Humans greatly respond to the image and idea of Superman, The Man of Steel is pervasive in American (and world) culture and is the subject of many songs.
In order to better understand this phenomenon I have tasked George Chimples and Rodrigo Lopez with compiling the top 10 songs about Superman… OR ELSE!
Here are their findings:
10. “Superman (It’s not easy)” – Five for Fighting[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRz4FY0ZcwI&w=420&h=315]Rodrigo: This song was popular, like really popular. Even if you don’t listen to top 40 radio you’ve probably heard this ballad, and if not you’ve probably heard a parody of it. but this song stands out for two reasons:
1) its references are weirdly specific to the 1978 film, “More than a pretty face beside a train” calls out a particular scene in the movie.
2) It’s a song that seems to actually be about Superman and what Superman feels, not a metaphor, not a parallel narrative. “Guys, I’m Superman and I’m sad.”
George: Whenever I see this title and band, I think it’s the theme song from Scrubs. Pro-tip: it isn’t. I really hate this song. Lyrically, it seems to imagine Superman as a whiny, self-absorbed sadsack with a grating singing voice. But it does have a decent point, in that even with all his superpowers, Superman’s got some tough stuff going on in his own life too.
9. “Kryptonite” – 3 Doors Down[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPU8OAjjS4k&w=480&h=360]Rodrigo: It was the edge of the 90s and 2000s, bands with numbers in their names were hot! hot! hot! And 3 Doors Down cracked the charts in half with a rockin’ post-grunge jam about awesome superheroes!
Well, actually the song is more about trust, it evokes the idea of two people who depend on each other but may be ‘damaged goods.’ The question is posed “If I screw up will I still be important to you?” if you see “KRYPTONIIIIITE!” as the answer to that question the song is downright depressing.
George: I actually really dug this song when it first came out. I also listened to a lot of Limp Bizkit back in the day, so, uh, right on. This hasn’t aged terribly well, in part due to absolutely terrible lyrics. That shout of “KRYPTONITE!” is a bit of a non-sequitur, but then… so is most of the song. Also, never bump your head or you will die (???). Good rhythm section though.
8. “Superman” – The Clique[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyfDH0HKLjs&w=640&h=360]
George: This obscure slice of 1960s bubblegum psychedelia was made famous when R.E.M. covered it a couple decades later, but the original is superior for its sheer weirdness. There are a lot of songs in the vein of this and Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Superman Lover” that explore the idea that even with all of Superman’s powers, it’s still tough for him to get a date. This song isn’t even the best at expressing that concept. I just like it because the nasal lead singer insists on singing “I yam, I yam, I yam Superman” which lets me pretend that this song is Popeye playing make believe. Even if you’re a spinach-powered superhero yourself, you still gotta look up to Superman.
7. “Superman Lover” – Johnny “Guitar” Watson[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cbvx12PC_0&w=640&h=480]George: If Superman is all about love, it would seem reasonable to assume that with all his superpowers, he’s also a fine lover. At least, that’s the tack that bluesman-cum-funk maestro (as well as the original Gangster of Love) Johnny “Guitar” Watson takes. Not a lot of Superman comics focus on his sexual prowess. (Um, except for that one where he makes a video with Big Barda but less said about that, the better.) In any event, even with all of Superman’s inestimable powers – super strength, flight, speed, X-ray eyes – he’s still vulnerable to what is perhaps the greatest villain of all: loneliness.
Although maybe the real problem is that Superman lists speed as one of his amorous advantages.
Whatever, just listen to that guitar solo.
6. “Superman’s Dead” – Our Lady Peace[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CBBtorFg2I&w=640&h=480]George: So, this song came out five years after Superman had “died” and returned with an allnew, all-long hairstyle. Apparently, it’s something sort of statement on media violence (how that meshes with the world being a subway is anyone’s guess), but I’ve always associated it with the Death of Superman storyline, for what I hope are obvious reasons.
Lead singer Raine Maida’s nasally shriek on the “Why-y-y-y-y, yeah, Superman’s dead” part of the chorus is positively blood-curdling. It well embodies the dread a body in the DC universe might feel with the revelation that the big blue boy scout had shuffled off this mortal coil. I do think the Sufjan Stevens entry on this list is the best song about Superman, but when I think about songs relating to Superman, this is the first one that comes to mind. Incidentally, the drumming on this track is aces.
Rodrigo: I take the line “Kneel Down and Obey” as a Zod reference. Also I take this entire song as a guilty pleasure.
5. “Superman” – Stereophonics[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FHCbV5qOz8&w=640&h=480]Rodrigo: Before we get into it, can we just agree that Stereophonics should get more play in general? The band holds up Superman as an image that can’t be fully achieved. We see Superman’s relationship with Lois Lane, one of the more well known and loved romances in pop culture, twisted into betrayal, showing that no one could be that perfect. They also bring Jesus into this, these guys don’t pull any punches.
