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Arts and Culture

Oh Superman, How May We Celebrate You in Song?

The Man of Steel might be virtuous, but a lot of this music sure isn't.

By Gregory Adams 13 Jun 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Gregory Adams contributes regularly to the Georgia Straight, and Exclaim!

Superman is the comic world's most iconic hero, a paragon of virtue wrapped up in muscles, which themselves are wrapped up in blue-and-red tights. Over the last 75 years, the Man of Steel has been remolded in many ways, but whether you're talking Action Comics #1, Grant Morrison's tear-jerking last days story All-Star Superman, or this week's newly launched Superman Unchained series, the pure decency of the Kryptonian-emigre-rechristened-Clark-Kent remains at his centre.

Additionally, director Zack Snyder brings another origin story to the table tomorrow (June 14), when his Man of Steel hits silver screens. Pop music, meanwhile, has struggled to preserve the mythos in song, with tributes often coming across tin-flimsy. There are, obviously, exceptions to the rule, so here's a balanced list of tracks that may or may not have you cranking up the volume in your fortress of solitude.

Donovan -- "Sunshine Superman"

Curiously, Wikipedia's first entry in their list of musical references to Superman is Scottish singer Donovan's psychedelic "Sunshine Superman," a song that outright disses the Man of Steel ("Superman or Green lantern ain't got nothin' on me.") Maybe it was a sign of the times, though, with the deep-diving drug trip lyrics not gelling with the squeaky clean image of the Big Blue Boy Scout. Still, Donovan's rainbow-gazing defiance isn't half as bad as Queen's "Bicycle Race," where Freddie Mercury claims to not even believe in the existence of Superman. Or Frankenstein, or Peter Pan!

John Williams -- "Superman's Theme"

Yes, John Williams' bombastic theme song for the Christopher Reeves series of Superman movies is rather astonishing, what with its chest inflating brass bursts and vibrant strings whipping by like wind through Supes' flight-tousled mane. It's no pop song, though. Iconic as it may be, it's not as hummable as Batman's na-na-na-na-driven TV theme, or, for that matter, Prince's "Batdance."

Soulja Boy -- "Crank That"

Back in 2007, rapper Soulja Boy dropped a snap beat-and-steel drum assisted banger called "Crank That" that hit the top of the charts and started an arm-swingin' dance craze. It also had the teen rapper calling out for dudes to "superman that hoe," referring to an intentionally degrading, sticky-sheets sex move more stupid than it was sensual. While certainly not a shining moment for our hero, it at least let a few people feel what it's like to wear a cape, if only for a few seconds.

Taylor Swift -- "Superman"

While Superman is earth's protector, he's also Lois Lane's lover. You'd think the two roles could exist mutually, but time and time again, Supes'll skip out on a dinner date so he can put on the cape to chase Brainiac or Lex Luthor. On the one hand, it's noble. On the other, it's frustrating as hell to have to play second banana to the rest of humanity. Taylor Swift conveys this conundrum well on pop-rocker "Superman," though there's something a bit too deflated about her waiting-in-the-wings act. DC's New 52 continuity currently has Clark kissing Justice League teammate Wonder Woman, making the whole argument moot.

Three Doors Down -- "Kryptonite"

I'll admit it, I've publicly supported what most rational-minded music fans would call one of the worst bro ballads of all time, Chad Kroeger's Spider-Man-supporting single "Hero." There's just something so utterly clownish about the marble-mouthed vulnerability of the track that keeps it close to my heart. I've tried my best, though, to keep former Nickelback tourmates Three Doors Down's "Kryptonite" as far away as possible from my ears for years. First off, the track's ham-fisted, one-track bar band shuffle gets tired mighty quick. Brad Arnold's self-aggrandizing lyrics, meanwhile ("You stumbled in and bumped your head, if not for me, then you'd be dead"), don't sync up with "no thanks needed"-spirit of the last son of Krypton.

Crash Test Dummies -- "Superman's Song"

Despite his constant fight for truth, justice and the American way, Superman was co-created by a Canadian: Joe Shuster. It's fitting, then, that one of the finer entries into the canon came from Winnipeg folk-rockers Crash Test Dummies. The band's breakout single "Superman's Song" was hardly triumphant, though. Instead, the slow-paced dirge found the mournful baritone of Brad Roberts eulogizing the here-deceased hero for his selflessness. Indeed, while he made a good living reporting for the Daily Planet as Clark Kent, "Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy." With his physical powers straight juiced by our Earth's sun, our alien saviour could have easily robbed a bank or two along the way, but this song, perhaps more than any, summarizes just how decent Kal-El could be. It's a message that even that addled southern swamp zombie Grundy could have understood.  [Tyee]

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