Songs of Planet Krypton

The Man of Steel's pop-culture appeal is inscribed in decades of lyrics.

How poignantly harmonic that Rodney Dangerfield and Christopher Reeve died the same week: Mr. No Respect vs. Superman, the ultimate underdog vs. the ultimate dynasty, Red Sox vs. Yankees. But with all overdue respect to Rodney, the iron grip of Reeve’s most famous role on popular culture — especially popular music — is untouchable.

“Superman is one of the most recognizable characters on the planet,” notes Steve Younis, a 33-year-old graphic designer who runs from his fortress of solitude in Sydney, Australia. “He’s endured for 65 years because people can identify with him, people want to aspire to be like him. He sets an example we’d all like to think we could emulate. His story, his feats, his interaction with the other characters in his stories — there’s something in there we all can relate to, and songwriters tap into that as part of their talents.”

Take Wesley Willis:

Superman thought he was bad
He was messing with my girlfriend

I caught him in my room kissing her
I took a rubber hose and flogged his rump
I whipped Superman’s ass
I whipped Superman’s ass
I whipped Superman’s ass
I whipped Superman’s ass

Younis’ labor of love concerns itself with every aspect of the Superman phenom, from the comics to the Reeve flicks to Smallville, the Clark-Kent-as-troubled-teenager TV drama that Steve taps as the future of the franchise. But the site’s most fascinating feature is Superman in Songs, a compendium of every tune and every offhanded lyrical reference to the Man of Steel that Steve can find. Currently the list hovers just under three hundred — and rising.

“Many people find it hard to believe that the word ‘Superman’ is mentioned in over 280 songs,” Steve admits. “Show me another fictional character with as many references. Just goes to show that Superman is so ingrained into the public’s consciousness.”

Perhaps too ingrained. The dude has become easy shorthand for the American Dream or the Purveyor of Your Wildest Sexual Fantasies. So you get countless I will be your Supermans (Joey McIntyre, Unwritten Law, Swervedriver, Rick Springfield). Then there’s Tell all your friends I’m your Superman (Chico DeBarge), My sexual technique is similar to that of Superman (Johnny “Guitar” Watson), I’m actually not Superman (Dave Matthews), I thought I was Superman (John Michael Montgomery), I’m just pretending to be Superman (Goldfinger), I don’t want to be your Superman (Train), I wish I could fly like Superman (the Kinks), Hey little sister who’s your Superman? (Billy Idol), I humbly request a Superman for sexual purposes (Bonnie Tyler), I humbly request a Superman for societal purposes (Genesis), and I don’t need to be a Superman (Warrant). Everyone from Eminem to Alanis Morissette to Sister Hazel to Laurie Anderson to Right Said Fred has taken a crack at it.

Hip-hop dudes get into the act too: Ice-T, A Tribe Called Quest, Kurtis Blow, DMX, 50 Cent, Skee-Lo. But perhaps the crown prince of Superman raps is none other than Shaquille O’Neal, who scores a record six references on the site:

I was the baddest poppa

Baddest rhyme dropper
Bustin’ more mills than Superman to helicopters

That this doesn’t particularly make sense only enhances its appeal.

But Superman references work better when expressed as an unattainable ideal, perhaps best expressed by indie-rockers Cinerama:

And that sounds just like a job for

Not the lazy slob that you think I am
Because nothing I could do
Is ever going to be quite good enough for you

Even more subversive are the failing-Superman-as-metaphor-for-societal-decay numbers, most notably Three Doors Down’s doofy butt-rock hit “Kryptonite.” Steve digs that one, though, along with Five for Fighting’s piano-pop ballad “Superman,” which serves as Smallville‘s theme song and portrays Superman is an adolescent whiner (It’s not easy to be me), which is more realistic and consequently less rousing.

Finally, there’s the ???!!!??? category, headlined by folk weirdo Donovan, whose “Sunshine Superman” is surprisingly libidinous (I can make like a turtle and dive for your pearls in the sea, yeah!). And there’s always Robyn Hitchcock:

Superman, Superman
Crunchy little Superman
Found you in a cornflakes box

Nourished you in privacy
Touched the parts you couldn’t reach
You improved immediately

But what’s the definitive Superman song? No argument here if you opt for “I Am Superman,” written by the Clique but immortalized by pre-vortex-of-suck R.E.M. A dear friend of mine insists the tune is written from the perspective of a little kid in love with his babysitter, hence the childlike tone: You don’t really love that guy you make it with, now do you? Nice. But for our purposes, and in the interests of eulogizing both the inspiring spirit and human frailty of Christopher Reeve, give us the Flaming Lips’ “Waitin’ for a Superman”:

Tell everybody
waitin’ for a Superman
That they should try to
hold on best they can
He hasn’t dropped them
or forgot them or anything
It’s just too heavy
for Superman to lift.

RIP, Supe.

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