So I was listening to Spotify the other day, running my “Jump Around Like an Idiot” playlist (which is great for staying awake during rush hour traffic) and up comes “Precious” by the Pretenders. It’s been among my bride’s favorite songs for decades, something of an anthem for her, but I had never really paid much attention to the lyrics. So you can imagine my surprise when, finally, after 41 years, I heard Chrissie Hynde’s shout-out to Howard the Duck.
Howard the Duck and Mr. Stress* both stayed (Precious)
Trapped in a world they never made (Precious)
But not me baby, I had to fuck off.
(*Mr. Stress was Bill Miller, leader of the Mr. Stress Blues Band, a popular Cleveland-based bar band that never attained national fame. Chrissie Hynde was a member for a short time.)
Over the years, I have collected a little library of songs that mention comic characters and superheroes, an interest that started with The Royal Guardsmen‘s classic “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” in 1966, the same year as Donovan‘s “Sunshine Superman.” That latter one was startling; Superman was pretty well-known, but he gave a shout-out to Green Lantern? Seven-and-a-half-year-old me was surprised at that. I didn’t know any adults that even knew who Green Lantern was.
Some years back the regulars on on the Miscellaneous board at the CBR forums did a “Secret Santa” gift exchange, so I created a custom CD as my contribution. (I ended up sending out a handful to others after they heard about it.) I tried hard to find tracks that covered a variety of heroes, since the vast majority of songs in this niche are centered on Superman. I was reminded of this collection after stumbling upon the Pretenders’ entry, and since, as Hatcher says, we use every part of the buffalo here, I figured my superhero playlist would serve as fodder for a column. So here is the complete track listing for the 2005 compilation “Diggin’ the Comics,” created by me and distributed to maybe a dozen people. You’re welcome.
Super Powers – Ookla the Mok
If you were looking for the platonic ideal of nerdcore, you have to go with Ookla the Mok, a two-man group that’s been playing at conventions since 1994. Coming from what’s known as “filk music” (it’s like folk singing, but the lyrics reference science fiction and fantasy tropes in Allan Sherman/Weird Al Yankovic style), Ookla the Mok quickly began writing original tunes to accompany their verses. As far as I can see, they haven’t really done much of anything in the way of performing or recording the last couple of years, but they do have a Patreon and a website. They are the only group/performer to claim multiple spots on my playlist, and it’s completely justified. This song is basically a catalog of superhero origin stories, and though they don’t specifically name-check any heroes, any comics fan worth their mylar bags should have no trouble identifying the references. It seemed like the natural choice to open the playlist.
(I’m No) Superman – Lazlo Bane
This song is one you might recognize as the theme from the TV show Scrubs. Somehow it works as both a superhero song and as a reflection of Dr. J.D. Dorian’s inner life. The song was previously released on the soundtrack album for a film called The Tao of Steve, though it didn’t actually appear in the film. Lazlo Bane recently reunited after a hiatus, but there hasn’t been much from them except a new version of “I’m No Superman.”
Catch Me Now, I’m Falling – The Kinks
Ah, the Kinks. The original ’60s bad boys. Here Ray Davies channels Captain America’s “man out of time” 1970s malaise, in a song that’s ostensibly about the US finding that its allies have all turned their backs in its hour of need. The song comes from the Kinks’ 1979 album Low Budget, which also featured the song “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman,” which didn’t make the cut here because The Big Blue Boy Scout was already over-represented.
Can U Dig It? – Pop Will Eat Itself
A shining example of 1980s excess, from the heavy synths and processed vocals, vocal snippets on loop, and a drum machine named “Dr. Nightmare.” It’s also an all-encompassing nerd-wallow covering TV, music, comics, and videogames, with Homer Simpson providing the chorus. With “Can U Dig It?” Pop Will Eat Itself broke into the Top 40 and was booked on a European tour with Run-DMC and Public Enemy; the appearance on the tour was cut short by the latter band’s fans aggressively booing all supporting acts off the stage at every concert.
Superman’s Song – Crash Test Dummies
I’ve always liked Brad Roberts’ voice, that bass rumble that sounds like it comes from the depths of a tomb, and this song from the Crash Test Dummies’ debut album amused me with its compare-and-contrast juxtaposition of Superman and Tarzan. The Solomon Grundy reference suggests that Roberts is One of Us (insert clip from Todd Browning’s Freaks with the sideshow freaks chanting “One of us! One of us!”) And just for those people whining about SJWs and how everything in pop culture is so politicized these days, here’s what Brad Roberts said about his song way back in 1992: “Superman as cast in “Superman’s Song” is obviously a left-wing political figure. His activity in the community is intrinsic to his being. Superman is being juxtaposed against Tarzan, who is kind of a laissez-faire capitalist type who retreats to the forest, and rejects the idea of community. He wants to live in a so-called animal state, and he doesn’t have to be bothered with any kind of political realities.”
