The Ten Most Influential Skate Soundtracks
Most ’80s skateboarding soundtracks were steeped in punk rock, mimicking their older relatives, surf movies. That flipped to hip-hop in the ’90s, probably based on skating becoming more urban and ethnically diverse, and coinciding with the genre’s then-underground status. Eventually, all rap videos fatigued people as much as all punk videos had a decade before, because there’s not one sound of skating, no universal soundtrack, but rather a song for every mood, a tool that enhances the experience. A bad song can ruin a good part, proving it’s hard enough to get it right once.
The following list compiles the best of skateboarding soundtracks in their entirety, composed as carefully as a mixtape. The curation may not always be spot-on, but they all signify important moments in skateboarding. The key here is length, which is why there are some omissions of many promos and single parts. Consider those EPs and the choices below LPs filled with singles, opening bangers, and of course the deep cuts that pop into your skull precisely when you’ve tired of the hits.
H-Street, Hokus Pokus, 1989
Mike Ternansky and H-Street were obviously informed by surf videos as much as they were by Peralta’s work with the Powell Peralta videos, and both Shackle Me Not and Hokus Pokus featured “skater-made” tunes, along with some weirdness, and, unfortunately, some modern-jazz-sounding instrumentals.
The flow of Hokus Pokus specifically showcased a breadth of musical styles, most notably Sub Society. Sure, having Matt Hensley as your brand’s anchor helped, but the inclusion of Sub Society’s “A Whole Lot Less” during his solo part catapulted him to legend status. Honestly, if you grew up with Hokus Pokus and Ternansky’s videos, you probably got to a Star Wars nerd level with them, which is why you know all the words to songs by Kirk and the Jerks, Wonderful Broken Thing, The Cry, Loop Zilla, and other bands that still remain obscure in the YouTube/Discogs instant-access world we live in. There’s also a solid chance that you recorded the audio of this video on a cassette and jammed it in a Walkman or boombox, complete with skating noises, which is a testament to how infectious the soundtrack really was.
bLind, Video Days, 1991
The only list that bLind’s Video Days won’t make is the worst skate videos ever made. It’s a perennial favorite, forever being discovered by new waves of skaters, as classic as any Beatles or Stones album, depending on which team you’re on. Everything about this soundtrack was spot on, down to Jordan Richter’s section being set to “My War,” one of Black Flag’s most chaotic and driving songs. As the lone vert guy on the team after Danny Way’s departure, Richter was a bit of an outlier, with the aggressive cut only highlighting that.
Along with the actual cast of skaters, Mark Gonzales’ car is a a character unto itself, chugging along to War’s “Low Rider,” before sailing off to its final resting place. After the intro, it’s straight to business and a then unorthodox song choice, with Guy Mariano skating to the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” Mariano was a kid, MJ was a kid when he recorded the track, and they were both already masters of their craft, so it was a perfect pairing. It was also years before any allegations against the King of Pop, so it wasn’t creepy, either.
A crushing Dinosaur Jr cover of a Cure classic, complete with abrupt ending, Hüsker Dü, the friend band Milk—all perfectly pace the landmark video, but it’s the placement of John Coltrane and the Red Garland Trio performing “Traneing In” in Mark Gonzales’ part that truly changed the game. I mean, it’s such a genius choice that you can’t picture Gonz skating to anything but Coltrane—but it was also completely out of the box, especially when you think that most kids hadn’t even heard a full jazz track until the they saw the video.
Plan B, Questionable, 1992
Everything you know about modern skate videos owes as much to Mike Ternansky as it does Peralta. Stylistically, Ternansky’s imprint on skating is massive, creating the blue-print of the “big” video: Start with the unknown ripper, anchor it with the biggest name, pepper in slams, demo footage, and some off the board antics, and make sure the songs are memorable. Notice I didn’t necessarily say good; I said memorable.
I think we need to start by saying that this video features two Primus songs and one Primus t-shirt. Let that marinate for a bit. Yikes. Also, in addition to introducing Hieroglyphics to the world in a track that no human outside of the Bay Area owned prior to widespread use of the internet, Questionable featured Rick Howard skating to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, a band that only diehard, UK indie fans knew about before they hit the dollar bin in the US.
