitome of style over substance — and it’s infinitely better because of songs like “Headless Horse.” Fun fact: Instead of cocaine, when I need a pick-me-up I listen to the ending of this song, starting at the 3:50 mark. It’s downright nasty.

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16. ‘Spiral Structure’ — Enthusia: Professional Racing (2005)

16. ‘Spiral Structure’ — Enthusia: Professional Racing (2005)

There are some people who will tell you Enthusia: Professional Racing is an unsung triumph, and more fun than Gran Turismo 4 which released two months before it and decimated it at retail. It isn’t, not by a longshot. That’s not to say Enthusia isn’t an interesting game, though, with a unique soundtrack that vacillates between refreshing techno, elevator music and unexpected funk. It also has an incomprehensible intro cinematic that says many important things about god and fate and the human condition, which sets up a narrative rumored to have been cut from the final game. I can’t speak to any of that, but what I can say is Masanori Akita’s “Spiral Structure” is a bop.

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15. ‘Car Tuning’ — Auto Modellista (2002)

15. ‘Car Tuning’ — Auto Modellista (2002)

Auto Modellista. There’s much that’s divisive about Capcom’s 2002 cel-shaded foray into the racing genre, but there are two things everyone can agree on: 1) it looks fucking perfect and 2) the soundtrack, mostly composed by Tetsuya Shibata, rips. Especially this little jam that plays while applying parts to your car in the game’s Garage Life mode. Other tunes sound like they’re right out of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, with their frenetic horns and bass noodling, which is tall praise. You always know golden-era Capcom when you hear it.

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14. ‘Main Menu’ — Need For Speed II (1997)

14. ‘Main Menu’ — Need For Speed II (1997)

What would Need for Speed be without Rom Di Prisco? He established the sound of NFS in its first era, from the second entry to the fourth, High Stakes. NFS II treated cars such as the McLaren F1, Ford GT90 and Isdera Commendatore 112i like titanic figures of mythology, and Di Prisco’s mesmerizing menu theme certainly helped cement that aura.

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13. ‘Rush a Difficulty’ — Turbo Out Run (1989)

13. ‘Rush a Difficulty’ — Turbo Out Run (1989)

Everyone knows the three songs from the original Out Run, but the series has plenty more tunes worth hearing — not the least of which is Yasuhiro Takagi’s “Rush a Difficulty” from 1989's Turbo Out Run. This song rocks harder than anything in the first game, with its punchy percussion and interwoven melodies that make you feel like a force of nature humming along in your unlicensed, convertible Ferrari F40. It’s also definitely worth hearing with a set of good headphones, where the synth drums will knock you on your ass.

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12. ‘Rage Racer’ — Rage Racer (1996)

12. ‘Rage Racer’ — Rage Racer (1996)

And on the subject of “knocking you on your ass,” I submit Rage Racer, the title tune from the game of the same name. Ridge Racer as a franchise is often associated with cool futurism and rave jams from the ’90s, but Rage Racer — the series’ third home console release — is quite different in that it’s hella grungy and dim, with muted colors, a dithered look to the textures and a setting evoking old-world Europe.

Rage Racer is the polar opposite of the refreshing, under-palm-tree beachside cruising of the first game, or Ridge Racer Revolution. And while that proposition might put off some, Namco nailed the aesthetic — as it always did back then — resulting in a very unique experience within the Ridge Racer anthology that stands apart from anything that came before or would come after. Hiroshi Okubo and Ayako Saso’s relentless title track tells you everything you need to know.

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11. ‘Gammon’ — Ridge Racer V

11. ‘Gammon’ — Ridge Racer V

Out of Rage Racer’s darkness, we have the bright, forward-looking Ridge Racer V, the series’ first game on PlayStation 2 and indeed the first PS2 title to be pressed. “Gammon” is the song that plays over Ridge Racer V’s car select screen, and it arrives with a sense of occasion. This is a booming, frenetic track that exists to amp you up for the race ahead, and it succeeds at that purpose brilliantly. The detail of those gorgeous car models — jaw dropping for their day — was just icing on the cake.

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10. ‘Desert Replay’ — Sega Rally Championship (1995)

10. ‘Desert Replay’ — Sega Rally Championship (1995)

“Alright! Let’s watch your run one more time on the Desert course,” the announcer exclaims immediately before you hear this song from the seminal Sega Rally Championship. No matter how badly you did, no matter whether you landed the jump through the wooded section horribly, or bit the wall on the chicane immediately after it, this song always made you feel better. The fact it was all you heard — and no sound effects or engine audio played at all during the game’s replays — made it even more arresting.

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9. ‘Night Fly’ — Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2 (2000)

9. ‘Night Fly’ — Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2 (2000)

It’s criminal that there’s no game quite like Genki’s Tokyo Xtreme Racer out there anymore — an experience laser focused on street racing on the Tokyo Expressway, imbued with all the style and cool you could possibly imagine cruising under the lights in a heavily modified Toyota Chaser. This is what TXR was all about, and “Night Fly” by Futoshi Sato pairs perfectly with the theme — straddling that line of listless introspection behind the wheel and the foreboding sense that a challenger could pull up behind you, lights flashing, at any second.

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8. ‘Risky Ride’ — OutRun 2 (2002)

8. ‘Risky Ride’ — OutRun 2 (2002)

The final Out Run song on this list, Fumio Itoh’s “Risky Ride” is a powerful guitar-driven anthem that epitomizes what this series has always been about — the determination to boldly, optimistically keep moving forward unfettered, with the wind in your hair and, ideally, your partner by your side. It’s a love letter to the healing power of driving and the thrill of exploration. Nothing can hurt you when you listen to it.

