The web-slinger swings through the grooves in this trio of Marvel-ous musical vinyl and CD recordings that weave over a 40-year web of Spider-Man recorded history!
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Starring in A Rockomic:
“FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE”
A Rock and Roll Comic Adventure
Buddah Records BDS-5119 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Stereo)
Released in 1972. Producers: Barbara Gittler, Stephen Lemberg for Vashti Productions. Writer: Stephen Lemberg. Based on Characters Created by Steve Ditko, John Romita & Stan Lee. Arranger: Anthony Camillo. Engineer: Isaie “Izzy” Disenhaus. Sound Effects: Robert Prescott & Sons. Cover and Gatefold Art: John Romita. Art Direction: Glen Christensen. Production Assistant: Jonathan Gittler. Musical Saw: Peter Swales. Special Thanks: Dominic Sicilia, Ian Gittler, Charley-O. Recorded at Bell Sound, New York. Running Time: 36 minutes.
Voices: René Auberjonois (Peter Parker & Spider-Man/speaking voice); Ron Dante (Peter Parker & Spider-Man/singing voice); Thayer David (The Kingpin); Joe Ross (The Green Goblin); John Heffernan (Dr. Strange); Ceil Cabot (Aunt May); Earle Doud (Professor, Burglar, Voice); Hank Garrett (The Lizard, Policeman); Dick Heymeyer (The Vulture); David Dozer (Jake, Cop); James Harder (Studio Guard); The Webspinners (Vocals).
Episodes: “Peter’s Nightmare!” “Spider-Man Remembers!” “Spidey’s Dilemma!” “Strange Ally!” “From Beyond the Grave!”
Songs: “Amazing!” “It’s Such a Groove to Be Free,” “The Hero of the Story,” “Goin’ Cross Town,” by Stephen Lemberg; “Rock of Ages” (Traditional). [The songs are untitled, but these are speculative for the purposes of identification.]
Several record companies brought Marvel comics to life on records (there is more ahead about Peter Pan’s Power Records series), but perhaps nothing was more elaborate in scope than Buddah Records’ first (and sadly last) “Rockomic.”
Featuring a full orchestra, a spectacular cast and one of the best studio singers in pop history, “Spider-Man: A Rockomic” or “From Beyond the Grave” or whatever this record wants to call itself (there are about three variations on the title inside and outside the album) is mighty impressive. Released in 1972, it is presumably the first of its kind in an attempt at a “book” musical Marvel comics adaptation. (There came another album in 1975 called Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Superhero with a similar concept, but a less ambitious production and a single “book-on-tape” style narration by Stan Lee instead of a full cast.)
This album combines not only Spider-Man, but several other Marvel characters as well. The basic story line places Aunt May in jeopardy unless Peter Parker destroys Spider-Man, which of course we know he cannot do. Doctor Strange materializes on side two of the record to help vanquish the villains using their own fears lots of musical Marvels ensue.
René Auberjonois stars as Peter Parker/Spider Man. To Star Trek fans, he was Odo on Deep Space Nine. To Disney fans, he was Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid, where he sang “Les Poissons.” To Hanna-Barbera fans he was Dr. Strangesnork. For Jerry Beck, he was Hornswiggle. You never know when you’ll hear or see Auberjonois next.
Ron Dante, discussed recently in our Spin celebrating The Archies, sings songs that are a touch more grownup in tone and lyric for Spider-Man. Despite the slightly harder edge, it’s only a year after the last Archie album and there’s a lot of super-grooviness going on in the big city, too.
All of the actors are noteworthy. The central antagonist, The Kingpin, is played by of the most distinguished actors of TV and stage, Thayer David. He is legendary to Dark Shadows fans because he played such gripping characters, including Matthew Morgan (the show’s first ghost), the evil Count Petofi and the sympathetic Professor Stokes. Actor, comedian and former wrestler Hank Garrett voices The Lizard and a policeman—which is fitting since he played Office Nicholson on the classic series Car 54, Where Are You? Even the incidental roles are played by major talents. Writer/producer Earle Doud is a giant among comedy record enthusiasts for such iconic albums, especially “The First Family” series with Vaughn Meader that spoofed the Kennedy administration that was so appealing, even JFK enjoyed it.
The album ends a bit abruptly, leaving things open because a comic book can never really tie things up. Villains may always come back for revenge. There isn’t even a finale. This may have all been intentional, as the idea of this being a series is made clear. The cost of making it and the sales must not have made any further albums possible, at least not under the same circumstances.
“Theme From Spider-Man” Read-Along
Marvel Press (Disney) ISBN 978-136802769-4 (Hardcover Book & Compact Disc / Stereo)
Released on October 23, 2018. Producer: Billy Martin. Lead Vocalist: Kris Martin. Additional Vocals: Nick Peck, Billy Martin. Music and Lyrics: J. Robert Harris, Paul Francis Webster. Illustrations: Shane Clester. Running Time: 2 minutes.
Iconic themes, like those to The Addams Family, The Jetsons, Star Wars and so on, are just about as important to their properties as are their characters and stories. So it was a very wise decision to include the 1967 Spider-Man TV theme in as many big-screen adaptations as possible, even if we had to wait until the final credit roll.
Much credit is due to the wisdom of publishing a children’s board book with the lyrics that also contains a CD with a fresh (but respectfully accurate) version of the vocal as well as an instrumental track for singing along! A must for fine parenting and a great excuse for parents to get one either way. Who cares whether you’ve been reading for decades—it’s just cool to have!
