The 8 Ball 7.26.14: Top 8 Comic Book-Inspired Songs
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.26.2014
From Prince's "Batdance" and Anthrax's "I Am The Law" to Will Smith's "Men in Black," Paul McCartney & Wings' "Magneto And Titanium Man" and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 comic book-inspired songs!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
Before you start reading, have you bookmarked 411Mania.com yet? It's the easiest thing in the world to do, and it'll get you your daily dose of entertainment news that much quicker! Typing the URL out in the address bar is such a pain, don'tcha think? Hell, make it your home page and it'll be that much easier for you!
Top 8 Comic Book Songs
Welcome one and all to the 411 Music 8 Ball! Jeremy Thomas here as always and Comic-Con is in full effect as I write this. The yearly convention where all things geeky come out to play is already delivering us some huge news and that has left me with superheroes on the brain. Luckily superheroes are a regular feature of popular music; as a staple of pop culture they've made their way into every avenue of entertainment and songs are no exception. This week we're going to look at the best comic book-inspired songs out there.
Caveat: For the purposes of this list I was looking at commercial releases only. That means that songs which were created as themes to TV shows and the like weren't eligible; I wanted to specifically rank well-known commercial artists who took on comic book characters for serious musical endeavors. I also left off parodies, which was a tough choice but there are so many parodies out there today that I couldn't logistically tackle all of them. Finally, I limited myself to one song per superhero on the list, with the choices aiming for songs that focused on the heroes themselves and not just songs that name dropped a hero here or there.
Just Missing The Cut
• The Kinks - "Plastic Man"
• Moe - "Captain America"
• The Last Emperor - "Secret Wars Pt. 1"
• The Traits - "Nobody Loves The Hulk"
• XTC - "That's Really Super, Supergirl"
#8: Paul McCartney & Wings - "Magneto And Titanium Man"
For the first song on our list, we focus on the villainous side of comic books. Paul McCartney actually has a little bit of a history with weaving comic book characters through his music, but his most overt is this track off of 1975's Venus And Mars. Now everyone knows Magneto at this point, but the other two villains mentioned in this tale of crime--Titanium Man and Crimson Dynamo--aren't quite as well-known. And that's kind of tragic as they are a couple of Iron Man's more formidable enemies. At the time of McCartney's recording, Titanium Man was Boris Bullski and Crimson Dynamo was Alex Nevsky, though the original Dynamo Anton Vanko was referenced in Iron Man 2 as the father of Ivan Vanko, aka Whiplash. The two armor-suited villains were regular thorns in Tony Stark's side during the Cold War era and appeared in some of his most significant arcs. Why they would be teaming with Magneto I'm not sure, but it makes for a very fun narrative in the song. When asked his opinion of the song, Stan Lee was quoted as saying he thought it was "terrific." While I'm not a big fan of McCartney's Wings period (though it did have its moments), I'd have to agree with Stan the Man in this case.
#7: Suicide - "Ghost Rider"
Let's forget those highly-unfortunate Nicolas Cage movies for a moment, because Ghost Rider is one of Marvel Comics' more interesting characters. The Hell-powered superhero has been a mainstay of the publisher's supernatural-oriented books since the early 1970s and became a favorite of Brooklyn protopunk rocker Alan Vega's, to the point that when he formed a band with Martin Rev they took their name from the character's "Satan Suicide" issue. Since the band was so enamored of the character, it is fairly unsurprising that they dedicated a song to good old Johnny Blaze. There's nothing subtle about this song, which makes no attempts to hide its association with the character via lyrics like "Ghost Rider, motorcycle hero" and "Sneakin' round, round round in a blue jumpsuit." The track has since been covered by various bands including Rollins Band and R.E.M., but with all due respect for both of those groups they didn't quite nail it as well as the original.
#6: Will Smith - "Men In Black"
It goes without saying that most of the population knows the Men in Black property from the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones movies. And obviously that's where this song comes from. But the films came from the comic book series, which was originally published by Aircel Comics before it was bought by Malibu Comics, which in turn was purchased by Marvel. The films takes a deep level of creative license from the source, but the theme song to the first film mostly fits just fine with the comic books. (Note that I say "mostly"--the darker elements of the comic aren't referenced because they're not present in the film.) A lot of people look at Smith as a lightweight in terms of his musical skills, and I certainly wouldn't argue with the idea that he's not among the true kings of rap. But he has an ability to create incredibly catchy tracks which, if they aren't particularly hardcore, still manage to stand up perfectly well on their own. "Men in Black" is one of his most insanely catchy songs with the "Forget Me Not" sample and a fun, tongue-in-cheek narrative. It deserves to be mentioned among the top comic book-inspired songs, even if it's an indirect inspiration.