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7. ‘Spiral Ahead’ — R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 (1998)

7. ‘Spiral Ahead’ — R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 (1998)

We’re in the home stretch now, so it’s about time Ridge Racer Type 4 showed up. There’s a reason why most anyone who enjoyed these games wants this one remade before the rest. R4 oozed soul, and whether you’re talking about one of the quieter moments on the soundtrack or the sheer funk of Hiroshi Okubo’s “Spiral Ahead,” there’s an underlying sense of purpose, a thoughtfulness to the way every part of this audiovisual tour-de-force came together that made it iconic. Of course, this won’t be the last time we talk about it in this list.

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6. ‘Pearl Blue Soul’ — R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 (1998)

6. ‘Pearl Blue Soul’ — R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 (1998)

I wish I could remember the first time I heard “Pearl Blue Soul,” another track out of R4 by Okubo. It’s the first song to play in-race in the game’s career — an important detail, because each of the eight rounds that comprises the Real Racing Roots championship defaults to a different song, and in fact those songs change depending on the team you choose to race for. “Pearl Blue Soul” is selected to play for all teams, however, during that first event at Helter Skelter — and you wouldn’t have heard anything like it in any other racing game in 1998. That probably holds true for today, too.

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5. ‘Sprinter’— Super Hang-On (1987)

5. ‘Sprinter’— Super Hang-On (1987)

The funny thing about Super Hang-On — Yu Suzuki’s two-wheeled follow-up to Out Run a year earlier — is that it’s kind of the anti-Out Run. That game is boundless and carefree. Super Hang-On, on the other hand — a motorcycle racing game — is about the thrill and danger of competition. Its music lends an ominous, dramatic tone, something especially felt in “Outride a Crisis,” easily the most somber-sounding of the bunch.

Katsuhiro Hayashi’s “Sprinter” is a good deal more upbeat with its earworm of a key progression, but what has always impressed me about Super Hang-On’s score is how mature it sounds. That, and the fact each of its songs are full-length, with structure and pacing befitting of popular music rather than something simple and looping that would’ve been made for an arcade game. The ambition is palpable here.

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4. ‘Slipstream’ — Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (2001)

4. ‘Slipstream’ — Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (2001)

It shouldn’t surprise you at this point to know that Isamu Ohira — the architect of Gran Turismo’s singular sound — is behind this celebratory, bombastic call to all comers that blankets the Arcade Mode of this landmark driving sim. And that’s no accident, because Gran Turismo 3 was the first of the series to arrive on PS2 and would go onto rank as the platform’s second-best selling title, eclipsed only by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. “Slipstream,” then, sounds like GT taking its victory lap, boldly proclaiming it’s returned by popular demand. Ohira knows it’s a big deal, you know it’s a big deal, and there’s no use being quiet about it.

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3. ‘Xpander’ — Wipeout 3 (1999)

3. ‘Xpander’ — Wipeout 3 (1999)

I’m sort of breaking my own rule here. The aim for this list was to highlight original music created for racing games and cast the licensed stuff aside. “Xpander” is a single by progressive house DJ Sasha, but Sasha also happened to compose a slew of original songs for Wipeout 3. The song was slightly sped up for the game, a change that makes it better and better-suited for racing, in my opinion. But whether you’re listening to this version or the original, “Xpander” is a glimmering, gorgeous wave of sound cleverly plucked for Wipeout 3's refreshing, tongue-in-cheek vision of the future supplied by The Designers Republic. There’s a good reason it’s hailed in such high regard by dance music fans.

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2. ‘Romulus 3’ — Need for Speed II SE (1997), Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit (1998)

2. ‘Romulus 3’ — Need for Speed II SE (1997), Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit (1998)

They just don’t make ’em like this anymore. Rom Di Prisco’s magnum opus, the song that indelibly embedded itself in the mind of anyone who played Need for Speed II SE on the PC or Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit, “Romulus 3” is everything good about that brief, fleeting moment when racing games and drum-and-bass were king. I could spend all day hearing it loop in NFS’ Showcase mode, behind announcer/franchise voice-of-god Jim Conrad rattling off facts about the Ford GT90 in his trademark smooth but slightly threatening tone. In retrospect, that’s probably why I write about cars for a living now.

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1. ‘Move Me’ — R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 (1998)

1. ‘Move Me’ — R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 (1998)

Ordering this list was hard, but there was never a doubt figuring out which song would place first. Of all the songs in Ridge Racer Type 4's soundtrack, Kohta Takahasi’s “Move Me” is the one often singled out as the favorite by so many. It embodies that delicate line between beauty and adrenaline that R4 nails so well and that sets it apart from other racers, so it’s easy to see why. In the comments of this very YouTube video embedded above, Takahashi, ever modest, outlined the ingredients of the song:

R4's “Move Me” is made of these ingredients.

1. With my favorite R&B keyboard
2. Secretly entwined my favorite Hiphop beat
3. Add my roots, HM/HR guitar and drums
4. The above elements are put on a drum & bass that I was not good at and did not know.

More recently, rapper JPEGMAFIA sampled “Move Me” for his song “Bald” — a repurposing Takahashi noticed and applauded in another comment:

Glad you all like the song. And to elaborate on what I think is cool about JPEGMAFIA, the eye-catching point is that they dared to repeat the thin ensemble part at the beginning of the song to increase the tension, instead of using the heavy ensemble of the main theme.

Game recognizing game; it warms your heart. Hopefully you enjoyed this list; let me know your opinions of it in the comments below, along with any honorable mentions you wish made the cut. Believe me, there were a lot of worthy contenders that didn’t.

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