Superhero Music Top 10
Visual sound effects notwithstanding, comic books are a silent affair. Were you to witness my reading some random book from The Accumulation you would be hard-pressed to hear anything beyond pages being turned, and maybe soft weeping. Matt Murdock-level listeners might detect the near-silent death agonies of expiring brain cells.
But when superheros vault to the small and large screens, they bring music with them, and that’s what this week’s Longbox Graveyard is all about! It’s been awhile since I did one of my idiosyncratic top ten lists, so here we go with my Superhero Music Top Ten. These are the tunes that I (sometimes) put on in the background while reading funny books, or (more frequently) welcome with relish as they get stuck in my head and shout down the many voices whispering at me to do unspeakable things. As with my other lists, these songs aren’t necessarily the best, but they are my favorites, and I hope you will agree (or better, disagree) in the comments section below!
10) Batman Brave And The Bold
Coming in at number ten is the brassy and wild opening titles for my favorite superhero cartoon, Batman: The Brave And The Bold! The show, sadly, has recently gone out of production, but you can track it down on DVD and I expect it can still be found on Cartoon Network (although I haven’t seen even a re-run pop up on my DVR for several weeks now). The show is broad, tongue-in-cheek superhero fun, and the tone is set right from the start, as wailing horns and jungle drums conduct Batman through the streets of a Gotham City overshadowed by the many friends and foes the Dark Knight encounters in this freewheeling animated series.
The show scores bonus points for a playful sense of musicality throughout the series, with unexpected musical numbers breaking out in the strangest places (usually when Aquaman is around), and going completely over-the-top with Neil Patrick Harris leading the vocals in the Broadway-quality original score for the musical episode, Mayhem of the Music Meister!
9) Kick Ass
Kick Ass is notable for several things, such as it’s relentlessly bleak and violent outlook on youth culture, a star-making turn by Chloë Grace Moretz as Hit Girl, and one of the few watchable performances by Nick Cage since he collected his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas. But the movie also scores points for its opening theme — “Stand Up,” by The Prodigy. To be fair, I don’t believe this song was created specifically for this movie, but still makes my list because it so nicely sets the scene and sums up the energy and off-center viewpoint of the picture.
A more conventional film score rings in at number eight. I could have selected the main titles from the original three X-Men pictures, but I think I slightly prefer the lesser-known theme from last summer’s X-Men First Class, maybe because I find it more heroic and optimistic.
It is unfortunately almost entirely absent the groovy 1960s vibe of the picture itself, aside from those French horns banging in at the end, which conjure impressions of a John Barry 007 track.
7) Iron Man
Energetic and up-tempo, Ramin Djawadi‘s theme sets the tone for what is still the best of Marvel’s superhero movies, with building strings beneath rock guitars giving a big-shouldered, machine-like beat to what might otherwise be another disposable summertime popcorn movie anthem. It gets your motor running and is the perfect warm-up for the fast-paced, industrial superhero story that follows.
6) Batman (Tim Burton version)
Batman claims another slot on my list (and it will shortly become evident why this list could as easily have been the Batman Music Top Ten). I was never wild about Tim Burton’s Batman but it was one of the biggest films of all time, and Danny Elfman’s film score has achieved iconic status. In 1989, Elfman was still in the early stages of his film score career, and hadn’t yet begun to relentlessly recycle the “dark carnival” sound that characterizes his later work. Elfman’s Batman score is by turns shrill and moody, with a cheeky, big-film self consciousness that is unafraid to slap you in the face and say, well, you knew you were lining up for a big-budget Batman picture, so let’s get this show on the road!
5) Batman Begins
Better for me than Elfman’s Batman is the film score for Batman Begins. The four-color heritage of Elfman’s Batman has been entirely flushed from the system in this more serious, urgent, and threatening theme, which I could see Bruce Wayne popping in his CD player when he needs to get across town in his Lamborghini Murcielago LP640. That co-composer Hans Zimmer so thoroughly cannibalized this score for his later collaboration with Christopher Nolan in Inception shouldn’t be held against what is a powerful piece of music that works as well for the opening titles as it does for the action sequences of the film.
4) Wonder Woman
Finishing just short of the podium and owing it’s placement more to nostalgia than quality, the first season mix of Wonder Woman’s theme song sports an extra-funky mix of this theme’s catchy beat. Maybe it gets points for being ahead of its time, because I could have sworn this was a 1980s song, but the series dates to 1975!
