We need to talk about the current state of Fantastic Four songs.
There was a time when the Fantastic Four were the superstar superteam of the Marvel Universe, but the glitz of Hollywood has changed all that. And yet the team’s reputation had previously survived even a Saturday morning cartoon with that dumb Herbie the Robot. And yet they were never very celebrated beyond the pages of floppy comics in such a way that they entered the wider popular imagination.
For instance, I can currently offer you only three Fantastic Four songs. Not even four. Where are all the Fantastic Four songs?
Well, there are some Human Torch songs that I will present at some point, but do those really count?
But even if there were 10 more songs, they’re no Spider-Man.
5’O Clock Charlie – Fantastic Four
This giddily fun ska-punk song is so fast that the lyrics whiz past my ears at a dizzying pace, but the nice horns and the word “Skrull” did register pretty well. Maybe it’s the Milwaukee accent? Oh, wait, second listen gave me “the Human Torch.” Whatever. You should buy it here.
Rachel Taylor Brown – Susan Storm’s Ugly Sister
In some ways, this song from Portland, Oregon singer Brown is the ultimate manifestation of Fantastic Four songs. Sung from the point of view of the person in the song’s title, it’s a bitter lament expressing sibling rivalry tracing the breaking point of an animosity that explodes into a full-blown feud. “The superpower of invisibility is wasted on her pretty sister / Susan Storm’s ugly sister sits in a cafe and has an epiphany about the power of a more ordinary invisibility,” the song begins. The unnoticeable, tossed-aside sibling realizes that her misfortune is her strength, though, and the sisters have more in common than might seem apparent. Also, is that a Fletcher Hanks drawing on the cover? Buy it here.
The Mamas and The Papas – Fantastic Four
Given Mackenzie Phillips’ allegations against her father John, it’s difficult to view this iconic ‘60s band the same as before they were made public. Thankfully, I never much liked them anyway and I would’ve presented this out of historical and topical relevancy anyhow. This is an outtake recorded during the sessions for the band’s final album, People Like Us. Band member Michelle Phillips described the album as sounding “like what it was, four people trying to avoid a lawsuit.” Though the lyrics are vague, the reference is clear, though it’s obvious they were trying to draw some parallel between themselves and the Marvel superheroes by evoking the name. John Phillips was no Mr. Fantastic, however. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
I feel horrible leaving the Fantastic Four adrift like this, so I want to point out that if they didn’t quite get the songs devoted to them, they at least got some audio adventures.
Spider-Man Meets the Fantastic Four
Like this one from Golden Records, on the Spider-Man release in 1966 that was part of the Marvel Age Comic Spectaculars series. This story is adapted from the Amazing Spider-Man #1, released in 1963, in which the Spidey and the Fantastic Four meet. Buy it here or stream it on Spotify.
There was an actual Fantastic Four LP release in the same series that adapted the team’s first issue, but I cannot find an audio recording of it online, sadly. You can pick up your own copy for less than $2,000 though!
Maybe this one from the immortal Power Records in the 1970s will make up for that.
You can follow along with the comic book pages here.
More fascinating is the Fantastic Four Radio Show, which appeared on airwaves in 1975. Even though I was a superhero-obsessed 70s kid, I have never heard of this before. I would have loved it as a 10-year-old, though.
Adapting some of the earlier issues of the comic and narrated by Stan Lee himself — “High above the excitement and hubbub” — the cast featured Jim Pappas as the Thing, Cynthia Adler as the Invisible Girl, Bob Maxwell as Mr. Fantastic, Jerry Terheyden as Doctor Doom, and the one, the only Bill Murray as the Human Torch. Characters like Nick Fury, Ant-Man, the Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk popped up.
The show’s creators were Richard Clorfene and Richard B. Lewis. Clorfene had worked for Mel Blanc while Lewis had worked in radio in Los Angeles. They both ended up in New York City working on a radio show called Tales of the Energy.
The Fantastic Four series lasted 13 weeks, apparently canceled due to funding problems. The original intention was to make a Silver Surfer series, Clorfene being a fan, but the opportunity came when Lewis coincidentally met the husband of the head of Marvel’s licensing division, Ann Robinson, during a radio jingle recording session — the husband was one of the jingle singers. She was able to hook them up with Stan Lee.
Clorfene apparently went MIA, only wishing to be involved when a Silver Surfer series materialized, but Lewis forged ahead, connecting with the National Lampoon radio producer Bob Michaelson, who brought on Bill Murray to the project.
You can read all the details of the production in this fantastic interview with Lewis and go beyond the first episode at Archive.org where all the available episodes have been posted. There was also an LP released of some of these episodes, but the rarity of it and the inevitable cost make the Archive offerings preferable.