Same Thing – Barenaked Ladies
For a long time, the Barenaked Ladies were the biggest band in the nerd-rock genre (distantly followed by They Might Be Giants, the Aquabats, and Jonathan Coulton), and this song is probably one of their more specifically geeky efforts.
Sunshine Superman – Donovan
As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the songs that put my musical tastes on this particular weird path. Donovan was a pioneer of psychedelic folk-pop, and this song was a #1 hit in the US. It’s one of Donovan’s less oblique songs, having pretty straightforward lyrics where you don’t have to guess at what he’s trying to say. According to a random person on the internet, the song was written for his then-girlfriend, Sue Lyon (star of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita). She abruptly dumped him in 1967 after he slipped her LSD in a drink at a party, which freaked her out enough to not speak to him again for years.
I’m Lion-O – Relient K
This one gets in on a technicality (there was eventually a comic, but Lion-O started as an animated cartoon character), but it’s a fun song. Relient K was part of a movement in the early 2000s by Christian bands to be considered musicians who happened to be Christian, rather than being labeled “Christian Music.” They did this by having a mix of religious and secular songs in their catalogs, by being indirect with the religious messages even in their faith-based songs, by including a lot of pop culture references, and by identifying more as specific genres of music rather than in the catch-all “Contemporary Christian” category. Creed tried to be grunge, Jars of Clay went for alternative/acoustic rock, Sixpence None the Richer was pop, Switchfoot was power pop, and Relient K went for a kind of nerdy punk-pop. According to their website, they’re still around, but they never really broke through to the mainstream the way some other acts did. But they did give us this one, and who doesn’t want to be Lion-O?
Magneto & Titanium Man – Paul McCartney & Wings
After the Beatles broke up, Paul McCartney went off and did whatever the hell he wanted, and what he wanted was to start a new band with his wife and do mostly-generic rock, creating only a few memorable songs. McCartney was also a comic fan, as indicated by the Captain Marvel reference in “Bungalow Bill.” He goes full fanboy here, writing an entire song about two Marvel villains.
Superbird – Country Joe and The Fish
Best known for their performance at Woodstock and their anti-war song “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag,” Country Joe and the Fish were usually overtly political, as with this song, which casts President Lyndon Johnson as “Superbird.”
Arthur Curry – Ookla the Mok
The second entry from Ookla the Mok tells the story of one Arthur Curry, better known as the much-maligned Aquaman. The one thing I’ll give Zack Snyder credit for is establishing the Jason Momoa version of Aquaman and helping to erase the tired old “haw haw, he talks to fish, he’s so lame” trope, which only ever existed in the Superfriends cartoon show. In the comics, especially the Skeates/Aparo run, Aquaman was pretty damn awesome.
The Incredible Hulk – Moxie
I’m not sure where I found this track back in the day. My Google-Fu has only found a couple of dead links to pages that previously had mp3 files of the song, but I can’t find a single thing about a band called Moxie that was recording or performing between 1978 (when the Incredible Hulk TV show premiered) and 2005 (when I collected the song). The band is a complete mystery, and I can’t find any information about any other songs from the album that reportedly contained this song; it’s called Third-Degree Rugburn. If you know anything about it, go ahead and put it in the comments.
Garage Song – Weezer
Weezer is another band with solid geek cred, though only a few of their songs really lean in on pop culture references as overtly as this one. “Garage Song” could be seen as the angst anthem for basement-dwellers, but Rivers Cuomo makes it real and personal enough to not be an obnoxious stereotype.
Diggin’ On Comix – Dr. John
Dr. John provided the opening theme for the 1988 documentary film Comic Book Confidential. As far as I can tell, it’s never been released anywhere else; it doesn’t show up in any discography or even on his Wikipedia page.
Stop Talking About Comic Books or I’ll Kill You – Ookla the Mok
This one goes out to all our families, spouses, loved ones, children, and any other poor SOBs who have had to sit and listen until their ears bleed as comic fans prattle on for hours about minutia. We’re sorry. Honest.
Housekeeping note: As always, if you click on the Amazon links in this post and buy something, we get a little commission on the sale, even if you buy something other than what we linked to. So please go ahead and follow one of those links and buy some furniture or a major appliance or a motorcycle or something, won’t you?
