Robot 6

Six by 6 | Six pop songs about comic book characters

We sometimes get so immersed in our little world of words and pictures that it can be difficult at times to remember that comics are part and parcel of the larger pop culture and, as such, could often be referenced in other medium, like films and pop songs.

With that in mind, and since I’m always fascinated by this sort of cross-pollination, I thought I’d make a quick (and by no means definitive) list of some songs based on or about some beloved comic book characters. As a self-imposed caveat, I tried to stay away from theme songs or film contributions, so as much as I love The Ramones’ version of “Spider-Man,” I’m keeping it off the list for that reason.

Oh, and don’t forget to offer you’re own picks in the comments section …

1. Evangeline by Matthew Sweet

Sure, anyone can make up a song about Superman or Wonder Woman, but if you really want to establish your nerd cred, you need to write a song about a comic book character so long-forgotten even serious fans would need ten minutes or so to scratch their heads before saying, “Oh yeah, her.” So it was with Gen X songsmith Matthew Sweet, who penned a rather plaintive paen (“as sung by Johnny Six” the liner notes helpfully tell us) to the “sexy, killer vigilante nun” created by Chuck Dixon and Judith Hunt back in the heady days of the 1980s for Comico Comics. It’s a rather irresistible song — arguably one of Sweet’s best — as the singer looks at the figure he has placed on a pedestal and begs her to forget about all that “marriage to God” nonsense and give him the time of day, at least for a little bit. The fact that it features a really killer hook doesn’t hurt matters much.

B-Side: It’s not comics specifically, but the videos to Sweet’s Girlfriend and I’ve Been Waiting contain snippets from the anime Space Adventure Cobra and Lum, respectively.

2. Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me) by XTC

Many of us look to our comic book heroes for inspiration during our seminal years, though I’m willing to hazard a guess that few took our cues from grizzled World War II sergeants. That’s not the case with the lead singer of this jaunty new wave ditty, who seems to be operating under the delusion that behaving like the seminal Joe Kubert character will help him with the ladies. “If I could only be tough like him then I could win my own, small, battle of the sexes,” he opines. Good luck with that buddy.

B-Side: That’s Really Super, Supergirl, from the bands Skylarking album.

3. Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron by the Royal Guardsmen

Copyright issues are always a tricky landmine to walk through when paying homage to one of your favorite characters via song. Not that it was an initial concern for The Royal Guardsmen, who recorded their 1966 tribute to that “funny looking dog with a big black nose” and his seemingly never-ending battle with Baron von Richthofen only to be served with legal action by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and his syndicate. The latter won the suit, but allowed the band to keep performing so long as they received all publishing revenues, ensuring that future generations could enjoy quirky pop songs about airplane-flying canines.

B-Side: Knowing a good thing when they saw it, the Guardsmen penned several other songs about Snoopy as well (with Schulz’s blessing), including the oddity Snoopy’s Christmas, which finds the beagle and Red Baron exchanging holiday pleasantries.

4. Superman’s Song by Crash Test Dummies

As a general rule, I don’t much care for songs about Superman, as they tend to be a lazy out for songwriters to pen asinine excuses about why it’s OK that they’re big, fat wussies. This song, however, from the Crash Test Dummies’ first album, is a notable exception, as it offers a salute to the man in blue, yellow and red that is both wistful and a bit tongue-in-cheek, reminding us that while “Tarzan wasn’t a ladies man,” “Superman never made any money saving the world from Solomon Grundy.” Yeah, it’s cheesy at times, but its elegiac tempo keeps it from getting too gimmicky and pushes through the novelty to create a bit of genuine earnestness.

B-side: If you really need another song that about Superman, there’s always the Kinks’ Superman would fit the bill nicely, though it isn’t really about him so much as about how great it would be to be like him.

