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The Fifty Greatest Pop Songs About Comics
By Shaenon K. Garrity
Thursday April 5, 2012 10:00:00 pm
Our columnists are independent writers who choose subjects and write without editorial input from comiXology. The opinions expressed are the columnist's, and do not represent the opinion of comiXology.
Disclaimer: The following are solely and entirely my personal choices as the comics community's only licensed and bonded Shaenon K. Garrity. Only one song per musical group has been permitted. For the purposes of this list, I have excluded TV themes and numbers from musicals. I have, however, included songs from movies, because reasons.

50. "I'm a Boinger," Billy and the Boingers
If you don't know by now
Bill bit the head off a cow
That's no lie
That's no lie, 'cause we're the Boingers

Children of the '80s may recall the ongoing saga of Deathtöngue, the Bloom County heavy metal band comprising Bill the Cat (vocals and lead tongue), Hodge the Rabbit (drums), and Opus the Penguin (tuba), later renamed Billy and the Boingers at the insistence of sleazy manager Steve Dallas. And children of the '80s who were into comic strips will invariably issue a sigh of nostalgia over the 1987 Bloom County anthology Billy and the Boingers Bootleg, which included an actual flexi-disc single of the band's music.

In reality, the song "I'm a Boinger" was performed by the Harry Pitts Band, and the B side "U-Stink-But-I-♥-U" was performed by a New Jersey band called Mucky Pup. And in honesty, neither song is very good. Even the lyrics to "I'm a Boinger" admit, "At best, the music could be described as lame," and the boing-boing sound effects are, though thematically appropriate, not very metal. But where else can you hear a rock song by a cat-and-penguin-fronted cartoon band?

49. "Side Kick," Rancid
I had a dream I was a vigilante sidekick
My name is Tim, I'm a lesser-known character
I had a dream I was a vigilante sidekick
Fighting crime in the streets together

There's something charming about a singer a) imagining himself not as Batman or Superman, as most pop stars are wont to do, but as the humble Robin, and b) helpfully explaining that he's a lesser-known character. But then Wolverine shows up and fights a SWAT team and it's like, what? They're not even in the same universe!

48. "Cadillacs and Dinosaurs," Chris Christensen and Mark Schultz
Cadillacs and dinosaurs
Sleek and shiny monsters with the carriage of lords
Evolution, baby, is a thing of the past
When you're living in the moment and the moment can't last

Why wait for some random band to compose songs about your comic? With musician Chris Christensen and copious guest appearances from members of Seduction of the Innocent (about which more later), Xenozoic Tales/Cadillacs and Dinosaurs creator Mark Schulz produced Songs from the Xenozoic Age, a lushly illustrated Cadillacs and Dinosaurs concept album. Of all the tracks, my favorite is this rockabilly song about, obviously, Cadillacs and dinosaurs. Say what you will, I admire a cartoonist who knows what he likes.

47. "Men in Black," Will Smith
The good guys dress in black, remember that
Just in case we're ever face-to-face and make contact
The title held by me: M.I.B.

For a while there in the 1990s, it wasn't a summer movie without a tie-in rap over the end credits. Since Men in Black, based on the comic by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Curruthers, starred the young Will Smith, a rap was inevitable. And yet the question remains. Which moment more perfectly encapsulated the '90s: the Fresh Prince dancing with a CGI alien to the strains of this laid-back R&B-style ditty, or Vanilla Ice rapping "Go ninja, go ninja, go!" for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze?

46. "Batdance," Prince
I've seen the future and it will be
And where, and where…is the Batman

For that matter, could there be a more perfect close to the 1980s than an MTV video featuring a team of Batmen, Jokers, and Vickis Vale performing a sensitive interpretive dance to Prince's pounding seven-minute electronic dance track? It may sound as corny as the Batusi to today's Christopher Nolan fans, but this single went platinum in 1989. NEVER FORGET.

