Alternate Soundtrack

Super Mario World & Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head

Kickin’ it old school from Vanilla Dome.

By Derrick Sanskrit • June 19, 2012

Video game music can be great, but sometimes it’s fun to pair your wine with some different cheese. In Alternate Soundtrack, Derrick Sanskrit matches a video game with an album to create a new experience.

Six years. The current generation of home consoles has largely been in effect for about six years now. Though the Xbox 360 gave itself an early head start, the Wii and PlayStation 3 have been on the market for just about six years. Doesn’t seem like all that much has changed from the beginning of that generation until now, but once upon a time, six years could mean a great deal more.

Six years passed between the release of Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Mario World on the Super NES. Six years was also the period of time between the Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill and Check Your Head. The similarities don’t end there, though.

Alternate Soundtrack: Super Mario World & Beastie Boys' Check Your Head

Super Mario Bros. was not the first video game, nor was it even the first platformer (Pitfall!, for example, was released three years prior), but it became the archetype of both for years to come. One of the most popular and iconic games of all time, Super Mario Bros. is what many people think of when they hear the term “video game.” It was the best-selling game of all time until Wii Sports.

Licensed To Ill was not the first rap album, nor was it even the first rap-rock fusion (Run D.M.C.’s single “Rock Box,” for example, came out two years earlier), but the debut album from Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Adam “Ad-Rock Horovitz changed the way that the public and the media would look at hip-hop. Licensed To Ill was the first rap album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts. It’s the best-selling hip-hop album of the 1980s.

Super Mario World followed Super Mario Bros. 3, the revolutionary platformer that introduced staples of the Mario series, including overworld maps, Mario’s ability to fly, the Koopa kids, and a ever-evolving variety of new powers. This game was still recognizable as Mario, with the portly plumber running, jumping, and ducking into pipes despite drastic differences to the look and feel of the game.

Check Your Head followed Paul’s Boutique, the revolutionary hip-hop record that demonstrated a ferociously dense and focused approach to sampling. This method would forever change the way that pop, hip-hop, and dance music were made. The album was still recognizable as a Beastie Boys product, with three MCs and a consistent sense of fun and humor, despite the noticeable absence of frat-party language and little of the rock instrumentation that defined their immensely popular debut.

Super Mario World scaled back from the wanton excess of Super Mario Bros. 3. The variety of themed worlds were replaced with a unified prehistoric environment. The tidal wave of new powers in SMB 3—Raccoon Tail, Tanooki Suit, Frog Suit, Hammer Bros. Suit, P-Wing, Kuribo’s Shoe—were largely foregone for a more straightforward and practical cape (and the occasional balloon).

Check Your Head scaled back from the bombastic experimentation of Paul’s Boutique with a more focused and mature approach to hip-hop, both musically and lyrically. The Boys began their steady evolution of rapping less about parties and girls and more about social issues and mutual respect.

Super Mario World changed the Mario-goes-it-alone dynamic by introducing Yoshi, a dinosaur character whose strength and ability to vanquish foes with a single gulp gave new complexity to Mario’s journey. Yoshi’s introduction was welcomed by the organic addition of simulated bongo drums whenever he was in play.

Check Your Head changed the group’s dynamic by embracing their teenage roots as a punk rock band, incorporating more live instrumentation and performance, which made the Beastie Boys more of a band than a hip-hop crew. The album was also the first one to be fully handled by longtime Beastie producer Mario C, and it was the group’s first collaboration with longtime Beastie keyboardist Money Mark, establishing what would be the “band” for most of the Beastie Boys’ career.

Super Mario World, for better or worse, inspired a generation of platformers starring imitator mascots, including Bubsy The Cat, Aero The Acrobat, and Rocket Knight Adventures.

Check Your Head, for better or worse, inspired a generation of rap-rock imitators/innovators, including Limp Bizkit, Sum 41, Linkin Park, and The Roots.

Mario is from Brooklyn.

