Monday, June 12, 2006

Superman in Song

Tonight I watched the documentary Look Up in the Sky: the Amazing History of Superman on A&E. I can't recall who mentioned it, but when dicussing the demand that there still is for the Man of Steel, he mentioned that there had been several hit songs written about Superman. I had never really thought about it, but it seems to me that he is right. I can think of several off the top of my head. And given my total ignorance of rap, my knowledge of songs about Superman is probably not near being complete.

At any rate, the Man of Steel appeared in song fairly early in the history of rock 'n' roll. Dale Hawkins, composer and original performer of the classic "Suzy Q. (later covered by Credence Clearwater Revival)," recorded a song entitled "Superman" in the Fifties. This song is not so much about Superman, as it is about a fellow who feels like Superman whenever he is with his girl.

By the same token, "Sunshine Superman" by Donovan, released in 1966, is not a song about a Man of Steel. Instead, it is a song in which the singer boasts that a girl is "...going to be mine." There is only one reference to the Last Son of Krypton, in which the singer boasts, "Superman or Green Lantern ain't got nothin' on me."

While neither Dale Hawkins' "Superman" or Donovan's "Sunshine Superman" are about the Man of Steel, The Clique's "Superman," released in 1969, would certainly seem to be. At the very least, the singer boasts "I Am Superman!" The Clique's "Superman" is essentially a love song in which the singer proclaims that "I know you don't really love that guy 'cause I can see right through you..." I suppose the song proves that even Superman can have problems when it comes to affairs of the heart (of course, it did take him 60 years just to win Lois Lane...). The Clique's "Superman" was later remade by R.E.M. on their album Life's Rich Paegent.

The Man of Steel has a universal appeal that seems to cut across cultures. It should then be no surpise that even legendary London band The Kinks should acknowledge him in song. "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" appeared on their 1979 Low Budget. The song is not about Superman himself, but rather about "a nine stone weakling (that'd be a 126 pound weakling for my fellow Americans out there...)" who longs to be the Man of Steel. The singer not only wants to be in better shape, but he wants to be able to change the world.

If there was a golden age for songs about Superman, it may well have been the Nineties. Throughout the decade, several songs appeared that were either about or at least mentioned the Man of Steel. Indeed, in 1991 The Spin Doctors (not one of my favourite bands) released an album whose title even related to Superman-- Pocket Full of Kryptonite. The title was taken from a line in the song "Jimmy Olsen's Blues," in which Jimmy Olsen expresses his repressed desires for Lois Lane. Indeed, depending upon how one interprets the line "pocketful of kryptonite," he may even be willing to kill the Man of Tomorrow for her... Of course, if Lois Lane does look like Kate Bosworth, I can't say I'd blame him...

While there were plenty of songs about Superman in the Nineties, there were some who thought that the concept of Superman may sadly be outdated. That was the theme of the 1996 song by Our Lady Peace, "Superman's Dead." Reportedly, Raine Maida (the lead vocalist of Our Lady Peace) has said that the song is about the ideas of morality, being a gentleman, and everything else that Superman represented being pretty much dead in modern day society. If Our Lady Peace is right, then perhaps this is why superheros such as Superman and Batman remain popular. Our world lacks heroes so we have to create our own...

That the world needs Superman is a theme that does occur in "Waitin' for a Superman" by The Flaming Lips, released in 1999. Unlike "Superman's Dead," however, "Waitin' for a Superman" is hopeful. Its chorus states that Superman "...hasn't dropped them/or forgot them/or anything."

So far the only song I have mentioned which is sung from the point of view of the Man of Steel has been "Superman" by The Clique. In 2000 another such song was released, "Krytonite," by 3 Doors Down. The song apparently centres upon Superman's concerns about his relationship with Lois Lane. He makes references to all the times in which he has saved her ("I picked you up and put you back/On solid ground..") and asks the question "If I go crazy then will you still/Call me Superman?"

Another song in which the singer longs to be Superman is "If I Were Superman" by Dweller, released in 2001 on their album Before You Save the World. In this song the singer's motives aren't entirely selfish: "If I were like Superman/I'd be the one to save the land/taking on the bad guys/I'd save the day..." And once more in this song, the romance between Superman and Lois Lane is stressed.

I know that these are not nearly all the songs about the Man of Steel. In fact, Rhino Records is releasing a tribute album called Sound of Superman tommorow, filled with songs about the Man of Steel. As one of the iconic characters of the 20th century, I suppose it is natural that there would be a number of songs that are either about Superman or at least make references to him. Indeed, I rather suspect that there will be even more songs about the Man of Steel to come.


Torran said...

Crash Test Dummies did my favorite comic book/superman song.

"Superman's Song"

Tarzan wasn't a ladies' man
He'd just come along and scoop 'em up under his arm
Like that, quick as a cat in the jungle
But Clark Kent, now there was a real gent
He would not be caught sittin' around in no
Junglescape, dumb as an ape doing nothing

Superman never made any money
For saving the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair the world will never see
Another man like him

Hey Bob, Supe had a straight job
Even though he could have smashed through any bank
In the United States, he had the strength, but he would not
Folks said his family were all dead
Their planet crumbled but Superman, he forced himself
To carry on, forget Krypton, and keep going

Tarzan was king of the jungle and Lord over all the apes
But he could hardly string together four words: "I Tarzan, You Jane."

Sometimes when Supe was stopping crimes
I'll bet that he was tempted to just quit and turn his back
On man, join Tarzan in the forest
But he stayed in the city, and kept on changing clothes
In dirty old phonebooths till his work was through
And nothing to do but go on home

Torran said...

Oh, the above post was not by Torran, but by her BF.

My bad

Torran said...

The song shows an understanding of the character of superman rather than a glossing over of his powers. The slow tempo and sadish delivery of the song really shows the conflict that is at the heart of the character.

BF again

Mercurie said...

While it's not really about Superman, my favourite Superman song would be "Sunshine Superman" by Donovan. Of course, it also mentions Green Lanern, who was always my favourite hero besides Batman. Speaking of which, I always thought the reference to Solomon Grundy in "Superman's Song" was a bit funny. Originally Grundy was Green Lantern's (Alan Scott, not Hal Jordan) archenemy and has but rarely fought Superman. Still, it is a great song, one of the few that actually addresses the character of Superman.