So I'm walking around this huge warehouse of old CDs and vinyl - called Cheapo's here in Austin - and what do I come across?
That's right. It's Nintendo's "White Knuckle Scorin'", a compilation CD released way back in 1991. Now, I confess, even as a big Nintendo fan, I'd never heard of this thing before. Naturally, I had to buy it. (Anything with a picture of Mario on it, am I right folks?)
Well, I've taken it home. I've listened to it a couple of times. I've read the accompanying comic book. And I'm here to tell you, dear Negative World, that Nintendo's "White Knuckle Scorin'" is totally wack. In fact, it's so hilariously wack, I've written a Top 10 all about how wack it is. Strap on your waterpacks. This is gonna hurt.
Here we go...
Top 10 Weird Things About Nintendo's "White Knuckle Scorin'"
This album comes with with a CD booklet that has a Mario comic in the pages. So I think it's safe to assume that this is aimed at kids, right? It's Mario. It's about the virtues of reading. I think that's a fair assumption.
Okay, so with that out of the way, let's look at the album cover specifically.
Now there's the fashion of the late eighties punching you in the eye! (Punching even harder than Mario's punching that Goomba, even.)
I admit from the start that this could be a lot worse than it is. At least it's playful and colorful. But a few points, anyway:
- What the heck does "White Knuckle Scorin'" even mean? Is that some gamer terminology I've never heard before? It's particularly ironic considering Nintendo was the company that did away with high score style games. Yet here we are, in 1991, talking about high scores again on a Nintendo product.
It's such a weird name that I've seriously been searching for some kind of double entendre in there. But I can't work one out. It has the word "Score", so maybe that's something. Who knows?
- It's 2011, and I've still never played a Mario game where the sprites were that big.
- What's with the chick on top of the TV? I know the 90s were Xtreme, but I don't remember any "TV Sitter" fad.
- Is that a CD player falling over there, or is that supposed to be the console? Cause if it's the console, they're apparently playing that awesome game on an early version of the Phillips CD-i.
- The kid playing is doing a pretty good job, but he's so distracted that he apparently hasn't noticed his buddy "moving into position" behind him. (I hope he's been watching Sonic.)
- Check out that chick on the floor. How'd she get in that position? Oh, right, she obviously fell off the TV.
- Let's not kid ourselves, though. It's really all about the Jamaican dude fist pumping at the top of the page, isn't it. Tokenism aside, he looks pretty darn awesome. If his Reggae band was on the accompanying CD, I'd bet it'd be more fun to listen to.
So that's the front cover. Kinda stupid, but not too bad. What's going on when you flip it over, though?
Ah. Bowser kicking the crap out of Mario. This doesn't bode well.
#9 Flesh For Lulu and Trixter: Ambassadors For Literacy
It's likely you've never heard of Flesh For Lulu. But with a band name like that, what kind of music do you think they were known for?
If you said goth rock with a bit of a leather-and-sex angle, then you have more sense than whoever greenlighted their inclusion on "White Knuckle Scorin'".
Now, to be fair, Flesh For Lulu wasn't a puppy-eating, porn-metal band or anything. Next to their name, the scariest thing about them was probably the intense stare of their square jawed lead singer. And, despite banned album covers and stuff like that, their music wasn't actually all that controversial or dark. Their song here, "She Was", sounds like pleasant Jesus and Mary Chain-lite.
But even if Flesh for Lulu isn't something 5 year old Nintendo fans are going to run screaming from, they're still not the sort of band you expect to turn up on a Nintendo album promoting literacy. The B-52's? Sure. Devo? Maybe. Flesh For Lulu? Not so fast.
Trixter, on the other hand, I have almost nothing to say about. They were a hair band because of course they were. Here you can see them lounging around playing their guitars suggestively and all that nonsense hair bands got up to.
Apart from the fact Trixter was terrible, I question the wisdom of using a band who can't even spell their own name correctly in a literacy campaign. Who next? Korn? The Divinyls? The... uh... Beatles?