Adam “MCA” Yauch was from Brooklyn. Yauch died last month at the age of 47, after a career in which he jabbed at and challenged mainstream culture while simultaneously winking at its audience. At times, both Mario and the Beastie Boys have felt antiquated and unnecessary, but it’s hard to imagine modern pop culture without the constant reinvention and joyous challenges of either.

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860 Responses to “Super Mario World & Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head

  1. Mike Mariano says:

    Wow; Yoshi indeed could not front on that.

    And Iggy Koopa is probably the least funky boss in Super Mario World, but excellent music choice nonetheless.

  2. EducatedSavage says:

    not bad….may i also suggest the first stage of F-Zero with “Welcome to Paradise” by Green Day.   OR “Supersonic”  by Oasis with the Original Ridge Racer

    • JordeeVee says:

      Since I first heard Sigh’s album “Imaginary Sonicscape” a few years ago I’ve been saying it would go very well with F-Zero, but I like your suggestion of Welcome to Paradise, too. 

      • The Offspring’s “All I Want.” If it’s good enough for Crazy Taxi, it’s good enough for every racing game ever.

      • Cornell_University says:

        I used to swap out the Ridge Racer disc after it loaded and put in Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire.  the dentist drill sounds of Tom Morello’s guitar will forever be associated with that game to me.

  3. Emperor_Jim says:

    How about GoldenEye with Korn’s Dead Bodies Everywhere? At least that was my soundtrack back in ’98.

  4. PugsMalone says:

    Has there ever been anything in the actual games saying that Mario’s from Brooklyn? At the end of Yoshi’s Island, it shows the stork delivering Mario and Luigi to a house shaped like a mushroom, not to New York.

    • Swadian Knight says:

      In Mario’s Time Machine, Mario himself tells someone that he is from Brooklyn, and that information was also present in the instruction manual that came with Super Mario 64.

      • PugsMalone says:

        I wasn’t counting instruction manuals (the US manual for the original Metroid said that Samus was a man). I think the manual for the SNES Sim City also mentions something about Bowser being unable to find Mario in the Tokyo scenario, because he lives in Brooklyn.

    • Girard says:

       The Mario games have a kind of fluidity to them which makes things like ‘canon’ impossible to pin down. The baby Bowser from those Yoshi Island games turns up later, sometimes as Bowser’s son, even though that doesn’t make sense.

      Basically, trying to get a consistent narrative/canon out of Mario games is like trying to get a consistent narrative canon out of Mickey Mouse cartoons, I think.

      I feel you can say “Mario is from Brooklyn” in the same way that you might say “Mickey’s first job was as a steamboat captain,” and be making a statement with some degree of artistic truth, even if it isn’t an iron-clad truth statement about a rigidly-defined fictional world.

    • Cornell_University says:

      someone clearly has not watched the Mario Brothers documentary, narrated by Mr. Bob Hoskins.

    • Don’t the live-action segments of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show with Captain Lou Albano as our stalwart hero take place in Brooklyn?

    • You haven’t been to Brooklyn if you’re not familiar with our famous mushroom villas. 

  5. doyourealize says:

    Embarrassing video game revelation time. I’ve never played through Super Mario World. Actually, in all honesty, my familiarity with any Mario game besides SMB 2, Kart 64 and Double Dash is very low (to this day, I can only get to stage 8-1 in Super Mario Bros). My parents were pretty anti-games, and I had to take what I could get whenever I was at a friend’s house, which meant playing mostly multiplayer games like Street Fighter 2 and Ultraman. I did find time to play Link to the Past and actually borrowed a friend’s SNES to play Final Fantasy III, but not much else. When my mother finally broke down, we got a Genesis. And while I’ll never forget my time with Shining Force and D&D: Warriors of the Eternal Sun, Mario will always be the one that got away.

    • Girard says:

       Mario World is a pretty egregious omission.

      Super Mario 3 is an unforgivable omission. You need to stop whatever you’re doing, right now (even if you’re at work), and start playing.

      • doyourealize says:

        I have played 3, just not a lot, and I’ve never beaten it. And I have SMW on my Android emulator, just haven’t got around to playing it yet.

