The following article appeared in shorter form on Housequake.com June 20, 2019. The version below has been expanded from the original.
It’s so rare that I would say these words: When I first listened to it, I wasn’t overly thrilled with Prince’s Batman soundtrack (released June 20, 1989), meant to service the movie of the same name, released three days later. Upon the first few listens, the songs were hit and miss for me. I wasn’t telling myself, “Oh, we got a live one here!” I had read The Dark Knight graphic novel in the military. I knew Burton’s film took influences from the 80s comic books. The whole idea of a brand new Batman movie beyond intriguing and exciting. I loved Batman as a movie, as a future franchise, as a hokey 60’s television program, as the action figures I owned as a pre-teen, and the Taco Bell promotion (yeah, I collected all the cups),. To me, Batman was a much more interesting comic book character, and I was no comic book guy, ever, in my life. He was mysterious, tortured, a loner, had a code he lived by (of course, so did Walter White from Breaking Bad), and somehow represented a lot of us despite his wealth and being raised by a butler in a house so large he’d probably never been in some of the rooms. Prince’s output as to that point had been more reliable than the Batcomputer, front to back. But his Batman soundtrack left me partially confused, slightly disgruntled and feeling out of sorts.
I was twenty-one that year, and perhaps my musical appreciation still needed to be matured more, it needed time to grow, ferment, and bloom. It’s not that I didn’t eat up everything Prince produced, arranged, composed and performed. It’s not that he wasn’t already an icon after only a decade in the business. It wasn’t that he had ever disappointed me on an album release (although let’s be honest, 1985 was shakey for a hot second). It’s just that, with Batman, I was …meh.
The year was morphed into an epic twelve-months for music. Janet Jackson would directly challenge not only the media’s output, but homelessness, education, poverty, drug abuse, and child neglect on her now-legendary Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. Its first single, “Miss You Much,” was serviced to radio stations and blew the roof of anything we thought she was as a singer, finally staging her first tour ever. Sure, Control was funky, and all, but no one had ever heard something so textured, thought-provoking and different as Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. Madonna released her best album to date (and what would be her best record in a decade) Like A Prayer. Its Pepsi-tie in, burning crosses, a healthy dose of stigmata, black saint snogging sessions, see-through blouses, and the eventual Blond Ambition Tour was more than enough to generate curiosity and controversy.
Then here comes Prince. The idea was for him to take the year off. Allegedly. Sign O the Times (1987) failed to tour in the U.S., Prince instead releasing a concert movie that fans loved. Lovesexy (1988) didn’t hit the notes with the public as he would have liked. His music took an elysian detour, with dogmatic structure and a different sound. The Lovesexy Tour was his biggest production tour to date. It was also hemorrhaging capital, not selling 100% of tickets in most U.S. venues. So sure, maybe it would have been a smart idea to take some time, reset, and hit the ground running later in the year. Get out of people’s eye line for a while; then come back with something new and fresh. Make ’em beg for something. Shore up the castle, lest folks claim the kingdom is falling, Steve (Fargnoli, his manager) probably said.
Let’s face it, Prince doesn’t reset or take time off. He keeps recording. He continues to create music, despite what the world is doing or what people are saying. 1989 would be no different, especially with the aborted Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic project before he committed to work on Batman. Fans didn’t think they would get anything before the new decade took hold. That notion’s fate was short. A weird little song hits the radio, and we all let out a collective “Stop the press. Who is that?!”
It started when Batman director Tim Burton got in contact with Prince at Jack Nicholson’s prodding. Burton was using “1999” and “Baby I’m A Star” as stand-in songs while filming, to evoke a mood or atmosphere. Burton figured he might call Prince and ask him to do a couple of songs. Gentlemen, let’s broaden our minds! Prince never does “just a couple of songs.” Prince wrote a whole album of songs (we’re talking CD-album, not cassette-album length). The liner notes to the story told a more vibrant story of how Prince, after seeing chunks of the film at Burton’s offering, wrote and sang songs from the character’s point of view. He likely wrote songs intending for them to have a place in the film. Some of the songs were used in the movie; others served as inspiration from the movie. (“Inspired by” is a fancy word for “we can’t fit it all in and some stuff doesn’t fit at all, but we’ll use it to fill up the cassette.”)
