“Hi, Prince? It’s Warner Brothers. You know, the record company that signed you as an unproven teenage musician over ten years ago? The record company that pulled your already pressed record from distribution channels last year when you decided it was evil? The record company that really needs a commercial success from you after your previous album, Lovesexy, failed to capitalize on the critical momentum you gained from Sign O’ the Times? The record company that helped pay for your amazingly elaborate yet wildly expensive, Lovesexy tour? We sort of need you to record the soundtrack to this upcoming reboot of the Batman franchise we’re releasing. Oh, you like Batman? That’s great! The director will be the guy who made the Pee-Wee Herman movie a couple of years ago, and it will star the guy from Mr. Mom as Batman. I’m sensing some concern, Prince. Are you still up for it? Please?
So Prince’s follow-up to Lovesexy, his spiritual awakening album, was a blockbuster commercial movie tie-in. That may seem like an odd choice on the surface, but Prince clearly liked making music for films. He just hadn’t done so for a movie he didn’t appear in. So even if the Batman soundtrack wasn’t the original plan for his Lovesexy follow-up, he still agreed to do it. Now he just needed to come up with an album’s worth of material to be released alongside the Batman movie during the summer of 1989. One can deduce the project was a bit of a rush job considering the majority of the tracks were recorded in less than two months in the late winter/early spring of 1989. Still, plenty of high-quality Prince albums past were written and recorded quickly. Prince did snag a few tracks he had recorded earlier for other projects, such as “Electric Chair,” “Vicki Waiting,” and “Scandalous.” For these songs, he either changed the lyrics slightly to fit the film (“Anna Waiting” became “Vicki Waiting” to name check the film’s leading lady, Vicki Vale), or he felt could already fit the narrative as is.
Several of these newly created tracks were sample-filled affairs, a much different sound than the organic collection created for Lovesexy. Prince sampled his music (e.g., the then-unreleased “Crystal Ball” and “House In Order”) but primarily incorporated samples from the movie into the songs, none more memorable than for the lead single, “Batdance.” “Batdance” was a frenetic, odd, disjointed, thrilling track that wound up going to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Filled with dialogue samples from the movie (“This town needs an enema!”), it acted as a funky dance number and the perfect advertisement for the film.
Two other original compositions explicitly created for the Batman movie, “Partyman,” and “Trust,” were also heavily featured in the film. “Partyman,” also the second single released, was featured during the scene where the Joker (Jack Nicholson) and his henchmen deface multiple works of art in a Gotham museum. “Trust” is also used for a critical scene involving the Joker (the Joker is apparently a huge Prince fan) as he parades down a busy Gotham City street tossing money in the air to expose the greed and corruption of the city’s inhabitants while plotting to kill them all. Thankfully, these two upbeat tracks are two of the best on the album and well represent the quality this project had to offer. As the Joker so eloquently stated in the film, “Hubba-hubba-hubba. Who do you trust?” Prince to make an excellent record, that’s who!
Despite the energy and excitement those two songs bring to the film and the soundtrack, the best offerings are bookended on the album’s track listing. Batman kicks off with strings from the Danny Elfman-composed film score and a snippet of a scene where Batman introduces himself to a scared villain (“What are you? I’m Batman.”) before jumping into the funky but ominous “The Future.” “The Future” uses bleak synth chords combined with a skeletal, distant-sounding drum track, while Prince’s lyrics expand on the vision of an alternate dystopian future where the movie seems to take place. The sum is greater than the individual parts, and “The Future” tends to be a grower of a song for many listeners, myself included. Initially, I thought it was a solid enough track, but the more I listened to it, the more I appreciated what Prince came up with for this album opener. “I’ve seen the future, and it will be.”
Changing gears for the second song on the album, “Electric Chair,” Prince incorporates a catchy rock guitar riff and an ultra-funky bass line to grab your attention away from the spooky soundscape of “The Future.” “Electric Chair,” as meant to be sung by the Joker, and introduces one of the cleverest and catchiest choruses on the entire album. “If a man is considered guilty for what goes on in his mind, give me the electric chair for all my future crimes.” This phrase is so good; Prince used it again during the “Batdance” sample hodgepodge later in the album. Prince deserves the electric chair for making a song so captivating that you can’t forget it, even when you want to. This song has always been one of my favorites from the album since the first time hearing it many years ago, and along with “The Future,” it’s aged incredibly well.
On the back end of the album’s bookend highlights are “Scandalous” and the previously mentioned “Batdance.” Unlike “Batdance,” which is chock full of film dialogue samples that permanently attach this creative song to what is now a 30-year-old movie, “Scandalous” is a complete stand-alone track. With zero references to the Joker, Batman, Vicki Vale, or Gotham City in the lyrics, it is clear this was one of the songs Prince had already written and then chose to use for this project after the fact. “Scandalous” is heard during the film’s end credits, but it doesn’t begin playing until one of Danny Elfman’s compositions ends halfway through the credit sequence. This means many filmgoers were already out of the theater by then and had no connection between “Scandalous” and the film.
