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25. "Spiderman '79," Veruca Salt
You're so nice, you tie me in a web
And cradle me 'til dawn.
You're so deadly, I can see your breath
Beneath me when you're gone
Just when I think the Marvel superheroes are underrepresented in pop music, here comes '90s alt band Veruca Salt with a tender ballad to Spider-Man. Or possibly just some web-spinning, arachnoid shitkicker Veruca Salt has a thing for. Spider-Man has so few love songs; let's let him have this one.
24. "Spiderman," Katrina and the Waves
People can tell me that he's not real
But I go crazy 'bout that silken shield
I wanna be rescued from bad guys' clutches
I wanna know what that Spider-Man touches
I spoke too soon! Katrina and the Waves deserve to be known for more than "Walking on Sunshine"; they should also be remembered for their desire to be rescued by Spider-Man so they can crush hard on the web-slinger's charms. Sadly, neither Veruca Salt nor Katrina and the Waves love Spider-Man enough to spell his name correctly. It's got a dash, people.
23. "Comic Book Heroes," the Tearjerkers
I wanna be a comic book hero
Flex my muscles on the beach
I wanna be a comic book hero
Comic book heroes are outta reach
Sure, any late-'70s Northern Irish power pop band can fart out a song about wanting to be a superhero. But the Tearjerkers go the extra mile with knowledgeable references to Cyclops, Angel, Doctor Strange, and other Silver Age Marvel heroes. "From the age of six they've never changed," they cry, rocking out punk-style. But an old 1977 punk style, not like some modern hardcore asshole, as Enid from Ghost World
22. "Ghost Rider," Suicide
He's riding through your town with his head on fire
Halo burning, eyes are crying, halo burning, eyes are crying
Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider keep riding
Not only does this song rock hard while dropping unexpectedly charming lyrics like "He's looking so cute/Riding around in a blue jumpsuit," the later and even more rocking cover by the Rollins Band was included in the soundtrack for The Crow
, based on a completely different comic. So this is like a double secret probation comic song.
21. "Sunshine Superman," Donovan
Superman and Green Lantern ain't got nothin' on me
I can make like a turtle and dive for your pearls in the sea
And you just sit there thinking on your velvet throne
About all the rainbows you can have for your own
One of the pioneer psychedelic songs, "Sunshine Superman" evokes the feelings of a really good trip with a semi-nonsensical blend of sunshine, rainbows, superhero references, and sitar music. In counterpoint to the feel-good '60s groove, the lyrics have a strangely threatening edge, as the singer muses about his resolution to use his druggy superpowers to impress a disinterested girl. You know, if he can get off the couch this weekend. The song was most likely inspired by Donovan's then-girlfriend, teenage actress Sue Lyon—Kubrick's Lolita herself!—who eventually left him after he spiked her drink with LSD without her knowledge. This is why Metropolis doesn't let Sunshine Superman defend them anymore.
20. "Magneto and the Titanium Man," Wings
I didn't believe them
Magneto and the Titanium Man
But when the Crimson Dynamo
Finally assured me, well, I knew
As far as I can tell, the plot of this song is that Magneto, the Titanium Man, and the Crimson Dynamo appear before Paul McCartney and warn him that his girlfriend is about to rob a bank. Paul goes with them to stop her, but at the last minute he realizes that Magneto, the Titanium Man, and the Crimson Dynamo are all supervillians, and his girlfriend is on the side of good, so presumably she's got a legitimate reason for robbing that bank. Damn, that's pretty nerdy for Wings.
19. "Ghost World," Aimee Mann
So I'm bailing this town
Or tearing it down
Or probably more like
Aimee Mann is one of the great storytellers of folk-rock. "Ghost World" takes the Dan Clowes graphic novel of the same title as its inspiration, but the lyrics are more general, reflecting the ennui of a teenager fresh out of high school and baffled about what to do next. "Everyone I know is acting weird or way too cool," the Enid-like protagonist complains, so she's on hold until the summer ends, taking childhood with it for good. Bonus comics connection: Mann's album Lost in Space
, with its melancholy cover art by Seth, belongs on a list of Fifty Best Album Covers by Cartoonists.
