“I’ll be your Tarzan, you’ll be my Jane, I’ll keep you warm and you’ll keep me sane, we’ll sit in the tree and eat bananas all day, just like an apeman.” – Ray Davies, The Kinks, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround – Part One (1970)
In my evolution of studying and writing commentary on the American zeitgeist I’ve always maintained that you know you’ve “made it” as a major pop culture icon when they start writing songs about you – be you a real or fictional character.
When it comes to the superhero variety there are only a handful of these musical muses. Batman and Superman both come to mind, but the truth is that both of those characters were at least partially inspired by another hero – one that has been with us now for over 100 years, and who is ready to make his long-awaited and triumphant return to the big screen on July 1st. I’m talking about, of course, Tarzan of the Apes.
Some might say that Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan is the original “Sultan of Swing” (heh-heh) so with the exciting new Legend of Tarzan film just about to hit theaters, we thought we’d get you primed by taking a look/listen at some musical hits that were inspired by the world’s favorite Ape Man. Enjoy … and you’re welcome to sing along!
There are many reasons why Tarzan is one of the most popular fictional characters ever created, but one of the characteristics that helped cement his status as a global phenomena is the battle cry made famous by Johnny Weissmuller in the Ape Man films of the 1930s and 40s. The iconic yell is understood in any language (be it human or animal) and the Italian band Baltimora capitalized on its appeal in their 1985 song, “Tarzan Boy.”
‘Wild Man From Borneo’
“Wild Man from Borneo” was written and originally performed by Texas musician Kinky Friedman, but I’ve always enjoyed James McMurtry’s 1997 cover version best. The lyrics paint a picture of a captive wild man in a circus freak show, brokenhearted and longing to return to his home in the jungle. Although Tarzan is not mentioned specifically, the tune always makes me think of Burroughs’ Ape Man and the Jungle King’s inner conflict with the “civilized” world. I have to admit that this one brings a tear to my eye almost every time I hear it.
1969’s “Gitarzan,” by country music comedian, Ray Stevens, was my very first introduction to Tarzan-centric tunes. It’s goofy as all hell, but as a kid I loved it – especially Jane’s solo section. There is no way that this song won’t put a smile on your face.
‘Son of Man’
We can’t talk about Tarzan music without mentioning Disney’s 1999 animated Tarzan film, with music written and performed by Phil Collins. “Son of Man” is an uplifting pop song that captured the Ape Man’s coming-of-age and helped to create a new generation of Tarzan fans. “You’ll be in my Heart” is another pretty good (and more romantic) pop tune from the film.
‘Tarzan & Jane’
Around 1999-2000, the Danish pop-bubblegum band called Toy-Box did a full on musical take on the Ape Man and his lady love, called, of course, “Tarzan & Jane.” You might go into a sugar induced coma after listening to this one — you have been warned!
The first verse in Crash Test Dummies’ “Superman’s Song” (1991) compares Tarzan to Clark Kent and makes the case that Superman is more of a gentleman than the Ape Man. And while that may be somewhat true, it’s also true that Burroughs’ Tarzan was one of the characters that inspired Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to create the Man of Steel – and a true gentleman would be thankful for that.
Long before director Wes Anderson made them cool, many of us were already huge fans of The Kinks. My all-time favorite Tarzan inspired tune is “Apeman,” written and sung by Kink’s front man, Ray Davies. This catchy ditty humorously sums up 20th century (and now 21st century) society and how many of us dream of living a much simpler life – a common theme in Burroughs’ Tarzan books. Not only is this my favorite Tarzan tune, it’s the one song I’d want with me on a deserted island – to remind me why I should stay there.
The Ramones’ “Apeman Hop” doesn’t paint the prettiest picture of our beloved Ape Man, but this old school punk tune will get you to “hoppin’ like an elephant” nevertheless.
While Katy Perry’s “Roar” doesn’t mention Tarzan, the video is undoubtedly inspired by the Ape Man stories; and (like “Tarzan Boy” mentioned earlier) the catchy tune even gets its hook from the renowned Tarzan yell. Now, I ask you, without Tarzan would there ever have been a Katy Perry “Roar” song? I think not. … And then what kind of world would this have been …?
There are dozens of Ape Man-inspired songs we haven’t talked about (if we missed your favorite. please let us know in the comments). Here is a short list of honorable mentions:
- “Apeman Boogie” – Jungle Tigers and Ray Campi
- “Sad Sac & Tarzan” – Daniel Johnston
- “Tarzan of Harlem” – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
- “Monkey Man” – Amy Winehouse
- “If You’re Tarzan, I’m Jane” – Martika
- “(Oh) Pretty Woman” – Van Halen (with Alex Van Halen as Tarzan)
- “I Saw The Apeman (On the Moon)” – The Lillingtons
- “Monkey Man” – The Rolling Stones
- “Tarzan” – Wonder Boyz (Korean boy band)