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!
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