Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Superman”

These posts are about the songs that fell just short of crossing the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.

After being raised in Brooklyn, New York, Celida Ines Camacho moved with her family to Puerto Rico when she was thirteen years old. It was there that a friend heard her singing and suggested a tryout for a televised variety show. Camacho impressed the producers enough to be offered a contract. As a professional performer, she eventually caught the eye of Pepe Luis Soto, who she later described as the Frankie Avalon of Puerto Rico. The two fell in love and started playing shows as a duo. They eventually married and Soto stepped off the stage to write and produced music for his wife, most of it fairly traditional Spanish love ballads.

With an toward the U.S. market, Soto looked to what was suddenly big on the pop charts in the middle of the nineteen-seventies. He came with a disco tune to be performed in English and titled it “Superman,” drawing on one of the famed catchphrases associated with the do-gooder to help along the slickly simple lyrics: “It’s a bird, no/ It’s a plane, no/ It’s Superman.” Released on Soto’s homespun label as a single billed to Celli Bee and the Buzzy Bunch, the song became a smash in Puerto Rico. After tourists from the States picked up on it vacationing in the U.S. territory, enough of them brought copies of the record home and started spinning in discos. Independent Miami label T.K. Records signed the and gave the song a proper release. It made the Top 5 of Billboard‘s relatively new Disco Action chart. On the main stage of the Hot 100, “Superman” soared only as high as #41.

If only Celli Bee and the Buzzy Bunch’s timing has been a little bit better. A little more than one year later, in the Christmas season of 1978, the Richard Donner–directed bigscreen blockbuster Superman was released. At the time, there was some talk about rereleasing the record to capitalize on the movie, but it doesn’t appear to have happened. Instead, jazz flautist Herbie Mann covered “Superman” for his 1978 album Super Mann and has the good fortune of an opportunistic single release. Mann’s version of the song did what the original couldn’t quite muster: It crossed into the Top 40, peaking at #26.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.

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