Anyway, mostly I'm just saying Trixter sucks and shouldn't be allowed anywhere near children, especially ones who can't read and might mistake them for a better band. Like Warrant.
#8 Bowser Can't Read, But He Can Write Letters / Wants To Join OPEC
So a big part of how they try to establish that reading is important in this dog biscuit is by showing how Bowser doesn't know how to read. His motto is "Ignorance Is Bliss" and the whole plot hinges on his inability to read some instructions on how to properly kill Princess Peach. So, there we go. Bowser can't read.
Except that another part of the plot is Bowser sending out a fake letter to the Mario Bros.
So, Bowser can't read but he can write, apparently. Good penmanship, too. Talk about sending mixed signals to kids!
While I'm on the subject of Bowser, can you guess what his big plan is? (Other than the fact I already told you in the title.) Is it a big takeover of the Mushroom Kingdom/Isle Delfino/Mario Galaxy via airship? Fat chance, reader. He wants that oil.
So, this is supposed to teach illiterate kids to read, but it also assumes they have some idea about what OPEC is all about. Heck, I'm a college-educated adult and I only sort of understand what OPEC is all about.
But, you know, maybe kids watched the news a lot more back in 1991.
#7 Mario, Luigi and Yoshi Are Stupid As Hell
For a comic that is using the Mario brand to encourage kids to read and do well in school, they just straight up insult Mario and Luigi's intelligences over and over again. I mean, read this nonsense:
I mean, scratch that. They don't just insult Mario and Luigi. They insult all plumbers. Obviously all plumbers are stupid. But maybe I'm misunderstanding their intent with that sentence...
...or maybe not. So Mario and Luigi are supposed to be thick-headed simpletons, eh, simply because they are plumbers? Not only that, they're the heroes of an educational story! Wouldn't it make more sense to show how smart they are now that they know how to read?
But Yoshi's even worse. He's just as dumb and he's illiterate, too. And apparently colorblind, since he can't tell the Mario Bros apart.
We're supposed to glean that Yoshi can't tell the difference between our heroes because he doesn't know the difference between the letters "M" and "L". That's patently ridiculous considering nobody but Mario, Luigi, Laverne, Shirley and the Ninja Turtles ever wear clothes that have the first letter of their names embroidered on. And somehow civilization gets by.
Anyway, along the way, Mario teaches Yoshi to read. Problem solved, right? Wrong.
So, obviously, we're supposed to conclude that Mario and Luigi are stupid because they are plumbers, and Yoshi is stupid because he just freaking is.
Also, Mario steals Wario's car at some point, apparently.
Just wanted to fit that in somewhere. Keen-O.
#6 Roy Orbison Sings A Celine Dion Song Written By Cyndi Lauper For Literacy
I'm a big fan of Roy Orbison, but it's still weird to me that he covered a Cyndi Lauper song. She's great, too, but they come from such different musical worlds. So the fact that he even recorded "I Drove All Night" is already sort of a musical peanut butter and banana sandwich. He does a good job interpreting it, though, and it's actually a pretty well-known cover of the song. If "White Knuckle Scorin'" has a hit on it, it's certainly this.
I know I'm pointing out that a lot of the musicians here don't fit in with Mario. As weird as it is to see dinosaur rock acts like "Crosby Stills and Nash" and "Dire Straits" on this compilation, isn't it particularly odd to see Roy Orbison associated with Nintendo? I mean, he recorded for Sun Records back in the Elvis days. He was having hits when Miyamoto was still just a kid. And even back then, Roy was a bit of an old school guy with that operatic voice. He was just from a completely different age than Mario. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Roy had never played a video game in his life. (Okay, so there is a specific connection between Roy Orbison and Mario. One of our great forum goers is even named after it. You've got to admit, though, that's a pretty tenuous link.)
And what makes it even weirder is that the most famous version of this song is the cover by Celine Dion, which was a pretty sizable hit for her a few years later. So, to modern ears, it's almost like Roy's covering one of her songs. Roy/Cyndi/Celine. Now there's a Triforce of Music I never expected to see.
