Friday, November 18, 2011

On great comic songs through history

OK, fair warning - this list probably doesn't have YOUR favorite superhero song. Over seventy years, there have been a lot of songs written about comic book and comic strip heroes. There's been musicals by the (wait for it...) score, like Annie, Lil' Abner, It's a Bird, It's a Plane It's Superman and even Doonesbury. There have been novelty numbers, serious songs, and some tunes so iconic they ended up in the movie adaptation of the hero decades after their creation. Ana amazing assortment of artists have contributed music to superhero films; even Jim Steinman (indisputable mastermind behind Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell series) did a rendition of "Original Sin" for The Shadow.  And some years later, he got to write a few songs for the  Batman musical that Tim Burton was working on.  I write a bit about that over here on my Tumblr feed, where I post smaller points and thoughts.

Here's a short list of a few songs inspired by the comics you've likely heard of, and hopefully a few you haven't.

Alley Oop - The Hollywood Argyles

Possibly the perfect examples of the one hit wonder, this manufactured studio band charted the once, and never again. Written by Dallas Frazier ("There Goes my Everything" and "Elvira") it was recorded while the artists were all drunk on apple cider. It's a simple song with a hook that won't leave your head.

In addition to a notable career in gospel music, Gary Paxton, the producer behind the song, also produced the perennial novelty hit "The Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett.

The Ballad of Barry Allen - Jim's Big Ego

Jim Infantino (yes, he's Carmine's nephew) is the charismatic overlord of the Boston-based band Jim's Big Ego. "The Ballad of Barry Allen" is a heartfelt song about a man too busy to stand still. They're also known for writing a new "New Year's" song for the folks at NPR.

This is off their 2000 release, They're Everywhere! with cover art by Uncle Carmine.

Aquaman's Lament - Mark Aaron James

As we've seen, there have been a LOT of interpretations of Aquaman, from the "Outrageous!" adventure junkie in Batman: the Brave and the Bold to the "Denis Leary of the sea" as seen in Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner's Supergirl feature in Wednesday Comics.

But a drunk king of the seas pleading his romantic case to Vicki Vale? THAT is a new one.

Mark spent most of his early career in Nashville, which s an odd place for a rock singer. One of his songs, "June 17th" was featured on LOST.!

Ring Capacity - Kirby Krackle

We tried, OH how we tried to get this song on the Green Lantern film soundtrack. Nerdcore tunesters Kirby Krackle put this one on their second album "E for Everyone", and as a sign to how much the kids seem to like this stuff, the song is available to play in the videogame Rock Band.

I Whipped Spiderman's Ass - Wesley Willis

Wesley Willis was a chronic schizophrenic from Chicago who cobbled enough money together over the years to produce and release several hundred songs, all performed on a Technics KN Series keyboard. His songs are simple, loud, repetitive, lewd, and impossible not to enjoy. In this one, he relates the tale of when he had an altercation with the wall-crawler over the sum of seventy dollars. He has a similar song about a fracas with Batman.

Superman's Song - Crash Test Dummies

I suppose you could argue that The Death Of Superman was the idea of these guys - this song came out a full year before the comic event was released. The song is great, but the video is positively heartbreaking.

Go Monkey Go - Devo

The Powerpuff Girls got so popular that a whole album was released with songs in tribute to the toddler titans. Heroes and Villains featured music by Shonen Knife, The Apples in Stereo, Frank Black and mankind's last defense against the Ninnies and the Twits, Devo.

Go Monkey Go was a drum-heavy tribute to the PPG's arch-enemy, Mojo Jojo, with an animated video by Primal Screen. The boys appear in the video in Mojo-garb, their iconic energy domes painted white and standing in for the satanic simian's brain protective.

Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future) - Elton John

Even in these days, Elton was slyly admitting his tastes for the alternate..."Dan doesn't know it...but I liked the Mekon",

Dan Dare, or more correctly his nemesis The Mekon, got a lot of mentions in popular tunes, especially by British bands. Robert Plant did "Messin' With the Mekon", The Mekons were a seminal punk band, and American band Too Much Joy included "If I were a Mekon" as a hidden track on their album Too Much Joy

Mutants in Mega-City One - The Fink Brothers

One of a long series of worst-kept secrets in entertainment, "The Fink Brothers" were actually the rock / Ska band Madness, they of One Step Beyond and Our House.

Their lead singer, Suggs McPherson also contributed the song "I Am" to the Avengers movie - no, not THAT one, the one based on the TV show, starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes, and in that order.

This Vicious Cabaret - Alan Moore / David J.

As opposed to the other songs on this list which were inspired by the comics, this song first appeared in the comics, and only later was recorded.

The song first appeared in the classic V for Vendetta, and was adapted to a musical biscuit a year later by David J, who brought old people (like me) the bands Bauhaus and Love and Rockets.

Clearly I haven't named them all - there's Magneto and Titanium Man, Sunshine Superman and many other passing and oblique references. What ones do you remember and enjoy?


  1. Ookla the Mok has quite a few comic-book-related songs.

    There's a trio of LSH-related songs: "Matter-Eater Lad" by Guided By Voices; "The Wedding of Bouncing Boy" by Yoyodyne; and "Saturn Girl" by Misinformed Manzerick.

    There're all kinds of them about Superman, of course; in particular I direct your attention to "Not Since Superman Died" by the Ass Ponys, "Superman" by the Kinks, and "Waiting for Superman" by the Flaming Lips.

  2. Awesome selection of comic book/strip-related songs! I'm especially pleased to see Elton John's "Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)" on your list!

  3. None of these beats the work of Flanders and Swann in my opinion. They were classic!