Friday, August 19, 2011

Captain Marvel Zapped Him Right Between the Eyes!

David Crosby Digs the Avengers circa 1965

Aside from an early obsession with dinosaurs, comic books were probably the first thing my young mind really dug. In the words of Dee Dee Ramone "I'm Just a Comic Book Boy".  And when my enthusiasm for Super Heroes and Mad Magazine waned in later adolescence it was replaced by daydreams about the equally colorful, amusing and ridiculous adventures of rock and roll bands. 

The interplay between these two trash cultures is rich. In the 1950's junk food, 45 rpm records, and a stack of comics were the drugs of choice of the millions occupying a newly created segment of society, the teenager. Hank Williams borrowed lyrical ideas from the story lines of romance comics of the 1950's.  Elvis was quoted as saying “When I was a child I was a dreamer. read comic books and I was the hero of the comic book".  How many pop bands covered the Batman theme (too many for this mix)?  Pink Floyd placed Doctor Strange on the cover of their second album, and he was name checked in songs by groups as different as Country Joe and the Fish and T. Rex.   Jimi Hendrix and Donovan (Green Lantern's got nothing on him) were avid comic book readers, and their technicolor music and fantasy/sci-fi lyrics clearly portrayed this influence.  In the 1970's the Ramones seemed like Mad Magazine characters come to life, and the Cramps were pure EC Horror Comic.
The American comic book preceded rock and roll by a good twenty years or so, but both entered a stage of rapid development in the 1950's that upped the ante on sexual suggestiveness, violence, horror, you know pure visceral fun. And both comics and rock and roll scared the shit out of a lot of people, which resulted in congressional hearings on comics and attempts, particularly in the South, to stamp out or ban rock and roll.  Both were considered to be responsible for juvenille delinquency, turning good church going white kids into sex crazed morons hell bent on destruction.  

In the 1960's comics started to feature more complex and conflicted anti-hero type characters, as well as villains with backstories that rendered them almost sympathetic.  The 1960's also saw comics absorbing the impact of the British Invasion with characters sporting hip 60's fashions, longer hair, increasingly psychedelic art and story lines and even the occasional appearance by a beat group.  Comics were the preferred reading material on Ken Kesey's bus of Merry Pranksters, fueling their imagination as they pushed their psychedelic agenda into middle America.
Gwen Stacy, Spiderman's girl
Pop/Rock and Comics were really a perfect match both had a colorful immediacy, a surface kineticism that exploded off the page and out of your speakers. It's easy to see why comic book characters appeared so frequently in the works of early Pop Art figures.  And for the record, when I use the expression trash culture, it's affectionately, not as a pejorative, as this stuff in most cases means more to me than any gallery full of "fine art"- as Paul Weller once said "for me the cover of a French Small Faces EP can piss all over any of Picasso paintings".  But part of the appeal of both comic books and pop music was its disposability, and its lack of self consciousness and pretension, it wasn't supposed to be for the ages, it just turned out that way.

Nico plays Batman to Warhol's Robin

1. Captain Marvel Zapped Him Right Between the Eyes

2. Come On Now - The Ramones- Written by Dee Dee Ramone this song features the immortal line "i'm just a comic book boy" as well as lots of other choice lines celebrating junk culture.  This is from the Ramones' last great album, the sorely underrated Pleasant Dreams, produced by Graham Gouldman (writer of pop gems like "Bus Stop", "For Your Love",  and "Heart Full of Soul") it's the pop masterpiece that their previous record with Phil Spector, End of the Century, should have been.  There's an article on the Ramones in a late 70's Creem where the writer is traveling with them through Texas and mentions their preference for stopping at 7-11's and loading up on junk food and comic books.  I remember as a kid the local 7-11 across from the neighborhood swimming pool had just about everything one could want at that age, video games like Defender, rack of comics, candy bars, bubblegum with Star Wars cards, Slurpees, burritos, and rock mags. Adolescent heaven.  And there's even a song on Pleasant Dreams titled 7-11.

3. Astro Man- Jimi Hendrix- It's obvious from the intro to this one, "Here I come to save the day!", that Hendrix in addition to digging comic books, dug cartoons, specifically Mighty Mouse .  Sonically I love the ominous tone of the intro.

4. Mambo Strange- T. Rex- What a sound!  "I'm Doctor Strange for you".  Does anyone not like T. Rex?  As my old next door neighbor's mother used to say about her daughter "what's not to like?"

5. Dr. Doom- 13th Floor Elevators- A Tommy Hall/Stacy Sutherland collaboration, Hall and Sutherland were every bit as important to the Elevators sound (Hall wrote the majority of their lyrics), as Roky. This one is here for the title, not sure what they're on about lyrically, great song though.

6.  The Time We Faced Doom- MF DOOM- "Hold your insulting tongue and mark my words well!" Gotta remember to work that line into my daily life.

7. Super Friendz (Edan remix)- MF DOOM & Vast Aire- Daniel Dumile's early success as Zev Love X in the hip-hop group KMD was followed by a series of bad breaks and tragedies (his brother and bandmate Subroc was hit and killed by a car and their band KMD was dropped by Elektra in quick succession) that renders apropos his re-emergence several years later behind the mask and persona of Doom due to his own emotional disfiguring by tragedy.  

