“I am the Batman. This is my city. At night it belongs to me.”
- “Batman” by Neal Hefti
On first listen, the theme from the Batman TV show seems pretty simple: a jazzy score and the word “Batman” repeated 12 times. But composer Neal Hefti said in TV’s Biggest Hits that it was the hardest piece of music he ever wrote. “I tore up a lot of paper. It did not come easy to me … I just sweated over that thing, more so than any other single piece of music I ever wrote. I was never satisfied with it.”
The session band was made up of two trumpets, four trombones, two keyboards, four guitars, a bass and two drums. Eight members of the Ron Hicklin Singers provided the vocals. One cracked that the credits should read “Word and Music by Neal Hefti.”
“Batman,” said Hefti, “was not a comedy. This was about unreal people. Batman and Robin were both very, very serious. The bad guys would be chasing them, and they would come to a stop at a red light, you know. They wouldn’t break the law even to save their own lives. So there was a grimness and a self-righteousness about all this.”
“Batman” by Neal Hefti
- “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five for Fighting
When singer-songwriter John Ondrasik, known as Five for Fighting, released “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” in April 2001, he could not have known it would become an anthem after 9/11. The song, which describes the comic hero’s hard life despite his super powers, provided comfort to the victims of the terrorist attack. Ondrasik performed “Superman” at the Concert for New York City at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 20, 2001.
“I was honored to be there and blessed to be able to say thank you through a song to those emergency workers who had been down at Ground Zero for a month,” Ondrasik told CBS News. “And frankly, to be able to meet the family members of those who had lost loved ones and give them hugs and shake their hands and kiss their children on the forehead and kind of share that sorrow and experience … hopefully through a song, I provided a little solace.”
“Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five for Fighting
- “Tom Sawyer” by Rush
“Tom Sawyer” is probably the best-known tune of progressive rock band Rush. “‘Tom Sawyer’ is a real trademark song for us,” guitarist Alex Lifeson told Classic Rock. “Musically it’s very powerful, and lyrically it has a spirit that resonates with a lot of people. It’s kind of an anthem.”
Based on the Mark Twain classic, the lyrics for “Tom Sawyer” were first written by Pye Dubois of Canadian band Max Webster and given to Rush drummer Neil Peart, the band’s principal lyricist. “Pye was a little mysterious – kind of a strange fellow!” said Lifeson. “He was very quirky, a bit of a nut, but he did write great lyrics. And around 1980 he sent a poem to Neil with an idea to collaborate on a song.
“Neil took that idea and massaged it, took out some of Pye’s lines and added his thing to it,” said Lifeson. The result, said Peart, was “a portrait of a modern-day rebel.”
“Tom Sawyer” by Rush
- “Magneto and Titanium Man” by Paul McCartney and Wings
“Magneto and Titanium Man” was released in 1975 as the B-side of Wings‘ “Venus and Mars/Rock Show.” The tune tells a tale of Marvel Comics characters Magneto, Titanium Man and the Crimson Dynamo. McCartney, an avid comics fan, asked legendary Marvel artist Jack Kirby to create background art that would be projected during Wings’ 1975/1976 concerts.
Kirby met McCartney backstage when the band appeared at the Forum in Los Angeles. Kirby presented McCartney and his wife Linda with an original drawing of Magneto and the band members. The meeting is described in the book The Collected Jack Kirby Collector, Vol. 1.
“Around the corner came Paul. ‘Ello Jack, nice to meet you.’ Jack gave Paul and Linda the drawing which they thought was ‘smashing.’ Paul thanked Jack for keeping him from going bonkers while they were recording the album in Jamaica. It seems that there was very little to do there, and they needed to keep their kids entertained. Luckily, there was a store that sold comics, so Paul would go and pick up all the latest. One night the song ‘Magneto and Titanium Man’ popped into his head.”
“Magneto and Titanium Man” by Paul McCartney and Wings
- “House at Pooh Corner” by Loggins & Messina
Kenny Loggins was 17 when he wrote “House at Pooh Corner” based on the 1928 A.A. Milne book about Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin and the other denizens of Hundred Acre Wood. “The House At Pooh Corner book was the first book I ever read as a kid,” Loggins explained in Today magazine. “So the book and the character were dear to my heart, long before Disney made the movies. When I was graduating from high school, I recognized that the last chapter in the book, when Christopher Robin leaves Hundred Acre Wood … that was about to happen in my own life. I was leaving my childhood behind. So the idea just resonated for me. But I didn’t understand, or wasn’t savvy enough to know where the song was coming from on that level, I just knew that I had to write it. I caught that the last chapter of the book really mattered to me at that moment.”
Loggins and Messina recorded “House at Pooh Corner” in 1971 for the album Sittin’ In. Decades later Loggins brought his new perspective as a father to “Return to Pooh Corner,” which adds a third verse to the original.
“House on Pooh Corner” by Loggins & Messina
“Return to Pooh Corner” by Kenny Loggins
- “Alley-Oop” by the Hollywood Argyles
Dallas Frazier wrote “Alley-Oop,” a novelty song about the comic strip cave man, while working in a cotton gin. “I’m in this big, huge cotton trailer that’s full of cotton,” Frazier told the Tennessean. “I get to thinking about the cartoon character. It just comes to mind. I start just kind of riffing with an ‘Oop-oop,’ like that. Before I know what’s going on, I’m kind of putting something together. It wasn’t immediately intentional, but it started coming together. I wrote that song that day before I got through with my shift at the cotton gin.”
