14 of the best Grand Theft Auto radio songs to test your headphones or hi-fi system

Flash FM logo image from GTA Vice City
(Image credit: Rockstar)

Grand Theft Auto is one of the highest-selling and most influential franchises in gaming history, spawning five mainline titles and boasting millions of copies sold. The fifth entry in the series, imaginatively titled Grand Theft Auto V, by most estimates, ranks as the second highest-selling standalone video game of all time, only being beaten to the crown by the phenomenon that is Minecraft.

The long-awaited GTA VI could be set to smash that record, though. The new entry’s trailer is already breaking records by gaining the most views in a 24-hour period for a non-music video, and many early indicators suggest it could become the media event of the decade when it lands in 2025.

In celebration of this momentous occasion, we’re narrowing down some of the best tracks that can be found across the various in-game radio stations that add that extra musical spice to the series’ peerless knack for authentic world-building. Don your Hawaiian shirt, fire up your open-top Banshee roadster and turn the radio up loud as we prepare to cruise the streets of Vice City once again.

Listen to the full Tidal playlist here

Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus (GTA San Andreas: Radio X)

Winding the clock back 20 years to 2004 (sorry for the harsh reality check), we were cruising the streets of San Andreas, the same region as featured in GTA V but in a much lower resolution. Featured in San Andreas is Depeche Mode's iconic alternative, grungy synth masterpiece Personal Jesus, enjoying plenty of virtual airplay on the rocky-focused Radio X station alongside equally iconic tracks from the likes of The Stone Roses and Rage Against the Machine.

The electronic vocals, infectious bass riff and swelling synths make for a deep, murky test for the low end, while the abundance of audio effects can highlight how your system handles musical organisation. Those competing effects can also be a great way to see how your system deals with timing and, thanks to their swirling spatial nature, can be pretty useful when trying out new headphones, too.

By Lewis Empson

Tom Petty - Love Is A Long Road (GTA VI trailer)

Looking ahead to 2025, we have possibly one of the biggest (if not the biggest) video game launches of all time, with GTA VI finally launching a whopping 12 years after its predecessor. Rockstar Games revealed the first official look in November, accompanied by this tune, which seems to allude to what we can expect from the Bonnie and Clyde-style story of the upcoming iteration of the open-world crime sim. 

Since then, Tom Petty's Love is a Long Road has shot to the top of the streaming charts, not to mention the top of my Spotify 'On Repeat' playlist. Combining an infectious guitar and synth riff with a thunderous drum ensemble, Petty's timeless track has (re) introduced us to the seedy and bombastic world of Vice City, a city which I'm thoroughly looking forward to diving head first into on a top-notch 4K TV and surround sound system.

Roll on 2025...

By Lewis Empson

Kansas - Carry On Wayward Son (GTA V: Los Santos Rock Radio) 

Pity the fools who finished GTA V when it first came out on PS3 and Xbox 360, because they didn’t get to hear this absolute banger as they bombed around Los Santos getting up to no good. That’s because it was added to the soundtrack with the ‘enhanced’ version of the game that came out for PS4 and Xbox One.

Almost certainly the best track from the absolute best radio station, Los Santos Rock Radio, Carry On Wayward Son is a song of many parts that opens with an irresistible a cappella rendition of the chorus before the iconic guitar riff kicks in. There’s something operatic about the track's many phases, which also include a surprising keyboard breakdown and superb guitar solo, and your hi-fi needs the energy and rhythm to keep up. 

Timing is key here, but dynamic agility is almost as important if those shifts are going to have the intended impact.

By Tom Parsons

Yes - Owner of a Lonely Heart (GTA Vice City: Flash FM) 

Yes' Owner Of A Lonely Heart was one of our favourite British rock test tracks, and it’s remained a perennial favourite within the GTA community, too. 

