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Five for Friday: Superhero-Referencing Songs

The sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy, an offbeat, highly sarcastic take on the superhero genre, is already one of the year's biggest movie hits. One could argue, however, that music is the true star of the film. The soundtrack features 70s-era staples from the likes of Cheap Trick, Fleetwood Mac, Sweet, and more. Indeed, the pop world has always found plenty of inspiration in superheroes and villains. While the likes of Star-Lord and Gamora save planets to the tune of Electric Light Orchestra, we look back on five of our favorite superhero-referencing songs.

Ramones, "Spider-Man"
Latter-day Ramones material often gets overlooked. It's to be expected, of course, as the band's first four albums set the tone for American pop-punk. Yet in 1995, the Ramones turned to this Paul Francis Webster and Bob Harris ditty from the classic 60s "Spider-Man" cartoon. The group's decision to cover it for a compilation album proved a natural fit since the Ramones always possessed a comic sensibility – even when tackling tales of urban depravity. Spider-Man also makes New York City – from where the Ramones hail – his home. The rendition is swift and sleek, moving at a pace that mirrors Spider-Man's high-flying jaunts among skyscrapers. Leader Joey Ramone sings with his usual clarity, creating a sense of Big Apple pride rather than vigilante grit.

The Traits, "Nobody Loves the Hulk"
A curious bit of garage-rock history, "Nobody Loves the Hulk" was recorded by a largely unknown New Rochelle, New York-based band called the Traits. Over the years, it garnered cult status and even secured the Marvel Comics stamp of approval. Songwriter Rosalind Rognoff notes that legendary comic author Stan Lee corresponded with her via the letters pages of the comics. While Rognoff recently blogged the song "isn't exactly something I wanted to go down in history for," she also admitted to being a young, college-aged comic nerd. Her song views the Hulk as an ostracized member of society, with the public finding his green skin and monster looks grotesque. With ringing guitars and wailing vocals, the Traits fittingly convey an out-of-control panic.

Ghostface Killah, "Slept on Tony"
Wu-Tang Clan members are no strangers to the world of comics, as the New York crew's wordplay takes as much inspiration from martial arts and obscure pop culture as it does real life. On his 2008 solo release, GhostDeini the Great, Ghostface Killah goes full-on Iron Man, having previously adopted the name "Tony Starks" as an alter ego. (Tony Stark, of course, is the unsuited Iron Man.) Ghostface chronicles an alternate history for Iron Man, imagining himself as the billionaire playboy with a "few bad chicks" and as a one-man, anti-terrorism machine. "Boy genius grown up, and I fight with a vengeance," he speed-raps. Musically, 70s-era funk gives the track a vintage, cinematic feel.

The Flaming Lips, "Waitin' for a Superman"
There's no shortage of antics in the history of the Flaming Lips – gummy skulls, confetti-drenched concerts, and furry album covers included. But at various points throughout the band's three-decades-plus career, Wayne Coyne and Co. have a shown a penchant for real heart-on-sleeves earnestness. The lushly tender and hesitant optimism of 1999's "Waitin' for a Superman" remains one of the group's greatest moments. Church-like bells punctuate the beat and help provide the melancholy tune with a bit of uplift. Lyrically, the song suggests some of life's hardships may even be too difficult for the all-American hero to handle. "Is it getting heavy?" Coyne asks, before pleading that everyone waiting for relief should "try to hold on best they can."

Suicide, "Ghost Rider"
Marvel's anti-hero Ghost Rider – a supernatural stunt motorcyclist – has always been bit odd, but experimental punk duo Suicide makes the character even weirder on this 1977 song from its self-titled debut. The band nobly wears its geek pride, as the track opens the album with all sorts of twisted and distorted instrumentation. Demented keyboards hit left and right, and a buzzing guitar skids around the verses. One can almost hear the electrical sparks flare up, and Suicide re-imagines Ghost Rider as a rebel idol. "Baby, baby, baby he's screaming the truth," sings Alan Vega, adding, "America, America's killing its youth." Long before Christopher Nolan gave Batman a dark and serious makeover with "The Dark Knight" films, Suicide presented its own sinister take on the genre.

May 19, 2017

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