Famous Songs That Ripped Off Video Games (And Hoped We Didn’t Notice)

How the turntables have turned.
Famous Songs That Ripped Off Video Games (And Hoped We Didn’t Notice)

As we’ve mentioned before, early video game musicians snuck so many famous songs into their ambitious level themes that spotting them feels like finding an aural easter egg. But today, the turntables have turned. Those interpolated themes have inspired a whole generation of big music artists who flaunt their gamer roots by replaying the 16-bit soundtrack of their childhoods -- mostly, songs from Donkey Kong Country.

But not every musician or producer samples the iconic sting of a Mario level or Street Fighter II punch expecting the average music blog to pick up on it. Some dig dug a lot deeper into obscure video game hooks, not too bothered whether their nerdiest fans will ever notice. That’s why it took quite a while for people to figure out that Bone Thugs-N-Harmony replayed several beats from the obscure 1993 fighter Eternal Champions -- very much the bone thug of video games in that every fight ends with the loser’s skeleton getting snatched from their body. 

For their sophomore album, Eternal (there were some clues), producer DJ U-Neek ripped off the Mortal Kombat ripoff for two songs. Its eponymous opener appropriately uses the Eternal Champions’ character selection theme …

While Crossroad (the non-iconic one) uses the Bad Ending theme to eulogize all the bone thugs who failed their quick-time events along the way. 

In these cases, it’s not even sure if the artists themselves noticed. When Jay-Z and DMX teamed up for Money, Cash, Hoes ...

… did producer Swizz Beats tell the two famously tech-averse artists that they’re going hard over the sound of a sleepy dwarf beating the shit out of some pixel gnomes in Golden Axe?

And did Janet Jackson ever figure out that her big brother is the only reason Sega never sued over her hit Together Again

Which blatantly copies the little-known Bridge Theme from the Game Gear version of Sonic The Hedgehog for its iconic refrain?

Even if the artists themselves aren’t 16-bit savvy, video game sampling by hip-hop artists is almost expected today. But when other genres' bands hide their replay values, it’s often because they don’t think their fanbases will appreciate finding out their favorite hook actually comes from Pretty Princess Pumpkin 64. When Black Metal band Dimmu Borgir was caught plagiarizing the malicious melody of Sorgens Kammer from the 1992 Amiga game Agony, it didn’t win them a lot of Nazi-cred having to admit they were once spotty shut-ins playing games about magical barn owls.

Neither did the droves of druids who listen to Falkenbach appreciate the revelation that the folk metal band had ripped off the silly synth sounds of the PC game Settlers on Laeknishendr.

Most (not) famously of all, when DJ Zombie Nation’s Kernkraft 400 -- the techno hit that sounds too generic to be a ripoff …

… and which most people know best from being shouted by 20,000 drunk sports fans ...

… was sued for lifting that tune wholesale from a silly C64 hobbyist game called Lazy Jones, Zombie Nation quickly paid developer David Whittaker a shit ton of hush money so that his house wouldn't be torn apart by throngs of embarrassed soccer hooligans.

But the real Commodore 64 cuckoos are hidden in the music genre you’d least expect: middle-class dad rock. Post-Britpop bands have a surprising amount of video game replays hidden into their very easy listening safe in the knowledge that their Italy vacationing, Buddhist tattoo-having, late Gen X wife guy fans are none the wiser. Muse’s frontman and secret Nintendo fanboy Matthew Bellamy may have said in interviews that their hit Bliss was inspired by “some children's music programme” …

But that’s just him cleverly hiding that it’s an earworm from endlessly booting up the Nintendo game Top Gear.

That he spent all his teen years playing on the living room NES instead of smoking fags and snogging girls is further reinforced in In Your World

Which has a piano intro begging to be compared to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor … 

to apparently distract fans from the realization that the actual melody’s much closer to a Bach replay in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Similarly, Chris Martin from Coldplay has publicly been called out as a Nintendo fanboy. After the release of Viva La Vida, the official soundtrack of every emotional sports highlight package ever ...

One of the many plagiarism accusations came from small-time indie band Creaky Boards, whose lead singer Andrew Hoepfner claimed Martin had copied their similar single The Song I Didn’t Write.

However, after being shown irrefutable proof that Martin got there first, Hoepfner pivoted by admitting that he, like Martin, was just ripping off the “Fairy Theme” from The Legend of Zelda

If that link to the past doesn’t sound anything like what Chris Martin wrote: It turns out Hoepfner wasn’t wrong, he was just early. Had he waited another 8 years, those Zelda accusations would’ve had a much stronger leg to stand on after Coldplay released their very, very fae album A Head Full of Dreams.

After all, if even your Wikipedia page mentions you’re obsessed with video games and fairies, you might as well indulge yourself, right?

For more pop culture ripoffs you hopefully won’t notice, do follow Cedric on Twitter.

Top Image: Niteprowl3r via Flickr, Nintendo. 

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