Who doesn’t love songs about superheroes? They provide us with a healthy does of fun and nostalgia. Artists can treat the heroes as symbols. Or they can poke fun at how silly they are. A wide spectrum of musicians — from rap artists to indie bands to well-known rock acts — have performed songs about superheroes. Who wrote the best songs about superheroes?
In composing this list, I’ve tried to only have each superhero only appear once. This may not seem fair, but if I were to list superheroes more than once, Superman would appear on more than half the entries. That guy attracts songs like flies to honey.
Honorable mentions: Green Lantern, by Blue Harvest; The Riddler, by Method Man; Superman, by Goldfinger; The Ultimate Showdown for Ultimate Destiny, by Lemon Demon
#10 – XTC: That’s Really Super, Supergirl. Man, this song reeks of the 80’s. I mean, this song could be playing in one of those movies where career-minded women are trying to move up in the world, probably to support their supply of Aqua-Net and legwarmers. This song, by British pop band XTC, illustrates the typical dilemma when a man has a relationship with a woman who has superpowers. “How you stop the universe from dyin’/But you never gonna stop me cryin’…” So it’s the basic role reversal; Supergirl is saving the world but doesn’t have time for her man, who “Doesn’t feel super.” I guess if a girl band wanted to cover the song, they could change “Supergirl” to “Superman” without a hitch. I mean, it even mentions Kryptonite and the Fortress of Solitude and all, and most people associate that stuff with the Man of Steel in the first place.
#9 – Huang Pin-Yuan: Teen Titans. Some people are not going to agree with me, but I think this version by Taiwanese-born Huang Pin-Yuan is better than the original by Puffy AmiYumi. Mainly because Puffy AmiYumi is so sugary that if you listen to them for too long, you get diabetes. Huang doesn’t deviate too much from the original sound, and the words are in Chinese this time around, but I find the song overall to be far more tolerable. (And you know, I do like the peppy, anime-like theme song a lot.)
#8 – The Kinks: Catch Me Now I’m Falling. Iconic British band The Kinks write a song about Captain America… technically. It’s probably a symbolic call for the rest of the world to aid the US during the Oil Crisis in the late ’70s. “Now I’m calling all citizens from all over the world/this is Captain America calling./I built you up when you were down on your knees/so can you catch me now, I’m falling.” Still, it gives me the warm fuzzies to know that Cap is probably the only superhero that can represent the United States in a non-ironic sense, and that a highly respected band like the Kinks managed to work him into a song that’s relevant even today.
#7 – RBX, Snoop Dogg, & The Lady of Rage: Batman & Robin. “No one can save the day like Batman/Robin will make you sway like that and/Beat for Beat, rhyme for rhyme/Deep in Gotham, Fighting Crime.” This rap song by Snoop Dogg and friends is fun and upbeat. It shouldn’t be a surprise, the inspiration is the 60’s TV show. The song works in references to several of Batman’s rogue’s gallery: Two-Face, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and even Clayface and Mad Hatter. And you gotta love lyrics that go “Hit ’em with the POW! BAM! BIFF! Whoa,” complete with the thrilling trumpet blare. Righteous, Snoop. (As a side note, why does Batman, the grim and gritty hero, end up getting the fun songs, while songs about Superman end up making the Man of Steel sound like he’s the world’s most depressing man?)
#6 – Ookla the Mok: Stop Talkin’ About Comic Books or I’ll Kill You. Ookla the Mok is pretty much the nerdiest band ever. They’ve released several superhero-themed songs. They have songs about Aquaman (“Arthur Curry”) and Super Skrull (“Theme from Super Skrull”) for pete’s sake. Despite the title of “Stop Talkin’ About Comic Books…”, this is perhaps the song best tailored for basement-dwelling geeks. There’s several references to insider geek favorites that casual superhero fans (the ones weaned on movie) are not likely to pick up: the Spider-Man clone saga, Zero Hour, Jack Kirby’s DC run, the Overstreet Price Guide… and the piece de resistance, a final reference to The Invisibles, proving that the singer is even geekier than the person he is threatening to kill.