“Scandalous” was the fourth and final U.S. released single from Batman (“The Future” was released only in Europe as the 5th single) and was a success on the R&B charts. It’s a classic Prince ballad similar to “Do Me, Baby,” or “Adore.” Prince expresses a combination of love, lust, and sexuality through his lyrics and, most importantly, through his vocal delivery. On “Scandalous,” Prince’s vocals sound strained as if he’s fighting a cold. It comes across as raw and sensual, just like the song’s music video. The video is just Prince in a dark room, singing, dancing, and grinding with his microphone stand for six minutes. Needless to say, I don’t recall it getting a lot of MTV airplay at the time. Prince also used “Scandalous” as the basis for an EP that he titled, The Scandalous Sex Suite, which featured Batman star and rumored Prince girlfriend, Kim Basinger. The two spend time flirting over re-imagined versions of the song with titles such as “The Crime,” “The Passion,” and “The Rapture.” It may be the best thing about the whole Prince/Batman collaboration.
The middle five tracks on Batman are a roller coaster of quality. The standout, “Electric Chair,” is followed by arguably one of Prince’s least interesting songs. “The Arms of Orion,” whose lyrics were co-written by his duet partner Sheena Easton can be considered a trite, yet still beautiful ballad. I’m personally not a huge fan of the song, but I don’t find it offensive either. It was inexplicably chosen as the third single off the album over “Trust” or “Electric Chair” and was DOA on the charts.
“Partyman” follows “The Arms of Orion” on the track listing, so the energy picks back up only to put back down again for the next song after “Partyman.” “Vicki Waiting” isn’t necessarily a bad song; it’s just one of those tracks that doesn’t seem to add a lot of interesting musical or lyrical ideas, but for some reason still manages to work. Prince (or Bruce Wayne if you believe the liner notes) plays hard to get with Vicki, but the lyrics also give us a glimpse into the playboy Prince as well as excuses as to why he is this way. I dig it.
The same can be said for “Lemon Crush,” the track that comes immediately after “Trust” on the album’s second side (if you have the record). Musically speaking, “Lemon Crush” has much more going for it than “Vicki Waiting,” with its up-tempo music track and catchy chorus (“ready for the crush”). However, the lyrics in the verses leave much to be desired, as Prince appeared to have whipped them out with less time and consideration than usual. “If I’m workin’ at my jobba. I’m the victim; you’re the robba.” Err, ok then…. let’s move on to “Scandalous” and “Batdance,” please.
Memory Bank Withdrawal
By the time of Batman’s release, I was still a big Prince fan but no longer to the extreme levels I was during the 1999 / Purple Rain / Around the World In a Day era. I remember seeing the Batman movie in the theater that summer (who didn’t?), and I knew going into it that Prince was involved in creating music for the film. I remember liking “Batdance” while others found it odd and a bit off-putting. Since I was also listening to hip-hop at the time, including sample-heavy offerings from artists like Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J, “Batdance” felt like a pop music extension of that aesthetic. For me, it always was and always will be a winner of a song. Due to it’s strange execution, I can see how introducing new Prince listeners to “Batdance” may be a bad idea. I can also understand how it may be difficult for anyone who didn’t have memories of the song and the movie together may have a hard time connecting to this track. Still, for me, it’s a peanut butter and chocolate combination. Prince and this particular Batman movie will be forever intertwined in my mind. Oh yeah, the music video is equally bonkers and amazing. Thanks to the Prince estate and YouTube, these old Prince videos are finally available in HD quality!
Beyond “Batdance” and, to a lesser extent, “Partyman,” the rest of the album made no impression on me when it was released. I never even bothered to own a copy until a few years after that, once I found a used CD for sale. Unfairly ridiculed for being a blatant corporate synergistic sell-out, Batman was not a half-assed Prince offering (except for maybe “Arms of Orion” and the lyrics for “Lemon Crush”). Prince did what was asked of him, providing songs that fit the film’s mood. Despite the inherently dated nature of film soundtracks, especially ones that rely heavily on dialogue samples, imagery, and lyrics that time stamp it, Batman still sounds good 30 years later and should not be considered a lesser Prince album.
My order of preference of Batman tracks from most favorite to least favorite with personal ratings next to them.
- Batdance 5/5
- Scandalous 4.5/5
- The Future 4.5/5
- Electric Chair 4/5
- Partyman 4/5
- Vicki Waiting 4/5
- Trust 4/5
- Lemon Crush 3/5
- The Arms of Orion 2.5/5
Overall Score: 3.9/5
Press Rewind – Prince Lyrics Podcast: BatmanTweet