45. "Little Orphan Annie," the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks
Little Orphan Annie
You go smiling through
Telling Mr. Trouble,
"Who's afraid of you?"

Novelty songs about comic-strip characters were quite the thing back in the day, 23 skidoo and oh you kid. Frankly, "Little Orphan Annie," recorded by the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks just four years after the debut of Harold Gray's comic strip, doesn't have much to do with the comic besides the name. But its focus on Annie's relentless optimism surely influenced the 1977 musical Annie and its hit songs "Tomorrow" and "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile."

44. "Electric Barbarella," Duran Duran
I plug you in
Dim the lights
Electric Barbarella
Your perfect skin
Plastic kiss
Electric Barbarella

What does this song about making out with a robot have to do with Barbarella? Pretty much nothing save the title. But not only is it an awesomely trashy dollop of New Romantic pulp, we have here a rare case where both the song and the band itself are named after comic-book characters. Unless Duran Durand is only in the movie. I have to go read a bunch of Barbarella comics.

43. "Addams Groove," M.C. Hammer
They do what they wanna do, say what they wanna say
Live how they wanna live, play how they wanna play
Dance how they wanna dance, kick and they slap a friend
The Addams Family

Another corny 1990s movie credits rap? You bet. But let's face facts here: Hammer understands the twisted charm of Charles Addams's proto-goth family. As he explains at the end: "Speaking and thinking about the Addams Family: they don't hurt anyone. They just like to have fun." They are also, as he repeatedly points out in an effort to create synergy with his biggest hit single, 2 legit 2 quit.

42. "Not the Red Baron," Tori Amos
Not the Red Baron I'm sure
Not Charlie's wonderful dog
Not anyone I really know
Just another pilot down

Is it possible to create a song about Peanuts that's even sadder than Peanuts? Only if you're Tori Amos. In this song, Snoopy's the lucky one compared to all the anonymous pilots of life who go down unmourned. And there's Judy Garland and Jean Harlow and, you know, sadness. But what would you rather have, a Tori Amos song inspired by comics or a comic inspired by Tori Amos songs?

41. "Doctor Octopus," Crack the Sky
Captain America, and you, the Avengers
You will fall at my feet, you will all surrender
Fantastic Four, and you there, Hulk,
You're gonna cry like babies, and you're gonna sulk

For this list, I've generally avoided songs recorded for comic-book premiums, including the many flexi-disc singles produced by Marvel in the '60s and '70s. But there is no ignoring Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Superhero, the Spider-Man concept album produced by Lifesong Records "with Stan Lee" in 1975. Ballyhooed by classically goofy Stan Lee narration, the uncredited band (actually Lifesong studio band Crack the Sky) performs some truly amazing numbers. Highlights include jazzy opening track "High Wire"; "Peter Stays, Spider-Man Goes," a howlingly angsty number written by 15-year-old Mike Ragogna; the do-wop song "Square Boy"; and the upbeat Neil Diamond-like single "Spider-Man," which scored some radio airplay in the '70s.

As great as these songs are, if I have to choose just one track for this list, it's got to be "Doctor Octopus," a glam fantasy in which "a gloating Doctor Octopus, at the command of a worldwide rally of his brainwashed disciples" (Smilin' Stan's narration, natch), reigns supreme over the pantheon of Marvel heroes. Between the rock-opera bombast, the clanging piano, and the swaggering, bizarre lyrics ("Hey, Thor! And you, Black Panther!/I'm gonna turn you all into go-go dancers!"), the song seems designed to make you weep with frustration that there was never a Spider-Man movie in the 1970s featuring Elton John as Doc Ock. That should have happened, dammit!

The other gift this album gave the universe is the gorgeous John Romita cover art, including illustrations crediting the music to Marvel superheroes. Black Panther is on guitar, the Silver Surfer on keyboards, but Captain America gets the tambourine and the Falcon gets "handclapping." Those two must've showed up late to rehearsal.