        • caspiancomic says:

           Don’t worry, @doyourealize:disqus, I’ve never beaten SMB3 either, and I only ever played, never mind beat, SMW because my housemates at Uni had a SNES- mine was a proud Sega household. So far, the rest of the Gameological commenters have yet to cast me out for my Nintendo-illiteracy. (I’ve never played a Metroid game! Suck on that!)

        • Girard says:

          @caspiancomic:disqus  Boy am I lucky the chips fell the way they did. If we lived in a world where literacy of the medium assumed familiarity with Sonic games or Vectorman rather than Mario and Metroid, I would probably be even more alienated  than you in topics like this. I think I’ve only played one Sonic game for more than 5 minutes, and that was a GBA one that almost certainly wasn’t a classic of the series.

          ANYWAY youse guys still need to play more Mario 3. It’s kind of amazing. And CC, at least give Super Metroid a shot. Those are probably the two most lauded/formative game of their respective series.

        • doyourealize says:

          @bakana42:disqus Interesting as that might have been, Mario had such a huge head start in the video game character canon, I’m not sure anyone could have caught up unless he stopped being in games. There may be people, like me, who owned a Genesis and never played SMW, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who never played the first 3 SMB games at least a little. At that point, if you owned a system, it was an NES (weird outliers excluded). And if you didn’t own one, your friend did.

        • Girard says:

           I can sympathize a little bit with that as, while I was a Nintendo kid growing up, I was always like a half-generation (at least) behind the rest of my school.

          When all of my friends in 1st grade were playing seminal Nintendo games I was playing games they’d never heard of on the Atari 7800 (we had just moved back from overseas when I got the Atari as a gift, and no one in my family was familiar enough with American schoolyard gossip circa 1989 to be aware that the NES was the ‘cool’ system to have).

          I was one of the ‘weird outliers’ without an NES until well past the release of Mario 3… I think we literally got it months before the Super Nintendo came out and likewise didn’t get a SNES until relatively late in its cycle.

          Maybe that’s one reason why I gravitate more towards lo-fi, free-to-cheap indie games (or weird older games I’ve passed by) over more bleeding-edge AAA contemporary titles. Perhaps it reminds me of years of my youth spent scouring flea markets and budget bins for games to play on my obsolete hardware. (We also still had a low-density 1983 DOSbox with a 5.25″ drive a few years into the CD-ROM era).

          • doyourealize says:

            Well hopefully that “weird outlier” comment didn’t sound derogatory. When I read that, I remembered that I had an Atari 2600 at some point as well. Don’t know what happened to it, but I loved Star Raiders on that thing, a game you played with a number pad, but that’s about all I remember. Even more off the mainstream, my father found an old SuperPong system at his father’s place and hooked it up. So when everyone else was playing Mario and Zelda, I was hitting white dots with white lines.

        • Girard says:

          Oh, no, I didn’t find it derogatory. It just reminded me of a time when I wasn’t a super cool guy who is really well-versed in Mario games.

          The Atari 7800 did have some cool, weird games, and some of them seemed to do stuff even the NES couldn’t, like Ballblazer, which somehow did (faux?) 3D polygons and split-screen two-player in 1984.

    • JordeeVee says:

      *points to the door* OUT!!!

      • doyourealize says:

        Fine! I’ll start my own gaming site and call it JADed Games, which stands for “@JordeeVee:disqus ‘s a Dope-ed Games”. Guess who’s not invited!

  6. lokimotive says:

    The “wanton” excess of Super Mario Bros. 3? Now, that’s just uncalled for.

    • Girard says:

       If that’s wanton excess, then I’m pretty sure more games need it. Mario 3 innovated in so many ways upon the prior games, that it hardly resembled them, despite being on the same system. Such a huge variety of imaginative worlds (many of which you could just warp on by and never see, but that you’d have to come back and visit on a later playthrough), so many weird little secrets and ways to find them, and so many inventive and weird powers. There was so much there.

