Long, long ago, when my friend Kristin still lived in North Carolina (actually, two years ago), I went out to visit, and one day we went to the Ava Gardner Museum, but didn't actually go inside because it was closed. We did go inside some antique stores, though, where I bought a little bit of Pyrex and this record:
It looked interesting, but also maybe a little bit cheesy, especially when I looked at the back:
and saw all the pictures of how the singing and music were all allegedly performed by Marvel Comics characters like the Hulk and the Falcon:
Conan (On strings? Really? Violins weren't even invented yet) and Captain America:
and even the Fantastic Four:
Too late, Reed. You're on the cover art:
The song titles were intriguing, as they hinted at stories but, by themselves, didn't actually tell one: "No One's Got a Crush on Peter" was probably about Peter Parker's awkward high school years, as was "Square Boy". "Peter Stays and Spider-Man Goes" might be a reference to Amazing Spider-Man 50, a well known issue from the 1960's when Peter decides that he's done being Spider-Man, but other songs could mean anything: "High Wire"? "Count On Me"? Others were fairly obvious. There's no mistaking what "Dr. Octopus" or "Green Goblin" are about, since those are some of Spider-Man's best known foes.
And "Gwendolyn" is clearly about Gwen Stacy, Peter's first girlfriend, a character who should have been in all of the Spider-Man movies but only ended up being in some of them because Peter was married to Mary Jane Watson during the 90s (before he sold his marriage to Satan) and the movies had to match the comics and cartoon. Although she's been a little mishandled by writers since her death (looking at you, Straczynski) and readers today generally only see her as a sweet, smiling girlfriend in flashback scenes, Gwen Stacy in the 1960's was an independent woman who fought for women's rights and functioned as more than just a love interest.
She was, but I'm digressing. I just got really irritated that the Tobey Maguire movies didn't even have Gwen until the third (and worst) one, and then she was pretty undeveloped as a character. I wasn't a big fan of the Andrew Garfield movies, on the whole, but at least they had the right love interest, and she was well written.
Back to the album, all I could do was guess at what was inside, because I don't have a record player.
This Christmas, though, my parents changed all that, not by giving me a record player, but by getting me this CD:
It's all I've listened to in the car since Christmas, and it's very entertaining. There's not really any new art:
other than this weirdly creepy photo of someone in a Spider-Man costume holding the original record:
but it does have a story from Mike Ragogna, a songwriter from the original album who was 17 at the time, about how the record came to be:
which basically boils down to "Marvel was making a ton of money licensing Spider-Man out for pretty much anything, so they asked Lifesong Records to make a Spider-Man rock album."
While that story is interesting, the album itself is, too. It's like listening to a Broadway show that didn't actually exist, with the songs telling a story that's linked together by narration between each song, spoken by none other than Stan Lee himself. Shockingly, he doesn't overact it, and there's something about listening to a story of Spider-Man, a hero whose identity is grounded in being from New York City, told in Stan Lee's unpolished New York accent that makes it all even better. The general plot is that Peter is doubting himself, and looks back on his beginnings as Spider-Man, his self-doubt, and finally his resolve to be a better hero. Sadly, it also touches on the death of Gwen at the hands of the Green Goblin, an event that shaped Spider-Man's character for decades to come and which was kind of terrible to relive while driving to the grocery store.
The songs themselves are kind of a mixed bag of styles and impact, and the album is a little reminiscent of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the way that every song is a different musical style. Some of them sound very 60's and 70's, with "Dr. Octopus" and "A Soldier Starts to Bleed" reminding me a lot of the ensemble songs in Hair, but some of the songs probably sounded pretty dated already when this came out in 1975. That's not surprising, coming from a company that rolled out (no pun intended, given her roller skates) Disco Dazzler in 1981, when disco was already pretty much dead.
Sorry, Dazzler. I love you, but it's true.
It's an interesting album for comics fans, but I'm not sure how much non-fans will get out of it. I think the best song on the album turned out to be "Peter Stays and Spider-Man Goes", but your mileage may vary.