I will admit that this is the worst song on my list … but it fits comfortably into the so-bad-it’s-good category. Hear it once and the song burrows into your brain like an earwig.
Plus — Lynda Carter, in her satin tights, fightin’ for her rights!
3) Superman Theme
In any sane world, John Williams’ theme from Superman would rate the top of the list — it is the first music that leaps to mind when most people think of superhero themes, instantly-recognizable and sending chills down the spine. But this isn’t a sane world … this is Longbox Graveyard!
An indispensable component of what is still the only Superman movie to get it (sort of) right, this score comfortably resides among the greatest in film history, alongside Williams’ classic music for pictures like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The most unabashedly heroic music on this list (of the “serious” pieces at least), the score is old fashioned and schmaltzy in places … but then again, so is Superman, and rather than aging poorly, I prefer to think that Williams’ Superman score understands the heart of this iconic hero, and refuses to bend to the temporary tone of the day.
This list begins and ends with TV themes, and only one superhero TV theme is more iconic than the opening credits of the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon show.
This song hails from the great era of expository television theme songs, where the song was anthem and series summary all in one. There’s no way even the most sugared-up Saturday morning cartoon viewer could fail to understand what Spider-Man is all about after absorbing this tight, psychedelic, sixty-second aural bludgeoning that leaves nothing to chance. Hear this song once and you’ll know every one of Spidey’s most important powers, and you’ll be revved up and ready to go for a show that never quite delivered the goods as well as its sensational opening. But sheesh, kid, what do you want? It’s 1967, and no one in their right mind is going to spend a nickle on a superhero show. Now shut up, eat your Frosted Flakes, and pay attention to the commercials!
You should have seen this coming when I put Wonder Woman at #4. Obviously Longbox Graveyard is not afraid of cheese, which means I’m not afraid to name the cheesiest superhero theme of all time as king of the hill.
The Batman theme shoots the moon on the “expository theme song” style, performing a reductio ad absurdum to arrive at an anthem that uses only one word — Batman! Batman! Batman! Batman! Batman, Batman, Batman!
It’s the perfect, spy movie/surf guitar 1960s theme for what would become Batmania. The series also features good incidental music, though lightning would NOT strike twice when they rolled out the Batgirl theme:
And there you have it! Ten titanic tunes for your superheroing pleasure. Where did I get it right? What is my most egregious oversight? Sing out in the comments, below!
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #45 Panel Gallery: Avengers Assemble!
LONGBOX GRAVEYARD TOP TEN LISTS
- Top Ten Instagram Superheroes
- Top Ten Superhero Lairs
- Top Ten Manliest Superheroes
- Top Ten Longbox Graveyard Articles (Year One!)
- Superhero Music Top Ten
- Top Single Issue Stories
- Top 1o Loves of Peter Parker (Part 1)
- Top 10 Loves of Peter Parker (Part 2)
- Top Ten Marvel Comics Characters
- Top Ten DC Comics Characters
- Top Ten Spider-Man Battles (Part I)
- Top Ten Spider-Man Battles (Part II)
- Top Ten Captain America Villains
- Spider-Man’s Bottom 10 Bronze Age Bums
- Top Ten Superhero Spoonerisms
- Top 5 Captain America Graphic Novels You Can Actually Buy (Sometimes), Read, And Enjoy!
Posted on April 18, 2012, in Lists! and tagged Batman, Batman Begins, Batman: Brave And The Bold, Christopher Nolan, Danny Elfman, Iron Man, John Williams, Kick Ass, Lynda Carter, Mayhem of the Music Meister, Ramin Djawadi, Spider-Man, Superman, Tim Burton, Top 10, Wonder Woman, X-Men, X-Men First Class. Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.
What can I say? I’m down with this list.
I may quibble with the order of the Top 4, but those four definitely belong there. And, when is Lynda Carter coming to #SDCC to sign autographs? I bet she’s still hot.
Ms. Carter would certainly be Queen of Comic-Con if she chose to appear, but I don’t know if she is wired up that way. To get the most out of the show you to be the type of celebrity willing to dress up in your supersuit for a car wash grand opening (c’mon, you can totally see Lou Ferrigno doing that). If you are uncomfortable that most people best remember you for a kitschy role thirty years ago, then you’re best staying far, far away.