(The less said about Roy singing the words "I drove all night... to make love to you" on a Nintendo album, the better.)
#5 Hey Kids! It's Britny Fox singing "Turn On".
For those who don't remember, Britny Fox wasn't a female singer. Britny Fox was a glam-metal hair band made up of a bunch of dudes who were, no kidding, former members of Cinderella. So here we have men who dressed like women, looked like women, and who played in not one but two different bands whose names sounded like women. Or, more specifically, two different bands that sounded like they were named after strippers.
And they're rockin' out on your Mario literacy album, kids.
Now, since the members of Britny Fox were apparently the Birdos of glam metal, their appearance on a Mario-inspired album might make a sort of twisted sense. If you had to come down on one side of this thing, the Mario series is probably pro-transvestite. And Mario himself is not above playing a little campy dress-up (see SMB3). But you've got to wonder what Nintendo was thinking adding the Britny Fox song "Turn On" to the track list. When the lead character of your videogame/music crossover is a guy who eats mushrooms to grow big and stomp around a psychedelic landscape, maybe you don't allow space on your album for a song with a chorus that goes:
"Turn On Higher Than You Ever Wanted Turn On Higher Than You Ever Needed"
It's sort of complicated because the phrase "Turn On" has two meanings, and both of them are inappropriate for children. Clearly, with the word "higher" in there, the dudes of Britny Fox intend the phrase in the 60s hippie sense of getting, like, totally loaded, man, and seeing all the colors of the universe radiating from the spiritual core of eternity out into the heart of man, who rises to kiss the rainbow lips of God. Or something. Drugs, I mean.
But, just to cover all the inappropriate-for-kids bases, the comic makes sure to use the song title in the second way, too, just to let us know that Mario is, um, "growing big" during battle.
So, there you go. Mario getting turned on. Thanks for inspiring that mental image Britny Fox. I was going to say it'd be just as inappropriate if Nintendo had included Samantha Fox singing "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)", but on second thought, yeah, okay, that'd still be worse. But just a little bit worse.
#4 Yoshi, the Inter-Species Sexist Dinosaur
Quick, think about something Yoshi might say.
If you thought he'd say "Yoshi" over and over in a cute cartoon voice, then pat yourself on the back. You know your Yoshi.
If you thought anything else, you lose. Because Yoshi never says anything else.
But if you thought something uncomfortable and sexist, then pack up your typewriter and throw on your mirrored sunshades because you just won the chance to move to Hollywood and write dialogue for "White Knuckle Scorin'".
I wish I was kidding.
Let me start by saying I can forgive the writers for making Yoshi talk too much in this comic. Yoshi was a relatively new character and, apart from some letters he left for Mario in Super Mario World*, there wasn't a clearly defined personality for him yet. He was still something of a mystery. So the fact that they've got him just cold acting like he's the 3rd Mario brother is understandable.
What isn't understandable is Yoshi perving on Princess Peach.
Now, I don't know how things go in your neighborhood, but where I come from calling a woman "smart-looking" doesn't make up for the fact you just called her a "babe" with a "dynamite bod". (It should also be noted that "smart-looking" doesn't actually mean "smart".)
But, hey, maybe it's just an isolated thing, right? Maybe they just goofed that panel up.
The fact that he's getting lusty over Peach, who isn't even his same species, just makes it even more inappropriate. We're sort of getting into creepy Comet The Super Horse territory, now.
Frankly, I'll never look at Yoshi the same way again. Just why does he wear that saddle at all times?
*another illiterate character writing a letter, btw
#3 "Ignorance Is Bliss" by Jellyfish
Now, Jellyfish. There was an interesting band. They released a couple of decently-regarded, largely underappreciated albums back in the day.
I always think of Jellyfish as a band that tried to bring Queen-style production grandeur back to rock n' roll. But their timing sucked. It was the early 90s and rock was getting back to basics. There was no room for Queen in that climate (the soundtrack of Wayne's World notwithstanding.)
