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Repost: “(I Am) Superman”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 20, 2013

There’s not a lot of songs about superheroes, it turns out.  The closest I can come is this wonderful, originally uncredited extra track from R.E.M’s Life’s Rich Pagent.  It appears on the back cover as a plus sign and a long line.  It is one of my all time favorites by them–just a great, fun tune–and I learned two things about it tonight that I did not know before.  The first is that it’s sung by Mike Mills, one of my all time favorite bass players (as reported at allmusic.com ).  I can only remember hearing him sing backing vocals.  It makes me wonder how many more R.E.M songs I like are sung by Mills.  He doesn’t have the greatest voice; it’s a little thin and reedy (and apparently easily mistaken for Michael Stipe’s voice), but it is serviceable.  The second thing I learned came from allmusic, too, but I confirmed it on Wikipedia (great for facts, not so great for much else): It’s a cover.  “Superman” (as is the official title; I’ve always seen it with the “I Am” added, though) was originally recorded in 1969 by a Texas band called The Clique.  There’s not much on them, but you can read some here .  I never would’ve known either of those things if I hadn’t decided to be a little more thorough tonight, so yay me.

I can’t really tell you what makes this song so great.  The lyrics are repetitive.  The structure is simplistic.  But R.E.M takes it and turns into a little masterpiece.  From the opening guitar riff to the last notes fading out, they just inhabit the song.  It’s got a very layered feel to it, especially the vocals (listening, I can hear the difference between Mills and Stipe’s voices now).  It almost seems as if they were going for their own wall of sound (Phil Spector might be a murderous lunatic, but he was good for something).  There’s also a feeling of flying.  R.E.M was brilliant at creating atmosphere in their songs.  This one just takes off.  “I am Superman, and I know what’s happening.”  Of course, it’s not really about Superman.  It’s about a guy chasing after a girl, “if you go a million miles away, I’ll track you down girl.  Trust me when I say I know the pathway to your heart.”  (It is amazing to me how many love songs sound like they’re about obsessive stalkers.)

Ultimately, I don’t really care why the song is great.  I’m just glad R.E.M decided to hide it on their album, a little surprise gift for the listener, a gem of a song.

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2 Responses to “Repost: “(I Am) Superman””

  1. Unrelated but I used to live next door to a guy who played Crashed Test Dummies song Superman’s Song on loop, funny at first, very annoying after awhile.

    Love this song though, very catchy.

    • Any song, no matter how good or bad, played endlessly, will make most people homicidal somewhere around the 50th time in a row. I’ll bet you can’t listen to that song to this day.

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