The day I purchased the album on cassette, I was in a car with no cassette or CD player. (First world problems, I know.) I was trying to soak in the music as much as I could before I heard it, so I started reading the liner notes. I saw that each song had a character’s name above it as if to say this song is by Joker, and that one is by Bruce Waye, but that other one is by Batman. I remember thinking, “Oh wow, he’s going to use samples from [whichever actor] for the melody of this song!” I mean, he’s Prince. Why wouldn’t he attempt such a thing? When I popped the cassette in my Sony Walkman, the first thing I heard was Michael Keaton’s voice, as Batman. I thought, “and away we go.” Much to my chagrin (or relief), Prince did not sample Nicholson, Keaton, or Basinger’s voices to make a whole song. Part of me was disappointed, but that feeling lasted about ten seconds. You can understand why I’d think that since “Batdance” used… wait, I’m getting ahead of myself, again.
Let’s go down the Bat List.
After the opening credits of the movie, filtered through the sounds of a city with a secret, we hear “The Future.” A tourist family, in typical male fashion avoiding the use of a map or asking someone for directions, is quickly losing their way from the sights and finding their way into a thief’s back alley. Dialog from later in that sequence, as the mysterious Bat figure apprehends the thief, is the first thing you hear in the song. “I want you to tell all your friends about me!” the caped crusader tells his victim. “What are you?!” the scared-shitless thief asks. “I’m Batman.” Aaand cue the beat. The scene reads like Jesus on the cross between two thieves, one mocking him, the other scared for his soul and begging for mercy from the Lord. In this scenario, it was the thief asking who he should remember, instead of being remembered by the savior on high.
“The Future”’s bassline swirls under a knocking beat that equally shares a late 80s music sensibility and Prince’s unique production style. Prince speaks as Batman (one of the only two songs on the album told from the crusader’s point of view), pontificating about the unforeseeable future; his message serving as a dark warning for people to get their house in order lest they end up in an even worse existence. Prince declares he’d rather sacrifice everything on earth to save his soul in the afterlife, although he seems unsure of an afterlife’s existence. He’s not taking any chances. “If there’s life after we will see/so I can’t go out like a jerk.” The words feel juvenile, but the meaning is clear. He doesn’t want to leave a bad mark on society once his time is finished. He chooses to leave the world better than how he found it. It’s a mainstay in his music almost since the beginning. It’s Prince’s way of wearing a sandwich board and yelling, “REPENT! FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND” at the bus stop. His vision of the world serves as an allegory of man’s desperate need for redemption.
Prince’s mantra of ignoring the yellow smiley faces and ‘never had it, never will’ commercial mantras between the Hollyweird stories being offered through the television set and (ironically) in movie theaters, and living in the moment and realizing who and what you are and where you’re existing is a rallying call all too familiar. Prince acknowledges the harsher edges of life, much like Batman would to his fellow Gothamites. He almost gives license for minor infractions, but still warns of pending judgment.
Yellow Smiley offers me X
Like he’s drinkin’ 7-Up
I would rather drink 6 razor blades
Razor blades from a paper cup
He can’t understand, I say 2 tough
It’s just that I’ve seen the future and, boy, it’s rough
It’s a sentiment from years prior, in “Sexuality” (Controversy, 1981):
Don’t let your children watch television until they know how 2 read
Or else all they’ll know how 2 do is cuss, fight and breed
No child is bad from the beginning
They only imitate their atmosphere
What’s to be expected… absolutely nothing.