I’ve always admired the B-level celebs that just embrace their unexpected geek success and enjoy it or make a career of it. If you get wrapped up in something as big as Star Trek or whatever you might as well enjoy the ride instead of stomping on the lizard costume they made you wear and insist your triumph came in an off-Broadway performance of Death of a Salesman.
Pretty good list. I can’t really argue with any of it. I’d maybe include the rest of the music from the original spider-man cartoon. That cool ass Jazz, with the surfy guitar, they’d play whenever he was swinging around the city, which was usually about half the episode (they certainly got a lot of mileage out of that footage!).
Hey, Crowdaddy is back! That’s groovy, I think that makes you a regular!
I wonder if the full Spider-Man 60’s animated soundtrack is available anywhere. You’re right that the whole show was full of that wake-the-heck up brassy jazz. I remember it being on EARLY on school mornings (like 6:00 AM) so it must have been in syndication when I found the show around 1971 or so. I only saw a couple shows — even then I wasn’t a morning person.
I did join the “Spider-Man Club” at my elementary school, though, I remember I had to memorize and perform the song. Then I was shoved in a trash can and rolled down a hill.
As a kid, the theme from the Electric Company’s Spider-man segments was a personal favorite. “Nobody knows who you are…” The full extended funk version still rocks my world (Gary William Friedman.)
The Ramones version of the Spidey cartoon theme also rules. (Their simplified versions of the chords were much easier for my ear to pick out and jam on the guitar.) “Action is his reward” turns out to be a good assessment of Spidey’s motivation. Re-reading the Lee/Romita run, you get a lot of panels where Parker muses on being something of an adrenaline junkie.
Never knew the Ramones covered Spider-Man, you learn something new every day …
… and here it is: http://youtu.be/i5P8lrgBtcU
Me, either! 😜 lol
Oh man, that Batgirl theme is awful. And the visuals in the beginning are so lame. This is why there are focus groups. I like the theme for Batman The Animated Series. It’s a reworking of Elfman’s movie score, but I love the visuals that go with it.
Also, honorable mention to The Green Hornet theme.
I tracked down that Batgirl clip because Rita was obsessed with it since childhood — she always wanted a vanity mirror that would spin around to let her into her own little Bat Cave, complete with motorcycle and skin-tight Batgirl suit (and I’m cool with at least the last part of that, myself).
She had no memory of the music, and when we found the clip we were both appalled.
It is as low-rent as you can get — that music represents the cheese-it-out-cheap spirit of 1960s TV, especially superhero TV, where they were certainly convinced the fad had passed and it just didn’t matter any more. What’s in the background on the process screen when Babs is riding her motorcycle? It looks like Sherman Way in the Valley or something — they weren’t even trying any more.
Found the lyrics online (http://homepage.mac.com/jjbeach/einheri/music/batgirl.html)
Batgirrrl, Batgirl! Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Where do you come from, where do you go?
What is your scene, baby, we just gotta know.
Batgirrrl, Batgirl! Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Are you a chick who fell in from outer space?
Or are you real with a tender warm embrace?
Yeaaaaah, whose baby are you? Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Yeaaaaah, whose baby are you? Batgirl!
Fun list! I can’t think of any egregious omissions on your part, though I’d probably rank them a little bit differently. I think 300 has some really good music, but that isn’t really a superhero movie, though it’s comic based. And I agree that the Batgirl theme is pretty bad. Man, I haven’t heard that one in probably 30 years!
Batgirl probably deserves a column all her own. I don’t know a lot about the character, except that she wore a tight outfit and did high kicks on the TV show (maybe that’s enough!) The character went on to have a rich life in comics, most of which I haven’t read (aside from Killing Joke, a story I admire more than I enjoy).
It would be a good subject for a guest blog, actually, as I like the character but have little knowledge of her and I don’t think I own a single Batgirl comic. But my wife does wear a Batgirl shirt (when I’m lucky)!
I’ll have to admit, I had a pretty big crush on Batgirl from the TV show. Perhaps the subject of my very first fantasy!
Your secret is safe with Longbox Graveyard! (And around here I think you’d have to stand in line if admitting your admiration for Batgirl).
What about “Believe it or Not” the theme song for The Greatest American Hero? That’s on my list for sure !
Keep wondering if that show will make a comeback. It seems perfect fodder for Netflix. (Maybe it’s already there but I just haven’t noticed).
I was always fond of the 90s XMen cartoon theme song.
I was a couple generations ahead of you, so I missed that era of animated shows. I’ll have to look it up!
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