Superman Sings: Healing the universe in song

Superman is the template, the original. Sure, the pulp heroes preceded him. And yes, you can find prototypes of the Last Son of Krypton in literature. However, in the mythology of the DC Universe and in the pop culture of our real world, superheroes begin with Kal-El and he remains the golden standard. If he is not literally the most recognizable comic book hero in the world, he certainly makes the top five without breaking a sweat.

As a result, unsurprisingly, the Man of Steel is the subject matter of lots of unrelated art. This is especially the case when it comes to music. Even when you discount songs specifically made for Superman films, tv shows, cartoons, and that musical, Supes is a favorite to discuss or utilize as a metaphor. Many have been inspired by the Stranger from Krypton to put pen to paper and mouth to mic to tell tales of the hero, place themselves in his role, or just utilize him as a symbol.

To help you navigate this fertile world, I have sought out and reviewed a vast and varied collection of tunes. Please feel free to explore them below. Additionally, make sure to stick around for the ultimate Last Son of Krypton-inspired mix you can assemble on your own on Spotify, Apple Music, or, even better, burn onto a CD. Why? Because if there is one thing Clark Kent and I agree on it is that physical media rules.

Superman Songs: Shutting Down Pat Boone
Superman totally knew what a reactionary Pat Boone was going to turn out to be. His opinion about music has always been a little suspect though. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

“Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down

What’s It About?: Lead singer Brad Arnold becomes Supes in a bit of a crisis although it is a little unclear exactly what the problem is.

Is It Good?: It is a 3 Doors Down song. So, you know what you are getting here.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: It does a poor job of getting the hero. If the Man of Steel does contemplate the possibility of going “crazy” he does so to plan for how he can be stopped. He does not do it while worrying if people will still like him afterward.

“Black Superman” by Above the Law

What’s It About?: “Black Superman” takes stock of his neighborhood on a day of crime fighting as that is, in fact, what he does.

Is It Good?: There’s a lot going on with the “Revolution ‘94” beginning and the phone messages in the mid-section. Essentially they buried skits in the middle of the song and we all know about skits on hip-hop albums. That said, Cold187um’s verse is nice and mean.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: Of course, “mean” isn’t a term one usually associates with the Metropolis Marvel. Also, most Supermen don’t operate out of LA or use the n-word with this much frequency. The DCU boasts a black Superman of its own from Earth-23, but it is difficult to imagine that Calvin Ellis has much in common with the Above the Law Supes presented here.

“O Superman (For Massenet)” by Laurie Anderson

What’s It About?: The world is about to experience a massive bombing campaign. Can even Kal-El save us? Think “99 Luftballoons” meets Superman. But with more telephone messages.

Is It Good?: It’s art! In over 8 minutes, Anderson explores both sides of the standard bearer of Truth, Justice, and the American Way myth — hero of the people and undeniable figure of superiority — against a backdrop of seemingly inevitable doom.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: The song seems to know Kal-El pretty well as a figure of pop culture. Additionally, it is one of the few tunes that seem to grasp that all of Superman’s abilities might guarantee HIS safety but it hardly means the world itself might not suffer terrible events even with him at the watch. He’ll do his best, for certain, but even Supes cannot be everywhere at once.

Superman Songs: Above the Law
Above the Law in one of their first headshots after joining Tommy Boy Records. (Courtesy of Tommy Boy Entertainment)

“Superman” by Lazlo Bane

What’s It About?: Mortals trying to make it work in this horrible capitalist dystopian we all find ourselves.

Is It Good?: It’s the SCRUBS theme. Thus, it is perfection.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: Once more, we are dealing with Superman as aspirational figure. It elevates him to perfection which I’m sure people in the DCU believe. But we know, of course, the Man of Tomorrow can’t do it all either.

“Resignation Superman” by Big Head Todd and the Monsters

What’s It About?: Todd Park Mohr tells us the tale of the day Supes stepped away from the game and decided not to be a hero any longer.

Is It Good?: Yes. It is latter-day Big Head Todd but it still has all those old Alternative markers. In fact, it was good enough to make me think that I should give latter-day Big Head Todd a shot.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: Superman never quits. Maybe this is an Elseworlds situation and this is the black shield wearing Kal-El of KINGDOM COME? Otherwise, this wrong gets the Man of Steel very wrong.