The theme was written by Oscar-winner Paul Francis Webster, who walked off with the statuette for his work on Doris Day’s “Secret Love” from Calamity Jane; “The Shadow of Your Smile” from The Sandpiper and the title song from Love is a Many Splendored Thing. He was nominated 16 times. (Take that, those who scoff at the Spider-Man theme!) Webster’s songwriting partner on the Spider-Man theme was Robert B. Harris, best known for scoring Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita.
The original animated theme version was sung by twelve vocalists in Canada, including actor/singer Billy Van, who was one of the stock players on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show. Ray Ellis composed most of the background music for the animated series (he also did most of the Filmation music cues from The Archie Show through Gilligan’s Planet). Other Spider-Man music came from U.K. music libraries by composers Kenny Graham, Syd Dale, Phil Coulter and Bill Martin.
THE ELECTRIC COMPANY: SPIDEY SUPER STORIES
Featuring “Spider-Man is Born” and Seven Other Action-Packed Stories
Original TV Cast
Peter Pan Records #8189 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Stereo)
strong>Released in 1977. Executive Producer: Martin Kasen. Project Director for Peter Pan: Ralph Stein. Project Director for Children’s Television Workshop: Sharon Lerner. Writers: John Boni, Jim Salicrup, Pat Thackray, Jean Thomas, Stan Lee. Story Editor: A.J. Hays. Cover Art: Jazzy John Romita. Engineer: Charlie Leighton. Project Coordinator for Children’s Television Workshop: Debbie Kovacs. Running Time: 38 minutes.
Voices: Morgan Freeman (Narrator); Jim Boyd (Peter Parker/Spider-Man). Luis Avalos (The Sandman, Dr. Doom, Evil McWeevil, J. Jonah Jameson, Pedro); Skip Hinnant (Fargo North, Decoder, The Moleman, Mr. Measles, The Jester); Judy Graubart (Aunt May, Queen Bee); Réjean Magliore (Samantha); Joann Sedgwick (Additional Voices).
Stories: “Spider-Man is Born,” “20,000 Feet Underground,” “The Purple Pirates,” “Spidey vs. Mr. Measles,” “The Last Laugh,” “Spidey and the Sandman,” “Deadly is the Doctor Called Doom,” “The Queen Bee.”
Theme Music by Gary William Friedman. Additional Music from Stock Libraries.
Peter Pan Records hit big with their Power Records label, which specialized in LPs and read-alongs based on Marvel and DC comics as well as classic Star Trek (Disney had the right for Star Trek movie read-alongs), Space 1999, The Six Million Dollar Man and as many other sci-fi adventure properties they could grab before their rivals at Disneyland/Vista, Kid Stuff and even Golden (in its later years under the name of Wonderland Records). Power Records sold for many years and still have a fan following—there’s even a fan podcast.
Most Power Records were produced by Peter Pan regular producers Arthur Korb, Ralph Stein or Cornel Tanassy and were done in the breathless style of old-time-radio adventure, only with stereo separation. The music was all from library production houses and the actors were fine New York stage and TV character players like Peter Fernandez of Speed Racer (Peter Mark Richman sounds as if he may have voiced some records, but he did not confirm it when asked in an interview.)
One of the most unique of Peter Pan superhero record was a co-production with the Children’s Television Workshop, makers of Sesame Street (the company is now called Sesame Workshop). It’s the only Peter Pan Records release featuring a superhero with the original cast.
Although the animated Spider-Man came to television in 1967, the first live-action series to present the character was The Electric Company in 1974. The PBS series, designed to teach reading and phonics through the musical sketch variety format, introduced “Spidey Super Stories.” A comic book would open to a videotaped vignette chroma-keyed into the pages.
Muppet performer Danny Seagren played Spider-Man in pantomime, with dialogue balloons provided so the kids at home could read what he said. All the other actors in the sketch spoke on screen. Marvel introduced a Spidey Super Stories comic book aimed at younger readers to tie in with the TV broadcasts.
The record album combines several comic book stories with a few TV scripts, plus an adaptation of Stan Lee’s “Spider-Man is Born” from the Spidey comic series. Morgan Freeman narrates and true to comic book tradition, uses phrases like “Meanwhile…” and “At the office of the Daily Bugle…” Spider-Man is heard on the record, and unlike the TV version, Peter Parker is also included.
Jim Boyd voices Peter Parker and Spider-Man. In addition to playing curmudgeon J. Arthur Crank on The Electric Company, Boyd has the distinction of voicing an “Aniforms” character, Lorelei the Chicken (a takeoff on Carol Channing). These were considered innovative at the time because they were animated characters that could interact in real time with others on television. The most famous example is “Fred on Channel One” from Captain Kangaroo.
Another popular Electric Company character makes a cameo on the LP: Fargo North, Decoder, played by Skip Hinnant, who played Horton the elephant on the record we explored on this Spin, Schroeder in the original stage version of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and titular Fritz The Cat for Ralph Bakshi. The wonderful Judy Graubart, who plays Aunt May and the Queen Bee, co-starred with Alan Arkin in the movie Simon and appeared in countless stage and TV roles. It’s also nice that Luis Avalos got a chance to participate in an Electric Company cast album, since he missed out on the 1972 LP because he was added to the cast in the second season. And representing the entire Short Circus kid’s singing group is one of the later members, Réjean Magliore