We don't see many of them these days but once upon a time video games were prime inspiration for novelty songs. Titles like Pac-Man and Space Invaders both inspired popular singles, and in 1992 the situation was no different as tracks based on both Super Mario Land and Tetris entered the UK charts.
The man behind the first outing, Simon Harris, has been speaking to Eurogamer about how his track "Supermarioland" came to be, and it serves as a fascinating insight into how the video game industry approached promotional opportunities decades ago.
Harris - who was part of Ambassadors of Funk with British rapper Einstein (AKA: Colin Case or "MC Mario") - admits that he wasn't much of a gamer prior to working on the song:
I had no experience of games before working on the 'Supermarioland' project. I'd been a fan of Taito's Space Invaders, but this simply started from a friend of mine having a Game Boy, around 1991. I'd never seen one before, and I played around with Super Mario Land. I eventually bought one for myself, with just two games, Super Mario Land and Tetris.
Not long after, I was looking around for different ideas for new music, and I liked the music on Super Mario Land (composed by Hirokazu Tanaka, whose credits also include the original Metroid and several songs for the Pokémon franchise), and I'd noticed that it was pretty close to the tempo of house music, around 122 beats per minute, with a 4/4 beat. So, it wasn't that difficult to sample and transpose it onto the kind of track that I was used to producing.
Amazingly, Harris created the track without first getting permission from Nintendo, but the Japanese giant quickly warmed to the idea, instead of hitting the artist with a cease and desist:
I created 'Supermarioland' before even thinking about getting in touch with Nintendo. But when we did, it was really well received, and they loved both the idea and the track.
Not only did they like it, they wanted an entire album of Mario songs. The process was surprisingly straightforward, at least in the UK and Japan:
Nintendo UK were fantastic, and they helped in all kinds of ways with the marketing, supplying us with pictures and giving us access to the guy in the Mario suit. He did all sorts of TV shows with us. Nintendo USA, though, had no clue what we wanted to do, and were very unresponsive. We could never seem to get through to the right person, so in the end 'Supermarioland' didn't get released in the USA. It was just getting too difficult.
However, we got a great response from a label in Japan, called Alfa Records. They were very enthusiastic. The guy there was called Hiro Masakazu, and he had a friend who worked at Game Freak, who in turn knew the Nintendo people in Kyoto. So, we went to Japan to discuss making an album - which I ended up making, of course - and actually went to Nintendo's Kyoto HQ to ask permission.
During this visit, Harris got to meet the big man himself:
We were shown into their boardroom, and in walked Miyamoto himself. We had a long chat about the project, surrounded by a lot of other Nintendo staff and developers. Miyamoto loved 'Supermarioland', the song, and the idea for a full album - and he gave us permission to release one, with Nintendo supplying us with bona-fide Mario artwork, too.
Supermarioland managed to make its way into the UK top ten singles chart - back when that actually meant something - and the album, entitled "Super Mario Compact Disco", arrived in 1993 with songs from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario Kart, as well as other games in the series, but sadly failed to chart and is now worth a small fortune on CD.
In 1994, Harris and Einstein tried to repeat their success with another famous video game property:
We tried to emulate the same kind of idea as 'Supermarioland' with Street Fighter 2. Capcom were very nice, and gave us permission, and helped us, but the song didn't take off like Mario had. But then, nothing can beat Mario. He really is the greatest video game character of all time.
Did you buy this single back in the day, or is this your first exposure to this piece of musical history? Let us know by laying down some "phat beats" in the comments section below.