Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Music That Will Never Die: Super Mario Galaxy


If you want the full experience, you'll need to listen to the music as well... 

The music of Super Mario Galaxy is among the best you'll ever experience. The story it tells through the music is one of hope, adventure, sacrifice, and longing; and its emotions evoke inspiration, encouragement, tension, conflict, love, excitement, enthusiasm, motivation, sadness, joy, and even the bittersweet feeling of saying goodbye. While it may be true that this music was part of my youth, I can't underscore enough just how meaningful this music is just on its own. Relistening to it for this article has revived my love for it, and reminds me that this music is timeless. I couldn't possibly do it justice without sharing the videos with you, and you are in for a treat if you do listen to them! (You can even listen as you read...) Sure, it's in the film and video game score worlds of instrumental music that accompanies the action on-screen; even so, this is music that can not only accompany life and make it more inspiring, but is good on its own. The journey this music takes you on is really, truly, one for a lifetime. 

Journey's Beginning

We can talk about all the stuff that you do as Mario, all the minutiae, but I want to take you on a whirlwind (maybe even a gusty) journey through the adventure and the emotions of Super Mario Galaxy. Of course, where else to start but the beginning? 

Or well, near it anyway. The beginning of the game starts with Mario going to the Star Festival, and exploring the town, when our nemesis Bowser crashes the party, erupting all into chaos, and steals not just Princess Peach, but her entire castle. Mario is then flung into space, where he must team up with small creatures named Lumas, and their guiding friend Rosalina, in order to rescue the princess, save the galaxies from Bowser, and bring back peace. The Good Egg Galaxy is the first galaxy you step into, and boy, what a way to start! This piece is such a good example of the majesty of this soundtrack. The driving melodic lines, the sweeping accompaniment, they really sell the idea of this being the adventure of a lifetime. It's so grand, yet still so hopeful and tender in the midst of its swelling orchestral lines that it really underscores the idea that you are at the start and have so much to do, but you are capable of making it through. 

Once past the first leg of your journey, you find yourself at Rosalina's Observatory. This is home for almost the entirety of the journey, as you'll be able to travel between different galaxies from here. (Galaxies are simply missions or places that you need to help in order to stop Bowser.) This is such a beautiful waltz melody, it just is so catchy. This piece comes in three variations: the first being more of a music box, and much simpler and quieter. The second, linked above, is more of a classic, gentle waltz, and it is so tender and sweet, I had to share this version. The third is more grand, as it's nearing the end of the game, and Mario is getting to a place that he's stronger, wiser, and more capable. One commentator has compared this to the music of the classic Disney princesses such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, and I can't help but agree with the comparison. It's such a magical waltz, and I think it shows that Rosalina is her own kind of princess. 

Challenge and Shelter

The English and Americans among us will recognize this piece as the music for the "Melty Molten Galaxy," but I couldn't help but share the title translated from the original Japanese. As you might imagine, this is the music for a volcanic galaxy, and it shows some of the variation of the music. This isn't just a fun adventure or a transcendental waltz, this is a fight for the fate of the universe. Yet there is so much hope and variety in the music. The drums constantly strike in syncopated rhythm throughout, keeping us on edge, while a bass guitar throws down a jazzy riff, and synths and orchestra keep the melody adventurous and alive. 

In the midst of all that's happening, Mario can visit the library and hear stories Rosalina tells to the Lumas. This music plays here, among some other very emotional places. This is, of course, a complete 180 degree turn from the last piece. Super Mario Galaxy is able to capture the essence of bombastic, thrilling music, grand sweeping music, and quiet, calm song of peace. I feel this captures the nostalgia and wonder of childhood; appropriate, since the Lumas very much are like children, and Rosalina acts much as a mother figure for them. Lumas, (which look like stars) grow up to become planets and galaxies themselves, and the stories Rosalina tells them are both sad and uplifting, which I feel this music captures perfectly. 