18. "Barney Google," Billy Jones and Ernest Hare
Barney Google, with the goo-goo-googily eyes
Barney Google is the luckiest of guys
If he fell into the mud, he'd come up with a diamond stud
Barney Google with the goo-goo-googily eyes
Billy DeBeck's comic strip Barney Google
was a phenomenon in the 1920s, especially after the introduction of Barney's adorably incompetent racehorse, Spark Plug. Music inspired by the strip included "The Barney Google Foxtrot," "So I Took the $50,000," and "Come On, Spark Plug!" But there's no beating Jones and Hare's upbeat march, which forever branded the strip's hero as "Barney Google With the Goo-Goo-Googily Eyes." That is, until the world forgot about Barney Googlie and his inbred cousin Snuffy Smith took over the strip. Today, Barney Google
's most lasting legacy, even in the comics world, is arguably Charles Schulz's nickname, Sparky, which came from Spark Plug.
17. "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," the Ramones
Sheena is a punk rocker
Sheena is a punk rocker
Sheena is a punk rocker now
The Ramones were fans of the 1940s Fiction House comic Sheena, Queen of the Jungle
and named one of their greatest songs, and the first punk song to chart in the U.S., after the leopard-skin-clad heroine. As Joey Ramone explained: "To me ‘Sheena' was the first surf/punk rock/teenage rebellion song. I combined Sheena, Queen of the Jungle with the primalness of punk rock. Then Sheena is brought into the modern day: ‘But she just couldn't stay/She had to break away/Well, New York City really has it all.'" Speaking of which, when is some brave publisher going to start doing Fiction House reprints?
16. "Brainiac's Daughter," the Dukes of Stratosphear
All across the land the bells ring out
It's night, sun shines bright
So I reach to hold her frozen hand in flight
As we alight in the bottle city of Kandor
I'm bending my one-song-per-band rule here, because the Dukes of Stratosphear are just XTC doing psychedelic music instead of New Wave music, and XTC will be appearing elsewhere on this list. But what the hell. If there isn't room here for a trippy Beatles-on-acid tribute that name-checks Brainiac and the bottle city of Kandor, why am I even making this list?
15. "I Am the Law," Anthrax
Truth and justice
Are what he's fighting for
Judge Dredd's the man
He is the law
Oh, right: so I can pay proper tribute to Anthrax's headbanging ode to 2000 AD
stalwart Judge Dredd
. Every line of this song is amazing: "A man so hard his veins bleed ice/And when he speaks he never says it twice." Hardcore! The repeated "DROKK IT!" puts it over the top, and then, just when you think it can't rock any harder, Anthrax starts totally thrashing out and repeating "I am THE LAW!" Because that's the way it is in Mega-City, citizens.
14. "Alley Oop," the Hollywood Argyles
There's a man in the funny papers we all know
He lived way back a long time ago
He didn't eat nothin' but a bearcat stew
Well, this cat's name is-a Alley Oop
David Bowie once proclaimed "Alley Oop" the most perfect pop song ever made, and am I going to argue with David Bowie? No. I am not.
13. "Comic Book Heroes/I'm Your Superman," Rick Springfield
There's times when real people let me down
When the temperature falls to zero
I curl up by the fire with a good book
And for a while I am a superhero
Early in his career, Rick Springfield recorded the currently-out-of-print album Comic Book Heroes
, the opening tracks of which form an epic tribute to the spun-sugar joys of superhero comics. After the short, somber intro of "Comic Book Heroes," Springfield launches into the glammy, piano-driven "I'm Your Superman," in which, between na-na-na-na-na choruses, he assures his special lady that with her "I even feel real bulletproof too." Try to listen to it and not crack a smile. You can't.
12. "Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)," XTC
I'm enlisting overseas aid
Need assisting, help with a maid
Get the expert on mademoiselles
He could diffuse any bombshell
XTC recorded two major comic-book songs, this one and "That's Really Super, Supergirl," both of which are about men intimidated by women. That's probably appropriate. In "Sgt. Rock," a timid British virgin imagines the hard-bitten hero of Our Army at War
coming across the pond to help him get a girlfriend. "Girls are foreign and strange to me," he confesses, and who knows how to conquer foreign territory better than Sgt. Rock? I'm somewhat less sold on the singer's belief that Rock is also "the expert at kissing and stuff."
