In upcoming superhero song lists, I will address the Big Three of superhero music — the Batman TV theme, the Spider-Man cartoon theme, and the Wonder Woman theme — all notable not only for their instant catchiness but also for their appeal beyond the realm of comic book fans. Obviously, this is because they were featured on TV shows that were certainly seen by more people than read the actual comics they were based on, but let’s be honest — there are a lot of superhero TV shows, both live action and cartoon, that have never produced enduring themes like those three. What’s equally weird to me is that Superman never joined that group to make it the Big Four.
Oh, sue, he’s had the “faster than a speeding bullet” spiel that entered popular culture and never went away, followed by the jaunty Sousa-style march of the TV show, which is also repeatedly interrupted by a yelling announcer. Not the same thing. And neither is the reverent symphonic theme by John Williams. And though that got catchier with every disco version, it’s still not a song that you can sing along to.
I don’t know that any of the songs I’m presenting in this series makes up for this problem, and perhaps they all make an argument for why the problem exists. Songs about Superman are typically used as examinations of what we humans don’t have, can’t achieve. Superman is a metaphor both for our failure and something that is better than us. And who writes catchy, goofy, lovely, timeless theme songs about that?
Hadise – Superman
This incredibly infectious Turkish dance song gets Superman designation from its line “Superman olsan toplayamazsın” or “You can’t fix that even if you were Superman.” It’s written by prolific, award-winning Turkish songwriter Gülşen — as near as I can tell the only she’s done for Hadise, who was born and raised in Belgium to a Turkish family and was a presenter on the Belgian version of The X Factor. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
The Hesitations – Soul Superman
This Cleveland group’s 1966 release sums up the heartache of being the Man of Steel pretty well: “I can climb the highest mountain, I can swim the seven seas, I can swing through the jungle baby with the greatest of ease, But you know that I haven’t found a women yet that can ground me to my knees, Cause I’m Superman, baby.” Also contains the lyric, “Like the Green Hornet, I’m as busy as a bee.” Sadly, one group member was shot in an accident in 1968 and the rest of the band split though started performing again in 2006. You can read their whole story if you want. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Robyn Hitchcock – Superman
Hitchcock always seemed on the cusp of something bigger — at the very least Elvis Costello big — with his quirky, guitar-based pop offerings, though I honestly always found it all a bit forced. But that’s just me. This song is catchy enough, filled with the kind of elusive and nonsensical lyrics that are typical of Hitchcock’s work. But it does talk about Superman being found in a corn flakes box, so there’s that.
Honey – Superman Superman
This 1979 slice of electro-disco seems to be the only release by Honey, but the band gets the basic origin of the Man of Steel pretty correct, and also supplies an enticing invitation for him to “come down.” The best part is when Superman himself sings, though. One of the song’s co-writers, Jeff Calvert, was in a one-off band called Future Shock that the following year released the single “Santa Left Us Microchips For Christmas,” which probably shouldn’t be missed.” Buy it here
Honey B And T-Bones – Superman
This Finnish group portrays Superman as he’s about to succumb to a lethal dose of kryptonite and gives him the pep talk he definitely needs. This is appropriately included on their 2009 album Alien Blues. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
I Fight Dragons – No One Likes Superman Anymore
This is a heavy bit of power pop that frames Superman as a symbol for loss of innocence with the idea that as we age, cynicism takes over and symbols of purity, goodness, and such are no longer compatible with our existence. I think I might cry. This band apparently uses sounds from Nintendo systems in their music and their songs have been utilized by Nintendo and the WWE, which I guess, when you add up everything, makes them too geek to live. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
The Ides of March – Superman
This funky 1971 release from the Illinois band was on their second album and compares the singer’s relationship abilities with the powers of Superman. He makes it all sound very appealing, but also kind of exhausting to have to deal with on a daily basis. Trivia: That guy singing, Jim Peterik, was also in the band Survivor, and he co-wrote “Eye of the Tiger.” Whether that is something to thank him for or curse him for, I will let everyone decide for themselves. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
The Individuals – Jungle Superman
What do you get when you cross Superman and Tarzan? You get this 1959 song by doo-woppers The Individuals. The group did not have a huge output — they released this song twice, each time with a different B-side. Lead Individual Johnny Staton had previously performed with his doo-wop group The Feathers, which was on the cusp of fame in the late ‘50s before they broke up. You can read Staton’s bio here. Apparently, the group had special Jungle Superman outfits that they wore when they performed onstage, but I can’t find any photo documentation of them. Buy it here
[is] – Someone Sued Superman
This is part of the Australian Kool Schools project, which, to quote Wikipedia “a multimedia and recording project for secondary school students across the Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales” that is “open to all secondary schools, council youth agencies and youth clubs.” You can find a bunch more Kool Skools music on Soundcloud. Unfortunately, I have no information on this particular band. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Ish – Superman
A pretty straightforward, catchy retelling of the origin of Superman from 1979, the singer’s full name is Ish Ledesma. Ledesma was in the ‘70s band Foxy, which is also sometimes credited for this song, and he was also in the band Oxo, who recorded the legendary, ridiculous song “Whirly Girl” and played guitar on Abba’s Voulez-Vous album.
