Superman looks pretty darn good for being around since 1938. And in his 75 years of saving Metropolis, he’s inspired plenty of songs, certainly more than any of the thousands of other costumed heroes that have appeared since Action Comics #1. From Eminem to Barbra Streisand, artists just can’t help but reference Clark Kent’s alter ego in their quest to create songs more powerful than a locomotive. In celebration of both Man of Steel and this year’s annual Comic-Con convention (which ended yesterday), we’ve assembled our list of the best pop songs that reference Superman.
10. 3 Doors Down – “Kryptonite”
If I go crazy, will you still call me Superman?
It’s normal to boast about a hero’s might, but this straightforward rock track is about revealing flaws. Still, if 3 Doors Down had referenced Green Lantern and his bizarre weakness to the color yellow instead of Superman and Kryptonite, chances are they wouldn’t have had a hit. Blame Superman for the song’s superhuman might on the radio.
9. Spin Doctors – “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues”
Lois Lane, you don’t need no Superman/Come on downtown and stay with me tonight/I got a pocket full of Kryptonite
Poor Jimmy Olsen. Forever known, if for anything at all, for being Superman’s pal. The Spin Doctors’ quirky 1991 single manages to take a surprisingly wily approach with a song that asks: What if the downcast redhead had a crush on Lois Lane and a dastardly plan to kill off Superman to get her? Sinisterly clever fun.
8. Eric Clapton – “Superman Inside”
Look in the mirror, even with a broken heart I’m fine/Living is so sweet now with Superman inside.
Slowhand’s trademark blues-powered guitar licks plus the accompanying message that you’re strong enough to get through anything. What’s not to like?
7. Brian McKnight – “Superhero”
Kal-El, son ofJor-El/All my secrets, you can never tell.
I must salute McKnight for his herculean effort of combining Superman trivia with pseudo-romantic lingo. By the third verse, he manages to squeeze in a line about how he can’t see through lead as he tells his lady about how he needs her to make it through “this lonely, daily planet.” Plus, the title track from his 2001 album has a nice grooving bassline to carry the lyrics forward.
6. Jim Croce – “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”
You don’t tug on Superman’s cape/You don’t spit into the wind/You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger.
Great advice in 1972 when Croce’s up-tempo folky number was released. Great advice for today. Great advice for your children’s children, no matter how many reboots come to pass.
5. Sufjan Stevens – “The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”
Man of Steel, Man of Heart/Turn your ear to my part.
Written as a bit of a love letter to the Man Of Steel, Stevens’ song is expectedly lush and expansive, gushing with trumpet flares, finger-picked guitars, pounding tambourines and a beautifully simple refrain of “la, la, la, la, la, la.”
4. The Flaming Lips – “Waitin’ For Superman”
Tell everyone waiting for Superman/That they should hold on as best they can/He hasn’t dropped them, forgot them, or anything/It’s just too heavy for Superman to lift.
When you place a pop culture icon in the hands of Wayne Coyne and company, magic happens. When Coyne sings about the Last Son of Krypton lifting the sun into the sky, it sounds remarkably deep, stunning, and powerful. This song from Soft Bulletin is a soaring, piano-pop ballad that poetically implies that there’s a world overwhelmed by “heavy” problems that even Superman can’t fix.
3. The Kinks – “Wish I Could Fly Like Superman”
If I were Superman, then we’d fly away/I’d really like to change the world.
With 1979’s Low Budget, The Kinks tapped into the same disco vibe that spawned Kiss’ “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” but they created a superhumanly catchy single with “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman.” It’s told from the point-of-view of a “nine-stone weakling” whose life is filled with bills, but he hopes for more like we all do. The bouncing disco-fueled track is irresistible, while Ray Davies’ lyrics proclaim what we’ve all dreamed of, having the Man of Steel’s abilities to fly around the world and “save it from the mess it’s in.”
2. R.E.M. – “Superman”
I am, I am, I am Superman/And I can do anything.
R.E.M.’s cover of The Clique’s 1969 track is as much about a broken heart as much as it is about Superman. Even so, when bassist Mike Mills sings about being a man who can do anything, amidst Michael Stipe’s harmonies and his own rolling basslines, the guy doesn’t sound like a braggart. He just makes it sound like an empowering anthem you can sing along with 100 percent conviction.
1. Crash Test Dummies – “Superman’s Song”
Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy/And sometimes I despair the world will never see another man like him.
An entire year before DC Comics launched the publicity stunt involving the death of Superman, the Crash Test Dummies imagined a world without him in “Superman’s Song.” Lead singer Brad Roberts laments that the world will “never see another man like him.” Roberts spends time making references to Tarzan’s shortcomings and the zombie super-villain Solomon Grundy, which could make the ballad worse, but instead it’s all the more impressive for the group to include those juxtapositions. The song rightfully uses Superman as a representation of virtue, resilience and selflessness. As cellos swell in this eulogy of sorts, he declares while the iconic hero must have been tempted to quit, he “kept on changing his clothes in dirty old phone booths till his work was through.” Few stories about the Man of Steel have ever been more powerful, including those on screen or on paneled pages. The Crash Test Dummies crafted a thoughtful, sad, strangely moving track about loss, selflessness, and hope. If a song could leap tall buildings in a single bound, this one would.