1966 – 1999
I’m drawn to anything in popular culture that crosses paths with my favorite Emerald Gladiator. One of the things I’ve been pursuing lately is how Green Lantern has been used in music beyond the rapper who goes by the same name. In this three-part series I’ll be looking at Green Lantern as the characters appear throughout music history.
While there are certainly several songs about Green Lantern from filk and geek rock artists in recent years, to begin our exploration I decided to go back to the beginning and include songs not only about Green Lantern but even those songs that only name drop the character. One song in particular took some digging to solve the mystery of how the Green Lantern oath ended up as a lyric in a Hi-NRG song about infidelity! The first installment will focus entirely on songs that were released during the 20th Century.
Note: A version of this article originally appeared on The Blog of Oa in 2010, but was lost when the site migrated to WordPress and hasn’t been available in several years. This version contains several updates and new inclusions.
“Sunshine Superman” – Donovan – 1966
The first reference to Green Lantern I found was the well-known song, “Sunshine Superman”, by Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan. Released in July of 1966, “Sunshine Superman” was originally written as a song for Donovan’s future wife, Linda Lawrence, but went on to become one of Donovan’s signature tunes. In the song Donovan tells Linda that “Superman and Green Lantern ain’t got nothin’ on me”. Whether he was a Green Lantern fan or the choice to include Green Lantern was solely based on the need to fit the rhythm of the song is unknown.
“Sunshine Superman” was Donovan’s first and only number hit in the United States and at this time is the only song to place on popular music charts that includes any reference to the Emerald Ringslinger.
“Caught in the Act” – Earlene Bentley – 1984
Certainly the most fascinating song I discovered on my journey was a Hi-NRG song titled “Caught in the Act” by Earlene Bentley. The song is unique in that it makes absolutely no reference to Green Lantern by name, but it mysteriously uses the Green Lantern oath in its lyrics about someone who’s discovered the infidelity of her mate. How did the oath end up here of all places!? It’s far too blatant to be a coincidence.
In the late seventies and early eighties disco and pop music was the rage and a higher tempo electronic dance style of music, dubbed Hi-NRG, rose in popularity at dance clubs on the west coast of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and parts of Europe. Hi-NRG helped shape what became techno and club music but was very popular at the time. During the eighties and into the nineties many former Motown artists jumped on the Hi-NRG bandwagon and Earlene Bentley was a singer who joined the stable of Hi-NRG artists, although she found limited success with her only mainstream recording being a song called “The Boys Come To Town” from the Police Academy 2 soundtrack.
Even though Earlene ironically went on to play a bit role in Batman Begins as a nurse at Arkham Asylum, her association with comic books ends there and she clearly had little to do with the inclusion of the oath in the song as she didn’t write it. Finding a scan of the dance club mix EP I learned that two people co-wrote the song, Ian Levine and Fiachra Trench. Levine and Trench are a songwriting/producing duo from the United Kingdom who have over the years worked with many big names in the music industry from Elvis Costello to Paul McCartney. So what was their connection to Green Lantern?
While both Trench and Levine have notable music careers, Levine has an intriguing past not just because of his role in the development of Hi-NRG music, but also for his involvement with Dr. Who. As a major fan, he acted as a continuity editor on the show and helped save it in the mid-eighties when it was nearly canceled. He is also credited with saving many of the only recordings of early episodes from destruction when it was discovered that the BBC routinely discarded old recordings to make way for new ones in their archives.
But, wait for it, here’s the information that ties Levine to Green Lantern and how he must be the one who incorporated the oath into “Caught in the Act”. Ian Levine is known to possess one of the greatest American comic book collections in the world. In 2005 he added the one issue he was missing to his DC collection, making him the only known person in history at the time to own one of every book that DC Comics has sold at retail since the 1930s! While this isn’t conclusive proof – he most certainly had to be the one who put the lyric there. Mystery solved!
Take a look at the video for the song, the oath shows up for the first time at the 00:52 mark.
“Green Lantern (Is on the road again)” – Pop Dell’Arte – 1993
Portuguese band Pop Dell’Arte has perhaps the most unusual track in this first article in the series, but it’s also the first song that seems to be specifically about Green Lantern. The song appeared on the band’s fifth album, Ready-Made. It may be an unusual song, but the people in the live performance video below from a rock festival in 1991 seemed to like it. The group is still together today, so they must have been on to something!
“Green Lantern” – Evenrude – 1998
Very little is known about the band Evenrude. In 1998 they released an album titled Superabsorbent on a small label called Pinch Hit Records that included a song titled “Green Lantern”. While Green Lantern is mentioned in the song’s chorus the lyrics don’t seem to pertain to any of the ring bearers we’re familiar with. I could find no information about the band other than that they were based in Los Angeles and the only audio I can find of the song is from a video on YouTube.
“Superpowers” and “My Secret Origin” – Ookla the Mok – 1998
Before geek rock there was “filk” music which first starting appearing in the 1950’s as a way for people to express their fandom. Most often performed acoustically at conventions, filk has historically been folk music with a science fiction and/or fantasy slant but in more recent years the definition has certainly widened to include rock music and parody, becoming somewhat of an umbrella term for any music that encompasses pop culture from geek rock to Weird Al Yankovic.
If Kirby Krackle is the Beatles of geek rock, Ookla the Mok is geek rock’s Buddy Holly. Formed in the early 1990s in Buffalo, New York, Ookla the Mok takes its name from the popular Thundarr the Barbarian character. While they haven’t been on the radar much in the recent years, there’s no overlooking their contributions to today’s geek rock popularity, having written and performed the theme to Disney’s Fillmore cartoon and scored the 2005 Green Lantern inspired indy film Bite Me Fanboy. (No, the movie’s not in print nor do I own a copy – but wish I could find one!)
Ookla the Mok recorded two songs that make reference to the Green Lantern universe, both from their “Super Secret” CD from 1998. “Superpowers” features lyrics that cleverly includes the origins of most of the icons of the Marvel and DC universes, including the reference to Hal Jordan’s Silver Age Origin with the line “a dying alien helped me accessorize”. Meanwhile “My Secret Origin” deals with the realization that we all lead pretty ordinary lives despite wanting to live the lives of our heroes, lamenting that “I’m waiting for my rocket to land so I can get my power ring.”
Check out the video of the band performing “Superpowers” at a 2013 convention.
“Green Lantern” – The Mutton Birds – 1999
The last song of the 20th Century that I was able to find that had any connection to Green Lantern is one by a now-defunct band from New Zealand called The Mutton Birds. This was from their album entitled “Rain, Steam & Speed”. The band achieved some success, recording a cover version of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” that appeared in the 1996 Peter Jackson movie The Frighteners. Green Lantern is mentioned many times throughout the song’s chorus – “You’re still the Green Lantern, The Green Lantern, You’re still the Green Lantern to me”, but with references in the rest of the song including tightropes, breathing fire, and the circus I can’t figure out the connection to Green Lantern. It’s an interesting song, but I can’t tell if The Mutton Birds are actually writing about Green Lantern as we know it or just name dropping.
Join me next week for part two where I’ll cover songs from 2000 – 2005 and we start to see songs from the emerging Geek Rock genre! The series concludes with part three with a look at the most recent Green Lantern songs.