Sit on my knee, Internet. I got a story for you: when comics and music love one another very much, sometimes they decide to make a baby. Sometimes, that baby turns out awesome like Phonogram. Sometimes you end up with a KISS: Psycho Circus comic that inexplicably lasts 31 issues. Other times, however, the baby is a song that’s about or at least somehow vaguely related to comics, which can either be amazing or a totally laughable trainwreck. Here are ten(ish) of those comic book related songs.
Jeez, you guys are heavy.
Honorable Mention: “Scott Pilgrim” by Plumtree
All my Scott Pilgrim superfans in the house know that this ‘90s alt-rock ditty was the inspiration for Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel phenomenon rather than a song based on the comics, but I’m going to talk about it anyway. An infectiously repetitive song with a pretty much one lyric in the verses (“I’ve liked you for a thousand years“) repeated over and over, “Scott Pilgrim” is too damn cute in its teenaged over-exaggeration. I wanna hug this song.
Plus, if you’re like me and have been mishearing the words, it sounds like Carla Gillis is singing “I’ll fight you for a thousand years,” which is also Scott Pilgrim appropriate.
10. “Kryptonite,” Three Doors Down
10. Seriously, though: “Magneto and Titanium Man,” Wings
Yeah, I know: I should have just called this “Ten Comic-Related Songs” and forgone the idea of quality. But ranking a group of things gets more attention and infuriates lots of readers, so here we are, living in a world where the Internet is telling you that a Wings song is the tenth best anything of all time.
Only slightly more dignified than bad southern rock, “Magneto and Titanium Man” is notable not because it’s a terrible Paul McCartney song (oh, Jesus, there are way too many of those), but because it’s a song about Magneto and Titanium Man. “And the Crimson Dynamo,” McCartney curiously keeps adding as if he were a third wheel that the title characters didn’t really want around. I assume this is some kind of subtle anti-Soviet sentiment.
Cold War paranoia aside, the three inform the speaker that an unnamed love interest was “involved in a robbery/ That was due to happen at a quarter to three. ” Because this isn’t a David Bowie song, those conflicting tenses signify questionable songwriting, not time travel.
Wings, by the way, perform this nonsense without a lick of irony. Irony, as everybody knows, was invented in 1996.
9. “I Am the Law,” Anthrax
Judge Dredd hates crime. His hatred is so strong that he’s been riding around Mega City One in his giant motorcycle and punching crime in the face nonstop for the past 34 years.
If I may remind you:
What band could hope to capture a force of nature like Judge Dredd in a song, like some reverse Pandora’s Box? Anthrax, that’s who. “I am the Law” is, as you’ll soon hear, a KILLER metal song about Judge Dredd, featuring bon mots like “A man so hard, his veins bleed ice” and a totally unironic use of the word “Iso-Cube.” The only way to make the song better is if they ended every verse with a rousing shout of “DROKK IT!! “
Oh, they did that, too.
8. “Iron Man,” Black Sabbath
7. “Ghost Rider,” Suicide
Seminal protopunk duo Suicide got its name from an issue of Ghost Rider. If that wasn’t cool enough, they made a song ABOUT Ghost Rider called — get this — “Ghost Rider,” just so you know that there isn’t any question about their enthusiasm for the Spirit of Vengeance. It’s an amazing bit of late-‘70s synthpunk, where the lyrics seem like they’re grasping at meaning (“America’s killing its youth“), but it’s mostly about Ghost Rider riding around in a motorcycle and screaming things.
And if THAT wasn’t awesome enough, Suicide enthusiasts The Raveonettes recorded a badass surf-rocky tribute called “Attack of the Ghost Riders.” It is a favorite.
6. “Scarlet Witch,” Adam WarRock
Nerdcore rapper Adam WarRock recorded an entire mixtape based on members of the West Coast Avengers — all using classic West Coast beats — so this one is a bit of a cheat. But right now I’m obsessed with “Scarlet Witch,” even over bangers like “Hank Pym” and “Tigra and Firebird Intermission,” and not only for its self-aware use of Auto-Tune. Even better is that it’s a cover/parody of TQ’s “Westside,” a heartfelt R&B song about west coast ghetto life in the 1990s, back when DJ Quik was the shit and you could hear gunshots in the distance at all hours of the day. I know I’m getting nostalgic.
With “Scarlet Witch,” Adam WarRock plays off of that mood to create a straight-faced, heartfelt song about, um, the Scarlet Witch. To wit, “I’ll even forgive a sister for wiping out the mutants/ And I don’t care about Pietro or when he’s sounding stupid. ” Well played, WarRock.