Also, you had megatrend forecasting with the kings of bro-hymns: a pre-fame Green Day appearance; Pennywise, before they became as popular as those sunglasses that everyone in California wears and energy drinks; and the Beastie Boys, then on a rebound.
You see, the Beasties were experiencing a massive musical hangover, after Paul’s Boutique, but before it became a thing to call it the Sgt. Pepper’s of hip-hop. And their inclusion in Mike Carroll’s part—three times—was part of the spark that saw them rise past their former, initial “novelty song” status. And Fu-Schinckens. For real. Fu-Schinckens were a thing and somehow it’s a perfect fit to Sean Sheffey’s part.
Unfortunately, the inclusion of a Bad Brains track laced with homophobic lyrics is a stain on this soundtrack, especially when there’s no shortage of better, less offensive cuts.
World Industries, Love Child, 1992
Though I was tempted to include World’s first video, Rubbish Heap, for its an “anti-soundtrack,” Love Child made the cut for completely changing what songs could be considered “skateable.”
As the industry changed in the ’90s, morphing from scuzzy punk rock to a bright, boisterous hip-hop/rave-hybrid, World’s second full-length—which, at 18 minutes, wasn’t really—went in an unexpected direction: oldies, R&B, soul, one classic rock track, and even some indescribable randoms. There was Chico Brenes rolling to “Born to Be Wild,” the surprisingly clean-for-the-time stylings of Jed Walters to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, and a two-song closer with Daewon song performing the first hardflip on film. Not forgetting the title cut by the Supremes and The Osmonds’ “One Bad Apple.”
Allegedly, it was Rocco who lead the music supervision, which was not only revolutionary, weird, and maybe ironic, but also one that would never pass through Legal in 2016.
FTC, Penal Code 100A, 1996
If Love Child showed that skateboarding could work with R&B, FTC’s Penal Code 100A proved that it was agnostic of genre. Now, anything could be used without seeming “cheeky.” Aaron Meza’s song selections dug through the crates for cuts as diverse as Van Morrisson’s “Caravan” and a Ras Kass track featuring Coolio (that actually works).
Was the choice of “Family Affair,” by Sly and The Family Stone quite literal for a “friends” montage? Yeah, sure, but it was also perfect, along with The Isley Brothers performing “Who’s That Lady?” during another montage. While opening act Bobby Puleo has mentioned that the Van Morrisson track isn’t his favorite, there’s a second inclusion that almost didn’t end up in the video, and which remains its most popular: “Uptown Top Ranking,” by Althea Forrest and Donna Reid may not have been known to most when Penal Code 100A was released, but during Keith Hufnagel’s section, both this track and Huf’s pop style became simultaneously legendary.
Toy Machine, Welcome To Hell, 1996
With every rider tossing themselves off the biggest feature, the task for Jamie Thomas was finding the right sounds to go with the carnage, and he did, going with some very “big” tunes to complement the skating.
It would have been easy to just set the skating to a string of metal and punk tunes, but instead, Thomas stuck with the tradition of finding songs that felt like part of each skater’s personality. After a thrashing opening cut by Lard, the tone of Welcome To Hell was set by one of the Misfits’ least-aggro tracks, “London Dungeon,” to Mike Maldonado’s pummeling part. While Elissa Steamer recently admitted that she would have rather skated to Slayer over the Sundays, it was another perfect pairing, which segued perfectly in the psychedelic classic “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2,” followed by Satva Leung going in with smooth jazz.
Then things got loud. Back-to-back Sabbath and the controlled cacophony of Sonic Youth kept the destruction going, before Thomas himself closed the video out in epic fashion, including Iron Maiden blazing through “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” which, like most Maiden tracks, is about death.
Zoo York, Mixtape, 1998
Underworld Element’s Skypager might have been the first true mixtape soundtrack, but Zoo York’s first full-length was absolute mastery that took the medium a step further by including live freestyles and performances from the Stretch and Bobbito show. The footage filmed by Eli Gesner instantly became as iconic as the urban backdrop most of the footage was filmed against by R.B. Umali.