40. "Beatomatic," Bob Schneider
I turned around and dropped my drink
There was this girl in a mink
She was the most beautiful girl I've ever seen, I think
I turned to Robin and I said, "Yo, this is Rob
My name is Batman, but you can call me Bob."

This affable stoner ramble goes from tolerable to unforgettable with the repeated lyric, "My name is Batman, but you can call me Bob." Schneider's version of Batman, as recounted in long, sporadically rhyming verses, fights crime between bong hits and efforts to get Robin past the bouncers at bars. Wouldn't we all love an easygoing Big Lebowski Batman who went around telling people to call him Bob? P.S. The beautiful girl is Catwoman in disguise. Watch out, Bob!

39. "Superman," the Ides of March
Well, I'll be your Superman
Grab a hold of my super hand
Take you to a never-never land
Great Caesar's ghost, I'll be your Superman

There are a surprising number of funk songs featuring superheroes, thanks to that sparkly period in the 1960s when pop met pulp and comic books were briefly groovy. Extremely long-lived counterculture band Ides of March, formed in 1964 and still alive and kicking, provided Superman with blaring horns and a driving backbeat for this very funky love song to the Man of Steel. Expect to see more songs like this on the list, because I cannot get enough of the funk.

38. "Comic Strip," Serge Gainsbourg
J'distribue les swings et les uppercuts
Ca fait VLAM! ca fait SPLATCH! et ca fait CHTUCK !
Ou bien BOMP! ou HUMPF! parfois mme PFFF!

Hip-beyond-hip, relentlessly eclectic, they-love-him-in-France experimental musician Serge Gainsbourg teamed up with sometime muse Brigette Bardot for a deliberately kitschy '60s pop-art pop song built around the extended metaphor of comic-book sound effects. That's as far as I can guide you through this one, gentle reader. Explaining the French is past my pay grade. But it'll sound great at your next "Mad Men"-themed ironic cocktail party.

37. "Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)," by Elton John
So long, Captain Dan
I fail to see what motivates your hands
Goodbye, restless night
You know I loved Dan Dare, but I couldn't make his flight

Elton John, in his classic 1970s incarnation, was so gloriously, glamorously cartoony that it's surprising he didn't do more songs about comics. But at least he gave us this ode to square-jawed English space pilot Dan Dare, who has battled his alien arch-nemesis The Mekon and other threats to Earth's peace since his creation in 1950. Dan Dare also gets name-checked in songs by David Bowie and Syd Barrett, but Sir Elton's closing line, "Dan Dare doesn't know it, no, he doesn't know it...But I like The Mekon," is the definitive Dan Dare lyric.

36. "Hanging Out with Halo Jones," Transvision Vamp
Now Halo Jones, she's a nuromancer
Well, she looks like a dream and she moves like a panther
Halo, Halo Jones is a girl of ice and fire
She got everything that all the boys desire

As will be seen elsewhere on this list, British comics mag 2000 AD has inspired many a fine song, including this ode to the heroine of Alan Moore and Ian Gibson's unfinished epic The Ballad of Halo Jones. "Hanging Out with Halo Jones," from British alt-rock group Transvision Vamp's first album, Pop Art, switches back and forth from dreamy to poppy as the singer makes it clear that, like eternally wandering spacefarer Halo, she's "got things to do and places to go."

35. "Jimmy Olsen's Blues," the Spin Doctors
Lois Lane, please put me in your plan
Yeah, Lois Lane, you don't need no Superman
Come on downtown and stay with me tonight
I got a pocket full of Kryptonite

Roughly 90% of Spin Doctors songs are about how unfair it is that some girl wants to go out with a cool guy instead of the Spin Doctors. In this song, which provided the title for the group's biggest album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, the Spin Doctors go up against the ultimate alpha male, Superman himself. Given the competition, they sound a little too cocky. Like Lois Lane is going to spend the night with Jimmy Olsen, here played by the Spin Doctors, because he sits at home reading Shakespeare and being all sensitive and shit while Superman is off saving the world. Nice try.

