I was really excited by the recent announcement of Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s a good time to be a fan of the series, with 2004’s Red Dead Revolver coming to PlayStation 4 and Red Dead Redemption becoming backwards compatible on Xbox One and available via the PlayStation Now streaming service.
What made the 2010 open-world western, Red Dead Redemption, so great is the story, world, music and sound design: in combination, these elements create an incredible atmosphere. I was already a sucker for a good ol’ Spaghetti Western—the Ennio Morricone scores, the silly characters (like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’s Tuco), the sticky situations and the dark background stories—so I was primed to enjoy the game, which faithfully recreated the genre.
If you haven’t played Red Dead Redemption, you should. If you have, you should revisit it! The tale of (former) outlaw John Marston attempting to retire from his life of crime to spend time with his wife and son is a touching one. Unsurprisingly, his retirement plan doesn’t exactly pan out as he’s manipulated by the authorities to do their dirty work. One interesting point made on a recent Retronauts podcast is that Rockstar were developing the game when the “Hot Coffee” debacle went down, perhaps inspiring them to make local government the real villain.
Unsurprisingly for a Rockstar joint, Red Dead Redemption is more or less a Grand Theft Auto game in 1960’s Spaghetti Western clothing—replete with murderous wildlife, numerous side-quests and many, many questionable opportunities to murder people and cause mischief, such as tying people up and leaving them on the train tracks.
It was primarily the absolutely fantastic soundtrack that drew me in, composed by Bill Elm and Woody Jackson with additional licensed tracks courtesy of José González, Jamie Lidell, Ashtar Command and William Elliot Whitmore.
The composition duo in charge of the score—themselves multi-instrumentalists—hired musicians particularly skilled at evoking the sound of Hollywood westerns, using whistles, violins, trumpets, the harmonica, guitars and more. The game’s music can be thrilling but also touches on feelings of hopelessness and loss. Most fans will probably recognise the opening track of the soundtrack album, Born Unto Trouble, as it manages to convey the feeling of the vast, desolate landscape which comprises the majority of the world of Red Dead Redemption. (There’s a great 2010 Guardian interview with the composers.)
The licensed tracks that sit alongside Elm and Jackson’s score contribute greatly to the feel of the game. The song that stands out most strongly to me is José González’s Far Away, which plays in the background when the player character, John Marston, rides into Mexico for the first time (it was included among Laced’s 10 of the best licensed music moments in video games). The atmosphere and lyrics of the song fit perfectly with the setting and help us understand Marston’s feelings as he’s travelling further and further away from home in order to accomplish a goal set by his antagonists.
It wouldn’t be a Blip Blop post if I didn’t talk about vinyl… The Red Dead Redemption soundtrack album was indeed released on vinyl back when the game came out—a double LP in a gatefold cover with translucent red discs. The pressing contains the full score, the licensed songs and a bonus track by Elm and Jackson (Old Friends, New Problems). The release was handled by Rockstar in collaboration with Wax Poetics Records, with 1,000 copies pressed and sold by Rockstar directly.
I’d love to tell you where you can buy this but at this point, it is probably one of the most sought-after and expensive video game vinyl records out there (barring a few obscure Japanese releases and box sets). Things factoring into its rarity—beyond its limited availability—include the popularity of the game, the acclaim received by its soundtrack, the fact that this is the only vinyl release featuring the licensed songs and the increased popularity of game music vinyl (and vinyl in general) over the last five years.
Tracking down a copy for less than $200 is considered a good deal and I’ve seen ‘sold’ listings for $350+. Whether you somehow manage to find it at a decent price or you empty your savings accounts to purchase it, I don’t think you will be disappointed. It is a nice pressing of a fantastic soundtrack to a brilliant game and listening to it on vinyl will take you back to the desolate plains of New Austin, over the river to Nuevo Paraíso, all the way to Blackwater in West Elizabeth.
Frederik Lauridsen, AKA Blip Blop, has previously written here about “The ritual, the record sleeve and regressing from CDs” and can be found blogging about VGM on wax at blipblop.net.
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