Saluting Stan Lee

The five best songs inspired by his Marvel Comics universe

Marvel ad for Rock Reflections of a Super-hero

The reign of Stan Lee–the Jewish kid from The Bronx who both altered and made history–was a long one.

He started his career at Timely Comics in the 1930s, let that sink in for a moment. Sure, he had to take a few years off in the ’40s for the minor inconvenience of serving in WWII, but after he came back, he leaped back into the business with both feet. By the time he turned Timely into Marvel in 1961 and began to realize his vision, he and fellow seers like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were prepared to build a new universe from scratch.

Rock Reflections of a Super-hero front cover

Ever since, generation after generation has found a haven in that realm, a place where they recognized characters as fallible as them, even if they possessed superhuman powers to get them over the hump. And perhaps those readers got at least a little glint of a notion that maybe <i>they</i> had more powers at their disposal than they might have supposed. Stan Lee always made Marvel the home of the underdog, and in his ubiquitous editorials he communicated directly with the community he created, maintaining an unflagging sense of humor but never shying away from addressing the issues of the day as he spoke out against sociopolitical injustices in whatever form they took at the time.

Rock Reflections of a Super-hero, back cover

And while it’s often been alleged that he edged others out of their fair share of credit for their co-creations, even if Lee was only responsible for half of what he claimed, we’d still be celebrating him today. He seemed as eternal as some of his characters, so even at the age of 95 his passing was a shock. And in Lee’s absence, we who have lived for varying periods in the worlds he created have begun to salute him in as many manners as there are mourners. So from the purview of rock ‘n’ roll, let’s send Stan off with a handful of the most memorable songs ever to salute the Marvel universe.

 

Wings

“Magneto and Titanium Man”

 

 

When Paul was writing the tunes for <i>Venus and Mars</i> in Jamaica in 1974, there wasn’t a lot for his and Linda’s kids to do to keep them occupied and out of their parents’ hair. Fortunately, there was a shop nearby with a steady supply of comics, which were duly purchased for the tykes. Paul inevitably soaked up some of the stories and characters, which ended up inspiring the album’s bouncy pop ditty “Magneto and Titanium Man.” Comic geeks will want it noted that Magneto and Titanium Man did not actually interact in the Marvel universe, and the song also includes a third super villain, the Crimson Dynamo. On the tour for the album, a screen projected images of the characters, and Jack Kirby himself attended one of the shows, visiting the band backstage.

 

The Table

“Do the Standing Still”

 

 

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of The Table. The little-known British post-punk band put out a pair of singles in the late ’70s and that was pretty much it. But the first of those singles, not only comes off like Brian Eno fronting Wire, it features some weapons-grade comic knowledge in the lyrics. As helpfully illustrated in the YouTube clip created by band member Tony Barnes, the song’s lyrics are made up largely of Fantastic Four story titles along with the names of a few other early Marvel titles.

 

Suicide

“Ghost Rider”

 

 

First, let’s dispel a widespread falsehood. Despite the ubiquity of the notion, the assertion that the trailblazing NYC duo Suicide got their name from a <i>Ghost Rider</i> story called “Satan’s Suicide” is apocryphal. Suicide formed in 1970 and everybody’s favorite skullheaded biker didn’t make his first appearance until ’72. ‘Nuff said, as Stan the Man would put it. Nevertheless, Suicide’s startling synth-punk classic “Ghost Rider” is indeed inspired by the fearsome motorcycle demon, though singer Alan Vega could give ol’ Johnny Blaze a run for his money when it came to intensity and scariness.

 

The Ramones

“Spider Man”

 

 

This one almost didn’t make it through the hatch before the band closed up business for good. It was only added on as a bonus track to The Ramones’ final album, 1995’s <i>Adios Amigos</i>. Joey Ramone was a life-long lover of comics, and that enthusiasm is apparent on the band’s cover of the theme from the ’60s animated <i>Spider Man</i> series. It invites the mind to wonder what other first-gen punks might have sounded like interpreting tunes from the rest of the ’60s Marvel cartoons. It’s tantalizing to imagine Joe Strummer wrapping his lungs around The Hulk’s theme song, or Dave Vanian darkly crooning “Cross the rainbow bridge of Asgard…

 

Paul Roland

“Dr. Strange”

 

 

The very essence of a cult hero, Paul Roland is a British singer/songwriter who’s been making deliciously dark records since the early ’80s. Imagine Robyn Hitchcock gone goth and you’re at least in the ballpark. He’s no dabbler — as prolific an author as he is a musician, Roland has written dozens of books covering the occult, the evil, and the mysterious. No less an authority than Neil Gaiman said of Roland, “He’s where the darkness starts.” And Roland’s own darkness started, appropriately enough, with a 1982 single inspired by Marvel’s original supernatural superhero.

 

Bonus tracks:

Icarus

The Marvel World of Icarus

 

 

This 1972 psych/prog obscurity is the lone release by the U.K. entity Icarus, masterminded by one Iain Hines and including future Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge. A concept album with each track devoted to a different Marvel hero, it was apparently an authorized endeavor, bearing Jack Kirby cover art and even a Stan Lee co-writing credit. The album’s raw, quirky edge has helped make it a cult fave. Excelsior! 

 

Stan Lee, Rest in Peace

 

 

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