From a young Busta Rhymes to Ghostface and Method Man, the entire mix flowed along with the Zoo Crew’s skating, creating a seamless snapshot of East Coast skating. As the only all hip-hop soundtrack on the list, Mixtape showed that skating was as much about style, delivery, and attitude as it was about tricks and spots. I mean, is the Cube at Astor Place technically a spot? Night footage looks cool there, so it really doesn’t matter. From the moment DJ Roc Raida drops the needle at the beginning, the East is in the house, and of course, the skating backed up all the New York bravado.
Lakai, Fully Flared, 2007
So storied that they made a documentary about the making-of a documentary about skateboarding. Fully Flared lived up to the hype, becoming a permanent Moment in skateboarding, although it’s foggy as to who actually picked what song for what part.
Highlights include the two-track inclusion of Band of Horses in Guy Mariano’s comeback part—it pretty much cemented them in the canon of “bands that skaters like, that kinda, don’t really have anything to do with skating.”
Many of the choices seem completely informed by their subjects, most notably, having some Brits skate to a Britpop staple by Charlatans. Other times, it’s so random that it works, like having a very un-hesh Mike Carroll blaze around to Judas Priest. Did Koston really need to skate to two Public Enemy songs? Probably not, but it’s so late in the production that it doesn’t really matter, plus the pairing of Rick Howard’s birdlike wingspan and the soaring sounds of Echo and the Bunnymen are so perfect that the misfires seem minimal.
Alien Workshop, Mind Field, 2009
For a brand with such a history and connection to music, director Greg Hunt was served a massive challenge, especially having the brand’s roster at its most robust. The soundtrack had to be a bit familiar, a bit unpredictable, and feature plenty of ambient interludes to complement the aloof broll footage, which would probably thread each section together—oh, and Dinosaur Jr, lots of Dinosaur Jr.
There’s a nod to skateboarding’s punk past during AVE’s section, through the Adolescents’ “Kids Of the Black Hole” and the ongoing use of J Mascis’ nostalgia-inducing sludge-pop, cast against the modern soundscapes of Growing, Battles, Modeselektor, as well as the somber stylings of Songs: Ohia and Elliot Smith.
Unbeknownst to him, Hunt was documenting the end of a chapter in the Workshop’s story, but his choices— including the dramatic selection of Morrissey’s “Speedway,” signaling Heath Kirchart’s final full part— were a fitting end. The cohesion speaks to how committed to delivering an experience, document, and mood. It also captured how diverse the actual team was, before the brand briefly died and the team, fragmented, was absorbed by the industry.
Supreme, cherry 2014
Technically not Supreme’s first foray into skate videos, but absolutely the most high profile, cherry tasked Bill Strobeck with balancing product, skating, and sound, as well as creating an entire video identity for the brand. How Strobeck checked off all those boxes, introduced the world to a new crop of talent, and even squeezed a part out of Paolo Diaz is unbelievable. And to think he kept it secret until the premiere.
Strobeck’s handling of the video’s sonics were also significant, because he managed to weave in and out of sounds, staying cohesive, yet agnostic of genre.
Whether it was reintroducing a Jane’s Addiction classic or casting the churning gloom of The Cure into Chief Keef’s drill, Strobeck’s choices set up a mood as diverse as the subjects he was filming. Two members of Team Handsome sharing a part orated by a deceased heartthrob, before closing the production out with a post-swishy-pant Jason Dill, set to Raekwon and Group Home, seems to capture the spirit of the cultural mash-up which is Supreme. Even when that “Gang Gang Dance” banger drops, warbling and bending along like Kevin Shields shot into space, it just made sense.
To celebrate this year’s DEW Tour, in Long Beach, California, we’ll be premiering our documentary on the Brazilian “gift to skateboarding” and WE ARE BLOOD breakout star Tiago Lemos.
Shot on location in Jaguariúna, São Paulo, Los Angeles and Long Beach, the film contains never-before-seen archival footage, and shows how at just 25 years old, Tiago has already made a mark on skateboarding, bigger than even he realizes.
Check out more at www.greenlabel.com/tiagolemos.