The GeeksverseThe Roundtable | The Superhero (and Supervillain) in Song

The Roundtable | The Superhero (and Supervillain) in Song
Published on Friday, August 16, 2013 by
Join us after the jump as we count down our favorite superhero-themed songs. Sorry Prince fans, “Batdance” doesn’t make our list.

Pop music has a long history of incorporating superheroes in its lyrics and imagery. Earlier this year, the A.V. Club listed the top 26 songs about Superman. That’s 26 songs out of lord knows how many there are extant about just one superhero.

Even before superheroes “broke through” in Hollywood, they were already making their presence felt in various ways in popular music. The late Elvis Presley for example, was such a huge fan of DC/Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, Jr., (the official Australian Elvis Presley fan club website has a comprehensive essay detailing The King’s fascination with Captain Marvel, Jr.) that he even modeled his hairstyle and his most popular costumes after that of the superhero (in a nice bit of reciprocity, it was revealed in Teen Titans, Vol. 3 #23 that Captain Marvel, Jr. counts Elvis as his favorite musician).

elvismarvel

Elvis Presley’s “Blue Owl” jumpsuit (left) was based on the Captain Marvel, Jr. costume (center). Right: Alex Ross’ design for Kingdom Come‘s King Marvel (an older version of Captain Marvel, Jr.) references Presley’s fascination with the character.

Acts as disparate as KISS and the Wu-Tang Clan have, to varying degrees, incorporated superhero-like elements to their stage and pop culture personae as well as their lyrics. Terms like “nerdcore” and “geek rock” have entered the popular music lexicon, further evidence of the mainstreaming of geek and comic culture. Just as superheroes have insinuated themselves into the fabric of literature, television, and film, so have they become fixtures of popular music. Below, the Comixverse staffers and contributors list their favorite superhero-themed songs.

Zedric Dimalanta

Before we get to my list of favorites, here are a bunch of songs I think of as worth mentioning, either for the notability of the artist, or the somewhat obscure superhero/supervillain name-checks:

  • “Magneto and Titanium Man” – by Paul McCartney and Wings (from 1975’s Venus and Mars). Crimson Dynamo also gets a co-starring role in the refrain. Who knew Sir Paul was such a huge Marvel Comics fan?

  • “In the Garage” – by Weezer (from 1994’s Blue Album). This seminal 1990s geek anthem lists off Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler.

  • “Cosplay Queen” – by Kirby Krackle (from 2013’s Sounds Like You). Seattle’s Kirby Krackle channels Tenacious D in this geek ballad that should be an anthem for couples who meet at comic conventions in years to come.

  • “Nightcrawler” – by Judas Priest (from 1990’s Painkiller). Like Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” (see below), this song’s lyrics have nothing to do with the Marvel character that shares the same name. But hey, it’s Judas Priest at their heaviest.

With those honorable mentions out of the way, here are the six superhero-themed songs, in no particular order, I find myself enjoying the most:

  • “I’m a Supergirl (Buttercup’s Theme)” – by Shonen Knife (from 2000’s Heroes & Villains). Ok, so this is a song about “a supergirl” (the PowerPuff Girls’ Buttercup, to be specific) and not “the Supergirl,” but I couldn’t resist throwing in an entry from Shonen Knife, one of my favorite bands. Just a fun listen all around.

  • “Doomsday” – by MF Doom, feat. Pebbles the Invisible Girl (from 1999’s Operation: Doomsday). The lyrics aren’t really all that much about supervillaining… but the musician known as MF Doom (Daniel Dumile in real life) is really committed to playing the role of Dr. Doom, even sending “Doombots” (lip-synchers dressed as himself) to perform in his place in public events and appearances, just as the Fantastic Four villain has done in the comics. It’s a neat nod to the comics, but probably not something that endears him to the ticket-buying public.

  • “Ghost Rider” – by Suicide (from 1977’s Suicide). The protopunk/electroclash song about the Gary Friedrich/Roy Thomas/Mike Ploog-created occult superhero didn’t really achieve anything close to what could be considered mainstream popularity until it was covered by the Rollins Band on a track that was featured in the hit 1994 film, The Crow, where it was given a sludgy, hardcore makeover (the song was a mainstay on the Rollins Band’s live sets long before the film, though). Funnily enough, neither version of the song, as far as I know, appeared in the score or soundtrack of either of the Nicholas Cage-starring Ghost Rider films.

