In my recent pick-up video, I had mentioned I found this unusual soundtrack: Music from the Xbox Video Game NHL Rivals 2004. Before I get into it any further, I should explain this soundtrack’s existence. Let’s go back a decade, as we talk about Microsoft’s failed attempt at a Sports game brand called “XSN Sports.”
Back in the day, Microsoft tried to make their own Sports franchise against EA and Sega. (This was before Take-Two bought Visual Concepts from Sega.) In 2003, they introduced XSN Sports as their flagship sports game brand. Under this banner, Microsoft’s sport-focused games featured tournaments and leagues that players could make in-game to share on the respective website. The games included NFL Fever 2004, Links 2004, and Rallisport Challenge 2. Alas, they couldn’t make a dent in the competition, and the XSN Sports brand was folded one year later. The XSN service was later shut down in 2006, presumably to shift focus onto the then-new Xbox 360.
As a promotional tie-in, they released the first in the “XSN Sports Soundtrack CD Series,” featuring various songs that come from the game’s soundtrack. However, despite saying “Volume 1” on the cover, there was never a Volume 2, which is funny in retrospect.
The soundtrack CD also comes with a bonus DVD, featuring some NHL highlights from the 2002-03 NHL season, some Wayne Gretsky promos, and DVD-ROM features of the game’s cinematics, trailers, and some wallpaper. Not much to say about all this, it’s a hockey game after all. My experience with hockey games begin and end at Blades of Steel.
Licensed soundtracks are hardly new, sports games have been doing this for a long time. Hell, bands used to be hyped for having a song in the new Madden game. What makes this special is the song selection, which seems unusual for a hockey game. Then again, I don’t watch hockey, so maybe this fits in some weird way. Let’s go track-by-track, shall we?
1. Survivor – Eye of the Tiger
We begin the album with the iconic song most known for being in Rocky III. However, there’s something weird about this one. It’s not the version everyone’s familiar, nor is it the one from the film. Instead, it’s a re-recorded version from 2001. It’s not clearly obvious at first listen, but it’s very clear when the singer sounds different compared to the original. It sounds like a cover version you’d hear in Guitar Hero or something.
As far as I know, this particular version is not available anywhere else – all other Survivor compilations use the one from Eye of the Tiger – so this might’ve been recorded during a contract dispute with former band members or something.
Update 11/17/2018: I realized in retrospect that it “sounds different” because it’s sung by Jimi Jamison, who sung on the other “Survivor song in a Rocky movie,” Burning Heart from Rocky IV. At the point when this version was recorded, Original Survivor vocalist Dave Bickler had been ousted and replaced by Jamison (again).
I’m still baffled why they re-recorded it, let alone have this version be on the compilation.
2. Boston – Longtime [sic]
The second half of the 7-minute epic from Boston’s debut album. I was more a fan of the beginning section (Foreplay) for it’s fast pace compared to the second half. It’s also weird that they decided to only feature Long Time, they must’ve ran out of room on the disc to feature the whole song.
3. Pat Benatar – Hit Me with Your Best Shot
Pat Benatar’s second big hit after Heartbreaker. Not much else to say about this one.
4. Sammy Hagar – I Can’t Drive 65
Here’s the other interesting track on this album. The original version, I Can’t Drive 55, was one of Hagar’s biggest hits in the mid-’80s, before he joined Van Halen. I know of the song only because it reminds me of Marty walking through Hill Valley with loads of bikers everywhere in Back to the Future Part II.
I Can’t Drive 65 was recorded in 2001 for NBC Sports for NASCAR events, presumably recorded with his backing band the Waboritas. As far as I know, this version is not easy to find, and this may be the only place to actually get this version of the song anywhere.
This has a good hard rock feel, more so than its original. Though I am confused why you’d put a song about driving fast in a hockey game’s soundtrack…
5. Joe Walsh – Rocky Mountain Way
Ah, that one Joe Walsh song on the radio before he went to join the Eagles. A slow, bluesy track, complete with a talk box guitar solo. A lot of artists used that during the seventies (SEE: Frampton, Peter), and this is no exception.
I’m starting to notice a trend with the song choices: They’re too slow. Hockey is a fast-paced game, wouldn’t it be better to have fast, driving tunes like Blur’s Song 2 or something?
6. Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’
It’s freaking Journey. It’s probably their most well-known song. It’s better than the crappy Glee cover anyway. Personally would’ve went with Any Way You Want It, though.
7. The Fabulous Thunderbirds – Tuff Enuff
Oh, that one blues rock song from the ’80s with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s brother on guitar. Also that one song that’s easy to spell incorrectly. Good job, guys.
8. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama
Honest question: Does Alabama even have an NHL team?
This seems like the most bizarre choice out of all of the tracks so far! I like me some Skynyrd, but this continues the trend of “slow-paced” songs that just don’t fit in a hockey game. Hell, Free Bird would’ve been a better choice, and that song’s extremely overplayed!
9. Steely Dan – Do It Again
I take back what I just said. THIS is the most bizarre song choice. Again, I like Steely Dan, but this song doesn’t scream “hockey” to me.
I know of this song only because of its appearance in Guitar Hero: World Tour, which was an unusual choice compared to the Steely Dan song Harmonix chose for Rock Band 2 (Bodhisattva). At least it’s got a bitching sitar and keyboard solo.
10. REO Speedwagon – Keep On Loving You
It really feels like whoever chose the songs in this compilation didn’t quite get what songs would fit in a hockey game like this. If you had to choose REO Speedwagon, stuff like Take It on the Run or Ridin’ the Storm Out would’ve been better due to their quick pace. Especially since this is more of a love song than anything else.
11. Styx – Renegade
The final song on the CD is a Styx classic that isn’t Mr. Roboto. Now this is more like it, a hard rock song with an awesome guitar solo. Though, it is weird to hear the 1978 original after being so used to the re-record that appears in Rock Band and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.
All things considered, this is an okay soundtrack compilation. A lot of the hits, a few rarities, and a whole bunch of songs that don’t seem to fit in a hockey game. No wonder the XSN Sports Soundtrack series only had one volume, they’d probably put rock songs in NBA Inside Drive 2004‘s soundtrack instead of rap and hip-hop. They seemed confused on what songs to license for their game, and went for the relatively easy fare. The result is a soundtrack that’s more an interesting curiosity than something actual hockey fans would have running through their stereo systems.
As much as I’d love to post the alternate Eye of the Tiger and I Can’t Drive 65, both songs are owned by Warner Music Group, and I’d get slammed faster than a hockey puck if I put them on YouTube. Perhaps I’ll find a way someday.