Mickey Jupp – Superman
Jupp starts this catchy 1982 song about Superman with the Batman theme, and he does name-drop the Caped Crusader later on, but this is strictly about Superman love. Gushing Superman love. Like from the point of view of a fan bumping into his hero, but with lots of embarrassing speculation. “Bet you’re a skunk when you’re drunk,” Jupp suggests. Jupp was part of the pub-rock thing in England in the ‘70s, and he recorded with the likes of Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello and other folks in that crowd.
Katzenjammer – Land of Confusion
This was a huge hit for Genesis, but it’s this cover version by the charming Norwegian band Katzenjammer that won my heart. It’s not strictly about Superman, but damn that Phil Collins, it’s one of the most powerful namechecks of the Man of Steel that I know of, a lament to the idea that in a universe of entropy, one savior is merely fantasy. As for Katzenjammer, they are some extremely talented folks, between them playing … and known for playing musical chairs regarding who played what instrument during recording and concerts. Their status as a band is somewhat up in the air, with one member leaving and the remaining three not making much of a peep as a band, but the three albums they have recorded are well worth a listen for those who like friendly, lively pop music built around more traditional instrumentation and with a significant clever quotient. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Krypton – Can You Read My Mind?
Even as a kid when I saw Superman – The Movie on its original release, I had enough ability to discern what is good and what is bad to understand that Margot Kidder’s warble of this song was definitely bad. I didn’t understand, though, that bad was sometimes good. I would get there, though. This 1978 disco track from the Netherlands by Krypton certainly would have helped me get to that realization faster if I had heard it at the time. Starting with the exclamation “Talkin’ ‘bout my Superman!” this song exists in the waning years of disco, though disco may not have known that at the time. You will not be surprised to know that this is the only record Krypton ever released.
Lilac Nation – I Wanna Be Superman
The only release by Lilac Nation, this 1979 disco release features a dialogue between the Man of Tomorrow and an interested woman, with some singing asides offering heartfelt paeans to Kal-El. It also features the lyrics “If I just had the power of Superman, I’d have all the money and could be the richest man.” I can’t find any further info about Lilac Nation, but this sounds distinctly European to me and is, regardless of anything, pretty funky.”
Julia Marcell – Superman
This is a sublime live version of a song from Polish singer Marcell’s 2014 Sentiments album. Evoking Superman alongside God as a possible savior, the song’s teenage narrator is out for the night in this moody song that captures her wandering and wanting amidst dissatisfaction. Stream it on Spotify.
Don McLean – Superman’s Ghost
Evoking George Reeves at the beginning of the song and lamenting his fate of being remembered only as Superman, this 1987 effort by the folk-pop artist best known for “American Pie” continues to brood on Reeves’ tragic death while also embracing Superman imagery to ruminate on his own career in a kinda sad, kinda cryptic way. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Newcleus – Jam On It
This goofy, fun rap dance 12 inch from 1984 features all the hallmarks of the era, urging everyone to funk it up, jerk their body, shake their booty, and boogie, but also has a great section Cozmo D’s encounter with Superman, where the Man of Steel brags about how his powers help him with his groove, resulting in “a 12 inch cut called Disco Kryptonite.” Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Jack Norton – Superman
Originally performed by Freddie “Schnickelfritz” Fisher And His Orchestra in 1942, this charming version is from Jack Norton’s album Schnickelfritz, a recording of a concert tribute to Fisher. One of the fascinating aspects of this song to me is that it was written and performed just a few years after Superman’s first appearance, so it offers a fascinating look at how the character was viewed in popular culture at the beginning of his legendary life. Fisher was originally from Minnesota and his musical style gets compared to Spike Jones a lot. Here he is with his band performing in the film short When The Circus Comes To Town and you can hear his original version of “Superman” here. Stream it on Spotify.
Ominous Seapods – The Superman Curse
Shades of Don McLean! Coming to you straight from Plattsburgh, NY, this song takes the death of George Reeves and ups the ante by evoking poor Christopher Reeve’s misfortunate, and using the entire gloominess of it to cast a net over a sad lady in a bar. Thankfully, it has a catchy guitar hook reminiscent somewhat of Oingo Boingo’s “No Spill Blood.” Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Thang Paa – I Love Superman
This is the work of a singer from Myanmar who has an abundance of music videos on YouTube, as well as a love of fashion and Jesus, but whose tribute to the Last Son of Krypton is truly something special. I can guarantee you’ve heard nothing like this before.
John Seven is a journalist and children’s book writer living in North Adams, Massachusetts. His books include ‘A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide To Anarchy,’ ‘Happy Punks 1-2-3,’ ‘Frankie Liked To Sing,’ and others. Find out about all his things at johnseven.me.