The Crawling Ear column: Spider-Man Does Not Rock

Spider-Man merchandise is everywhere nowadays, but according to James, things might actually have been worse in the 70s...

In 1976, Spider-Man was so goddamn popular anything with his name on it would sell like naked pictures of Jackie O. T-shirts, bed spreads, ice cream, dog food, pregnancy tests – you name it. The teenage superhero could really move units. This is probably what led Marvel Comics to believe a Spider-Man-based rock album could quite easily dominate music charts across the globe and turn Peter Parker into something like Elton John or the fifth member of KISS. Not a completely unreasonable line of thought. Thus, the Web-slinger was whored out to Lifesong Records who would bring him to life sonically on the infamous Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Superhero.*

Lifesong utilized as much of their in-house talent as they could for this project, which included rockers Crack the Sky, producer Terence P. Minogue, teenage songwriter Mike Ragogna, some guy from Manhattan Transfer, and Barry Manilow’s keyboardist. With credits like that, it’s no surprise that Rock Reflections of a Superhero is one of the most generic, overwrought pieces of seventies pap ever recorded. The punchy spirit of the beloved 1960s Spider-Man cartoon theme song is nowhere to be found on this half-baked attempt at the Doobie Brothers. A big part of the problem is how much focus is put on Peter Parker’s emotional and social struggles when he’s not gliding over rooftops and fighting crime in his blue and red pajamas. We get it – he’s a nerd, girls don’t like him, his life sucks. One tune laying all this out would have been enough.

On top of this, we have to deal with comic guru Stan Lee’s narration between each song. The man doesn’t have a great speaking voice. In fact, he’s pretty famous for sounding like an excitable, creepy nerd who knows way too much about the Fantastic Four. As he outlines Peter Parker’s troubles and travails, you can just see him hunched over a microphone in a beige jacket and those giant rose-tinted glasses, wearing a creepy expression that suggests sexual arousal. It seems to actually work against the narrative flow. It certainly slows down the action on the second half of the record, when Dr. Octopus shows up to raise hell (to be fair to Stan, the tentacled villain’s characterization here makes him seem about as menacing as one of the Gibb brothers).

The back cover of Rock Reflections features panels depicting various Marvel superheroes jamming in the studio. Hulk’s on drums, Black Panther’s on guitar, and Captain American is… playing the tambourine? That seems a little demeaning. He’s Captain America. He should be playing a double-necked red, white, and blue guitar adorned with Hitler’s skull and a giant “Speak English or Die” sticker. Okay, maybe that’s a little intense, but seriously, couldn’t they have delegated fey percussion duties to a hero a little less pivotal? At least he was spared the indignity of hand clapping. Apparently they couldn’t even trust the Falcon with a pair of maracas.

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Spider-Man is also shown in this collection of cute drawings, wearing headphones and holding a microphone. However, the Web-head doesn’t appear to be singing. Head tilted back, Spider-senses clearly tingling, our hero looks like he’s writhing in a great deal of physical pain. Maybe he knew from day one this album was going to be his greatest foe. That would explain why he’s not looking his alter ego in the eye on the front cover. He’s just too ashamed.

* not to be confused with the 1972 “rockomic” The Amazing Spider-Man: From Beyond the Grave, which was a story record punctuated with a handful of rock tunes.

James writes every Wednesday at Den of Geek. Find his last column here.