Many people scan the track list to music games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero for their favorite songs. They’ll evaluate the list by one metric: “How many songs does it have that I like?” That’s fair, I suppose.
But the more I play music games, the more I start looking forward to seeing which songs and bands I’ll end up enjoying rather than which ones I already like. The more names I don’t recognize on a soundtrack, the better. Some songs are so fun to play that I can’t help but get into them, and others are just good pieces of music period. Over the years, I’ve gotten into my fair share of songs because of Rock Band, and these five have stuck with me the most.
“Date with the Night” by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I’d heard of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs long before Rock Band, but I knew them mostly by their single “Maps,” a song I didn’t hate but didn’t necessarily love either. Then I saw a video of someone playing “Date with the Night” in Rock Band and immediately bought the song. I haven’t looked back since, and it’s still one of the best songs in my Rock Band collection.
In retrospect, “Date with the Night” isn’t the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s best song, or even the best song on their album “Fever to Tell” (that honor belongs to “Tick”), but I only know that because of how many times I’ve listened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which I only did because of Rock Band. Thanks, Rock Band.
“I Think I’m Paranoid” by Garbage
As far as my memory’s concerned, this is the Rock Band song. I’ve played this song so many times, both alone as I tried to get my virtual rock band the fans and cash it deserved and with friends, that it’s become ingrained in my memory forever. Every time I think back to the first Rock Band, I think of Shirley Manson’s crooning chorus, the grungy and waning guitar riff, and the echoing drum beats.
I wouldn’t hold “I Think I’m Paranoid” in that high esteem as far as personal favorites go, but it’s stuck with me for much longer than I thought it would, and I can play every part of this song as though it were an old jacket. It just fits me, you know?
“My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit
I didn’t discover “My Own Worst Enemy” through Rock Band. In fact, I’d heard it a lot by the time Rock Band 2 came out in 2008, on the radio and on those ads for rock compilation albums you’ll watch if stay up late enough. I’d heard it so many times it had become background noise, like a lot of music from its time period.
But after playing it a few times in Rock Band 2, I gained a new appreciation for it. I still wouldn’t say it’s all time-favorite, but it’s a ridiculously fun song to play. While the lyrics aren’t particularly meaningful, they’re catchy, and they’re the kind of thing you can get just about anyone to sing. It’s a classic case for why you shouldn’t necessarily just a look at a setlist as a list of songs you like and a bunch of other that you don’t. Sometimes the most fun songs to play aren’t the best ones.
“Good Vibrations (Live)” by The Beach Boys
A lot of people will give me flack for not knowing “Good Vibrations” was one of the best songs ever made before Rock Band 3 came out (2010), but what can I say — I’m in my 20s. It’s actually been long enough since I first heard it that I was looking through all the Rock Band set lists to see which ones will make the transition to Rock Band 4 that I looked at this song and said, “Oh right! This is how I discovered this song!”
You don’t need me to tell you how great “Good Vibrations” is — just listen to it. But how much I love this song now versus not knowing it existed before Rock Band is the perfect case study for how Rock Band can be a gateway to discover new music. Yes, us “kids” (I’m a legal adult, damn it!) still have good taste.
“Friday I’m in Love” by The Cure
My love affair with this song is fairly recent because it’s on the Rock Band 4 (read our review here) soundtrack, but that’s what makes it so powerful: It still sounds new to me, and I’m enjoying the hell out of playing it on just about any instrument. It’s such a perfect encapsulation of ’90s music (especially if you watch the music video) that it’s strangely nostalgic in a way, even if I’d never heard it until this year.
2015 also seems to mark a peculiar return into the modern zeitgeist for this song, at least for people who follow video games; it’s also one of the cassette tapes you can find hidden in Metal Gear Solid V, even though the game is set in the ’80s and the song came out in ‘92.
I don’t listen to all of these songs often, and have only two of them on regular playlist, but they’re all a testament to how Rock Band is as much about creating a larger awareness of music history in the people who play it as it is about tapping away on plastic instruments for hours on end.