I you weren’t around for the Batman craze of the summer of 1989 it’s difficult to explain. Maybe it’s because I was a 13-year-old kid and Batman was right in my wheelhouse. I wasn’t a comic book collector. I was indifferent about the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Batman was something different. I had a Batman t-shirt that I wore constantly before I even saw the movie. I’m pretty sure everyone did. It wasn’t just a movie. It was a phenomenon for at least an entire summer.
Batman movie director Tim Burton was a longtime Prince fan and liked how he worked music in to the Purple Rain movie, so he reached out to see if Prince would record a couple songs for the movie. Inspired by a cut of the movie he was able to see, Prince gave Burton an entire soundtrack. Most of the music was simply background music or left out of the movie altogether, but we still got the Batman soundtrack, an impressive piece of art by itself.
In 1989 Prince was coming off a stumble by his standards. First there was The Black Album fiasco in late-1987, followed by Lovesexy which didn’t perform up to his expectations. Prince, never afraid to transform himself or at least try something new, reinvigorated his career with the Batman soundtrack. Interestingly, “Batdance” was not even going to be a song on the album. It was a last minute addition to the album. Whoever made that decision deserved a raise.
“Batdance” ended up being the song of the summer in 1989. Like the movie and the Batman merch, it was everywhere. It returned Prince to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time since 1986’s “Kiss.” I mentioned this in a recent post, but I struggle to think of a song more unique that “Batdance” to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Batdance” was #1 in a year alongside more traditional pop fare from Paula Abdul, Madonna, Bon Jovi, and New Kids on the Block, among others.
For starters, I like to think of “Batdance” as a sampler of the entire movie and soundtrack. It pulls in elements of “The Future” and “Electric Chair,” two of the other songs from the album. The word “Batman” is sung repeatedly in the tune of the campy theme song to the 1960’s Batman TV show. The rest of the “lyrics” are just snippets of movie dialogue interspersed throughout the song. You hear Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, and Kim Basinger’s voices on the track at least as much as you hear Prince’s.
The music in the song itself is really two different songs in one. I’m going to talk about the 6:13 album version of the song, not the 4:06 radio edit. The radio edit misses Prince sick guitar solo in the middle of the song. The opening half of the song is a driving industrial dance beat. For a dance song I find “Batdance” to have a surprising amount of starts and stops. It’d be tough to get a rhythm going for more than about 30-45 seconds on this song because it’s constantly stopping for a drum break or random movie quote.
The song takes off for me at the 2:40 mark when Nicholson’s Joker character says, “Stop the press, who is that?” What follows is a 2:10 neckbreaking funk tribute to Vicki Vale/Kim Basinger. Prince grabs the microphone to sing about how he wants to “bust that body” which I believe he did at some point if I’m not mistaken. Just when you’re getting comfortable with the funk, The Joker is back to declare that “this town needs an enema.” With that the chaotic dance music is back along with some more movie quotes and screaming. Underneath all of the noise Prince is quietly sneaking in a crazy impressive guitar performance for the last minute of the song. The song ends abruptly with a repetitious Joker laugh and someone yelling, “Batman. Stop,” and like that it’s over.
I’m not sure what to make of this song, to tell you the truth. It’s rarely included in any of Prince’s “Best of” compilations even though it hit #1 because of copyright issues with the movie quotes or something. I’ve never completely understood that. Warner Brothers was the film studio that made the Batman movie, and Prince’s record label. It doesn’t seem like it should be that complicated. What do I know? The radio edit was included in the posthumous 2016 4Ever compilation. I can tell you that I liked it more in 1989 than I do in 2020. In ’89 I waited by the radio for “Batdance.” Now it feels like a song that belongs in a time capsule buried in 1989. I guess that’s my way of saying that it’s not timeless. It fit better in that era than it does now. It’s still an enjoyable listen, especially the Vicki Vale funk break. I recommend that you give the Batman soundtrack a listen sometime.
A few things before I sign off. First, did you hear the newest drop from the upcoming Sign ‘O’ the Times Super Deluxe Edition? Thursday night the Prince Estate released “Cosmic Day” from the vault. Really cool track, but what the hell is up with those vocals? It’s like Camille sucked on a helium balloon. Gonna take me a minute to get used to this one.
Also, this isn’t really news, but I came across this on YouTube tonight and ended up glued to it. I think you should stop what you’re doing for two hours and watch it. This band is ridiculous.
Lastly, my wife and I are now considering a Peloton bike. Seriously. This might be the thing that gets my ass away from the computer for 30 minutes a day.
OK, enjoy your Saturday. I’m out, folks.