Facing the Foe

Bowser's Lair might sound a little familiar in this game: that's because it's a remix of the original N64 version! They've added more drums, they've added some intro, they've added string backdrops, and cleaned up the synth audio. In general, I think it's really just a masterful remixing of the original: almost nothing is changed, except it sounds cleaner, everything is clearly audible, and the tiniest filler is added in the background. You feel as if you're on a march to face your nemesis, and it's both menacing and filled with hope. You know this isn't going to be an easy fight, but considering all else you've been through, you're ready! 

This one you have to listen to for at least a minute and forty seconds to get the full effect. Why? Because they brought in a whole men's choir just for the final fight with Bowser! Yes, this is the only time they have a proper choir (not synths) for the soundtrack, and it is simultaneously awe-inspiring and terrifying. This is the time that you finally face the enemy that has caused so much hurt and has stolen so much, and the music is both inspiration and set-piece. You understand the stakes, and you understand what you must do, but there is still uncertainty in the face of such power. Which is what the choir represents. Underneath is a droning in the cellos and basses that reminds us of Gustav Holst's Mars, The Bringer of War, and it is so appropriate. You fight Bowser across several planets, and even inside a burning sun. The punctuating brass lines add some driving rhythmic tension, and the choir and strings interchange roles in sounding out the motifs of Bowser's conquest or of this battle itself. (Listen for the "soup, soup" line for an example of the voice being used in a more percussive way.) 

Journey's End

Arguably my favorite piece from the entire game, Gusty Garden Galaxy's music is just... so good! It captures the transcendental joy of flying, of embarking on a meaningful and special odyssey-like journey, and in overcoming challenges. This theme was so good, it directly inspired the theme for Super Mario Galaxy 2, which I might even say is a variation of the Gust Garden Galaxy theme. Without getting technical, this is a magnificently orchestrated and filled piece. It takes some of the same beats as the Good Egg Galaxy, but it fills it with such a triumphant melody. This is such a contagious, it just sinks into your soul and makes you happy. The joy of the strings together with the brass and woodwinds playing that melody is just inspirational. One can hardly refrain from smiling upon hearing this music. The percussion and guitar keep the rhythm constantly going, and the strings even provide some droning and even some unbalancing sections that keep the tempo and the rhythm constantly alive. This piece does have its moments to ponder for a moment, but they are there to give us enough room to breath so that we can go back to that beautiful, inspiring melody. I couldn't say enough about this piece: needless to say, it's sooo so good, and so infectious.

This one starts with Mario welcoming a new galaxy. As a spoiler, you remember when I said Lumas become planets or galaxies when they grow up? Sometimes they grow up through specific means, like eating a lot, or being given important things. In the ending of the game, after Mario defeats Bowser, a black hole erupts that threatens to consume everything that Mario has tried to save, including all the galaxies, the observatory, and the kingdom. In order to prevent this from happening, all the Lumas sacrifice themselves by going into the black hole, which they then transform into a new galaxy made up of galaxies. So it is a sweet moment, but there is just enough of a tinge of bitter as well, because of the friends we lost. Of course, are they truly lost? They have changed into another state, and the sacrifice that allowed that change was inspired by love. This piano solo is so tender and emotional: it has both joy and sadness in it. This may not have been the staff credits, but this was a suitable and appropriate end. 


My heart loves this soundtrack. I had such a hard time narrowing down the selection, I ultimately had to pick out of preference after giving the whole thing a quick sampling. There might be a lot more pieces in the soundtrack you like more than what I shared: there are more than fifty tracks, twenty eight if you only consider the CD, and they are all so moving. I didn't even get to sharing the goofy pieces. The journey through this game is one with such highs, and even depths, but they all come together to write a beautiful adventure that inspires such joy. If you find yourself listening to instrumental music, give this a try, you won't regret it. It has given me a lot of enthusiasm for life, especially since this music is so powerfully stirring. It is a reminder that adventures and challenges are there for us to face. We can experience many emotions and still be alright. We can face the bittersweet and the joyful, and that even in "death," such as the Lumas's sacrifice, we never truly die: but we go on, changed. 

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