34. "Superman's Song," Crash Test Dummies
But he stayed in the city and kept on changing clothes
In dirty old phone booths 'til the work was through
And nothing to do but go home

I'm generally not a fan of sad Superman songs (and "Sad Superman Songs" could be a 50-entry list all by itself), but the Crash Test Dummies get points just for the rhyme "Superman never made any money/Saving the world from Solomon Grundy." Could this be the only pop song to name-check Solomon Grundy? "Superman's Song" focuses on what I love most about Superman: the idea that, out of all the infinite things he could choose to do with his powers, he chooses to do good. And it's not always fun, his alter ego isn't glamorous, but he clocks in every day anyway. Because that's what you do when you're Superman, Spin Doctors.

33. "Secret Wars," the Last Emperor
KRS and Professor X would battle each other mentally
With rhymes, these two team captains waste no time
Charles Xavier tried to invade Kris Parker's mind
He shot a cerebral probe at Kris's mind, but he missed it
Professor X taken out by the Blastmaster's metaphysics

In this hip-hop epic by Jamal Gray, a.k.a. the Last Emperor, rappers battle Marvel Comics characters. Stan Lee and the Emperor himself take the role of the Beyonder, overseeing a conflict that pits Redman against the Hulk, Doctor Octopus against Busta Rhymes, and Nas against Spider-Man. "There's no match for Storm? I guess he's never heard of Lauryn Hill!" The casts of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joe also show up, because why not? And yes, there is a "Secret Wars 2."

32. "This Vicious Cabaret," David J
At last! The 1998 Show!
The ballet on the burning stage
The documentary seen
Upon the fractured screen
The dreadful poem scrawled upon the crumpled page

David J, one of the founding members of goth-rock titan Bauhaus, has collaborated with Alan Moore more than once, starting with a four-track V for Vendetta mini-album released in 1984, when the comic by Moore and David Lloyd was still being serialized. "This Vicious Cabaret" takes the lyrics to the piano "Prelude" by V that opens Book Two and sets them to Bauhaus-style evil carnival music. Not long after this project, David J formed the band Love and Rockets, sealing his comic-fan credentials forever.

31. "Stop Talking About Comic Books (Or I'll Kill You)," Ookla the Mok
I just couldn't care less if they bring back Kraven
And I don't care if Spider-Man's a clone
Stop spending all our cash on back issues of the Flash
Or I swear to God you're gonna spend your twilight years alone

Filk group turned cult nerd-rock band Ookla the Mok has built its career on songs about such subjects as the Super Skrull and how Aquaman feels about being the lamest member of the Justice League. But even they reach the end of their rope in "Stop Talking About Comic Books," in which they declare that they no longer wish to debate post-Zero Hour continuity, whether the Hulk could beat Superman, or the term "graphic novels." In the end, though, they admit they still need their monthly Grant Morrison fix. Even when castigating fanboys, Ookla the Mok is still the nerdiest band.

30. "The Golden Age," Seduction of the Innocent
I was just a kid
I did what I did
I drew what I drew
Yeah, them and him too
What the hell, I got paid
Six dollars a page
Who knew?

Or is it? Back in the 1980s, before the San Diego Comic-Con became the vaguely comic-book-themed multimedia extravaganza it is today, it was possible to chill out with some Tijuana weed and enjoy the dulcet tones of Seduction of the Innocent, a supergroup composed of mystery writer Max Allen Collins, RoboCop and Twin Peaks character actor Miguel Ferrer, DC inker Steve Leialoha, and the Billy Mumy. Guest musicians included Shaun Cassidy, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and basically anyone who attended a West Coast comic convention and could play an instrument.