      Not to slag Mario World, which should be lauded for trying some different things, and not just being more of the same, becoming arguably as great (greater, to some) as SMB3, but in its own way.

      Contrast this inventiveness with the “New Super Mario Bros” series, in which every game looks virtually identical despite spanning (now) 4 systems, in which “secrets” are unlocked by finding 3 big gold coins you know are in every level, and where “new, innovative power-ups” are unimaginative variations on the fireflower (…but this one shoots ice! …but this one makes…coins…or something!).

      • gosouthgohard says:

        Likewise, we could use more records like “Paul’s Boutique”. A classic, and one that reveals more and more of itself on repeated listenings.

    • RTW says:

      While we’re taking the author to task for flat-out incorrect statements, some level of censure is required for sweeping  Rocket Knight Adventures under the rug as a mere Mario imitator.

      I can also launch into an impassioned defense of the first Bubsy game, but I don’t feel like having Internet tomatoes thrown at me today.

      • caspiancomic says:

         I have fond memories of the first Bubsy that I suspect would evaporate the second I played it again. See also: Gex.

      • No fruit from this guy. Bubsy is a pretty great game. It’s a HARD game, but great. It’s experimentation in 2D form, one of the many games that “cut your teeth” the the realm of multiple death/continues, which was really common in the 2D era.

        Every time people claim about how hard something like Mirror’s Edge was, I laugh, pet the complainer on the head, give them the emulation to Bubsy, and say “see ya on the end of a noose in about a week.”

      • lokimotive says:

        I had a lot of fun with Rocket Knight Adventures. It probably isn’t an earth shattering, or genre defining game, but, you’re right, I don’t think it deserves to be dismissed merely as a Mario imitator.

        That’s largely because it seems to be doing something totally different than Super Mario World. Since SMB3, and especially SMW, the Mario franchise was more squarely focused on exploration, and Rocket Knight Adventures squarely rejects that. It’s rigidly linear: the only deviations from the set path were tiny little trinkets, but even those were mostly used to restore health (I believe…).

        I played that game so often, that I could get through the first few levels with my eyes closed. I knew exactly when and where to jump to get through the levels, and where to stand and when to attack to kill the bosses. This is partly true of most platformers, but Rocket Knight Adventure was far more rigid and tight than most other games in the genre. In a way, you can see its descendants in current gen games like Super Meat Boy and Rayman Origins. Obviously, both those titles are explicitly throwbacks, but I don’t think I would be nearly as competent as I am in them without wasting so much time with Rocket Knight Adventures.

        Also, I would be much more comfortable saying that Bubsy is a Sonic rip-off. And if you think Sonic is a Mario rip-off, you’re just wrong.

  7. Swadian Knight says:

    Great feature! I hope it’s recurring.

    I remember reading an interview the Beastie Boys gave to EGM (back when it was a magazine) where they talked a bit about their gaming habits and mentioned that Kaneko Company had actually created an arcade cabinet and game based on them, without any kind of license or permission, and it was never released. There are rumors, however, that Kaneko simply converted that game into a sanitized version called B. Rap Boys and released it anyway.

  8. Cornell_University says:

    mmm, it DOES go well with the chicken!

  9. sirslud says:

    I dunno, something about doing this doesn’t work for me without being able to retain at least the original sfx from the game. For the sake of replacing sound tracks in games (and I do this with some PC games – Quake, I’m lookin at you,) I think it’s not entirely faithful to the experience to forgo the sound effects. I realize you can’t do this with Mario games, and indeed, many console games, but I’d only look forward to more entries in this series if it featured games in which you can keep the sound effects. (Across the room, I can see our game audio engineers nodding their heads vociferously.)

    • Way ahead of you. And yes, it’s a shame (though understandable) that most older games didn’t have separate volume controls for sound and music. We’ll be keeping sound effects intact whenever we can.

