Super Mario Jams

Koji Kondo, "Super Mario Bros. Theme" (NES).

Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, "Super Mario Bros. Theme" (Warner Music Japan).

Phish, "Super Mario Bros. Theme (Live)" (bootleg).

Mr. Bungle, "Super Mario Bros. Theme (Live)" (bootleg).

Unknown, "Super Mario Bros. Riddim" (bootleg).

Unknown, "Super Mario Bros. Theme (DDR Version)" (GameCube).

Coco Brovas, "Super Brooklyn" (Priority).

Sage Francis, "Super Mario Bros. Freestyle" (Radio Bootleg).

MC Chris, "Super Mario Bros. Rap" (MP3).

M.I.A. vs. cry-on-my-console, "Supergalangalang" (www.josh-console.co.uk).

Every generation has its standards. Your grandparents had "Mack the Knife," which leaped out of Kurt Weill's 1928 Threepenny Opera and bounced from Louis Armstrong to Bobby Darin to Ella Fitzgerald before ending up as a Big Mac jingle in 1980. And you? Well, you have the theme from Super Mario Bros., the classic Nintendo game about stomping turtles and eating mushrooms that made psychedelic drugs redundant for Generation NES.

Koji Kondo's original score, designed to sound pleasant through hour after hour of frustrating game play, is one of the most resilient melodies of our time. It's simple yet sophisticated, and it gets instant recognition from anyone who grew up in the '80s. Hum the first few notes in public and find out for yourself. So it's no surprise that "Super Mario" has been covered, remixed, rearranged, mashed up, and thoroughly massacred by just about everyone.

The richness and musical depth of the theme is best heard through the Tokyo Philharmonic's 1991 version, which soberly plays its four movements as if the game's tableau of castles, princesses, and secret underworlds were part of Wagner's Ring cycle. Phish bring its hidden musicality to the surface, with a perfectly executed version that sounds like Sun Ra and Stevie Wonder jamming over some kind of Dixieland smooth jazz. Mr. Bungle have their own drunken take, with an earnest and sloppy cover interrupted by more than a few meandering oompah freakouts.

Not every version is so fantastic. An anonymous dancehall producer resequenced it into a thin riddim that failed to inspire any Kingston soundclashes, and the version produced for the hit GameCube title Dance Dance Revolution is a high-speed Shibuya nightmare of organs and steel drums.

But the hip-hop community completely rocked the game's underworld theme, with a beefy instrumental (reportedly from DJ Clue) that drives the Coco Brovas' "Super Brooklyn" and countless mixtape freestyles—one bootleg version has Sage Francis thrown into fits of laughter before he nails verse after verse about Metroid and Zelda. Meanwhile, geek rapper MC Chris throws in some junior high memories and a pubescent serenade for the game's helpless princess.

Super Mario was resurrected once again with the rise of mash-up culture, notably with "Supergalangalang," Josh Console's tough-as-nails fusion of the game's overworld theme with the drums and the a cappella from M.I.A.'s "Galang" that actually makes her vocals sound tame against the tinny 8-bit melody.

Thanks to cheap software and the rise of folk remix culture, these 10 versions are just a sampling from hundreds of remixes and tributes floating around the Internet. Most of them are crap. But it's a true sign of a classic to spawn so many eminently forgettable tributes.

info@seattleweekly.com

Matthew Corwine is a Seattle writer and musician.

 
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