Around 1999, I discovered Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, and James Cameron’s infamous “scriptment” for his Spider-Man movie. Being young, and with entirely too much time to think, I made some connections that didn’t necessarily need to be made. Well, all but one, which was that any Spider-Man movie should prominently feature at least one Ramones song.
The James Cameron treatment for Spider-Man, despite the howls of early internet outrage that accompanied it, felt pretty revolutionary at the time, and not just because we had yet to actually get a big screen version of Spidey. To this day, its tone reads a little more like Stan Lee and especially Steve Ditko’s original, not-so-nice vision for Peter Parker. Go back and read the first few years worth of Spider-Man comics, and you’ll see that Peter isn’t a terribly nice guy. He hasn’t met his years of being bullied with the kind of good natured “aw shucks” attitude we’re accustomed to. Instead, Peter is a brooding, often resentful jerk, and his attitude towards the women who don’t have much time for him isn’t exactly great, either.
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in seeing some of Ditko’s Peter Parker in the overachieving, awkward, and often creepy Max Fischer of Rushmore. But it was that film’s eclectic soundtrack, which utilized no music less than 25 years old (other than Mark Mothersbaugh’s score), that really stood out. Late night dial-up internet sessions were set to that soundtrack, as well as bands I was discovering thanks to Please Kill Me, namely Television, The Talking Heads, and full Ramones albums (as opposed to their ubiquitous greatest hits collections).
It didn’t take me long to imagine a Spider-Man movie with a Rushmore-esque soundtrack, one that utilized punk and new wave to get into its jerk-ass hero’s head the same way Wes Anderson used obscure British Invasion tracks to illustrate Max Fischer’s frustrations. Of course Peter Parker would be a Ramones fan, they’re all a bunch of misfits from Queens. Of course he’d be into The Talking Heads, because he’s a smart, weird kid, and there were few bands as smart or weird as David Byrne and friends. The interlocking lead guitar lines of Television still sound appropriately spidery too. Which would you believe Peter listens to, that stuff, or those miserable fucking “songs” that were inflicted on us in his first two movies by the likes of Dashboard Confessional or a Nickelback and Saliva “supergroup?”
Not that Peter’s musical taste has ever been explored in great detail in the comics. But it’s worth noting there was a period in the ‘80s when it was established, without question, that he was a big Elvis Costello fan. See for yourself…
See? Peter was always a little out of step with the musical zeitgeist.
It might be a coincidence that Elvis Costello looks an awful lot like how Steve Ditko drew Peter Parker. They even, at least on the cover of the 2nd Elvis album (my favorite), have a fondness for cameras.
Anyway, I digress…
In many ways, the Ramones were the Spider-Man of rock n’ roll bands. Universally known and generally beloved, with 14 studio albums, nearly as many compilations, and an odd number of live albums to their name, they’re household names, but could never catch a break. Only 3 of their singles ever charted on the Billboard Hot 100, with the highest (“Rockaway Beach”) topping out at #66. Hard to believe considering that the band’s catalog of songs is an endless treasure trove of perfectly crafted hooks and melodies, delivered with blueprint rock n’ roll precision. They even hid a revved-up version of the iconic 1967 animated theme tune as a bonus track on their final studio album, Adios Amigos! (that theme tune got the orchestral treatment from Michael Giacchino in Spider-Man: Homecoming, too). If you squint a little, you might also note that Spidey co-creator Steve Ditko was a devoted libertarian, and Johnny Ramone was one of the few vocal Republicans in rock n’ roll.
So when “Blitzkrieg Bop” kicks into gear during an early web-slinging sequence in Spider-Man: Homecoming, that felt like something of a homecoming, too. “They’re from Queens! They’re from Forest Hills! They’re like actually from the same place that Peter Parker is from, which is so cool,” director Jon Watts told Den of Geek in 2017. “And when I put all of that together, I was like, ‘How has this never been in a movie?’’
The only thing crazier than the fact that it took until 2002 to get a Spider-Man movie on the big screen in the first place is the fact that it took an additional 15 years to get a Ramones song into a Spider-Man movie. Peter Parker hails from Forest Hills, just like the band’s original lineup. You can go to Forest Hills today, at the corner of 67th Avenue and 110th Street and find Ramones Way, right in front of Forest Hills High School. Sure, Andrew Garfield’s moodier Peter had a Ramones poster on his bedroom wall, but give me a 1-2-3-4 count off and some power chords or don’t bother.
But while the use of the Ramones in Spider-Man: Homecoming was certainly overdue, there are plenty of other appropriate musical cues. The jaunty tune with the horns you hear in the early high school scenes is the appropriately titled “The Underdog” by Spoon. I love the fact that The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” is playing in the Vulture’s lair. The Stones are probably the most aggressively “uncool” thing we hear on this soundtrack (other than the use of Canned Heat’s “Goin’ Up The Country”), which is otherwise stacked with punk, indie, or new wave deep cuts. I only mean “uncool” in the sense that it’s definitely something that someone of Toomes’ age would be listening to, and it’s another way to underline the generation gap between hero and villain. Go listen to this song, or the entire Sticky Fingers album, and thank me later.
But while finally seeing some big screen Spidey action set to “Blitzkrieg Bop” is a treat, it wasn’t the biggest surprise, nor was it my favorite musical moment of the movie.
That comes later, when the “getting ready for the big dance” scene is set to “Save it for Later” by The English Beat, from their 1982 album, Special Beat Service. Incidentally, this is one of my favorite songs of all time. And when Peter actually gets to the dance, you’re hearing “Space Age Love Song” by A Flock of Seagulls. I’m no fan of this group, but this is a stunning, beautiful tune, and in a different reality, it’s easy to imagine both of these making the cut if there had ever been a Spidey movie made in the 1980s. Just put John Cusack in Peter’s shoes, and we’d still be talking about that one. Then again, we might still be talking about Spider-Man: Homecoming for a long time to come.
Now let’s get an Elvis Costello tune in the sequel.