I loved video-games as a kid. I’d daydream of having my own Pokemon and nightdream in glorious 16-bit. These days, I’m not as dedicated, but I do like how the multiplayer New Super Mario Bros game makes sure my siblings and I can pay attention to the same glowing screen. Since I’m looking everywhere for playlist inspirations, I used the worlds of New Super Mario Bros as an inspiration and came up with this. Enjoy.
1. The Lovin’ Spoonful- “Daydream”
The first levels are a cakewalk to anybody who’s ever held a video-game controller before. This 60’s pop tune is chill enough to reflect that. The lyrics are about a beautiful day that makes the singer so happy he abandons all responsibilities. Even the swelling guitar and harmonica sounds like the players didn’t want to stress themselves out too much about recording. Combine this with the fact that it’s catchy, and you’ll be tempted yourself to play hooky today.
2. Paco de Lucia- “Concierto De Aranjuez: Allegro”
The desert level deserves hot flamenco music. When I first started playing guitar I wanted to be Paco de Lucia so badly. He always plays expertly, but this is a concierto for the guitar, which is fancy classical music talk for a piece that is composed with the purpose to show off a particular instrument. You hear Paco play furious flurries and beautiful chords. The flutes playing as a backing are no slouches either and are a nice change of pace if you’re used to hearing Paco’s electric jazz band. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because this 20th century concierto has not only inspired flamenco guitarists but also the likes of Miles Davis (Sketches of Spain) and Buckethead (Electric Tears).
3. Fleet Foxes- “White Winter Hymnal”
I tried avoiding using a Christmas song for the ice world and instead picked the Fleet Foxes. They always seem in touch with nature. Maybe it’s because hearing their lush harmonies makes me think of mining dwarves (long ass beards of course). Maybe it’s because they use acoustic instruments. Or maybe it’s because the bass drum sounds like it’s being played by a mountain. The lyrics always remind me of my cousin Michael who would always be camping on mountains, which makes the red snow even sadder/creepier for me.
4. Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau- “Waipahe’e Falls”
On the lighter side, I love Hawaiian music so it had to be used for the island world. This is the musical group that Israel Kamakawiwo’ole led in the mid-70’s. This catchy song is currently my favorite because it’s more up tempo than “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “Sleepwalking,” the usual Hawaiian go-to tunes. The harmonies that this group performs and jazzy chord progressions give it just the right amount of Motown feel. To top it all off it’s got a snazzy ukulele solo in the middle.
5. Black Sabbath- “Solitude”
Let’s make things a bit darker now. We can’t keep playing the easy levels now can we? For the swamp world, I chose this track off of Black Sabbath’s stoner album Master of Reality. The bass is dominant enough that you can appreciate how sludgy and goopy it sounds. The slow tempo and depressing lyrics make you think the band is trudging along, dragging their feet as if trapped in a swamp.
6. Modest Mussorgsky- “Night on the Bald Mountain”
I always thought the sixth world, the mountain world, was the hardest, especially since you’re not expecting the difficulty to ramp up like this. That’s why I ramped up from that slow song to this intense piece. When people say they like classical music, they 70% of the time mean they listen to ambient piano music when they study. When I say I like classical music, I mean I love the epic and intense music that requires an entire orchestra to create. I always imagined titans battling or a category 5 hurricane or a really epic game of Solitaire. Well, okay that last one isn’t all that exciting, until you play it listening to these big crescendos or dramatic brass chords. About halfway, it seems the epic storm is over and they play victorious music, making this dynamic piece whole enough for you to imagine whatever story you want.
7. Electric Light Orchestra- “Mr. Blue Sky”
Okay, maybe it seems like I’m taking the world theme too literally, but this song not only fits the sky world, but the Mario games in general. It’s catchy and makes anybody who has a soul smile. It’s also pretty dense, with a lot of the instruments and vocals being doubletracked. If it’s not double tracked, it’ll be played by something similar (the combination of electric and upright bass or when the choruses sing Mr. Blue Sky with different tones). It’s also a lot of fun to chase where the panning takes the vocals during the chorus. Even the guitar solo is hummable. Fun fact: the robot voice at the end is saying “Please turn me over” because this was originally on a vinyl record.
8 & 9. Queen- “March of the Black Queen/Funny How Love Is”
In Bowser’s world we finally face the supervillain. This may be an excuse to use one of my favorite Queen tracks. Back when the band was more metal than pop, the band created clever forms. When it does repeat a section, they play it so differently it’s hard to tell. It all feels so forward moving. The album has a theme of black/white and here we see them get everything in between. In the middle, all the band climaxes and then abruptly stops, to then play an angelic ballad. Then they get even heavier and nastier with a scratchy guitar and rough vocals. Producer Roy Thomas Baker mixed everything perfectly so you can follow the right instruments during the jam and listen to Freddie’s tale of an evil tyrant. At the end, the Black Queen is apparently vanquished and the band celebrates, flowing right into “Funny How Love Is”. I put this song on the playlist partly because “March…” ends too abruptly, but also as a celebration to saving your princess in the videogame. Enjoy the wall of sound that would later make Queen famous worldwide.