“Hit the Ground (Superman)” by Big Pink

What’s It About?: If you take it literally, it is about two young superheroes taking to the sky. More likely, it is two young lovers trying to block out the world by just loving each other.

Is It Good?: It’s not bad. Not my favorite Big Pink track by a mile, but I enjoy how light and frothy it is in comparison to the anxious lyrical content.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: Kal-El is an unseen figure here, not that different from an angel, I’d imagine. I could see the people of Metropolis thinking of Supers in these terms.

Superman Songs: The Big Pink
The Big Pink in a layout for Anthem Magazine. (Courtesy of Anthem Magazine)

“Super Superman” by Miguel Bose

What’s It About?: A fan — not just the Metropolis Marvel’s biggest fan but also, according to the singer, his first fan –asks Supes to teach him how to fight. In return? The singer will teach Superman how to dance. However, if you look to the bottom of the page, you will see that Kal-El can already cut a rug, thank you kindly.

Is It Good?: Not really. It is repetitive lyrically uninteresting and placed over a pretty simplistic disco beat. The Spanish version is perhaps a smidge better but honestly, the English translation is very close to the original in terms of lyrical content.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: Supes is cast as an aspirational figure again. It elevates him to perfection which I’m sure people in the DCU believe. But we know, of course, the Man of Tomorrow can’t do it all either.

“Superman’s Song” by Crash Test Dummies

What’s It About?: In his signature droning style, lead singer Brad Roberts mourns the absence or passing of the Last Son of Krypton. On the other hand, perhaps he’s just sad about humanity’s inability to meet the expectations set by the Man of Steel.

Is It Good?: It has a sort of everyday charm to it as Roberts contemplates Superman’s existence through a rather down to Earth perspective. I like that kind of thing.

The stripped down musical aesthetics and Roberts’ voice is not for everyone though. If you like other Dummies’ songs, you’ll like this one too. If you don’t like that style, chances are even the charm of the lyrical content won’t overcome that existing opinion.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: I think pretty well. It is definitely a common man on the street contemplation of the larger than life Man of Tomorrow, but it is still pretty intuitive about the hero.

“Sunset Superman” by Dio

What’s It About?: Superman starts to take the night shift. Except he cannot really remember what he has been up to.

Is It Good?: Umm…it’s theatrical for sure. I did a random survey of Dio fans and apparently, this is not a well-loved song in the oeuvre anyway, but I admit a certain lack of fondness for the genre of music in general. In other words, I’m not sure Dio could have made a song about the Last Son of Krypton I did like.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: You know a couple of stories where Superman becomes a vampire for a little while? Maybe this song is about that version. Because it has nothing in common with original flavor Clark Kent, for sure.

Superman Songs: Miguel Bose
Miguel Bose contemplates his latest Latin Grammy nomination earlier this year. (Courtesy of The Recording Academy)

“That’s Really Super, Supergirl” by XTC

What’s It About?: A (former?) boyfriend of the Maiden of Might passive aggressively serenades her now that he knows the truth of her secret identity.

Is It Good?: XTC does dreamy synth new wave to perfection. This is definitely a lesser tune in their catalog but that does not mean it is not a good listen.

How Well Does It “Get” Supermangirl?: First, yes, this is about Supergirl, not Superman. But I called Mr. Kent and he said he was fine with sharing the spotlight for a song. Second, especially during this moment we are in right now, it is an interesting take on fragile masculinity that cannot help but crumble in light of the strength and notoriety of a successful woman. At least this “protagonist” finally gets honest by the end and drops the bratty tone to confess that he used to feel super but next to her he just can’t anymore. Third, the song is largely unconcerned with Supergirl except as she reveals the main character’s shortcomings, but it does seem to get that she is heroic and impressive.

“Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five for Fighting

What’s It About?: In the first person, as presented by Vladimir John Ondrasik III,  the Last Son on Krypton admits his insecurities and fears.

Is It Good?: I like it, ok? I’m not going to defend it, I’m not going to justify it. It just hits me right in the “I was an introspective kid” nostalgia feels.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: It is a lot whinier than any Clark Kent this side of BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE’s “can’t get off the couch because the people on TV were mean to me” incarnation. Maybe this is Supes in the midst of a depressive episode?