So it's that sort of band who came up with the one song on "White Knuckle Scorin'" that is absolutely all about Mario. If you've never heard this song... well, as they say, Ignorance Is Bliss.
No, scratch that. Hearing this song is bliss. You should really watch that YouTube link. The whole thing is rather awesome.
But it's also about as nutty as can be. There are tempo changes all over the place and more mood swings than in Super Princess Peach. Bowser seems obsessed with doing something to the Mario Bros involving a monkey wrench. Your guess is as good as mine on what that is. He also seems to think that Peach is a "braniac" because she can read, which leads to this weird little exchange that suggests Bowser has a sister:
"You remind me of my kid sister She read so much she got a blister A big one - I mean big - on her brain What a schnook!"
There's that word schnook again, too. Is that even a word?
But the strangest lines, by far, are in that catchy chorus:
"Princess Toadstool I know you're frightened ooh ooh But if you knew just why you're here your fear would just be heightened So lets just say, 'Ignorance is bliss'"
Now, that's some sinister stuff!
But let me point out what I think is the most obviously ironic part of this whole endeavor: On a pro-literacy Mario album, the only song that has anything to do with Mario is an ode to ignorance sung by Bowser. Really? So no one stopped and thought maybe the catchy number should be... pro-literacy? You mean they couldn't convince Sheena Easton, who also appears on this record, to sing a song about reading? Don't you think that would have been more in line with their stated intent?
Maybe that was the original idea and everyone except Jellyfish turned them down. My mind reels thinking about the pitch meeting that must have taken place between the band and the label. "You guys want to be the next Queen, huh? Well I've got your very own Flash Gordon lined up already. What do you know about Mario?"
#2 Princess Peach says FU----
Okay, she says "Fudge". But, come on. Who do they think they're kidding?
#1 The Strange Combination of Vocabulary Building and Near Illiterate Drivel
The absolute weirdest thing about "White Knuckle Scorin'" is the text of the story.
On some level, I can understand that they got the characters wrong. This was probably done up by some peon who knew nothing about Nintendo's beloved Mario franchise. I get that. But what I find really strange is that the story, which is supposed to teach kids the virtue of reading, can mix so many hard words with so many stupid ones.
Like, check this out:
Okay. Here's Luigi using big French words. Sure. But then there's this, too:
Did I just read that? The literacy story has someone saying "Whas' up?" Not even, "What's Up", but actually a brand new contraction, invented for English specifically for Yoshi to say to the Mario Bros? And which breaks all established usage of the apostrophe? Are you kidding me?
You've also got a word like brigands:
Not a super difficult word, but probably challenging for kids. But there it is sitting right next to some nonsense about lard chips.
Suck an egg? I mean, that's a little rude, isn't it? If that phrase was in your kids' Little Golden Book, you probably wouldn't read it to them, right? I know I wouldn't. So why are Mario and Luigi teaching your kid to read it?
But that's not the only time the word "suck" gets thrown around (next to another pretty advanced word):
So, you know, reading is important, kids. But it's okay to suck at math. Mario does. And it's also okay to use the word "sucked". Use it around your parents.
Bad puns stolen from the ninja turtles.
Outright sexual innuendo.
Faux-Medieval speak that's sure to confuse illiterate kids.
Words so hard (and French) that even I had to look them up.
Wait a second. The internet is telling me that word means cleavage. What the heck? This Mario story has Peach stuffing things in her cleavage? Let me pull out here and get a better idea of what's going on around this scene.
What? The narrator is commenting on the shape of her chest? In a kids story? What kind of inappropriate sexist crap is this? Who is the sexist writer who ca...
Oh no no.
Oh no no no.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? This reads like it was written by someone who's just learned the power of the written word. Someone who can't navigate the subtle tonal shifts of the English language, yet. And someone who has an obsession with Peach's, uhm, dynamite bod. Could it be? Could it be that this story was actually written by...