Randy Lewis, who has written about music for the Los Angeles Times since the 1980s, has a truly heroic music collection. Here’s his thoughts on Superman taking flight in pop music through the years.
When it comes to superheroes making their way into popular music, it’s hard to beat Superman. Here’s a list of my Top 10 favorite instances of the Man of Steel in pop tunes.
10. “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” Jim Croce (1971): “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape/You don’t spit into the wind.” Timeless advice.
9. “Kryptonite,” 3 Doors Down (2000): The Mississippi rock band is more interested in the super guy’s fatal flaws than his mission to protect truth, justice and the American way (seen above).
8. “Superman Lover,” Johnny "Guitar" Watson (1976): The R&B-funk-rap set often fantasizes about super powers in the boudoir, other examples including Mario’s hyper-romantic “Kryptonite” to Eminem’s outrageously self-aggrandizing and vindictive “Superman.”
7. “So Long, Superman,” Firewater (1998): A catchy pop-punk ditty anticipating Lois Lane’s Pulitzer prize-winning commentary (in “Superman Returns”) about a world with no need for the favorite son of Krypton.
6. “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” Five For Fighting (2001): The emo crowd just can’t get with the notion of invincibility, does it?
Check out the Top 5 after the jump…
5. “Superman,” the Game (2008): The Compton rapper’s new track is a hilarious send-up of hip-hop breast-beating: “It’s a bird, it’s a plane/Naw [expletive], it’s the [expletive] Game.” Er, it IS a send-up, right?
4. “O Superman (For Massenet),” Laurie Anderson (1981): Performance art and minimalist music made it briefly into the mainstream when Anderson turned to the caped one for her hypnotic meditation on modern life. (We originally wrote that the song came out in 1982. We’ve since changed to 1981.)
3. “Sunshine Superman,” Donovan (1966): The Scottish Bob Dylan paid his respects to the son of Jor-El at a time when substance experimentation made anyone feel like he could fly.
2. “Superman,” R.E.M. (1986): Mike Mills (taking the lead vocal duties of Michael Stipe for a change) sounds a bit of a braggart, a bit of a stalker, and a lot like Clark Kent in this jangling plea to the objet d’amour who’s just beyond his reach. The song is a cover of the 1969 song by the Texas band called The Clique.
1. “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman,” The Kinks (1979): Once again, the Kinks’ erudite Ray Davies takes the Everyman’s viewpoint in this disco-rocker sung by a scrawny wimp yearning to be more like the Man of Steel.
For more on Superman in music, check out the Soundboard blog.
UPDATE An earlier version of this post implied that Michael Stipe sang lead vocals on "Superman," it was actually Mike Mills with Stipe lending back-up. This post also now adds the tidbit that the original version of that song was by The Clique.