  • “Iron Man” – by Black Sabbath (from 1970’s Paranoid). Yes, yes, I know the song isn’t really about Marvel’s Armored Avenger (the lyrics, if you read them, seem like they’d more accurately apply to a time-traveling villain from the future like Kang the Conqueror), but I don’t think any one who grew up reading comics doesn’t automatically think of Tony Stark when they hear the unmistakably distinct opening bars of the song.

  • “The Lonely Man Theme” – by Joe Harnell (from the score to the 1978 The Incredible Hulk TV series). A haunting instrumental piece from the late composer also responsible for the music for shows like The Bionic Woman and V. Electronica and film score composer Craig Armstrong paid tribute to “The Lonely Man Theme” in his score for the 2008 The Incredible Hulk movie with a brief track called “Bruce Goes Home,” which uses the piano motif from Harnell’s work and is well worth a listen for fans of the original.

  • “Alaala ni Batman (Memory of Batman)” – by Radioactive Sago Project (from 2004’s Urban Gulaman). A Filipino-language spoken word song from the Philippines-based jazz group that juxtaposes images of childhood memories of watching the Adam West Batman series, the maddening state of Philippine politics and pop culture, and clinical depression that manages to be funny and tragic at the same time.

Moira Hunger

How did the A.V. Club miss this song in their countdown? They included Souja Boy but not Donovan?

I grew up with this song and I always used to make my dad move the needle back to where he mentions Superman and Green Lantern. I think that most people will instantly recognize the intro to the song, with the guitar and sitar. My parents were hippies, so there was quite a bit of psychedelic rock going on in the house, but this song has remained a comforting favorite of mine.

Hüsker Dü covered it, but their version really loses the magic and Imani Coppola sampled it for her “Legend of a Cowgirl” single. While she doesn’t reference any superheroes, I think she utilized it pretty well.

I was introduced to 1997’s “The Secret Wars, Part 1″ by a friend and, even though I could recognize maybe five rappers in the song, I loved the idea and would absolutely pay to see KRS-One fight Professor X. I’m a big fan of G.I. Joe, so even though I had absolutely no idea at the time who The Boot Camp Clik were, I was thrilled that the Joes were even mentioned, at least until one of them broke Roadblock’s back…

“The Secret Wars, Part 2″ was released about 10 years ago and I really liked how he slowed it down this time. It has a nice groove and it’s about comic book characters.

  • Hawkguy” – by Adam WarRock (download the MP3 here)

I’m including this because the song just amuses me. I think that he’s captured Hawkeye’s voice pretty well. “Man, why’s Kate always blowin’ me up? I’m trying to take a nap….”

Joe Milone

Before I give you my selections, I must tip my hat to Zedric for mentioning Weezer’s “In the Garage,” a song that is near and dear to my heart. One of my old friends once said that song was about me, which I took as a great compliment. Especially since the song mentions Kitty Pryde (which this site was once named for) and Ace Frehley… my favorite member of KISS. Anyway, since that song’s already been mentioned, I’ll be sharing some others as yet unmentioned:

Monster Magnet’s lead singer Dave Wyndorf is a huge fan of comics, and I am also a huge fan of their work. They mention comic characters in a few songs but these are two of my favorites. In “Baby Götterdämmerung” (from 1998’s Powertrip), Wyndorf wonders “What would MODOK do, if his memory got too full… ” The instrumental “Ego, the Living Planet” (from 1995’s Dopes to Infinity)  is just named after the Marvel Comics character, its just a kick ass tune.

Yes, The Crash Test Dummies do have other songs besides “Mmm mmm mmm mmm.” There have been a ton of songs about Superman, but I always felt like this one, from 1991’s The Ghosts That Haunt Me, captured the essence of the character the best. And although the line “Superman never made any money, saving the world from Solomon Grundy,” isn’t exactly accurate to the comics—most comics readers at the time probably thought of Grundy as more of a Green Lantern/JSA villain than an antagonist specific to Superman—it is catchy.

I’m not going to go into detail about this song, so I just suggest that you click on the link, and crank up the volume!

  • Aqualung” – by Jethro Tull [Wait, what?—ed.]

Ok, so I know this song isn’t really about superheroes, or even inspired by one. All one has to do is listen to the lyrics to know that. But indulge me for a second: When I was little, my Dad used to listen to Jethro Tull quite a bit and he really loved this song. Once, I asked him what “Aqualung” was about and he told me, “It’s about Aquaman. You know, he has to have an ‘aqualung’ to swim under water.” Well that made sense to me as a kid. Of course when I got older, I realized the song wasn’t about Aquaman at all, but even still, it reminds me of Arthur Curry.

What songs would make your superhero top ten list? Let us know in the comments section below or reach out to us on our social media channels.
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