Songs on the group's sole album, The Golden Age, include "More Fun," "Flame On," and "King Jack" (Jack and Roz Kirby slow-danced to Seduction at Comic-Con '88). Their song "Reality Break" is a sweet tribute to escaping the daily grind through comic books, but for this list I'm going with the title track, a mournful noir tribute to the artists exploited by the comics industry. Which is most of them, in the end.

29. "Now I'm Following You," Madonna
Calling Dick Tracy, calling Dick Tracy
Come in Tracy, this is Sam, what are you doing up there?

Madonna got so into Breathless Mahoney, her character in the film Dick Tracy, that she recorded I'm Breathless, an entire album performed in character. Or maybe not, since Breathless Mahoney and Madonna are close to indistinguishable. Despite giving the world "Vogue," I'm Breathless got a lukewarm reception, which is too bad; it's a fun, weird pick-a-mix of jazzy retro numbers (including "Sooner or Later," the Stephen Sondheim-penned song that won an Oscar), stagy show tunes, and pure Madonna pop. The only thing the tracks have in common is that none of them even mention Dick Tracy—except "Now I'm Following You," which inserts a little dialogue of the cops trying to contact Tracy while he gets breathless with Breathless.

28. "What's the Name of This Funk (Spider-Man)," Ramsey Lewis
What's the name of this funk?
What's the name of this funk?
What's the name of this funk?

This funk superhero song, from the 1975 album Feel Good, gets points for choosing Spider-Man, a hero seldom celebrated in funk, as its subject. Admittedly, Ramsey Lewis doesn't go into much detail about Spider-Man, as most of the lyrics are either a) "What's the name of this funk?/Spider-Man!", b) "It's funky funky for Funkytown," or c) unintelligible. But damn is it funky.

27. "Here Comes a Special Boy," Freezepop
Oh Philippe, oh Philippe, you bring us very special joy
Dressed like a bumblebee, with your special kind of glee
Oh Philippe, oh Philippe, you're a very special boy
Because you're squeaky clean, standing on the drum machine

There are a surprising number of songs out there inspired by Chris Onstad's webcomic Achewood, thanks to frequent crossovers in the 2000s between the Song Fight! online songwriting competition and the Dumbrella webcomics group. But for Achewood songs, it's hard to beat synthpop group and frequent video-game soundtrack contributor Freezepop's "Here Comes a Special Boy," an electronic love song to the strip's innocent young otter, Philippe. The title, for those unfortunate souls unfamiliar with Achewood, refers to a pair of talking shoes sent to Philippe by his absentee mother, which play the line every time Philippe takes a step. Oh, Philippe.

Runner-ups in the "songs inspired by webcomics" subcategory: "Crazy Utahraptor," by Joey and Gilyan, which sets the dialogue from Ryan North's first two Dinosaur Comics strips to a synth-pop beat, and "DJ Coffman (What a Piece of Shit!)," by Brian F, a memorial to the drama-mongering webcartoonist of the mid-2000s.

26. "Batman and Robin," Snoop Dogg feat. Lady of Rage
Ay-yo-yo-yo, kick back, Robin
Get Alfred and tell him to have BBQ buffalo wings
And a pitcher of Kool-Aid on chill
It's about to get real in the field

Snoop Dogg is already close to being a comic-book character, but what if he literally were Batman? This rap describes the scenario in remarkably plausible terms. Over samples of the Adam West TV theme, Snoop and Lady of Rage (as Robin) team up to explain how they would clean up the hoo-bangin' in Gotham City. "Switch on my utility belt, make yo' facility melt," promises Robin, as Batman describes Catwoman as "She who spits it like she was sippin' rotten brew." Pure poetry. Only one Batman song ranks higher than this one.

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



STG1973 (1 month ago)
no love for "A Billion Exploding Suns" by H.O.R.S.E. the Band??? Awesome Nintendocore band,and its about Marvel comics the Sentry(who has the power of a billion exploding suns......
MrJM (1 year ago)
I don't see the link to the Top 25.
Will they be posted later?
-- MrJM

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