He admonishes the citizens of Gotham in “The Future”’s third verse:
Pretty pony standin’ on the avenue
Flashin’ loaded pistol, 2 dumb 2 be true
Somebody told him playin’ cops and robbers was cool
Would our rap have been different if we only knew?
His consistent balking at the system of news and media, and breaking free of inbred information and false flags spikes in “The Future.” It’s a concept explored in The Matrix; one of being plugged into a machine that keeps you enslaved through media thought control, and economically rather than allowing freedom, all solely for the lure of power. Prince heavily identified with and mentioned in talks and music. The proverbial (or literal?) matrix’s ability to keep poor people enslaved through media seems to be an ongoing problem in Gotham, and possibly Minneapolis. “Systematic overthrow of the underclass/Hollywood conjures images of the past/New world needs spirituality that will last.” The Orwellian reflections are blatant and purposeful. This verse is later repeated as if to drive home the point. Prince’s warning is as strong as Batman’s, albeit it a different method of delivery. Batman almost resigns himself to not being able to reach a more massive crowd or do much besides capture the random purse snatcher on Main Street, whereas Prince is practically putting fliers on people’s mailboxes.
Prince was aware of the world around him, but he inevitably takes the old Christian-touted stance of being in the world, but not being of it. “The Future”’s mantra of a better world isn’t a new one. In “Sexuality,” he says, “We need a new breed leader, stand up, organize.” In “New World” (Emancipation, 1996), he asks, “How we gonna make it in this brave new world?” Prince has seen the future and hopes it will be something. Better.
Whether you buy into Prince’s new world schtick or not, the gothic timbre of “The Future” is infectious. It’s not a mid-tempo hazy song, but it doesn’t come blazing out of the barn like “1999” or “Let’s Go Crazy,” both songs about preparing one’s self for the inevitable end of the world. “The Future” takes the side door, where the real fans wait to deliver its message of pending catastrophe with the hope redemption through stronger spiritual conviction.
“Electric Chair” plods into the Batman soundtrack like a child having a tantrum. The ear-numbing bass, one reminiscent of “Hello” or “Girl,” the screaming guitar, and garish synths are there to keep your attention. Prince doesn’t rely on musical tricks in “Electric Chair.” Instead, he rests on his ability to tell a story about lust and redemption, letting the Joker introduce the song with his catchphrase, “think about the future.” It’s almost as if Prince is saying, “Don’t forget what I just said, but let me add this.” “This” being “Electric Chair”’s message laced with Prince’s religious influences which stay up front in this song. He throws all caution to the wind, battling with the biblical dogma he was taught as a child, “if a man even looks at a woman with lust in his heart, he has already committed adultery with her.” (It begs the question, where does that leave the woman, but that’s another story).
Prince is perfectly willing to sacrifice his own life for a woman he worked his way toward through her friend. “I saw ur friend 1st, that’s who I danced with/all the time I was watching u.” The happiness he feels with his new female friend blinds him to the banality of life. Here, the song speaks to Joker’s interaction with Batman. He’s toyed with Batman (the friend or frenemy) and is inadvertently distracted by the beauty of Vicki Vale (“all the time I was watching u”). “The music rocked us, our eyes locked thus/Makin’ us see a trippy picture shoo.” The elation of connection permeates his new relationship. With Joker’s contorted view of the world, he probably saw her more of a conquest than a life partner. Part of his motivation is also to break Vale’s fixation on the Batman figure and give her something else to write about. His proposition at the lunch date in Gotham’s Fluegelheim Museum was about using her talents as a photographer to tell his story. Having Vale locked in his sights (and Basinger in Prince’s) makes him throw all caution to the wind, chanting one of the most memorable and thought-provoking choruses in his music, virtually rewriting the holy texts. “If a man is considered guilty for what goes on in his mind/then give me the electric chair for all my future crimes.” He continues to wail his plea.
U know I’m guilty, yeah? (4 all my future crimes, oh!)