11. "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron," The Royal Guardsmen
In the nick of time, a hero arose
A funny-looking dog with a big black nose
He flew into the sky to seek revenge
But the Baron shot him down—"Curses, foiled again!"
One of the most epic novelty songs of all time, the Royal Guardsmen's dramatic musical recreation of Snoopy's WWI fantasies recounts every detail of the literal dogfight with martial solemnity. The Guardsmen followed their first and only hit with two sequels, "The Return of the Red Baron" and "Snoopy's Christmas," as well as other songs about Snoopy. Amazingly, "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" was released only four weeks after the first Red Baron strip in Peanuts. In that shining moment, the Royal Guardsmen saw a legend being born and leapt to commemorate it in song.
10. "Superman," R.E.M.
I am, I am, I am Superman
And I know what's happening
I am, I am, I am Superman
And I can do anything
This is one of the definitive '90s alt-rock anthems, and I'm a sucker for any song with echo and reverb. But if you listen to the lyrics it's fairly disturbing, inasmuch as it's about how Michael Stipe plans to use his super-powers to stalk a girl he likes. Like "Sunshine Superman," it's more of a fantasy about abusing Superman's powers to get girls than it is about Superman himself. Which is not to say the real Superman didn't occasionally pull that sort of thing with Lois Lane, back in the Golden Age, but still, dick move.
9. "Hello Tiger," Urusei Yatsura
You're a wonderful star
Isn't tiger fur
Here we have another rare case of both song and band name being comic-inspired. The Glaswegian alt-rock band Urusei Yatsura named itself after Rumiko Takahashi's manga of the same name, and this catchy lo-fi song pays tribute to Lum, the alien demon girl in the tiger-striped bikini who made Urusei Yatsura
Takahashi's first hit. Urusei Yatsura also recorded a song about tabletop roleplaying called "Slain By Elf," and all but one member went on to form the band Project A-ko, named after another anime whose fansub was on the program of every sci-fi convention in the 1990s. So they're clearly a nerdy bunch of Scotsmen, even if they used to hang out with the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand.
8. "Challengers," the New Pornographers
On the walls of the day
In the shade of the sun
We wrote down another vision of us
We are the challengers of the unknown
Songs about Superman and Batman are so done. The New Pornographers went above and beyond, building a song around Jack Kirby's legendary, but widely unread, proto-Fantastic Four
series Challengers of the Unknown
. Comic-book connection aside, it's a lovely song, and its mournful tone and cryptic references to mysterious ancient ceremonies jibe unexpectedly well with the nod to half-forgotten old Kirby comics.
7. "Cartoon Heroes," Aqua
We are what we're supposed to be
Illusions of your fantasy
All dots and lines that speak and say
What we do is what you wish to do
Every time I play this glorious Europop meringue, my husband criticizes its confused evocation of a generic "Toontown" where Superman comes from Never-Never Land and rubs shoulders with Spider-Man. Or maybe he just wants me to stop playing my Aqua albums over and over. But why would anyone want that? Here, the bubblegum band famous (or infamous) for taking on the roles of Barbie and Ken in "Barbie Girl" casts itself as a gang of cartoon characters frolicking in a comic-strip wonderland. Because they're Aqua, and they can do that, and no force in this world can stop their relentless assault of synthesizers, timpani, and Danish rapping. Everyone, even the haters, will be welcomed at the Toontown party.
6. "I Wupped Batman's Ass," Wesley Willis
Batman got on my nerves
He was running me amok
He ridiculed me, calling me a bum
I wupped Batman's ass
The legendary Wesley Willis
, a schizophrenic with a Technics KN keyboard, entertained thousands on the streets of Chicago and recorded over 50 albums of his immediately recognizable music. But even he ran into trouble sometimes, as in this confrontation with an uncharacteristically rude Batman. Batman beats the hell out of Willis and knocks him to the floor, but Willis gets up and gives it right back, because Batman is being such a jagoff. Inasmuch as all Wesley Willis songs have the same tune and structure, it's hard to rank them, but this may be the best Wesley Willis song. Willis also recorded the suspiciously similar "I Whipped Spider-Man's Ass," in which he is forced to wail on Spider-Man for cutting his girlfriend out of 70 dollars. Rock over London, rock on Chicago.