Note, this is not an exhaustive list of every superhero mention or comic-themed song ever recorded. If you want a complete list, that’s why God gave us Google. If there’s a song you think I might like and maybe don’t know about, go ahead and put it in the comments. Just please don’t say “hey, you forgot ____” because that will just annoy me. Embrace the Atomic Junk Shop philosophy of the Lucky 10,000. Today, that might be me.
“Ballad of Barry Allen” by Jim’s Big Ego. Fun fact, Jim Infantino is the nephew of Carmine Infantino.
Supetman’s Song is just awesome, plus it featured in the pilot episode of the excellent show Due South.
Oh, but while you’re at it, don’t forget Henry Rollins’ “Liar” – it’s not about superheroes, but he is in Superman costume…
Also worth mentioning is that an EP with “Black Canary” songs appeared in 2016… “Fish out of Water” is one I listen to regularly! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KPw-ieMM3U
And – oh god! – We had some monstrosities in my childhood – this is a Dutch song about Franquin’s Gaston and the Marsipulami… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EseaM84RwzY
The Green Lantern reference in Sunshine Superman was surprising to me as well. The real trip was when I tried to figure out whether it was a reference to Alan Scott or Hal Jordan.
Donovan born in 1946
Final Golden Age appearance of Alan Scott in 1951
Debut of Hal Jordan in 1959
Debut of Earth 2 Alan Scott in 1963
Sunshine Superman released in 1966
Hal Jordan’s first televised appearance (Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure) in 1967/68
I just don’t know!
I too have always been surprised by the Green Lantern shout-out in Sunshine Superman.
I have a whole (commercially-released) compilation CD of just songs that relate to Superman. It’s called Sounds Of Superman, and contains a cover of Sunshine Superman but not the original. (Which I have elsewhere.)
From Icehouse, The Girl In The Moon
“And there’s Batman and Robin
Looking into my room
Through a hole in the wall
And there’s Jane and Tarzan
With their favourite monkey
… what’s his name?”
Same pair-up as you mentioned before.
The Spin Doctors (I think) have an album called Pocketful of Kryptonite.
And Led Zeppelin have a song called Hats Off To (Roy) Harper, but I’ve always assumed that’s just a coincidence.
P.S. also a probable coincidence, but Bowie’s Oh! You Pretty Things could be a theme song for X-Men, with its talk of the threat of homo superior taking over the world.
Roy Harper was a rolk-rocker contemporary of Zep (and Pink Floyd – he did the lead vocals on “Have a Cigar”). Pretty sure he’s the one being referenced rather than Speedy.
Thanks! I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that Have A Cigar has a different vocalist to the rest of Pink Floyd. (But it’s not like they’ve had the same vocalist all the time.)
As to the Spin Doctors, the album is indeed Pocket Full of Kryptonite, with a phone booth on the cover. The line is from the song “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues”, about Jimmy trying to woo Lois to his apartment by telling her he’s got a pocket full of kryptonite, which seems to me to read both as “Superman will stay away” and as an analogy for an erection. Maybe.
Some of my favorites:
– “Superman” by The Clique (and covered by R.E.M. I think the later cover shows up in an issue of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man run).
– “Mambo Sun” by T. Rex is just a great song with an incidental Dr. Strange reference. It could be just a random line, but I’m pretty sure Bolan was a HUGE Marvel fan.
– “Sgt. Rock is Going to Help Me” by XTC – a lot of XTC songs could fill this niche, but this one was first and it’s very catchy. I think Andy Partridge isn’t too keen on the lyrics today, but they’re not too bad. The minute this started playing in “Hot Fuzz,” I knew I was going to love that movie, too.
I thought the XTC song was just “Sgt. Rock”, but I’ve just checked and you’re right – it’s that whole thing.
Speaking of Dr. Strange and Pink Floyd, the cover to A Saucerful Of Secrets.
And, further on album covers, how have we all been forgetting Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien?
Don’t forget Spin Doctors and Jimmy Olsen Blues.
Even before Snoopy vs the Red Baron, The Hollywood Argyles (a studio band) had a #1 hit with Alley Oop, based on the comic strip character.
Sort of tangental; but, Link Wray had an instrumental called, The Shadow Knows, based on the pulp and radio character, who also ended up in comics. It starts out with Wray doing the radio tag line and then the music kicks in.