5. Magneto and the Titanium Man by Paul McCartney

It’s a well-recorded fact that Macca is a fan of Jack Kirby’s work, enough so that he paid homage to some of the King’s characters via this ditty. In the song, the titular characters, along with the Crimson Dynamo for some reason, engage in gossipy behavior, accusing the singer’s beloved of robbing the local bank. All is resolved in the end, however, though not perhaps to Magneto’s satisfaction. Like most of McCartney’s stuff during this period, it’s pretty frothy, inconsequential material, but it’s certainly better than just about anything on Pipes of Peace.

B-side: Macca didn’t write any more songs about Marvel Comics characters, but the band Suicide did pen a rather nifty tune about Ghost Rider, “motorcycle hero.”

6. Ghost World by Aimee Mann

Apparently Mann is quite the alt-comix aficionado. For one thing, she had Seth design her Lost in Space CD. Prior to that, she penned this tribute to Dan Clowes’ graphic novel concerning teen-age ennui. While the song doesn’t match the book lyric for panel, it manages to mirror the general themes and tone of the book rather well, especially in the chorus where Mann declares “I’m bailing this town or /tearing it down or/ probably more like hanging around.”

B-side: Um … did you know Guided By Voices wrote a song about Matter-Eater Lad?

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25 Comments

One of the finest services my esteemed Legion-blogging colleague, Michael Grabois, ever did was to track down a couple of obscure songs about Legionnaires and put them on his blog, the Legion Omnicom (adventure247.blogspot.com). There was “The Wedding of Bouncing Boy” by Yoyodyne, and one about Saturn Girl by Misinformed Manzerick.

And that’s not even mentioning an even more obscure ’60s song called “The Great Name Dropper” by a British band _called_ The Legion of Super-Heroes.

“Evangeline” is one of the finest songs in the history of ever…the comics connection only makes it cooler. =^) Also, sorry to be nit-picky, but the anime in the video for “I’ve Been Waiting” is Urusei Yatsura….Lum is just the name of the main character. Another interesting side note: Matthew Sweet has a tattoo of Lum on his shoulder, and he showed it off in the second issue of Animerica magazine way back in 1992.

Agreed on the general lame-ness of Superman-related songs, though I’d have to say my favorite is R.E.M.’s cover of the Clique’s “Superman.” Also, it’s kind of cheating since they pretty much exclusively write songs about comics, but I *LOVE* Kirby Krackle’s “Ring Capacity,” and I’m not even a Green Lantern fan.

Oh, also, if anyone wants to hear a TERRIBLE comic book-related song, check out “Wonder Woman” by Billy Joel’s short-lived organ-and-drums heavy metal duo Attila. “Wonder Woman, with your skin so fair/ Wonder Woman with your long red hair.” Uh, what?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swiI32BcNUU

(I assume this YouTube vid has the right audio…I have no speakers on my work computer to verify it.)

memphis’ lucero’s “the devil and maggie chascarillo” is woefully missing from this list.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=130s2WJi128

Hey, who doesn’t like “Iron Man?” Two things that the tune always brings to my mind:

1) I recall years ago in an early issue of Wizard, someone writing in to ask about the song’s origins. Wizard phrased its response, naturally, as something like “yes, it was about the Marvel character and yes, Ozzie probably wrote it while stoned.”

2) The song’s lyrics seem to make it something of a retroactive theme song for the 1990s “Crossing” storyline, in which Iron Man did travel time, “kill the people he once saved,” etc. Which is at least kind of cool in a strange way, and probably one of the most memorable aspects of that particular story, even if its connection is entirely unintentional.

@ Wraith:
http://www.black-sabbath.com/faq/faq11.htm#faq11033

I think Superman by R.E.M. and Aquaman’s Lament by Mark Aaron James are the best comic book songs.

Here’s a song, not merely about a comic book, but about a specific issue:

http://bedfordfalls.bandcamp.com/track/astro-city-05

kdb

Superman and Green Lantern ain’t got nothing on me…

Veruca Salt has a cool, moody Spider-man song.

Hey, the concept of “Snoopy’s Christmas” wasn’t that odd. There was indeed an impromptu “Christmas Armistice” durring World War I, where Allied and German troops came out of the trenches, exchanged wine and beer, and played a little soccer before going back to shoot each other the next day.

