Have you ever been listening to music, having fun, and then BAM, suddenly hear the first four notes of a video game song – and then have that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day?
Well, it’s not always a coincidence. Many music composers are inspired by 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 craft their own song. It’s functionally different from sampling, which takes a direct sample from another track, and more importantly, it doesn’t steal!
But it’s always exciting and weird to find borrowed riffs in video games, and we’ve scoured the internet to find some of the best examples of music that inspired video game music, even if not all of them are completely confirmed. And yes, there are a lot of Koji Kondo here. what can we say The man loves interpolation…
The real songs that inspired Nintendo’s iconic music
The Legend of Zelda “Title Theme” & “Dungeon Theme” — “April” by Deep Purple
Perhaps one of the most famous songs in video games, Zelda’s title theme draws inspiration from this quintessentially churchy song by Deep Purple. Of course, it’s 12 minutes long because Deep Purple weren’t exactly known for their ability to keep things fast. This is prog rock, baby.
Listen to it at 1.5 speed to really hear Zelda coming, and see if you can pick up the parts that inspired the Dungeon Theme too!
Super Mario ‘Starman Theme’ — ‘Summer Breeze’ by Piper
The Starman theme from Super Mario is catchy as hell, and that’s no accident. It’s heavily based on this synth-dripping Japanese bop from the 80s:
Super Mario ‘Underground Theme’ — ‘Let’s Not Talk About It’ by Friendship
The joke people make about this song that served as inspiration for Koji Kondo is that it’s equal Named “Let’s not talk about it,” as if Kondo wanted to hide his habit of borrowing catchy tunes. But, again, interpolation is legal, common, and often a great way to cross-pollinate the worlds of music. So just sit back and enjoy!
Super Mario ‘Overworld Theme’ — ‘Sister Marian’ by T-Square
In a 2001 interview, Game Maestro Vol. 3, Kondo admitted that he was particularly inspired by the Japanese jazz band T-Square. “The rhythms in their music were easy for Japanese listeners to follow,” he told the interviewer — also name-checking jazz musician Satao Watanabe, whose laid-back bossa nova rhythms influenced the atmosphere of Super Mario’s music. Click 1:02 of the video below to hear the Mario-like riff:
Animal Crossing: New Horizons “KK Adventure” – “He’s A Pirate” from Pirates of the Caribbean by Klaus Badelt, Hans Zimmer and Jeff Zanelli
Yes, KK is also a pirate — ie. pirate ringtones. Many of KK Slider’s songs draw from real-life music, especially in the genre they emulate. “Only Me” sounds like REM’s “Everybody Hurts” for example, and “KK Bossa” sounds like “The Girl from Ipanema”.
The Legend of Zelda Fairytale Fountain – Morning Glory by Tatsuro Yamashita
Fairy Fountain’s gorgeous arpeggios didn’t come out of nowhere. The track is gorgeous enough that we even made a ranked list everyone version of Fairy Fountain, but perhaps we should have included ‘Morning Glory’, which has the recognizable melody against the dreamy vocals. Maybe Tatsuro Yamashita was getting his armor upgrades when he wrote this song?