An oddball chimaera of a track that defies proper categorisation, Owner Of A Lonely Heart starts off with a bold, meaty guitar intro that hints at a hefty rock workout before the track's funky, almost disco-esque sensibilities take hold. Not only do you want everything to feel as though it has space amid the many contrasting layers and textures, but you need to make sure your system is keeping up with the track's catchy, propulsive beat. 

Good times.

By Harry McKerrell

M83 - Midnight City (GTA V: Non Stop Pop FM)

If you're looking for a song that perfectly encapsulates driving through the hazy, neon-soaked streets of Los Santos in a souped-up sports car, then M83's Midnight City is the track for you. Featuring on GTA V's 'Non Stop Pop' radio station, this legendary track offers dream-like vocals over a sharp and punchy synth rhythm; which happens to sound particularly nice when played through a set of equally energetic speakers. 

Its transition from floaty, serene verses to that thumping chorus can be a great way to reveal how dynamically attuned your system is, as it will need to be adequately balanced to handle the two contrasting elements of this prime pop banger.

By Lewis Empson

The Cult - She Sells Sanctuary (GTA Vice City: V-Rock)

While parents may have been worried that the GTA series was turning their children into car-jacking, joy-riding, drug-taking aberrations, they could at least take some solace in the fact that their impressionable offspring were receiving one hell of a musical education from Rockstar’s iconic series. 

She Sells Sanctuary remains one of the UK’s finest alt-rock hits. Getting the most of it isn’t about hitting this or that element, rather, it’s understanding the heart and soul of the track itself. Everything from Ian Astbuy’s chainsaw vocals to that echoey, almost mythical sound that makes this such an indefinably superb hit should be conveyed with full resonance and propulsion.  

By Harry McKerrell

Fat Larry’s Band - Act Like You Know (GTA Vice City: Fever 105)

Vice City remains my personal favourite GTA of all time, and while Flash FM still holds court as my go-to station from my go-to title, Fever 105 remains high on that list. Being young is listening to your favourite 80s pop hits on Flash, but growing up is appreciating the soul and urban influences of Fever 105. 

There’s so much to enjoy on Fever, including The Whispers’ And the Beat Goes On and Kool & The Gang’s Summer Madness, but Act Like You Know from Fat Larry’s Band is a R&B classic that deserves a system that will give it that snappy, bouncing rhythm and space for those funky bass pulls to really grab you by the hips. Make sure you've got kit with the proper organisation abilities, too, otherwise this cohesive, funky workout will soon turn into a sagging, confused mess.  

By Harry McKerrell

Chicago - If You Leave Me Now (GTA V: Los Santos Rock Radio) 

Ok, this isn’t actually an amazing test track, but it's one of the first that springs to mind when the subject of GTA music comes up. That’s because it plays during one of GTA V’s most enduring scenes, when the unhinged Trevor sobs uncontrollably as he drives Patricia, the 57-year-old wife of gang leader Martin Madrazo (whom he kidnapped and then fell in love with), back to her husband. As you drive Trevor’s tatty 4x4 up the hill towards the Madrazo mansion listening to Trevor blubbing and Patricia telling him he’s “a beautiful man”, the radio plays If You Leave Me Now and one of those gaming memories only Rockstar can create is locked in forever.

The track itself is a bit too smooth and over-produced to be used for serious testing, but it will sound lush and luxurious on any good hi-fi system, with a perfect balance between the bass, acoustic guitar, snare and strings. It should also sound open and spacious, with those soaring vocal harmonies dead-centre. 

Think of Trevor sobbing while you listen.

By Tom Parsons

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Free Bird (GTA San Andreas: K-DST)

“It’s not every day you hear that record. Oh wait, yes it is” proclaims host Tommy Smith (played by Axl Rose) as the final screeches of Free Bird’s mammoth guitar solo fade into the background and the next rock track is queued on in-game radio station K-DST. In fairness to Smith, he’s not exactly wrong: Free Bird is the biggest cliché in American rock. 