“Waitin’ for Superman” by Flaming Lips

What’s It About?: William Coyne pleads with us to realize/remember that Superman is out there protecting us, even if we don’t see him.

Is It Good?: I like the lyrical content, but the musically the song is all mid-range without any kind of playing with tempo or, even better, crescendo.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: It demonstrates an understanding that the Man of Steel will never quit even when the odds are against him.

Superman Songs: XTC
XTC hangs out after a show, just over a year after forming. (Courtesy of Past Daily)

“(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” by The Kinks

What’s It About?: Superman as aspirational figure as a down on his luck contemplates how much better it would be if he was the Metropolis Marvel.

Is It Good?: It is lyrically shallow, but fun. The music, the asides, and Ray Davies’ voice all make for good times.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: Mostly it reduces Superman to the ability to fly. Davies and Company don’t want to be the Man of Tomorrow to make the world better, they just want out of their present circumstances. Not very heroic.

“Superhero” by Brian McKnight

What’s It About?: Superman gets his mack on with an unnamed lady. Many will think of her as Lois Lane, but I think it’s funnier if it is Lori Lemaris, the Man of Tomorrow’s ex-girlfriend and still a mermaid.

Is It Good?: No. It is delightfully bad. It plays like an insecure fanboy trying to pepper his conversation with as many Supes-related facts as possible to “prove” he’s a real fan. However, he’s choosing the most obvious stuff everyone knows so he’s failing mightily.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: It demonstrates a knowledge of Superman trivia but doesn’t so much get the essence of the man.

“Superman” by Monica

What’s It About?: Monica wants what Lois Lane has so she’s aiming to try to convince the Last Son of Krypton that a pop star is a better fit for his lifestyle than a reporter.

Is It Good?: It’s cute enough lightweight R&B. Well written it is not, but it sets the mood. Plus it starts with the noise that usually means “flashback” on 90’s tv sitcoms.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: It gets that he’s “super super hot” so that’s something. However, the song is off base thinking that Superman could be seduced away from a monogamous relationship. Also, it really does not seem to get Superman’s relationship to Supergirl. Unless Monica is into some very unusual sorts of role plays.

Superman Songs: Monica
Monica stares down the camera at a recent BBC Music photo shoot. (Courtesy of BBC Music)

“Superman” by R.E.M.

What’s It About?: This cover of a The Clique original, Mike Mills takes the mic (haHA!) from Stipes to give us a glimpse at a lovelorn jealous Metropolis Marvel.

Is It Good?: No. It’s great. R.E.M. is my favorite band of all-time so I am a bit biased. However, I also happen to be right.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: Not very well at all. Sure, Superman is as capable as anyone of being a little jealous, but I can’t imagine him ringing up Lois Lane and trying to convince her to admit she doesn’t like her current boyfriend.

“Superman” by Robyn Hitchcock

What’s It About?: You know that weird power that Superman briefly had where he could, like fire off little Supermen? Well, what if one of those ended up in a box of cereal, Hitchcock found him/it, and raised him/it?

Is It Good?: It actually is. The lyrical content is bizarre, but Robyn has a nice voice. Additionally, the music has a minimal but very listenable quality, based on a foundation of a lightly jangling guitar.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: Not even a bit! Unless I guess, Hitchcock was somehow aware of that brief bizarre Silver Age moment. And even then? Not even a bit!

“Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” by Spin Doctors

What’s It About?: Jimmy Olsen has a crush on Lois Lane and it has made him hella resentful towards his best friend Superman. Apparently jealous enough to make like Lex Luthor and expose the hero to that dangerous green rock known as Kryptonite.

Is It Good?: I remember liking it more when I was younger. Spin Doctors still holds a certain cheesy appeal for this older Millennial. Still, I found myself surprised by how much less energetic this song was than I remembered or than their monster hit “Two Princes.” I’m not sure it would’ve been “good” ever, but I found myself a little disappointed about how this stacked up to my memory.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: It is totally unconcerned with who Superman is, just what he represents. Not to be flip, but basically, Olsen reduces Supes to a Chad and Lois to a Stacey that he’s sure he can show the light.

Superman Songs: R.E.M.
R.E.M. in the midst of their last tour as a quartet circa 1999. (Courtesy of Turn Up the Volume)

“Superman” by Barbra Streisand

What’s It About?: Babs gives us another love fixated version of the Last Son of Krypton, but at least this one is happy.

