Super Mario Galaxy 2 – “Super Mario 64 Main Theme” (arr. Mahito Yokota)May 28, 2010
It is difficult to discuss the Mario series without discussing the main theme to the original Super Mario Bros., but I feel it is also difficult to do so as well without the main theme to Super Mario 64 (1996). The “Super Mario 64 Main Theme” was one of the songs that defined the game and stands as one of Koji Kondo’s strongest compositions. Defined by a well-defined melody with steplike punctuations, the track is very memorable, capturing the sheer joy of running around in a 3D world for the first time. Kondo was able to capture the sense of Mario’s feet as he moves as well as the slopes, hops, and slides of his world. However, the original composition seems rooted in earlier technology – though the midi are unique (particularly the cute ‘doo doo dee doo’ instrument) and purring trumpets, the track gains far more flesh and stature in modern interpretations, particularly Mahito Yokota’s arrangement from Super Mario Galaxy 2. (The image below is because the track is defined more by Mario 64 than Galaxy 2). As such, the original theme was more about melody than depth, though it accomplished the former superbly. Now I won’t give away where this appears, but let me say it’s one of my favorite galaxies in the game, which is a little surprising! It’s also one of the perfect discoveries to make at about 10 PM at night!
There is something about the “Super Mario 64 Main Theme” that makes it particularly easy to orchestrate in a Big Band (a kind of jazz band from the 1930s and 40s Swing era, which this song seems to work best with). Maybe it’s the midi trumpets and the steady, punctuated beats, but in any case, nearly all arrangers seem to agree that a band mix with sax and brass is the best way. Mahito Yokota took this straight-up approach in Super Mario Galaxy 2, playing the main melody on saxophone with some excellent brass support – everything is simply fleshed out better. The percussion encourages clapping and toe-tapping, and is supported by an electric guitar taken straight out of the score for the original. There’s also a great ‘UNH!’ cheer at 1:08 followed by the reintroduction of the sax, which transitions nicely back into the main theme. When listening to this track, you can’t help but smile – this is the pure joy of exploration and running beneath the sun, play in melody.
The “Super Mario 64 Main Theme” has seen two other excellent orchestral arranges, but they don’t seem to have as high a quality audio recording as that done in a professional studio for Super Mario Galaxy 2 (not to say that the compositions are any less smart because of it – just that the fidelity is not quite there).
The first of these is the amazing “Big-Band Battlefield” from OCRemix, performed by The Runaway Five and The University of Toronto 10 O’Clock Big Band. The sax in this version is stupendous, with a deep, reassuring rumbling. The live recording feels like it’s straight out of a hip jazz club, with background noise that transports the listener directly to this place (the piece was recorded on a cheap recorder live, hence the quality).
The second famous remix is from the Mario & Zelda Big Band Live CD (2003), performed by The Big Band of Rogues (Tokyo Cuban Boys Jr.). The song contains the “Opening” and “Main Theme” or “Overworld Theme” in another amazing big band jazz mix. The “Main Theme” begins at 43 seconds in and has a brilliant sax solo that jazzes its way through a second take on the theme. The drum solo at the end sounds a bit like “When the Saints Go Marching In”. It’s a wonderful album, and another solid orchestral arrangement.