8 Spider-Man Television Theme Songs, in Descending Order of Awesomeness
1. Spectacular Spider-Man (2008)
There’s a great scene in Season 2 of this series where a trio of super-villains are calmly riding an elevator towards their target, and one of them starts humming the show’s theme song: “Hmm hm-hm-hm Spi-der-Man…” When the other two raise their eyebrows at him, he shrugs, “What? It’s catchy!” This may sound heretical, especially to those who (like myself) spent many hours watching reruns of the ’60s Spider-Man series, but to me this theme song is the definitive Spider-Man anthem, end of discussion. The whole Spider-Man story is right there (Parker gets bit by a spider, his DNA goes haywire, he’s leaping above our heads), and the heavy-on-the-electric-guitar score by California rock band Tinder Box just nails it, in terms of mixing equal parts “it is so cool being a teenaged superhero” and “but seriously, isn’t this whole spider motif just a little bit weird?” Villains on the rise/And the city’s victimized/Looking up with no surprise/Arriving in the speed of time — you’re goddamn right.
2. Spider-Man (1967)
Obviously, there’s room for disagreement here. If we’re talking cultural impact alone, then the original 1967 theme song easily trumps every other superhero theme out there, eclipsing perhaps even Batman’s “Na-na-na-na-na Bat-maaaaan!” on the cultural radar (see also: the closing credits to The Simpsons movie). And yeah, it was cool how Sam Raimi worked the theme song into his movies via street buskers and a marching band, and how can you not love a song that’s been recorded by Aerosmith, the Ramones and Michael Bublé? However, objectivity is in order, and while the up-tempo tune is undeniably catchy, the lyrics are too much a product of their time. What exactly does “radioactive blood” have to do with his strength? How is life a “great big bang-up,” and why is Spider-Man to be found wherever there’s a “hang-up”? Did that term mean something different in the ’60s, or are we to assume that Spider-Man was moonlighting as a therapist? Plus — and damn the editing geek in me for getting hot and bothered by this — it drives me nuts every time the “JEWLERY” store becomes a “JEWELRY” store when Spidey arrives like a streak of light.
3. Spider-Man (1994)
The theme song for the first new Spidey cartoon series in more than a decade scored points for respecting the classics — the guitar riff was based on the melody of the “Spider-Man, Spider-Man” line in the original ’60s theme song, and the “radioactive Spider-Man” line was an obvious reference to the original’s radioactive blood reference. Aerosmith lead guitarist Joe Perry played the lead guitar track and spoke the lyrics through a vocoder, giving the fast-moving intro a digital-sounding feel (appropriate, given the incorporation of early-era CGI into the background animation). The visuals combined the usual Spider-Man trademarks (angst, self-doubt, abundant supporting cast) with a heavy dose of classic Spider-Man villains, many of whom saw their first-ever televised appearances on this show. All in all, nicely done.
4. Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003)
This is the Spider-Man series chiefly known for three things: (1) it aired on MTV right after the first Spider-Man movie did boffo box office; (2) it starred a pre-How I Met Your Mother Neil Patrick Harris as Peter Parker; and (3) it featured the most nightmare-inducing form of CGI animation ever unleashed by God or man. Intended as a “bridge” series between the first and second Spider-Man movies (emphasized by the borrowing of the “Spidey” font used for the first movie’s credits, though contradicted by the cartoon’s and the films’ different treatments of Doc Connors), it mixed the usual Parker/Spidey elements with a few new villains (or new takes on the old ones). The intro sequence itself was OK, with the cast shots surrounded by images taken from various episodes (no surprise, given the cost of producing original CGI animation). I give it a solid “meh, coulda been worse.”
5. Spider-Man: Unlimited (1999)
Most Spidey fans who have heard of this short-lived (just 13 episodes) series will tell you the best part about it was the theme song, but the phrase “damning with faint praise” comes to mind here. Almost universally reviled for its deviation from the normal Spidey script (Parker ends up on Counter-Earth and joins the fight against the High Evolutionary and his Beastials… hey, where are you all going?), the SMU theme song was as much a product of its time as the original ’60s theme song was of its, with a late-’90s electronic music vibe and a very music-video feel that described Spider-Man’s origin in a moving comic-book panel sequence. Edgy stuff, but tainted by its association with a series that was just too damn weird, even for a character who shoots webs from his wrists.
6. Spider-Man (1981)
Sweet Jeebus, that’s a lot of action in a minute-long introduction! Pros: it’s a catchy tune and the montage of images from the series makes it clear that Spidey is one seriously action-oriented hero. Cons: while the series featured classic Spidey villains like Doctor Octopus, Vulture and Sandman, the theme song only shows a brief shot of the Green Goblin alongside Doctor Doom (bu-huh?) and some portly dude in a purple jumpsuit. Because that’s what the kiddies are tuning in for — no-name villains attempting to get the drop on our hero with rayguns of dubious value. Watch out for the cat, Spidey!
7. Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (1981)
After only a year of starring in his own solo series, apparently someone in the marketing department thought Spider-Man needed the ratings boost that only a second-stringer X-Man and a completely made-up superheroine could provide. Resembling nothing more than the products of a 30-second TV executive meeting that they undoubtedly were, Firestar and Iceman (she’s hot! he’s cold!) joined Spider-Man for no particular reason on his mission to fight crime (with the help of… a secret computer lab in his apartment? All right, then). There’s a nice retro vibe to the disco sound and the opening slo-mo shot of Spidey crawling around the screen is distinctive (the potheads must’ve loved that one), but the lack of lyrics only emphasizes the early-’80s TV action-ness of the score — every time I hear the last 10 seconds, I keep expecting Charlie’s Angels or Magnum P.I. to pop in and join our heroes.
8. Spider-Man (1977)
Never caught this first (and so far only) attempt at a live-action Spider-Man series? Don’t feel deprived. Only 14 episodes were ever made, due largely to the fact that budget constraints limited the bad guys to the usual plainclothes thugs and felons, and because CBS, which was also running Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk at the same time, wanted to shed its image as the “superhero network” (though throughout the ’80s it was perfectly all right with its image as “the network of choice in retirement homes from coast to coast”). There is something so quintessentially ’70s about the intro, and I can’t decide if it’s Nicholas Hammond’s hairdo or the boom-whocka-whocka of the groovy soundtrack. But two things knock this theme song sequence down the list: (1) Why should Spider-Man, in any incarnation, have to wear big honkin’ bracelets and a belt while out on patrol? (2) Seriously, that little twinkle in his eyepiece, the same twinkle that glinted off of Wonder Woman’s teeth every week? Yeah, mondo cheesey.