In the mid-60s, with Dylan saying things in lyrics that had never been said on record before, the Beatles and Stones worked hard to be intellectual heavyweights, even if they didn’t stretch out their songs to 10 verses like Dylan. (Though the Stones occasionally did for 4 or 5.) McCartney wrote “Eleanor Rigby” when his aunt chided him that he was just writing bubblegum; Jagger wrote “Sympathy for the Devil” based on a famous Russian novel his girlfriend Marriane Faithfull was reading, The Master and the Margarita.
A decade later, however, the rockers couldn’t be bothered. Instead of great plays and avant-garde poets McCartney was reading Marvel comics and enjoying a laid-back domesticity with Linda, sort of a touring/ganja-smoking “Father Knows Best” on tour with his wife and 3-4 kids. With the rock critics of the day made up of angry politicos or proto-punks, his song “Magneto and Titanium Man” seemed the embodiment of everything that was wrong about McCartney’s post-Beatles trajectory.
Today, however, after U2 has scored a Broadway Spider-Man play, it can be enjoyed for what it is. The ebullient keyboards perfectly capture the joy all young nerds feel when bopping down to the comic store for some new installments, and if you want to be pretentious about it you can say it’s pop art like Lichenstein or Ed Ruscha. McCartney would visit Marvel Comics in the ‘60s when the Beatles were in New York, and there was an issue of Strange Tales that featured the Fantastic Four’s Thing and Human Torch meeting the Beatles.
For McCartney’s 1976 tour, Marvel Comics legendary artist Jack Kirby drew images of the characters that were projected behind the group. McCartney gave Kirby’s family front row seats and after one show Kirby came backstage and gave McCartney a drawing of Magneto vs. Wings. (Pictured above.)
“Magneto”’s album Venus and Mars was not as strong as its predecessor Band on the Run, but it had an organic rock sound that would later come to stand out against McCartney’s increasingly synth-dominated music of the next decade.
For the record, Titanium Man and Crimson Dynamo were Iron Man enemies and Magneto was the X-Men’s arch-nemesis. According to an anonymous fan on You Tube, McCartney was inspired to write the song after playing with his kids and their toys and talking about his favorite comic characters.