Radiohead’s seminal 2007 album In Rainbows, is one of alt-rock’s all-time greatest releases. Yeah, I don’t have any qualifications to say that, but sue me, I love it. It basically set the tone of my taste in music. In that same way, Super Mario 64 was my first platformer. I was so bad at it, I routinely failed to win in a race against Koopa the Quick in Bob-omb Battlefield. But the sound effects from the game stay with me, from the “swoosh-swoosh” of Mario’s first front flip entering a level to the “chip-chip-chip” sound when you climb a tree.
So when you combine the two, I’m suddenly awash in nostalgia. The music-maker who goes by on4word on his Bandcamp and YouTube put out an impressive rendition of Radiohead’s work called In Rainbow Roads earlier this month. The album stays true to the tone and rhythm of the real version but is so playful it was hard for me not to smile like an idiot as I listened to it while writing this piece.
The entire fan album walks the line between chiptune and instrumental, and it’s simply beautiful, beyond the gimmicky nature of the rendition. The coda on “Bodysnatchers” gave me the feeling of trying to pull off a skip in Shifting Sand Land. The vocals for the track “Reckoner” are replaced with simple synthesizer keys that are immediately recognizable for anybody who played Mario 64. And you just gotta love the cheeky “ugh” sound from a Whomp’s ground pound thrown into the start of “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi.” On4word also included the track “Faust Arp” using sounds from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Of course, I could listen to In Rainbow Roads’ rendition “Nude” 20 times in a row without getting tired of it, each time spotting a new background song or sound effect. On just a few listens I caught hints of the soothing background music for Jolly Roger Bay along with the eerie high notes and chords of Lethal Lava Land.
Over email, on4word told me he completed all this work on the side, in addition to his full time job. Overall, he spent around five to six weeks working on this project, with each song taking around 8 to 9 hours to fully process.
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The songmaker, who asked to go by his username since he publishes semi-anonymously, said he first got interested in Mario 64 song mixing after listening to fellow artists on YouTube. He gathers all the sounds from community-sourced soundboards and mixes it all on the Polyphone software. This lets him add different effects to get specific instrument sounds.
On4word said some users have told him they found out about Radiohead through his fan album. Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead’s lead guitarist and keyboardist also gave on4word a shoutout on his Twitter, alongside a classic Mario joke.
“I’m obviously a huge Radiohead fan, so the fact that Jonny Greenwood himself had taken notice and shared it was absolutely incredible, I still can hardly believe it,” on4word said. “It’s so surreal to think about Jonny listening to my quirky interpretations of music that he made.”
Radiohead has had an interesting relationship with the internet overall. The band tried to break away from the traditional music industry early in 2000 with a website employing 10 second clips of their fourth album Kid A, although the album also ran afoul of pirates on Napster three weeks before its initial release. Radiohead later self-released In Rainbows to its website where users could pay what they want.
As pointed out first by PCGamer, Greenwood and Radiohead have a small penchant for video games. Thom Yorke and Stanley Donwood worked with Epic Games to put up their Kid A Mnesia exhibition on PC, Mac and PS5 to celebrate the drop of Kid A.
On4word has several other Radiohead songs done up using Super Mario 64 music, including Paranoid Android and Idioteque. He has also made renditions of other songs using fellow Nintendo 64 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that are quite good.
Update 01/27/23 at 4:40 p.m. ET: This post was updated to add comments from the album’s creator on4word.