It’s earned the right to be, though, and the most epic, overblown track in Skynyrd’s canon deserves to make it onto your list of test tracks, especially if you’re keen on loud guitars and massive, overblown choruses. It’s pretty obvious what you have to listen out for here: do your speakers nail that solo or just play a load of duff notes?

By Harry McKerrell

Ice Cube - It Was A Good Day (GTA San Andreas: Radio Los Santos)

Much of the discourse surrounding the GTA soundtrack speaks of the music’s transformative abilities. No longer are you a wide-eyed pre-teen / middle-class adolescent / nostalgia-hungry adult when you load up your title of choice and hop into your favourite virtual ride. You’re somebody as you pound the streets of Liberty City or cruise the pixelated Miami beachfront, even if that somebody is an unhinged psychopath with a flagrant disregard for the traffic laws. 

Ice Cube’s It Was A Good Day evokes this the most clearly, especially if you’re playing it through a really decent home setup. Recreated through a resonant, transparent system, you’ll become a new man as you are transformed not from a white middle-class tech writer into the king of the American streets. Or maybe that’s just me. 

By Harry McKerrell

Rick James - Give It To Me Baby (GTA V: Space 103.2)

Slightly problematic lyrical content aside, Rick James’ Give It To Me Baby must be the controversial R&B icon’s high watermark. Forget Super Freak, this is the track that you want to play to get the head bopping and the fingers snapping (is that how people dance?).

Anchored by that deliciously bouncy bass hook and defined by James’ distinctively emotive vocal delivery, Give It To Me Baby flies out of the blocks with a pulsating funky energy that never drops for a moment. Driving around the streets of Los Santos has never been funkier.  

By Harry McKerrell

Soundgarden - Rusty Cage (GTA San Andreas: Radio X)

I've been looking for an excuse to get Soundgarden onto one of these test track rundowns for a while now (check out our best grunge tracks playlist for a double-whammy), and the time is finally right thanks to a game that came out in 2004. Funny how things work out...

Taken from 1991's Badmotorfinger, unquestionably the heaviest, metal-iest album the Seattle quartet ever put out, Rusty Cage starts out with a resonant klaxon of a guitar before the track's driving riff takes hold to provide a test of your system's rhymic adeptness.

It's frontman Chris Cornell's vocals that provide the true challenge here, and you'll want a system that communicates not only the power of the late singer's screech but the rawness and agility, too.

By Harry McKerrell

Smashing Pumpkins - 1979 (GTA IV: Liberty City Radio)

Smashing Pumpkins’ most iconic hit also happens to be one of their finest. There aren’t many rock devotees who aren’t familiar with 1979, a hypnotic, nostalgic alt-anthem that has transcended its 90s-era associations to become one of the most enduring rock tracks of the past thirty years. 

It’s rather good for testing out your system, too, mainly thanks to its distinctively muted, melancholic instrumentation contrasted with Billy Corgan’s distinctively screechy vocals. Definitely a “driving through downtown at night” sort of a song, whether you’re in a virtual city or a real one.

By Harry McKerrell

Jay-Z - Dead Presidents II (GTA V: Los Santos 97.8)

Taken from Jay-Z's second album Reasonable Doubt and considered to be a bit of an underappreciated gem by those in the know, Dead Presidents II remains one of the finest hip-hop offerings ever committed to the GTA airwaves. That’s quite the accolade considering how many there have been over the years.

What you want from a track like Dead Presidents II is a sense of weight and presence. Taking into account the song’s deeply political subject matter combined with a hard, distinctively ‘90s backing beat, you’ll want to feel every percussive drop of that heavy, deliberate drum pattern and the real weight and resonance of the lyrics through your music system. A genre classic.  

By Harry McKerrell


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Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. During his time at the publication, he has written countless news stories alongside features, advice and reviews of products ranging from floorstanding speakers and music streamers to over-ear headphones, wireless earbuds and portable DACs. He has covered launches from hi-fi and consumer tech brands, and major industry events including IFA, High End Munich and, of course, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or trying to pet strangers' dogs. 

With contributions from