5. "Scenes From a Night's Dream," Genesis
Little Nemo rubbed his eyes and got out of bed
Trying hard to piece together a broken dream
His visions lifelike and full of imagination
It's strange to think they came from such a tiny head
If this were a list of Fifty Best Music Videos Inspired by Comics, the top slot would surely go to Tom Petty's animated Little Nemo
homage in the video for "Runnin' Down a Dream." But in this list, honor must be paid to prog-rock mainstay Genesis for crafting an appropriately dreamy/trippy song about Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland/Little Nemo in the Land of Wonderful Dreams
, the most unabashedly beautiful of all comic strips. There's even a sly reference to McCay's other dream strip, Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend
, in the lyrics "Eating all kinds of food so close to bedtime/They always made him have these nightmares, it seemed." O Mama!
4. "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman," the Kinks
I'd really like to change the world
And save it from the mess it's in
I'm too weak, I'm so thin
I'd like to fly but I can't even swim
Superman has inspired more songs than any other comic character. Is this one the best? Yes. Yes it is. The plaint of a knobbly-kneed weakling who wishes he could change the world like a superhero continues the Kinks' fascination with modern young neurotics and the impotence of the individual against society. This guy can't even muster the super-power to pay his bills. But thanks to the Kinks' relentless beat and screaming guitars, this tale of proletariat woe never turns into a Sad Superman Song. Anyway, don't we all wish we could fly like Superman?
3. "Flash's Theme," Queen
He's for every one of us
Stand for every one of us
He saved with a mighty hand
Every man every woman every child
He's a mighty Flash
The glittering hierophant of all theme songs for comics-based movies. In fact, this could well be the greatest movie theme song ever, period, were it not for the existence of "Theme From Shaft
." There are basically no bad Queen songs, but the group's bombastic, operatic style is especially well-suited to Alex Raymond's sci-fi adventure strip. Splice in some representative lines from the movie ("I like to play with things awhile…before annihilation"), and you've got the iconic comic-strip song beside which all other comic songs are judged.
2. "Comic Books," Debbie Harry
Eighteen I was guaranteed
I would lose my teenage dream
But it's so funny how I got to look
Like all the people in my comic books
Even better than songs about comic characters are songs about the pleasures of comics themselves. Debbie Harry, minus Blondie, sings the praises of comic books—"Archie, Josie, superheroes/I would read them by myself"—to a relentless punk beat. In the end, instead of growing out of comics and becoming a responsible adult, Harry becomes a rock star and a living comic-book heroine. Comics are more than childhood escapism; they're the road to a bigger, brighter, more colorful life.
1. "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake," Art Brut
I'm in love with a girl
At my comic shop
She's a girl who likes comics
She probably gets that a lot
Adulthood is overrated anyway. That's the theme of English/German indie band Art Brut's ode to arrested development and superhero comic books. The singer is 28 years old and still can't get a credit card, but it's okay as long as he can afford a steady supply of breakfast cereals, chocolate milkshakes, and Superman comics. So what if people accuse him of Peter Pan syndrome?
Almost as good as this gloriously rocking Art Wave song is lead singer Eddie Argos, at live shows, describing the band's trip to the DC offices after its release: "The first thing you see, when you get out of the lift, is the Daily Planet. The Daily Planet is where Clark Kent works! The second thing you see, the second thing you see is Superman, just hanging around. I thought, this is it! I love Superman! But no. I'm not going to waste this opportunity. I've not even got free comics yet." Raise a milkshake to the ultimate comics love song.
Shaenon K. Garrity is a manga editor at Viz Media and is best known for her webcomics Narbonic and Skin Horse.
All the Comics in the World is © Shaenon K. Garrity, 2010