Is It Good?: No. It’s cheesy as can be light AM fare.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: Maybe Superman might say something like this to Lois? But I can’t imagine she’d suffer this purple a declaration of love without deflating him a bit.

“The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts” by Sufjan Stevens

What’s It About?: A man pleads for Superman to intercede to help them all. Somehow, in doing so, he learns the Man of Steel is too much of a rolling stone to ever be tied down. Poor Lois.

Is It Good?: My cousin Sufjan has a very distinctive style. I groove on it. You may not.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: Superman as a hero is obviously right. The bit about the Metropolis Marvel not being able to stay with one woman is hilariously inaccurate though. Even if DC wishes it were otherwise.

“Superman” by Taylor Swift

What’s It About?: The brief but passionate love affair between Clark Kent and Taylor Swift.

Is It Good?: It is from Taylor Swift’s third album so she’s starting to break increasingly pop. As a result, the track has an unusual mishmash of elements. At one point a slide guitar breaks out to remind you “country artist” but it isn’t fooling anything. But it is Taylor Swift, so yeah, it’s good.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: Oddly, her vision of a work a day everyday sort of fella is fairly accurate. Every morning her man goes off to work AND save the world. He even carries a briefcase because even though he can lift a train without breaking a sweat, it’s still easier to carry your reporter’s notes in a piece of leather luggage.

Superman Songs: Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift gets support from the Man of Tomorrow on the cover image of her single for “Superman.” (Courtesy of Amanda Faria)

“Superman Lover” by Johnny “Guitar” Watson

What’s It About?: A brokenhearted Man of Steel confesses he just can’t seem to shake his ex and its affected him all over the place.

Is It Good?: Oh, absolutely. If you like dance infused 70’s funk, this is right up your alley.

How Well Does It “Get” Superman?: A little more braggadocious and fixated on his “loving” prowess for my concept of Supes, for certain. On the other hand, I do like a Superman who says “right on with the right on.”

Omitted Tracks

Before you write in — timstevens@comicsverse.com — yes, I am aware this list is by no means comprehensive. Some tracks I am aware of and still chose to not write about. A lot of them are just using Superman as a term for a superhero — “Superman” by Joe Brooks, for instance.

The second biggest group of rejected songs just mention the Man of Tomorrow in passing but the track is not actually about him at all — think “Superman” by Soulja Boy.

The third, much smaller group of rejected songs were SO misguided in their use of the Man of Steel I could not include them in good conscience. For instance, “Superman” by Eminem comes immediately to mind. On that track, Em casts Supes as a cruel misogynist who brags about his sexual prowess as a means of enticing women to sleep with him and accept his degradation of them. I just couldn’t play my man Clark like that.

Of course, even I lack a comprehensive knowledge of EVERY song about the Metropolis Marvel so I have definitely missed some I should have included and some that are worthy of mix inclusion. If you have some in mind that should have been included and discussed, drop me a line at the email address above. If I get enough, perhaps I’ll do a second edition. Or, at least, update the mix. Speaking of which…

Superman Songs: Clark Kent Dances
I don’t know what that caption is on about, everyone knows no one cuts a rug like Clark Kent. Not even Superman. *wink, wink* (Courtesy of DC Comics)

The Ultimate Superman Mix

  1. “Superman” by Lazlo Bane
  2. “Black Superman” by Above the Law
  3. “Resignation Superman” by Big Head Todd and the Monsters
  4. “The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts” by Sufjan Stevens
  5. “That’s Really Super, Supergirl” by XTC
  6. “Superhero” by Brian McKnight
  7. “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five for Fighting
  8. “O Superman (For Massenet)” by Laurie Anderson
  9. “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” by Spin Doctors
  10. “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” by The Kinks
  11. “Waitin’ for Superman” by Flaming Lips
  12. “Superman” by Monica
  13. “Superman” by Robyn Hitchcock
  14. “Hit the Ground (Superman)” by Big Pink
  15. “Superman Lover” by Johnny “Guitar” Watson
  16. “Superman” by Taylor Swift
  17. “Superman’s Song” by Crash Test Dummies
  18. “Superman” by R.E.M.

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