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.
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.