We are in the midst of another “man” summer, with Iron Man cleaning up at the box office and The Dark Knight (aka Batman) soon to follow. The mans, or I guess I should say the men mentioned above got me thinking about superhero names. I always appreciated how easy it was to dole them out–you simply take the hero’s most notable attribute and attach the word “man” on the end (Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, etc.). Growing up, I soon realized it was just as easy for a band to do the same with a song, in fact, it was easier. You could merely take an adjective (charmless) or noun (muffin), stick a “man” on the end, and have yourself a catchy song title.
(left: Coming up with a “man” song title is even easier than coming up with a name for a superhero.)
Below, in my opinion, are the best “man” songs ever created. Before you cry foul because Johnny Cash’s “Man in Black”, R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon”, The Pixies, “Here Comes Your Man”, or Public Enemy’s “Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man” didn’t make the list, please keep in mind that each song chosen had to fit the superhero naming criteria explained above:
10. “Pizza Man,” D.F.L.
How did little ol’ D.F.L. make the list, and Pearl Jam (“Better Man”), Rush (“Working Man”), Blur (“Charmless Man”), Neil Young (“Southern Man”), and Elvis Costello (“Miracle Man”) did not? Well, sometimes it’s not about how big your fan base or popular your record–sometimes it’s all about subject matter. In this case, the scrappy California hardcore band craft the greatest minute-and-a-half ode to a pizza man ever. (It also doesn’t hurt that the Beastie Boys’ Adrock plays bass on the tune and Mike D is the brother-in-law of the group’s lead singer.)
9. “Spoonman,” Soundgarden
This song was inspired by Santa Cruz street performer, Artis the Spoonman, who, well, was famous for playing spoons. An early version of the song appears as background music in the film, Singles. Following the film, Soundgarden took the “Spoonman” snippets and turned it into an entire song. It was eventually released off the group’s Superunknown album, and not only did the video feature Artis the Spoonman, but drummer Matt Cameron also plays pots and pans during parts of the song.
8. “Method Man,” Wu-Tang Clan
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did Method Man get his own track on the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), because he was their elite performer? Or did he become their elite performer because of this track? If you walk down a busy street today and scream out, “M-E-T-H-O-D,” I guarantee you there will be at least one person who follows with an emphatic, “Man!”
7. “Soul Man,” Sam and Dave
A single performed by the duo of Sam and Dave, written by the duo of Isaac Hayes and David Porter, and later popularized (again) by the duo of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, better known as the Blues Brothers. While watching a newscast of the 12th Street Riot in Detroit (1967), Hayes noticed that many buildings bearing the word “soul” were untouched by rioters. Hayes and Porter decided to use the phrase “Soul Man” as a term of pride and overcoming struggle during the African-American Civil Rights movement of the late 60’s.
6. “Egg Man,” Beastie Boys
I wrestled with myself all day, which Beastie Boys’ “man” song do I include, “Egg Man” or “Heart Attack Man”? As you can see, I went with “Egg Man”. Not only is this one of the lone songs in hip-hop history that pays homage to the art of pelting people with eggs, but the song–as well as the entire Paul’s Boutique album–helped take sampling to a whole new level. Imagine growing up in the late 80’s and hearing a song that simultaneously sampled, Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly”, Sly & The Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music”, Public Enemy’s “You’re Gonna Get Yours” and the theme songs to Jaws and Psycho. Lawyers would catch on quickly and sampled hip-hop would never get this good again.
(above: The Beatles were the first to sing about the Egg Man, but the Beasties were the first to make a song about him.)
5. “Simple Man,” Lynyrd Skynyrd
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most recognizable hit, well, besides “Free Bird” and that one about Alabama. Following the deaths of each of their grandmothers, Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington got together and shared stories about them. Supposedly within an hour, Rossington came up with the music and Van Zant had penned the lyrics, which talked about a wise mother sharing life long lessons with her son. This proves once again that behind every good “man” is a good woman (or in this case, two of them).
4. “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Bob Dylan
This is a “man” song that has caused some debate over the years. Will the rightful owner of this tune please stand up? Is it the Byrds? Or is it Bob Dylan? Though The Byrds struck number one with the song–and even named their album after it–Bob Dylan is responsible for writing it. Though there are many rumors where the song title originated, the most popular one is Dylan coming up with the idea for the song after seeing fellow folk musician, Bruce Langhorne, play a large Turkish frame drum which made a jingly tambourine sound.
3. “Rocket Man,” Elton John
A song loosely based on Ray Bradbury’s book, The Illustrated Man (maybe that was too many syllables to sing?). Since this song was released only a few years after David Bowie’s Space Oddity, there’s a good chance Elton John and songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, were influenced by the man who would later fully embrace his inner alien. For some reason or another, this song has become the choice soundtrack tune for any silly movie with a man traveling into space. For a different take on the song, be sure to listen to Me First and The Gimme Gimmes’ punked-out cover version–good stuff!
2. “Piano Man,” Billy Joel
Here’s why this “man” song made it to number two on my list. I don’t own any complete Billy Joel albums (forgive me Long Island), up until last year I couldn’t even tell you the last time I remember hearing this song, but at my brother-in-law’s wedding, upon request of the DJ, I was able to sing every word of the whole freakin’ song. My wife turned to me and asked, “How do you know all the words?” I replied, “I don’t know?” That’s power! “Piano Man” you have humbled me.
(above: Finish the “Piano Man” lyric: And he’s talkin’ with Davy, who’s still in the Navy…)
1. “Iron Man,” Black Sabbath
This almost seems like an integrated marketing stunt, doesn’t it? On the summer that Iron Man hits theaters, I name Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” as the number one “man” song of all-time. Get that out of your head right now. I’ll tell you why this is the best-of-the-best in the “man” song genre. First of all, this song has one of the most recognizable guitar licks of all time (played by a man who had melted soda bottles for fingers). Here’s a little test for you–right now hum the “Iron Man” riff. Are you done? Okay, now answer me this–when you were humming the riff were you simultaneously banging your head? Not only does this tune subconsciously turn innocent people into raging headbangers, but “Iron Man” is also Black Sabbath’s most recognizable song, and we could go on for days about the legions of bands that were inspired by Sabbath’s dark-and-sludgy sound. You have no Nirvana without Black Sabbath and you have no Black Sabbath without their crown jewel of a tune known as “Iron Man.”