While many of the songs I’ve encountered in compiling this bunch of songs about DC superheroes are very definitely by people who read the comics religiously and know all the ins and outs of the characters and the situations, most seem to be by people who at best have only casually read the comics and just vaguely remember specifics about the characters, if they remember anything at all. More than likely, they remember the names and some aspect resonates with them and inspires them to incorporate them in the song, usually as inspiration more than subject matter.
When I look at the dates of the songs, there’s less of that as superheroes have become common in cinemas and the details of something like Green Lantern become more known to ordinary people. Thirty years ago, you could find people who knew the basics of Batman and Superman definitely, but even Wonder Woman was iffy — they might have seen the TV show, but people were more likely to remember the name Lynda Carter than Diana Prince.
And forget Green Lantern. I grew up watching his cartoons as part of the Superman/Aquaman Hour on Saturday mornings, and even I can’t remember this theme or actually any of the show. Somehow, though, decades later, with just one live action movie flop to his name, and I am astonished at the number of Green Lanterns songs I run into.
But that aside, this is why I’m lenient on songs that name the hero but don’t go into any great specifics to identify the story of the hero. There was a time when only a handful of people weren’t casual in their recognition of superheroes and saw them mostly as fodder for something else rather than the thing they were actually created to be. To be honest, I liked that world because it was more diverse in experience. People had their own ideas of what any given thing was and no one cared enough to correct a person who didn’t understand the exact story of Swamp Thing. This came out in music, among other things, and as this list reveals, that still manages to happen. Thank goodness.
If you enjoy these songs, please go listen to songs on previous lists in this series.
The Laissez Fairs – Phantom Stranger
It’s only fitting that a song devoted to the Phantom Stranger should be a groovy psychedelic one, given his white turtle neck and big medallion. In many ways looks like a middle-aged refugee from an LSD party in some ‘60s movie. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Cherry Lane – Sergeant Rock
You don’t get too much military-themed disco, but this song from 1979 is exactly this, with the chief of Easy Co. giving instructions for a night on the dancefloor. Only two moves though, left and right. In fact, the Sarge is giving orders for all sorts of rebellion and debauchery in this song. Lane was a Jamaican singer who had a career in Germany and has recorded a few albums recently.
William Lovecraft – Wonder Woman
This Wonder Woman smokes and belly dances, just to start off with. This song has a Peter Gunn thing going on, by way of the Cramps, and I’m pretty sure this would be a fun enough Wonder Woman to read stories about. What if Princess Diana left Paradise Island — or whatever it’s called these days, I can’t pronounce it — in order to escape the humorless training and discipline of her Amazon upbringing and just go hog wild? This probably answers that question.
The Magic Mixture – Captain Marvel
I can’t find this track on YouTube alone, so if you want to here it there, you’re just going to have to go to the link above and skip to 43:51, because only the whole album is available. The band and the album is from 1968, but this track about the Superhero Currently Known As Shazam seems to be an outtake from that. It’s very definitely about the Shazam Captain Marvel fighting monsters and saving the world. It’s got some strained harmonies in there, and some dragging percussion in the middle, so it’s probably a demo track. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Malcolm McLaren – Swamp Thing
McLaren’s career was an unlikely triumph of calamity, and surely no one expected him to make anything of himself in making his own music, but he had critical and some commercial success despite the naysayers. His brilliant 1983 album Duck Rock explored world music and early rap with a studio team that would become the Art of Nose, and his fun 1984 follow-up, Fans, enlisted rap and dance music to reinterpret opera. I think he was tired and bored at that point, following those two works with an album of outtakes, from which this is the title track. And yet Swamp Thing is a pretty fun album despite the ennui, and this track the best one on there, a sludge take on “Wild Thing” mixed with a spoken-word folk tale explaining Swamp Thing. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Meco – The Amazing Amazon
Disco cheesemaster Meco Monardo did a whole superhero album in 1979, and here’s an original about Wonder Woman, which is a pretty daring choice considering the number of cover versions of the TV theme people opted for back then. Is that a rubber band getting a solo in there? Or a synthesizer designed to sound like a rubber band? I can’t really tell. I only know that Meco’s interpretation of Wonder Woman has a distinctively percussive Afro-Cuban flavor, though seems like the drum is the lead instrument on this album, if “The Boy Wonder” is any indication.
The Meteors – Swamp Thing
This 1988 song by the British punkabilly band once again demonstrates the genre’s love of Swampy, and its mention of Superman makes it one of the few that directly references the comic book character in some way rather than building on his legend in a folkloric way. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Gary Mitchell – In Brightest Day
“There’s no room for cowards when you’re uniform is green,” Mitchell sings and he’s surely right. He created this earnest rock song with the hopes of getting it in the Green Lantern movie, or at least noticed by the filmmakers.
The Motion Sick – Aquaman’s Lament
This country-tinged song downplays all of Aquaman’s great qualities and focuses on his ability to communicate with sea life, but all in the name of good laughs. It’s really a self-deprecating monologue from Aquaman that tells us as much about the secret life of fish as it does the self-torture the king of Atlantis inflicts on himself. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Mutton Birds – Green Lantern
This is a strummy, mid-tempo rock song with country tones that speaks of a Green Lantern that has moved on or been forced onward, but still finds some recognition from the singer. This is a New Zealand band dating back to the early ‘90s. This song is from their final studio album in 1999. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
New Pornographers – Challengers
While not directly about the Challengers of the Unknown, the team is evoked by name twice in this bittersweet, contemplative song about ex-lovers looking back during a chance meeting. It’s melancholy for sure, but it gives some I like the way it juxtaposes in the tiniest way a lovely and corny bit of comic book nostalgia about people facing the mysterious and fantastic with the real life, more mundane version of the same that so many of us have probably faced before. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Ookla the Mok – Arthur Curry
I’ve featured Ookla the Mok before, since songs about superheroes are a major ingredient in the band’s meat and potatoes. Starting with the Batman Theme and then riffing away from it to provide further pop song empowerment for the apparently ridiculed King of Atlantis. Though I wonder if the character is made fun of as much since the movie. I can remember decades ago when it was a thankless position to be in, to love Aquaman. The guy didn’t even have his own comic. Maybe it’s efforts like these that helped turn it all around. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
The Phantom Band – Doom Patrol
It’s admittedly hard to say what, if anything, links this song by Glasgow indie band The Phantom Band with DC’s weirdo super-team beyond the title, but the mood it lays out is certainly consistent with the comics. It has delightfully skizzy synth work going on that gives it an early ‘80s sound reminiscent of the darker, weirder days of Simple Minds, with some definite post-rock elements mixed in, especially in the middle elements. With its cryptic, circular lyrics, it all just feels right. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Virginia Plain – Swamp Thing
Named after a Roxy Music song, this Brooklyn band’s brooding synth sound makes a perfect follow-up to that Phantom Band song. Singer and songwriter Alfra Martini (who was also apparently creator of the Tumblr Kitten Covers) delivers another dark, 80s-reminiscent synth-infected slice of crypticism inspired by the weirder side of DC heroes. And like the Phantom Band song, it catches the mood of the comics in such a way that I don’t even care what the lyrics say, even if it’s really actually about the cocktail. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
Pop Dell’Arte – Green Lantern (Is on the road again)
This song is definitely about Green Lantern while he’s on the go — go, go, go. The band is from Portugal. Green Lantern flies in the song. It rollicks along with a T-Rex kind of strut. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.