I did my own CD mix of stuff, designed to present a thematic battle between the forces of Good and Evil. It starts out juxtaposing heroic themes againt darker-sounding ones, then leads into a big battle, the villains win and chaos reigns, then the heroes return and set things right. I mixed all kinds of stuff, from rock to classical, superhero themes…you name it. For the heroes, I had stuff like John Williams’ Superman theme, the Batman tv show theme, the Ramones version of the Spider-Man theme, KISS’ “God of Thunder” and the villains had things like Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law,” the Imperial March and similar fare. The battle stuff mixed things like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly main theme, “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff, and The Ride of the Valkyries, from Wagner. The Chaos portion has things like Blue Oyster Cult’s “Veteran of the Psychic Wars,” Iron Maiden’s “Fear of the Dark” and ends with Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero,” which then leads to The William Tell Overture, with the heroes return and an epilogue of The Clash and “I Fought the Law.”
That sounds like an awesome mix!
My first draft of this post actually mentioned the Hollywood Argyles’ one hit, with the observation that it’s likely that hardly anybody under 50 has ever even heard of Alley Oop,
But if we want to go really old school, there’s “Barney Google” from 1923….
Oh, and there are band names, too! Spy Vs. Spy (which is a comic strip, not a comic book, but still), The Thompson Twins (named for characters in Tintin), and I *think* The Uncanny X-Men are named for some obscure little indie niche comic?
The Poppies track is an excellent pull, but I don’t know if Homer Simpson ever asked the iconic question https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-OYKd8SVrI
I came by to point this out as well, in re: the samples from The Warriors. That PWEI song is awesome, though!
I had actually thought of suggesting something similar to this as a Round Table, with songs that fit the themes we cover — maybe something similar to Jeff’s cool mix. Someday I’ll post my own list!
How about some love for Spider-Man? I immediately thought of the cover of the Spider-Man theme song by Toronto-based band Moxy Früvous.
And, of course, there is the entire album, ‘Rock Reflections of a Superhero’.
I’ve got covers of that by Michael Bublé and Aerosmith! 🙂
And then you have ‘Weird Al’. He has a song entirely about Spider-Man (Ode to a Superhero, parodying ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel), although I know that is specifically about the Spider-Man movie and not the comics, so maybe it wouldn’t count.
But then you have the anthem to nerd culture, ‘White and Nerdy’, in which Al mentions collecting X-Men comics, as well as action figures and other bits of the collecting world.
“Lois Lane” by Sloppy Seconds
In Holland we had the band Leaf. They were from my city Utrecht.
The song is Wonderwoman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDFTlw3BfTM
There is the awesome song Superman is dead by the awesome band Wool (saw them opening for Faith No More circa 1994/5).
And (surprised nobody brought it up yet): Ego, the living Planet by Monster Magnet.
I made a 80+ hero song collection on youtube – I always love hearing more so I look forward to going through some of the unfamiliar ones posted here.
If ya wanna check my list out –
And now that Crash Test Dummies song is going to be stuck in my head for a week.
The first song I thought of when I saw the article topic was Jim Croce’s You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.
Which is also going to be stuck in my head for a week.
The Band Trepan Nation has a song called Bagged And Bored on their album Banish Gods From Skies And Capitalists From Earth in which they lament how some comic book collectors put their books in bags immediately and never take them out and read them, specifically mentioning Avengers Annual 10 and Sandman 8.
Then there’s Rod Stewart’s “Batman Superman Spiderman (sic)” which is horrible even if he did write it for his son. https://youtu.be/YV9nyjZiyd4
movies based on comic characters led to Aerosmith doing a version of the Spiderman theme and Prince doing Bat Dance
Scenes from a Night;s dream by Genesis was about Little Nemo in Slumberland
Some British comic characters had songs about them
Dan Dare,(pilot of the future) was the subject of a song by Elton John (used as theme music to an animated series)
Also Robert Plant’s Messin’ with the Mekon was about Dan Dare
The DC Thompson character Desperate Dan inspired 2 songs
One by Hotlegs (who later became 10CC)
and another by Lieutenant Pigeon (only remembered for Mouldy Old Dough)
another UK comic character, Grimly Fiendish was a hit for the Damned
a group took it’s name from the Japanese comic series Urusei Yatsura
other songs mentioning comic characters
Revival by Eurythmics mention Superman
David Bowie’s early song Uncle Arthur mentioned that Arthur read comics and “follows Batman”
and Pink Floyd in Cymbaline declared “and Doctor Strange is always changing size.”
From The Cross The Also Rans:
“To get out, you’ve got to be a Desperate Dan”.
(The Cross is a side-project from Queen’s drummer, Roger Taylor. Not to be confused with Duran Duran’s drummer, Roger Taylor.)
and also the Sensational Alex Harvey band did a song called Sergeant Fury
You may all want to check out the following:
Nobody Loves The Hulk – The Tants
Marvel Group – Mother Earth
DC Comics and a Chocolate Milkshake – Art Brut