Josh,

Arthur C. Clarke also insisted that “HAL” was derived from “Heuristic ALgorithm” and that it was complete coincidence that advancing each letter one place forward in the alphabet produced the name of computer-industry behemoth “IBM.” Despite what Clarke acknowledged were staggering odds against such a coincidence.

And as with suggestions that Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” have nothing to do with the Marvel character, it may well be true.

But 1) that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be fully convinced and 2) either way it seems a connection worth remarking on, even if unintentional. :-)

They have literally nothing to do with each other, other than the name! They literally have a story about how they came up with the song. Including the fact that Ozzy originally called the song “Iron Bloke” until he hear the riff. And if the song mirrors any fictional character, it’s closer to Frankenstein’s monster.

I take issue with that bit about songs about Superman. What about “Superman’s Dead” by Our Lady Peace? That’s good stuff right there.

Also “Sunshine Superman” by Donnovan is great, and gets bonus points for mentioning Green Lantern, too.

Phil The Spectre

June 24, 2011 at 4:53 pm

You don’t tug on Superman’s cap, you don’t spit in Storm’s wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Green Hornet and you don’t mess around with Slim Summers.

Ookla the Mok have done a ton of good ones, but the most character-centric is probably ‘Super Skrull’.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kk_tu2MwZDw

Arthur Curry is pretty great too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxQqMTG_yTQ

Don’t forget about 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite”. Great song. Not really about Superman though. Probably why it isn’t whiny.

Adam Green, ages ago in The Moldy Peaches, wrote a song titled Buddy Bradely

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGUcS5Auiac

You forgot the best of them all, “Waiting for a Superman” from the terrific The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JY_L1AzSmhU

An absolutely fantastic, beautiful song which can be devastating depending on the mood. I guess it’s not so much *about* Superman but rather about hope in the face of despair and the futility of ever being free of suffering.

“Tell everybody
waiting for Superman
that they should try to
hold on the best they can.
He hasn’t dropped them, forgot them, or anything.
It’s just too heavy
for Superman
to lift.”

The Soft Bulletin…damn. The Lips’ best and among the top five or so of the 90s.

“Superman and Green Lantern ain’t got nothing on me…”

Yep… How was “Sunshine Superman” left off? First thing I thought of. Chris was lamenting how many songs there are about Superman, but c’mon… There just aren’t all that many, on the whole, about other characters.

“Oh, also, if anyone wants to hear a TERRIBLE comic book-related song, check out “Wonder Woman” by Billy Joel’s short-lived organ-and-drums heavy metal duo Attila. ”

LOL… Well, in fairness to Billy that was the late 60′s/early 70′s, several years before he hit the big time, and he was coming off an earlier, somewhat psychedelic band he fronted. It was the time of bands like Deep Purple, Vanilla Fudge, and the like. It was pretty bad though.

Elvis Costello recorded a song called “Wonder Woman” just a few years ago, but it doesn’t appear to be have any connection to the comic book character.

No mention of The Table’s “Do the Standing Still (Classics Illustrated,” which pretty much consists of Marvel Atlas-era giant monster story & series titles?

For shame.

For *shame*!

(Unless, being 3/4ths asleep as I type this, I missed it. In which case … For shame. For *shame!”)

Also, Trotsky Icepick did a song called “Martian Manhunter” some years back. Can’t find the lyrics just now & am not about to go unearth the CD from the thousands in my living room, so can’t say if it’s about J’onn J’onzz or not.

There’s the Spin Doctor’s “Pocketful of Kryptonite” and Jim’s Big Ego’s “The Ballad of Barry Allen.” Jim’s Big Ego is fronted by Carmine Infantino’s nephew.

How about this great Aquaman parody song set to the music of choice #4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD0oUHvNAYQ

A ton of songs by Kirby Krackle (http://www.kirbykracklemusic.com), especially RING CAPACITY (Green Lantern):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8LNPeVPMIo

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