5. “Use It,” The New Pornographers
“You had to send the Wrecking Crew after me/ I can’t walk right. “
Something tells me that the New Pornos aren’t actually singing about Bulldozer, Piledriver, Thunderball and the Wrecker in this transcendent dose of power pop (those keys!!), but Carl Newman’s lyrics are so oblique and weird that they can often be about anything. So I’m choosing to go with the goofy Marvel Comics supervillains as opposed to the ‘60s coterie of guys like Hal Blaine and Glen Campbell. In other words, given the option, I’d rather assume that one of my favorite bands made a song about being attacked by supervillains as opposed to a song about being gang-raped by session musicians.
4. “Booster Gold,” Spoiler Alert!
If you’re reading this list, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to explain to someone what a Booster Gold is and why in God’s name someone would put it on a T-shirt. It’s a good thing Art Brut frontman Eddie Argos is a fan of DC Comics, because I wasn’t going to form a side project called Spoiler Alert! where I write songs about superheroes, including one that explains the entire history of The Greatest Hero You’ve Never Heard Of, from his origin story to his misadventures of Justice League International the events of 52 to fathering Rip Hunter (um, spoiler alert?).
So, thank Eddie Argos when you see him and don’t bother him about the factual errors.
3. “Oh! You Pretty Things,” David Bowie
Unlike the mystery of “Use It,” I’m positive that Bowie was writing about aliens coming to Earth and making humanity obsolete as a metaphor for younger generations coming in and frightening the adults before eventually supplanting them. Also, he was probably laying the seeds for the invasion of glam rock and the coming of his own Ziggy Stardust persona.
Though, you gotta admit that hearing lyrics like “Homo sapiens have outgrown their use” and “Gotta make way for the homo superior” really, really make it sound like Bowie was singing about a certain group of Mutants Fighting to Save a World Who Hates and Fears Them™. And let’s not forget that, back then, the X-Men were The Strangest Teens of All!
2. “That’s Really Super, Supergirl,” XTC
Fact: XTC is the best band of the 1980s, a British post-punk act that became increasingly adventurous and weird (but never impenetrably weird) as their career went on, venturing into New Wave and psychedelia. Over the course of 22 years they released 14 albums and there’s nary a weak one in the bunch (well, maybe Go 2). Lead singer Andy Partridge also seemed to have a bit of a DC Comics fetish, which showed up in a few of his songs. For example, “Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)” (misguidedly?) uses Frank Rock as a role model for dealing with women and “Brainiac’s Daughter” — released under XTC side-project-but-not-really Dukes of Stratosphear — is a catchy, Their Satanic Majesties Request kind of song about dating the titular spawn of Brainiac.
“That’s Really Super, Supergirl” is where it’s at, though — a glorious Todd Rundgren-produced 3:20 of amazing, where Partridge uses Supergirl as a point of male insecurity: “I won’t call again/ Even in a jam/ Now I realize you could be on a mission/ Saving some other man;” “Don’t mean to be rude/ But I don’t feel super, Supergirl.” It also helps if you can identify with the idea of using comic book characters as metaphors for your own personal problems.
1. “Gotham City,” R. Kelly
R. Kelly is insane. Whether he’s peeing on people or recording songs about scheming with Usher andbanging the girl who braids his hair, Kellz is always up to something completely bonkers, possibly whilst avoiding jailtime.
Ladies in gentlemen, I give you his greatest work of all that isn’t Trapped in the Closet, “Gotham City”:
There are so many great things about “Gotham City.” For one thing, it’s almost identical to TQ’s “Westside,” except it’s an R&B anthem for a place that’s completely fictional and, despite what Robert Sylvester Kelly says, most assuredly NOT “a city of justice/ A city of love/ A city of peace/ For everyone of us,” as anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Bat-Man could probably tell you. As far as unearned sentimentality goes, it totally blows “Westside” out of water by virtue of elements like the cheap, cloying use of a choir and the even cheaper, even more cloying use of singing kids at the end. Let’s never forget that this came out as a single and managed to chart pretty high.
Also, “Gotham City” featured on the Batman and Robin soundtrack, amongst such mismatched acts as Smashing Pumpkins, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Jewel. During that era R. Kelly was rolling in that Space Jam soundtrack money, causing scores of white people to associate the inspirational image of Michael Jordan slam dunking on cartoon monsters with the perpetually horny lunatic who recorded “Feelin’ on Yo’ Booty.”
Take your crown, Kellz.