Behind the Classic Mario Bros. Video Game Theme

Yes, there were video games that came before Super Mario Bros—from Pong to Pac-Man—but when the title, featuring the plumbing brothers Mario and Luigi, first dropped, it became the ultimate when it comes to gaming.

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Indeed, Mario is the standard.

Truly, it’s difficult to overstate how influential the game was and, as a result, its soundtrack and main theme. Even its first three seconds are historic. The game cemented the gaming revolution post-1983. The title is so monumental, it’s since spaced TV shows, memorabilia, movies, sequels, and many imitations. Nintendo owes a lot to the fireball-throwing Mario.

But what about its theme? Let’s look into its history.

The Mario Bros. Theme Song

Composed by legendary Nintendo music director Koji Kondo, the theme is bouncy, cartoonish, and absolutely classic.

Officially known as “Ground Theme” or “Overworld Theme,” the song is first heard on the first level of the 1985 game Super Mario Bros.

According to reports, Kondo thought the theme was the most difficult track to compose for the title and took the most time to develop. In subsequent Mario games, the song is led often by steel drums. And however it’s made, it’s remained a theme for many Mario games and spin-offs.

As anyone who has played Super Mario Bros. knows, when Mario is running out of time in the game, the theme speeds up to alert players.

Koji Kondo

The legendary Nintendo composer said that he had rules when it came to composing for games. First, if it did not accentuate the action, if it did not time up with Mario running and jumping, or if it did not harmonize with the sound effects in the game well, he would scrap whatever tune he was working for. Also, when composing for video games, he would use only a small keyboard.

The composer, who was born in 1961 in Japan, also had a hand in the writing of the music for the game, Zelda. The 61-year-old has been active in game music production since 1983.

Writing the Theme

The Mario theme takes influence from the 1984 song, “Sister Marian,” by T-Square, a Japanese fusion band. In 2001, Kondo said that “the overworld theme in Mario might show some influence from the Japanese fusion band T-Square. The rhythms in their music were easy for Japanese listeners to follow.”

The first Mario theme, he said, was a bit lazier, slower, and more laid back. As he continued to tweak it, he increased the pace and changed the melody to fit the more developed game better. He was given complete creative freedom to come up with the game’s music. Kondo has said, generally, ideas for his game themes come to him during everyday activities.

For the Mario theme, Kondo collaborated with the game’s director, Shigeru Miyamoto, daily. The director would share ideas he liked but he did not interfere with Kondo’s production.

Wait, There Are Lyrics?

Japanese lyrics were originally written for the theme and submitted in 1985 by fans of the Japanese radio program Takao Komine All Night Nippon. Later, the recorded version of the song with lyrics was released in 1986 under the name “Go Go Mario!!” The song was also released on vinyl, titled Mario No Daibouken.

In addition to that, for the 1989 television series, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, a different set of lyrics were written for the theme, “Do the Mario.”

Since these releases, the theme has been performed many times and included in pop culture moments. For example, in December 2016, Mario series creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, performed the theme on guitar with The Roots for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Additionally, the ringtone version of the theme is popular in the United States. It has been on the top ten most downloaded ringtones for 112 straight weeks as of November 2004. Nearly 1,000,000 copies were sold in the U.S. in 2006 and the ringtone was awarded Gold certification in 2010.

Check out the theme in its original format below.

Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

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