Illegal downloading and iPods have decimated the music industry. This sucks for performers and record execs, but the MP3 age has been nothing less than a musical gold rush for nerds. Thanks to the rise of torrents, newsgroups, music blogs and YouTube, all sorts of geeky treasures have emerged online. If you are looking for that Power Records Planet of the Apes LP you had as a kid or the Fantastic Four radio show that featured Bill Murray as the Human Torch, these never released on CD gems can be found with a few mouse clicks and a visit to Google or iTunes. (We here at Topless Robot don’t condone such behavior, but it’s the reality, people). So if you obsessively build playlists for every task–from dusting your G.I. Joe figures to idling away the hours looking for a glow-in-the-dark Suckerman toy on eBay — why not have the perfect musical accompaniment to your geeky unproductive life? You already have Stan Bush’s “The Touch” and that “You’re the Best” song from The Karate Kid on your portable music devices, but what of those more obscure tunes for fanboys (and self-loathing Marvin the Paranoid Android worshippers)? Read on for a guide to ten epically nerdy songs that you may not know, but you certainly should.
10) Crash Test Dummies, “Superman’s Song”
Before they irritated the shit out of you with 1993’s “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” Canadian rockers Crash Test Dummies released this haunting tribute to Superman. A reflection on the hardships that the Man of Steel had to endure as mankind’s self-imposed protector, the song muses that he “forced himself to carry on, forget Krypton and keep going.” It also details the reasons why Tarzan is such a pussy compared to Supes, which is really quite awesome. As poignant as this song always was, it inadvertently took on another layer of melancholy following the death of Christopher Reeve.
9) Some Unknown Session Musician Who Probably Died Alone and Penniless, “Metamorpho Theme”
For a third tier DC Comics character, Metamorpho sure has an amazing theme song. This track originally appeared on Songs and Stories about the Justice League, a Tifton Records LP that was released in 1968. (Power Records later reissued the album in 1975, and the song also was issued as a 45 with a Plastic Man story/theme tune). In a scant 2:40, this groovy jingle relates how fearless adventurer Rex Mason was transformed into “The Element Man” Metamorpho by an Egyptian relic. Earlier this year, the character appeared on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The series missed out on a golden opportunity to utilize this song during the adventure. Maybe if we’re lucky, the show’s producers can shoehorn it into next season’s musical episode.
8) The Times, “I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape“
If you are a Beatles fan who loved how “All You Need Is Love” was used in the final episode of The Prisoner, this is your lucky day. British act The Times released this bit of power pop heaven in 1983 that pays homage to Patrick McGoohan’s allegorical series and the music of a certain Liverpudlian quartet. The song is so similar to “I Want to Hold Your Hand” that you’ll wonder how a copyright infringement lawsuit wasn’t filed. For the video, vocalist Ed Ball and his cohorts traveled to the Welsh village of Portmeirion (where the series was filmed) to re-enact their favorite moments from the show. This makes me sad, as I never get involved in shenanigans at iconic locations where my beloved TV stories are filmed. Cue sad trumpet. Fittingly, the B-side to this single was the theme to Danger Man — McGoohan’s pre-Prisoner series that was known as Secret Agent on this side of the pond.
I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I adhere to a strict policy of liking whatever dumb crap I do without feeling the need to make apologies for it. That said, it is a bit embarrassing when this song pops up on my work playlist and I am forced to explain to my questioning office mates that it is about a post-apocalyptic city inhabited by C.H.U.D.-like mutants performed by Lea Thompson and the “She Blinded Me with Science” guy. Oh yeah, it’s also from Howard the Duck But what glorious bubblegum it is! A good deal of the material on the LP sounds like producer/performer Thomas Dolby was channeling Prince (particularly on “Don’t Turn Away” and the title track). I always suspected that Lucas initially went after him to do the songs for the film, and Dolby was brought in when the Purple One declined. Given that Stevie Wonder and Joe Walsh both play on the soundtrack, this doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. A musician who was definitely involved was Tori Amos. She auditioned for the Beverly Switzler role that eventually went to Thompson. One can only wonder what the rock sequences in the film would have been like if she landed the part. Something like this perhaps:
6) Yukki Hide, “Kakero! Spiderman”
Yeah, yeah, yeah! Wow! This is the theme from the insane Japanese Spider-Man TV series. That is reason enough to track it down online and play it on repeat until your sanity lapses or your brain self-destructs. Save for a few recitations of the webslinger’s name, I have no idea what the lyrics are. They could be a coded message telling me that I am unlovable because I often listen to the show’s official soundtrack album, Eccentric Sound of Spider-Man. It wouldn’t matter. Judge me if you must, but I am a junkie for strange and unnecessary Spidey music. I make no apologies.