8. Ghost Rider- Suicide- Ghost Rider was arguably the coolest comic book of the Bronze Age.

9. I Ain't Nothing But A Gore Hound- The Cramps- So the song's really about the films of Herschel Gordon Lewis, no matter cause the Cramps as I mentioned before were clearly comic book readers, especially of the pioneering horror and gore of EC comics and its progeny the b&w Creepy and Eerie (which personally I like even better than the EC titles).   "Even the devil gets dizzy at the stuff I dig, I go crazy and crazy till I flip my wig".  The Cramps would have been Exhibit A for those comic book hating congressman if they had been around in the 50's.

10. To The Batmobile-Nelson Riddle-  "Atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed!" from the record pictured below.  This one has the "actual television voices of Batman and Robin" kids!

11. Comic Strip- Serge Gainsbourg- Shebam! Pow! Blop! Wizzzz!  The French always dug comics.

12. Magneto and Titanium Man- Wings- sounds like B&S were listening to this circa Boy With the Arab Strap, or maybe it's just a coincidence.  In any case Paul engages in his brand of bouncy pop referencing along the way arch X-Men villain Magneto and somewhat lesser known Russian Iron Man villians Titanium Man and the Crimson Dynamo.

13. The Watcher- Hawkwind- Space Rockers Hawkwind create a slow creepy tune based around Marvel extraterrestrial the Watcher, known as Uatu.  This song is from 1972's Doremi Fasol Latido, and was apparently written by none other than Lemmy Kilmister. "We are looking in on you now".

14. Sunshine Superman- Donovan- This one's here for the Green Lantern & Superman references and for general grooviness, if you pardon the expression.

15. How I Wrote Elastic Man- The Fall- Mark E. is "eternally grateful to his past influences", which is nice to hear.  And note that despite the title he says Plastic Man throughout the song. "So I'm resigned to bed, I keep bottles and comics stuffed by its head, fuck it, let the beard grow".  As a side note Richard Farina's favorite comic was also Jack Cole's Plastic Man.

16. Super Bird-Country Joe and the Fish- Poor LBJ got it from all sides, maybe he deserved it, but at least he got some things done, which makes up somewhat for him being a real mean sumbitch.  Anyway references to Superman, Doctor Strange and the Fantastic Four make this one a natch.

17. Batman- The Who- After their "mod" phase the Who's next brief thing was Pop Art or was it Destructo- Art, they went through these phases pretty damn quick.  I guess you could accuse them of desperately clutching at gimmicks, but the Who from 1965-67 was such an amazing POP band and Townshend had such a wonderful line of bullshit, who cares.  The general public including the pop world were nuts for 1966's Batman TV show, so this cover is no surprise and there's lots more versions out there for the curious.

18. Holy Hole in the Doughnut- Nelson Riddle- A pleasant interlude, with lots of example for the young- uns of the kind of inane interjections Robin would regularly make with on the awesome campy 1966 Batman TV show.

19. I'm Gonna Unmask the Batman- Sun Ra- Sun Ra was so bad he could take the caped crusader, who was after all just a puny earthling.

20. Mr. Freeze- Jan & Dean- Again 1966's Batman with Adam West and Burt Ward was a mid-60's sensation and everybody was cashing in, including Jan & Dean who recorded a whole record based around the show.  It's called Jan & Dean Meet Batman, but the fact that the cut I'm including is the one instrumental should tell you something, and I do like Jan & Dean. 

21.  Atom Tan- The Clash- From the underrated Combat Rock, nice vocal interplay from Mick and Joe.  "I'm not the only one, of the caped crusader fan club, watching the skies, for mankind's friends". 
In another old Creem (I think its the 1980 issue where they got the cover) I remember Joe going on about how much he liked Robert Crumb (also John Water's movies). Probably the first place I heard of either.

22. Superman- The Kinks- From 1979's Low Budget, a bit of a disco influence here maybe, catchy stuff. "I'd like to fly but I can't even swim".  

23. Braniac's Daughter- Dukes of Stratosphere-  Andy Partridge says "I was a big comic collector in my teens and twenties-American comics. I had a huge collection of Marvel and DC and all the other brands, Dell and Harvey and all that stuff. I thought, ‘Let's do a song about another unusual character.' Brainiac didn't have a daughter, but I liked this idea of a woman with green skin and lights on her head just like her dad, doing goofy stuff."

23. The Penguin's Walk-The Dynamic Batmen-

24. Batman- The Standells- I had to place some restraint on how many times this tune appeared, so the Jam and Link Wray versions, though both quite good, were beat out by the Standells, mainly because I dig the organ sound on this one.

25. Superman- The Clique- Straight outta Beaumont Texas, comes the Clique with a Gary Zekley (of Yellow Balloon fame amongst others) number.  "I can do anything"

26. Gates of Steel- Devo- "man is real, not made of steel"

27. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill (demo)-The Beatles- The demo version recorded at George Harrison's home, after returning from India, which brings us full circle with Captain Marvel again zapping you right between the eyes.

Until next time........

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