#5 – Jim’s Big Ego: The Ballad of Barry Allen. I don’t know much about this band, but I love the groovy music that accompanies the song. It’s smooth and harkens back to the chorus: “Time keeps dragging on…” So what’s this song about? While everyone else doesn’t seem to have time, The Flash thinks everything is “moving slower than molasses.” He has time to contemplate life and save lives, yet his day-to-day existence is excruciatingly slow.
#4 – Dangerdoom: Space Ho’s. You know what’s great about hiphop artists? They can pretend to be superheroes, and their street cred doesn’t suffer one whit. Eminem dresses up as Robin in his video, and no one accuses him of cosplay. Ghostface Killah names his album “Ironman” and calls himself Tony Starks, and suddenly he seems tougher. And then there’s MF Doom. The guy performs shows wearing a Dr. Doom mask, and he doesn’t allow himself to be photographed without it. In 2005, he collaborated with Danger Mouse to release The Mouse and The Mask, a CD full of songs about Adult Swim shows. “Space Ho’s” is easily the best track. The song is about Space Ghost, who, after a life of superheroing, is now hosting a terrible talk show: “Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast.” Space Ghost, Brak, and Zorak make appearances in the song.
#3 – Henry Rollins: Ghost Rider. I was really disappointed that this song was not featured in the recent Ghost Rider movie. The song is actually on “The Crow” soundtrack, which I thought was kinda weird since it is obviously about the Marvel hero: “Ghost Rider, motorcycle hero/Baby, baby, baby, he’s looking so cute/riding around in his blue jumpsuit.” The song was originally performed by Suicide, but this version is better. First of all, it’s being sung by Henry Rollins. Henry FRIGGIN’ Rollins. Which means that every word isn’t so much sung as it’s SCREAMED. This makes it the perfect style for a song about a guy who’s head is on fire. And second, the intense guitar work does recall the sound of a motorcycle engine. It’s like you can visualize Ghost Rider even if you’ve never ever seen hims in either comic or movie form.
#2 – Spin Doctors: Jimmy Olsen’s Blues/Crash Test Dummies: Superman’s Song/Five For Fighting: Superman. It was hard to pick one Superman song; there are tons of Superman songs out there. Is it because Superman is such an iconic figure? Or is every artist who signs with Warner Music contractually obliged to write a song about Superman? Whatever the reason, not all songs that mention him are actually about the Man of Steel. Donovan sees him as an ideal state of happiness (“Sunshine Superman”); REM sees him as a paragon of male confidence (“Superman”); Eminem sees him as a symbol of sexual prowess (“Superman”). And I don’t even know what Barbara Streisand had to say on the subject (“Streisand Superman”). So really, they’re more about the unreachable ideal rather than the guy who dresses up in red-and-blue tights.
So why these three songs? Well, they’re actually about Superman. “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” envisions Jimmy Olsen as the jealous nerd with a pocket full of Krytonite for the jock-like Superman. Crash Test Dummies appreciate how Superman saves the world from Solomon Grundy and didn’t just retire in the jungle like that slacker, Tarzan. And Five For Fighting (whose song was featured on “Dawson’s Creek”) see Superman as a lonely soul who laments that people cannot see beyond his iconic facade. (Again, why does Superman seem so emo in these songs?)
This is a formidable trilogy of songs. So why isn’t Superman in the number one spot? Who is his Krytonite?
#1 – The Ramones: Spider-Man. Even if it wasn’t the Ramones performing this song, the infectuous “Spider-Man” theme song from the ’60s was pretty much guaranteed the top spot. Heck, you’re probably humming the song in your mind RIGHT NOW. “Spider-Man, Spider-Man/Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man/Spins a web, any size/catches thieves, just like flies/LOOK OUT, here comes the Spider-Man!”
And the Ramones make it that much better. Other artists have covered the “Spider-Man” theme song: Aerosmith with a rock version and Michael Buble with a crooner version. None, however, have successfully imprinted their own ineffible personality into the song like The Ramones. Honestly, if you hadn’t heard the song before, you’d swear that the Ramones composed the song themselves. The song captures the spirit of Spider-Man himself: speedy, upbeat, and adventurous.
The Ramone’s “Spider-Man”: the best superhero tune of all time! Excelsior!