The "Super Mario Bros. theme", officially known as the "Ground Theme" (地上BGM, Chijō BGM, lit. "Aboveground BGM") or Overworld Theme, is a musical theme originally heard in the first stage of the 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System video game Super Mario Bros.. It was one of six themes composed for Super Mario Bros. by Nintendo sound designer Koji Kondo, who found it to be the game's most difficult track to compose. The theme has a calypso rhythm and usually receives a corresponding orchestration in games whose sound synthesizers can imitate steel drums.
Since being included in Super Mario Bros., it went on to become the theme of the series, and has been a fixture in most of its titles. It has been reused and remixed in other Nintendo-published games, including Tetris DS, Nintendogs: Chihuahua and Friends, WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!, and every entry in the Super Smash Bros. series.
This theme took the longest of the six tracks of Super Mario Bros. to compose, according to its composer Koji Kondo. He stated that he would write one piece, and the team would put it in the game. If it did not accentuate the action, did not time up with Mario running and jumping, or did not harmonize with the sound effects well enough, he would scrap it. He used only a small keyboard to compose the music. The first theme he made for Super Mario Bros. was based on an early prototype of the game, which simply showed Mario running around a big empty area. Kondo described this early theme as a bit lazier, slower tempo, and more laid back. As the game underwent changes, he realized that his theme no longer fit, so he increased the pace and changed it around to fit better. In an interview, Kondo explained that when coming up with music compositions, they come to him during everyday activities.
Kondo was given complete creative freedom over the soundtrack of Super Mario Bros., and would collaborate with Shigeru Miyamoto, the game's director, through their daily interactions. Miyamoto would share his records and music scores of the type of themes he liked with Kondo, but did not tell him exactly what he wanted. It was composed with a Latin rhythm. Should the stage's clock to run down to less than 100 seconds, the tempo will accelerate. At the Game Developers Conference in 2007, Kondo commented that the theme features rhythm, balance, and interactivity. He demonstrated this with a short clip of Super Mario Bros., showing the character's movements and players' button presses syncing with the beat of the music. He also added that the theme reflects the action-oriented gameplay of the series. Kondo states that he doesn't know if he could make a theme that is catchier than this one, but he would like to try.
The theme was reused in multiple other media, including the anime film Super Mario Bros.: Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen! and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! television series.
Japanese lyrics were originally submitted in 1985 by fans of the Japanese radio program Takao Komine All Night Nippon. The recorded version of the song with lyrics was released under the name "Go Go Mario!!".
The theme song in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, titled "Do the Mario" included lyrics, and was performed by Lou Albano, who also portrayed the character in the show. The song can be heard briefly at the very beginning of the Super Mario Bros. movie. The theme was also used as a dance number on the U.S. television series Dancing with the Stars.
The theme has been featured in many concerts, including "PLAY! Chicago", the Columbus Symphony, the Mario & Zelda Big Band Live, Play! A Video Game Symphony, and others. The Video Games Live concert featured the theme performed by Kondo. In December 2016, Mario series creator Shigeru Miyamoto performed the theme on guitar with American hip hop group The Roots on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
A version of the song accompanied by lyrics was released in 1986. The song was called Go Go Mario, and is accredited to Princess Peach. The song lyrics are well known in Japan, but never crossed over into Western pop culture due to a lack of a translation. The song was made available on a vinyl recording from 1986 onwards, called Mario No Daibouken.
For decades, Nintendo had not published official sheet music for Kondo's compositions, but high demand for Mario sheet music led a number of fans to release their own arrangements online, often simplifying or interpreting the original version rather than accurately transcribing it.
In 2011, Alfred Music published three officially licensed music folios of the music from Super Mario Bros., one for easy piano, one for intermediate/advanced piano, and one for guitar. These were followed in 2013 by three more Super Mario folios, an easy piano and an intermediate/advanced piano version of the music from Super Mario Bros. Wii, and a folio of jazz styled arrangements of many of the key Super Mario Bros. themes. All six folios contain sheet music arrangements approved by Nintendo of the Super Mario Bros. theme.
In an article about Kondo, Wired.com editor Chris Kohler described the theme as one of the most famous in the world, and that it gets into your head quickly and won't leave. Jeremy Parish of 1UP.com called it one of the most memorable tracks in video game history. Netjak editor Rick Healey commented that though MTV tried to make the quintessential song of the '80s, Nintendo beat them to the punch with the Super Mario Bros. theme. Editors Jeff Dickerson and Luke Smith of The Michigan Daily newspaper commented that if you were to ask a random student to hum the theme, they would likely know every note. Sam Kennedy, also an editor for 1UP.com, stated that anyone who lived through the '80s can hum the theme, and that most people remember it to this day.
Video game music composer Tommy Tallarico cited Kondo as his inspiration for why he got into music, commenting that when he first heard this theme, it was the first time he thought music in video games really existed. Mario voice actor Charles Martinet commented that "The first time I ever played a Mario game, I started at about 4 in the evening and played until daylight. I laid down on the bed, closed my eyes, and I could hear that music – ba dum bum ba dum DUM!" Former Final Fantasy series composer Nobuo Uematsu called Kondo one of the best video game composers in the industry, commenting that he was sure everyone in the world who has come across the Super Mario Bros. theme, regardless of borderlines or age, will never forget it, while also adding that it should become the new national anthem of Japan. In an interview with Kondo, 1UP.com editor Sam Kennedy stated that Paul and Linda McCartney visited Kondo in Japan and enjoyed the theme.
The ringtone version of the theme has proven very popular in the United States, having been on the top ten most downloaded ringtones for 112 straight weeks as of November 2004. It sold approximately 747,900 in the United States in 2006.