Have you ever been listening to music, having fun, and then BAM, suddenly you hear the first four notes of a song from a video game, and then that song is stuck in your head for the rest of the day?
Well, it’s not always a coincidence. Most music composers draw heavy inspiration from their favorite music, sometimes on purpose, sometimes without even realizing it. It’s called interpolation, and it’s a common musical technique where a musician uses borrowed melodies to create their own song. It’s functionally different from sampling, which is simply taking a sample from another song, and more importantly, it’s not stealing.
But it’s always interesting and weird to find borrowed riffs in video games, and we’ve scoured the web, huge three pages some of the best examples of music that have inspired video game music, even if not all of them are fully approved. And yes, there is a lot of Koji Kondo here. What can we say? The man loves interpolation…
Real songs that inspired Nintendo’s iconic music
The Legend of Zelda “Title Theme” and “Dungeon Theme” — “April” by Deep Purple
Probably one of the most famous tracks in video games, the Zelda title theme was inspired by this extremely churchy track by Deep Purple. Of course, it’s 12 minutes long because Deep Purple weren’t exactly known for keeping things light. It’s prog rock, baby.
Listen to it at 1.5 speed to really hear how Zelda goes and see if you can also pick up the bits that inspired the Dungeon Theme.
Super Mario “Starman Theme” — “Summer Breeze” by Piper
The Starman theme from Super Mario is catchy, and that’s no accident. It’s heavily based on this Japanese bop that’s dripping with 80s synth;
Super Mario “Underground Theme” – “Let’s Not Talk About It” by Friendship
The joke people make about this song serving as inspo for Koji Kondo is that it’s equal called out “Let’s not talk about it,” Kondo seems to want to hide his habit of borrowing catchy tunes. But, again, interpolation is legit, common, and often a great way to cross-pollinate music worlds. So just sit back and enjoy!
Super Mario “Overworld Theme” — “Sister Maria” by T-Square
In a 2001 interview with Game Maestro Vol. On 3rd, Kondo admitted that he was particularly inspired by the Japanese jazz group T-Square. “The rhythms of their music were easy for Japanese listeners to follow,” he told the interviewer, as well as jazz musician Satao Watanabe, whose laid-back bossa nova rhythms influenced the atmosphere of Super Mario’s music. Click 1:02 in the video below to hear the Mario-esque riff:
Animal Crossing. New Horizons “KK Adventure” – “He’s a Pirate” from Pirates of the Caribbean by Klaus Badelt, Hans Zimmer and Jeff Zanellin
Yep, KK’sa pirate too — pirate tunes, that is. Many of KK Slider’s songs are based on real music, especially in the genre they emulate. “Only Me,” for example, sounds like REM’s “Everybody Hurts,” and “KK Bossa” sounds like “The Girl From Ipanema.”
The Legend of Zelda Fairy Fountain — Morning Glory by Tatsuro Yamashita
Fairy Fountain’s gorgeous arpeggios came out of nowhere. The track is so beautiful that we even made a ranked list every version of Fairy Fountain, but perhaps we should have included “Morning Glory”, which has a recognizable melody with dreamy vocals. Maybe Tatsuro Yamashita was getting his armor upgrade while writing this song.