Did you know that Julie Taymor‘s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the ill-fated, expensive 2010 Broadway musical featuring music by Bono and The Edge, wasn’t the first time Spider-Man was given the musical treatment?
Weird, ill-advised, somewhat terrible Marvel-sanctioned Spider-Man music goes at least as far back as the mid 1970s. Most notably, Marvel, with the approval and participation of Stan Lee, released the rock opera Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Superheroin 1976. It is whiny, bizarre and absolutely worth your time.
In 1972, Marvel releases a now-forgotten audio audio record called The Amazing Spider-Man: A Rockomic, which was largely an audio adaptation of a Spider-Man story with a few songs added. The songs are a wimpy, folky strain of 1970s pop, and not the fun, funky/disco stuff you might expect. Total bust. So when Marvel was introduced to an outfit called Lifesong Records about the possibility of making a proper Spider-Man rock album the company hastily said yes. This was a time when Marvel was licensing anything for as cheaply as possible, and weird side-projects like this could be made in two weeks. The woman who brought Marvel to Lifesong Records was none other than Marvel executive Ann Robinson, the author of a long-lost Spider-Man workout manual. Her idea was to launch a whole series of rock records based on Marvel characters.
This new Spider-Man record, Rock Reflections of a Superhero, hired a little-known prog rock band called Crack the Sky to write an emotional musical concept record of a day in the life of Peter Parker: the highs and the lows. The record, which was advertised in Marvel comics, and only cost $6.99 (plus shipping and handling), featured several tracks of Stan Lee’s poetic narration and sported original artwork by John Romita. The theatrical music’s vocals were provided by Marty Nelson from The Manhattan Transfer. However, the back cover claimed that Spider-Man himself was singing, with the Fantastic Four providing backup, Captain America playing percussion, Power Man on bass, Black Panther on guitar, Conan and the Barbarians on strings, Silver Surfer on keyboards, Hulk smashing the drums, and Thor and The Falcon relegated to trumpet and handclapping respectively.
The opening track, “High Wire,” with its bluesy guitar and jumpy lyrics, illustrates the highs of being a Spider-Man, while the lows are made painfully obvious in tracks like “No One’s Got a Crush on Peter” and the melodramatic “A Soldier Starts to Bleed.” The highlight is the villain’s song “Dr. Octopus,” although my favorite of the songs is “Count on Me,” a track that would have been rejected by Peter, Paul and Mary for being too sappy. Nothing will get your ’70s chintz gland activated more powerfully.
Rock Reflections doesn’t so much tell a story as it does histrionically contemplate what it would feel like to be Spider-Man. It’s an opera. It’s moody, introspective and, through stretches, a total downer. This enterprise wouldn’t be a bad idea if the record weren’t also pretty annoying. The musicians seemed to have trouble marrying their bombastic prog rock with the light adventure of Spider-Man. Some kids loved this record at the time, but today it might best be enjoyed with a glass of high quality vodka. Well, maybe a bottle.
You can enjoy the entire record on Spotify. Give it a listen and tell us what you think.
Images: Marvel Comics, Lifesong Records