There are lots of aspects to the game play experience of Tetris that you could claim are the best part: The fast pace, the addictive rush of clearing that 10-row block in a couple of quick moves. (Yasss!) But the theme…. ohh, that theme. It’s a bona-fide chiptune classic. And if you’ve always marveled at how it sounds so authentically Russian, that’s because it is.
“Korobeiniki” (“Peddlers”) is, as noted on its Wikipedia page, “a nineteenth-century Russian folk song that tells the story of a meeting between a peddler and a girl, describing their haggling over goods in a veiled metaphor for courtship.” It is based on a poem of the same name written in 1861. Here is a traditional arrangement, performed by the Angel City Chorale of Los Angeles. (Note the Tetris monitor at the back!):
Its popularity in the culture – in particular because of the catchiness of its increasing tempo and associated dance style – maintained “Korobeiniki”s status before it made its digital debut. A cool example of this is in the wedding scene of the Oscar-winning 1978 film The Deer Hunter, where it’s played at a Russian immigrant wedding in steel-town Pennsylvania. Look, it’s Meryl Streep doing the Tetris dance!…
With the 1989 release of the Game Boy from Nintendo, its wild popularity was a perfect catalyst for Tetris‘ highly addictive gameplay… and a catchy song is all you need to catch fire. And so, a phenomenon was born…
And to this day, “Korobeiniki” continues to be the song most closely associated with Tetris, though it’s not at all universal across platforms. The Atari arcade version of the game featured both original music and re-arrangements of other Russian folk tunes. (Who can forget that little Cossack guy dancing, either?; fast forward to 4:33 in this clip):
In the years since Tetris exploded onto the gaming scene, a multitude of platform updates, and millions of high-scores shattered later, there have been plenty of fun cover versions of “Korobeiniki.” Here’s a nifty violin and guitar cover courtesy of Richard Jones:
If you want to talk sheer creative awesomeness, though, we have to give the cover prize to British duo Pig With the Face of a Boy, whose “Korobeiniki” take went viral several years back. Oh, and did we mention they also wrote lyrics that happen to tell the history of the Soviet Union in the process? With an amazing video?!: