In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we’re picking our favorite comics-related songs.
The influence of Ghost Rider on synth-punk duo Suicide is right there in its name, which singer Alan Vega took from an issue of the comic titled “Satan Suicide.” Wisely dropping the “Satan” and keeping the much more commercial-friendly “Suicide,” Vega, along with keyboardist Martin Rev, would go on to create music that evoked his beloved antihero in many ways. Like Ghost Rider with his flaming skull, Suicide was skeletal—consisting of just a tinny drum machine, Rev’s churning, gutter-scraped Farfisa chords, and Vega’s half-murmured, half-screamed vocals—yet supernaturally ablaze, and altogether terrifying. Making their connection even more overt, Vega used to whip a drive chain at the ’70s punk audience who loathed him; he couldn’t have been more obvious if he’d taken the stage astride a Harley.
And then there’s “Ghost Rider,” arguably Suicide’s most famous song—thanks to its numerous covers by everyone from R.E.M. to Henry Rollins—and definitely among the most menacing tunes ever to be spawned from a comic book. Like most Suicide songs, it’s stiletto-sharp in its simplicity. Over Rev’s relentless, rubber-peeling synth-bass, Vega lays out a basic synopsis of the character he so adores: “Ghost Rider, motorcycle hero,” Vega croons through layers of spaced-out reverb, noting that he looks “so cute” in his “blue jumpsuit.” But “Ghost Rider” also doubles as a manifesto for the band.
“We were talking about society’s suicide, especially American society,” Vega tells Simon Reynolds in his postpunk overview Totally Wired, in discussing how that initial, Marvel-inspired lark took on a deeper meaning. And so, in “Ghost Rider,” suddenly the supernatural stuntman has become Suicide, the scuzzy street prophet: “Baby, baby, baby, he’s screamin’ the truth / America is killin’ its youth.” Like Johnny Blaze and the demon he’s been bonded to, the lines between Vega and his hero blur, rendering him indestructible.