George: The boys in Stereophonics don’t seem to like Superman all that much. They seem to be addressing him, as he flies on an airplane for some reason. They accuse him of sleeping with blonde teenagers, being drunk, wearing an armored suit…hey, I think they meant to title this song “Iron Man!” Maybe they didn’t want to infringe on Black Sabbath.
4. “No One Likes Superman Anymore” – I Fight Dragons[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjqqRlgzv6c&w=640&h=360]Rodrigo: I Fight Dragons produces a pop rock jam with solid electronic accents that takes a sociological look at The Man of Steel. This song says “It’s easy to make fun of the guy who always does the right thing… but it’s incredibly difficult to be the guy who always does the right thing.” This is a three minute and 44 second Bass-thumpin’, synth-poppin’, Guitar Shreddin’ counter argument to people who make fun of Clark Kent for being such a boyscout.
George: I still like Superman, I Fight Dragons. Rodrigo really nails this. To me, it recalls the Batman/Superman debate. While many prefer the former (dark, cold, conflicted), vengeance is easy. Doing what’s right with nigh unlimited power is hard. Batman might be the hero we deserve, but Superman is the hero we should strive to be.
3. “Waitin’ For A Superman” – Iron and Wine[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avBJ9Lhggn0&w=480&h=360]
George: This is a cover of a Flaming Lips song. In what basically sounds like a demo, Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam transforms the song into what my friend Nathan (and/or Jack Black) calls “sad bastard music.” To my ear, this stripped down, acoustic approach fits the lyrics better than the Lips’ kitchen-sink, fully-flourished instrumentation, but your mileage may vary, as always. Because lyrically, this song is about people with nothing left, calling out for a savior. It’s heavy stuff, as you can tell from the repeated use of the word “heavy” throughout the song. And indeed, the problems outlined in the song might even be too heavy for Superman himself… but we’re still told to continue holding out for Superman, indicating that more than anything else, Superman represents hope. And maybe that’s why he’s such an enduring hero, after all. Hope is eternal.
2. “Sunshine Superman” – Donovan[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ge5Gv7kJGUw&w=480&h=360]Rodrigo: Donovan’s boppin’, feel-good jam gives us Superman as a point of comparison, taking the idea of a high flying super-strong godbeing and saying I FEEL SO GOOD THAT NOT EVEN THAT GUY (or that other guy) COULD TOUCH ME RIGHT NOW! I’M ON TOP OF THE WORLD! I’M TOTALLY GOING TO TALK TO THAT CUTE GIRL AT THE RECEPTION DESK! I may be projecting a little onto the song, but I think the core of the argument holds up.
George: I grew up with this song. It’s pretty great. Feeling better than Superman is pretty great too.
1.“The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts” – Sufjan Stevens[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBJ_5hrHcY8&w=480&h=360]Rodrigo: This song is vast, it has movements and if you close your eyes you can even see big blue flying through his city, overlooking his people, flying out to space, maybe dissuading some local crooks from their life of crime.
George: What an opening to this song! The pounding of the snare and piano, with some choice guitar squalls, followed by an all-out great guitar riff. And if that’s not enough, introduce an angelic choir to the mix.
Part of Superman’s undying appeal is his ability to be a metaphor. There are so many great aspects to the character. His is the story of an aspirational immigrant attempting assimilation. His invulnerability and strength offer an attractive fantasy, tempered by his core Americanbred values. He is a Christ-like redeemer, with unimaginable power and goodness. Stevens delves into the latter aspects, identifying Superman’s greatest power to be his boundless love. He envisions Superman as something of a role model for us all, as the backing track exhilaratingly embodies the sensation of flying.
At the same time, I really do not understand what a lyric like “only a steel man can be a lover/if he had hands to tremble all over” could possibly mean. Perhaps Sufjan Stevens was a big fan of that classic Elseworlds story “Man of Steel, Man of Hooks” which posited the ramifications of a world where Superman was born devoid of hands.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Nobody really knows what Rodrigo’s deal is. He is a perpetual enigma, an unknown quantity, the X factor. He’s the new kid in school, the unlisted number, the person all your friends talk about, but you’ve never met. How can one person be so mysterious, you ask? THAT IS ALSO TOTALLY A MYSTERY! You can try to keep tabs on him on twitter by following @fearsomecritter, but that probably won’t help.
George Chimples comes from the far future, where comics are outlawed and only outlaws read comics. In an effort to prevent that horrible dystopia from ever coming into being, he has bravely traveled to the past in an attempt to change the future by ensuring that comics are good. Please do not talk to him about grandfather paradoxes. He likes his comics to be witty, trashy fun with slightly less pulp than a freshly squeezed glass of OJ. George’s favorite comic writers are Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison, while his preferred artists are Guy Davis and Chris Bachalo, He loves superheroes, but also enjoys horror, science fiction, and war comics. You can follow him @TheChimples on Twitter for his ramblings regarding comics, Cleveland sports,