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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 Dangerfield, 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 SupermanHomepage.com 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's 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 offhand lyrical reference to the Man of Steel that Steve can find. The list hovers at just under 300 -- 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 tooingrained. 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 (Third Ward's own 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 Superman

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 3 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 as 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.

 
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