    • John Teti says:

      Derrick’s being polite, but I think this is lame. The column isn’t about being “entirely faithful to the experience,” it’s about the opposite: experimenting and finding a new experience — one that doesn’t replace the original, but provides an interesting place you can visit. Of course you’re going to lose some of the original when you start mixing and matching, but the idea of pastiche is that you get something novel out of the fusion. You lose some stuff and you gain different stuff. If we restricted this column to the relatively small universe of games with separate sound effect controls, we’d be missing out on a huge swath of potential experimentation.

      The game engineers noisily nodding their heads while they watch you type from across the room may disagree, but they sound more uptight than any audio person I’ve ever worked with. Those people usually love to mess around with sound.

      • sirslud says:

        Ah John, Derrick!

        I admit I wasn’t really seeing the forest for the trees and also could have been more precise. I should have said, “faithful to the game play experience.” Not the ‘you are playing the original Super Mario 3′ experience. I’m not dumping on Derrick’s fine work nor the idea of messing around with the soundtracks of video games; I very much enjoy reading him draw parallels between the games and their selected new sound tracks and hearing/seeing how they work together.I was noting that it’s a shame when one has to remove them part in parcel with the music with respect to playing a game with entirely different music. I think this is a very cool column and I’m in no way disagreeing with how fun it is to re-contextualize games with entirely different music! But hey, these *are* games, so I can’t help but yearn for the ideal in which these kinda re-pairings could stand as fully functional games themselves, with the auditory game play feedback intact. I shall loosen up and retract my statement saying that it’d *only* look forward to sfx enabled entries. You’re right, it’s an unreasonable expectation that would preclude many possible great new match-ups. By no means was I implying that Derrick shouldn’t keep turnin’ these fine articles out.

        • John Teti says:

          I apologize for misunderstanding. You’re very kind to follow up!

        • Girard says:

           I think both perspectives have merit. The way the piece has been so far has been akin to listening to Pink Floyd while Wizard of Oz plays instead of the entire audio track, which is a valid form of remixing/revisiting pop culture that has precedent.

          The way you’re suggesting is more like the inclusion of an alternate instrumental track for a film on DVD (like Jerry Goldsmith’s and Tangerine Dream’s soundtracks to Ridley Scott’s Legend), which is also obviously valid and with precedent.

          Both are interesting, and bring something new to the medium, and I’ll be happy whether Derrick experiments with the format or keeps it consistent throughout the series. (I think some emulators can cut out specific audio layers, which might help, if you want to go that route, @dsanskrit:disqus .)

  10. stakkalee says:

    This seems like an appropriate thread to say this – I’ve been playing Fallout: New Vegas and I’m very disappointed in the radio soundtrack, moreso than I was with Fallout 3 even.  I get that it’s using “period” music and I enjoy most of those songs but all the radio stations (at least the ones I’ve found so far) are anemic as hell.

    I’ve taken to just using my Pandora and putting on a blues station, usually Buddy Guy or Junior Kimbrough.  I think it really makes the wasteland a little lonelier, in an awesome way.

    Also, whenever I’m playing a racing game I like to throw on some Dick Dale or other surf rock – really gets the blood pumping.

    • obiwanchernobi says:

      I said this about Minecraft, but Fallout 3 pairs really well with The Caretaker as well. Its really creepy and beautiful and lonely.

  11. Justin Leeper says:

    Personally, I remember spending a lot of quality time playing Zelda: Link to the Past with a boombox, headphones, and the Check Your Head tape faithfully by my side. 

  12. obiwanchernobi says:

    Minecraft pairs really well with The Caretaker and the soundtrack to Fez.

    Yep. The soundtrack to Fez.

  13. longly333 says:

    Pumping sand filter maintenance is the most efficient and lowest in the filter pump option for your above ground. Sand filter is a five-year average, and this will save you money because you do not need to buy replacement filters each year during the summer. 

  14. magicpigdetective says:

    Some time ago I remember playing  Katamari Damacy with the soundtrack (except for sound effects) replaced by Reign In Blood by Slayer, purely because it seemed like the incongruity would be amusing. Hearing people scream as you roll them up into your katamari while “Angel Of Death” is playing is surprisingly awesome.