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.
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?