5) The Traits, “Nobody Loves the Hulk”
Reminiscent of what a mash-up of Johnny Rivers, The Box Tops and Strawberry Alarm Clock would be like, this tribute to the Hulk from an ultra-obscure band called The Traits was recorded in 1969. Sold through comic book ads in the 1970s — sometimes alongside of Spider-Man’s unhinged Rock Reflections of a Superhero LP — the 45 single is a forgotten garage rock gem that deserves to be loved just as much as the Hulk does.
4) Kipp Lennon, “Suspension”
In previous Daily Lists, I have given the theme to Enterprise a fair amount of grief because it is cheesy and overwrought. Yet for the exact same reasons, I love this track that opened the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century pilot film. Call me a hypocrite, but this kind of schmaltz is perfectly suited for a series that featured Gil Gerard attempting to fuck everything in the universe. Seeming like something that the kids from Fame would belt out, the track is still aural Spanish Fly for geeks looking to get their sexy groove on. Singer Kipp Lennon later went on to perform several iconic songs on The Simpsons, most notably the Michael Jackson soundalike “Lisa, It’s Your Birthday.” Feel free to use that bit of trivia in your attempts to get some at the next Dragoncon.
3) Sprites, “George Romero”
Sprites lead vocalist Jason Korzen was previously in the group Barcelona, an indie electropop act that had a penchant for recording tunes about Commodore 64 computers and Howard Jones devotees. The two Sprites albums that have been released thus far make up for their toned down synths by bolstering the geek appeal factor with songs about genetic engineering, bionic hands and computer overclocking. Their nerdy musical Mona Lisa is this celebration of Dawn of the Dead. At times it does veer dangerously close to sounding like Bowling for Soup’s terrible hit “1985,” yet it is redeemed by its use of samples from the original film and a bouncy chorus that pays tribute to Romero, Dario Argento, Tom Savini and Sam Raimi. Realizing that his nerdy obsessions may be a bit much, Korzen pauses to ask “do you find me creepy?” I think anyone who has ever been overenthusiastic about their interests can relate to that.
2) Spizzenergi, “Where’s Captain Kirk?”
Around the same time that Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit U.S. theaters in 1979, British punk act Spizzenergi were making waves in the UK with their single “Where’s Captain Kirk?” Propelled along by an unrelenting beat and vocalist Spizz’s snarled vocals, the song appeals to Trekkies and Sex Pistols aficionados equally. Legendary British DJ John Peel singled out the track in his BBC special Funk Me Up Scotty as a defining moment in Star Trek musical history. He’ll get no argument from me. Play this one to stop your friends from mocking you after they discover how much you love “Suspension.”
1) Marvin the Paranoid Android, “Marvin I Love You”
As Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy mania gripped the UK in 1981, the Marvin the Paranoid Android character released two singles in an attempt to depress the hell out of radio listeners. Overseen by Douglas Adams and performed by Stephen Moore — the original Marvin on radio and TV — the four resulting songs didn’t make much of a dent on the charts, but the impact they had on Adams’ fans were immeasurable (including Radiohead, whose “Paranoid Android” was loosely inspired by Marvin’s gloomy antics). Owing a debt to both Kraftwerk and The Shangri-Las, the new wave story song “Marvin I Love You” finds the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation creation discovering that someone once yearned for him. In typical Marvin fashion, he couldn’t do a damn thing about it and was forced to live “miserably ever after.”
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.