#5: Anthrax - "I Am The Law"
Like Men in Black, Judge Dredd is known mostly through its films...the execrable Stallone one and the fantastic Karl Urban one. The John Wagner/Carlos Ezquerra creation happens to be an extremely long-lived character however, having first appeared in 2000 AD #2 in March of 1977. He's one of the more popular comic book characters to come out of the UK and when thrash metal icons Anthrax were putting together their 1987 album Among the Living, they created an ode to the most famous of the Mega-City Judges. That album became their breakthrough LP and "I Am The Law" has become one of their most popular songs, often used as the band's encore. It's six minutes of thrash goodness, unapologetically saluting Dredd in his fight to keep Mega-City One free of criminal scum. It's hard not to get in the groove of this song when it's playing, or to headbang a little when they scream "Respect the badge!"
#4: Five For Fighting - "Superman (It's Not Easy)"
There are a lot of songs that reference the Man of Steel, but the majority of them do so in a much more metaphorical way. Eminem's "Superman" isn't actually about the hero, for example, nor is Three Doors Down's "Kryptonite." Five For Fighting's song is much more about DC's most famous hero, although it certainly isn't any energetic tale of fighting Lex Luthor or Bizzaro. John Ondrasik crafted a number that looks at Superman as a person and explores his, shall we say, more vulnerable side. Because let's face it; as much as we read comics and watch comic book movies for the big battles and epic villains, it's a fleshed-out hero with humanity that really sucks us in. This may not be everyone's choice but it's a beautiful song, with the piano work hitting all the right emotional beats and Ondrasik's voice carrying the song quite nicely. This may not quite jive with Zack Snyder's destruction-heavy Man of Steel but it's a powerful song nonetheless.
#3: Queen - "Flash"
Flash Gordon is the third property on our list that is remembered more as a film than a comic book. And in fact Queen's "Flash" is the theme song for the 1980 film. But in truth the character was first introduced in the 1934 serial comic strip by Alex Raymond, a Yale University graduate who escapes a meteor-bombarded earth with his companions Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov. From there he goes on a series of adventures on the planet Mongo. Queen was the perfect choice to do a song for the operatic material and it's a classic part of the group's catalogue. The song is intercut with dialogue from the film as Brian May pushes the song forward with his synth and of course Freddy Mercury chimes in with his unmistakable voice. It's silly, it's over the top and it's perfect for its topic. The song has found a life beyond just the film, with its use as a sports anthem and its appearance in the Will Ferrell ice skating comedy Blades of Glory. Really, how can you not appreciate this one?
#2: The Ramones - "Spider-Man"
If there is any theme song for a superhero more famous than the Spider-Man theme song, I don't know what it is. While I decided not to include non-commercial releases like that song, this one allowed me to slip the famous song in. The Ramones covered the song for their 1995 album Adios Amigos, giving our own Peter Parker a punk rock twist. While there's something a little bizarre about a punk band covering such a pop culture-savvy song, it undeniably works. This is an earworm that will lodge into your brain and won't let go, but the good news is that it also seriously rocks so you don't mind it being stuck up there. The song is such a theme song for the character that it has been referenced in the live-action films as well; all three Raimi films had some version of it while Peter has a version of it as his theme song in Amazing Spider-Man 2. And to be honest, I've always preferred the Ramones because it's just a catcher, more rocking number.
#1: Prince - "Batdance"
It seems odd when you think about it that Prince would be associated with Batman. The Purple One isn't a particularly dark individual, although he's touched on darker themes in some of his songs. And with Tim Burton having directed the first Batman, you would think that he would have gone with someone more gothic. And in truth, it wasn't really his choice; he resisted it at first. But eventually he took to the single-monikered pop icon and let him loose on the 1989 adaptation...and to great result. The entire Batman soundtrack is great, but the highlight for me (and the most obviously tied to the superhero) is "Batdance." With dialogue from the film included, Prince created a wacky remixed funk-pop number that helped push the album to huge success. It's a brilliant piece of pop music that is both fully Prince in spirit and completely appropriate to the Dark Knight.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
This week's Music Video A-Go-Go isn't strictly comic book-related, but it certainly falls within that purview and Comic-Con isn't just about comics anyway. Making a terrible song like Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty to Me" actually enjoyable earns it extra credit. Check out K. Face Rules' "Talk Nerdy to Me" below:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.