In 1960, Frazier played the song for singer Gary Paxton, who was half of the duo Skip & Flip. Paxton liked the song and recorded it with session musicians in Los Angeles. “There were no Hollywood Argyles at the very beginning,” Paxton wrote on his website. “I was the only lead singer. Kim Fowley helped me produce it, because we were partners in Maverick Music International/BMI at the time … The drummer was Ronnie Silico (Lloyd Price’s road drummer). The piano player was Gaynel Hodge of the Penguins. The bass player was Harper Cosby, a jazz bassist in L.A. Sandy Nelson (of ‘Teen Beat’ fame) played the garbage can and screamed on the record.”
The Hollywood Argyles had a No. 1 hit with “Alley-Oop” in 1960. That year, the Dyno-Sores and Dante and the Evergreens also charted with their own versions. “I won’t be modest about this,” said Frazier. “I knew that ‘Alley-Oop’ had potential. You know, it took a lot of guts for Gary to even cut the thing and put it out. It was not what you call ‘orthodox.'”
“Alley-Oop” by the Hollywood Argyles
- “Flash!” by Queen
Queen was asked by director Mike Hodges to write and record the soundtrack to 1980’s Flash Gordon, a film based on the 1930s comic strip hero. Hodges saw the film as a spoof of the science fiction genre and looked to Queen for music to match the film’s campy characters. As they were given complete artistic freedom, Queen signed on.
Guitarist Brian May wrote the music, which included the film’s theme song, “Flash!” “We saw 20 minutes of the finished film and thought it very good and over the top,” recalled May in Gizmodo. “We wanted to do something that was a real soundtrack. It’s a first in many ways, because a rock group has not done this type of thing before, or else it’s been toned down and they’ve been asked to write mushy background music. Whereas we were given the license to do what we liked, as long as it complemented the picture.”
The film was a box office disappointment as was Queen’s soundtrack album. The theme song, released as a single, only reached No. 42 on the Billboard chart.
“Flash!” by Queen
- “Peter Gunn” by Henry Mancini
Composer Henry Mancini scored a No. 8 hit in 1959 with his theme from the Peter Gunn TV detective drama. “The ‘Peter Gunn’ title theme actually derives more from rock and roll than from jazz,” the composer wrote in his autobiography Did They Mention the Music? “I used guitar and piano in unison, playing what is known as an ostinato, which means obstinate. It was sustained throughout the piece, giving it a sinister effect, with some frightened saxophone sounds and some shouting brass.
“The piece has one chord throughout and a super-simple top line. It has been played through the years by school marching bands as well as rock bands throughout the world.”
Emerson, Lake & Palmer often opened their concerts with the song. “It’s very direct, it’s to the point,” drummer Carl Palmer told Songfacts. “‘Peter Gunn’ has got this sort of great satisfying feeling when you’re playing it, because it is simple. It’s not very technical, but it means a lot. It gets right to the point. It’s a great piece of writing.”
“Peter Gunn” by Henry Mancini
“Peter Gunn” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer
- “Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream
Released in 1967 as the B-side of “Strange Brew,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses” features one of Eric Clapton’s earliest uses of the wah-wah pedal. “‘Tales Of Brave Ulysses’ was very much a part of the 1967 hippie thing, because the words were written by my flatmate, Martin Sharp, who also did the cover designs for the Cream albums,” Clapton explained in Uncut. “It’s got this guitar line that I thought no one had ever done before, but in fact it’s exactly the same as ‘Summer In The City.’ Maybe I subliminally ripped it off from that, because I adored the Lovin’ Spoonful. But it seemed like it was so easy to write, and with the wah-wah pedal and Martin’s incredible lyrics, I felt like I’d really made some kind of a breakthrough there.”
“I just started chatting to Eric,” Sharp recalled in Classic Rock. “I told him I had written a poem. He, in turn, told me he’d written some music. So I gave him my poem. Two weeks later, he turned up with it on the B-side of a 45 record.”
“Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream
“Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful
- “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” by the Kinks
Ray Davies of the Kinks was inspired to write “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” by Superman: The Movie starring Christopher Reeves. “I’ve always admired Superman comics; I went to see the film when it came out at Christmas,” Davies said in a 1981 interview. “I thought it was so true to the comic books and I wanted to write kind of a rock disco ’cause I hate disco music as a rule … but now we’ve got a sort of mix with a rock and roll backbeat and it works real well.”
Guitarist Dave Davies was unhappy about the song’s disco flavor. “I think that one was, not the biggest mistake, but it could’ve been one of the biggest mistakes we made,” Davies told Guitar magazine in 1990. “I remember I had quite a difficult time with Ray while we were making the record, because I didn’t like the direction it was going. It was a strange time for music in general, anyway. The fact that it’s funny, that it was a humorous song, saved it. I don’t feel bad about that song at all, but it could have been a big mistake.”
“(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” by the Kinks
- “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” by the Ramones
Sheena of the Jungle is a comic book heroine from the 1930s. As an orphan in the wild, Sheena learned to wield knives and spears to fight off jungle bad guys and wild animals. Sheena’s ferocity inspired Joey Ramone, who wrote 1977’s “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” for the Ramones.
The song is one of the earliest musical references to the term “punk rock.” Joey explained the song’s genesis in the booklet for the compilation Hey Ho Let’s Go.”‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’ first came out as a single. I played it for (Sire Records President) Seymour Stein. He flipped out and said, ‘We gotta record that song now.’ It was like back in the ’50s; you’d rush into the studio because you thought you had a hit, then put it right out. To me ‘Sheena’ was the first surf/punk rock/teenage rebellion song. I combined Sheena, Queen of the Jungle with the primalness of punk rock. Then Sheena is brought into the modern day: ‘But she just couldn’t stay/She had to break away/Well New York City really has it all.’ It was funny because all the girls in New York seemed to change their name to Sheena after that. Everybody was a Sheena.”
“Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” by the Ramones
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