I’m guilty, yeah! (4 all my future crimes, oh!)
And if U don’t really love me! (Then give me the electric chair)
He’s willing to shun everything, ultimately dying, for love. Since the song is from the Joker’s point of view, so it would seem appropriate that his desire for Vicki Vale is what ultimately killed him, not Batman. Even the Joker can be blinded by a woman.
Prince’s character in Under The Cherry Moon followed the same path, chasing the woman he loved — and who loved him — and died for her in the end. But is it selfish to forfeit to such an extent that the one who loves you can then no longer enjoy you in person? Is it an over-romanticized version of sacrifice for love? You can live for love, but love doesn’t pay the light bill, Mr. Nelson.
One could consider the declaration a death wish on the Joker’s part; to be so totally in love knowing you could lose it or afraid you’ll never love more than in this moment, that you’re willing to die because any other minute you live will be less than the here and now. Above any crime spree, love (in the form of a woman) is still the common bond, whether among the insane or the rational. It’s a tragic scene played out all too often, men or women eschewing their livelihood and well-being for another. I wonder if Prince ever saw a French film called The Hairdresser’s Husband, and recognized these parallels. The film was released a year after Batman. In the movie, a hairdresser is wooed by a customer who has always fantasized about marrying someone in her profession. They marry. A decade into their loving marriage, she commits suicide because she’s so happy and is afraid of the happiness she has found with her husband ending. Anything less would be a disservice to their relationship and to love itself. Is Prince, or the Joker, so willing to walk to his death because he sees a greater love on the other side? The last part of the bridge brings to mind lovelorn couple of Romeo and Juliet, “2 commit the crimes of passion that sets us free/Me lovin’ U, U lovin’ me”. He seems resolved to give up everything for love. It was his fall into the vat that killed Jack Napier, and it was ultimately love that killed the Joker.
Michael Jackson may have said he was a lover, not a fighter, but Prince lived it through his music and in his life. While we never heard much of anyone dating Michael Jackson, the laundry list of women Prince romanced would be enough for a sleeve tattoo. Prince would often sacrifice himself for the woman’s love. The irony is that he only did that in his music, not his personal life. Prince’s real mistress was his music, and the list of sacrificed souls around him is just as long, if not longer, than the romances. The checklist of those who came and went, while the music remained, not only served as temporary bedfellows for the purple imp but muses for unlimited music. That reality was his fate; it became his future.
Catalog note: Prince first used the phrase “electric chair” in “Annie Christian” (Controversy, 1981).
In typical Prince fashion, the third song in the tracklist is a ballad. Look at Controversy, Purple Rain, Around The World In A Day, Diamonds and Pearls — it’s a formula Prince seemed to enjoy. Come out with two or three gangbuster songs, then slow it down either with a ballad or a mid-tempo chill pill. “The Arms of Orion” fits well on the Batman soundtrack. I’ve gotten so much flack for touting the beauty of this song. I make no apologies for that. The song even serves as my default warm-up when playing the piano. I’ve never backed away from this song (nor its simplistic and sexual b-side “I Love U In Me”) as the perfect A-side ballad for Batman. While this song didn’t make an appearance in the movie, it is written from Bruce and Vicki Vale’s perspective, and sung by Prince and Sheena Easton. With the Romeo and Juliet connotations in “Electric Chair” bleeding into this song, one almost wonders why “The Arms of Orion” wasn’t included in Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet film. Why wasn’t it played as the go-to love song that kept the young lovers connected; each one singing a verse from their bedrooms, separated from the other but looking at the same stars? (Ironically, Lurhmann used a gospelized version of “When Doves Cry” in his film.)
The scenario is one that has played out for decades. You can see it coming a mile away. Prince certainly pulled out the long-distance relationship goop, which is maybe why some fans don’t like it. “When I am lost or feeling lonely, I just look 2 heaven/I find my comfort there, God only knows where U are 2night”. You can almost see the boy and girl, languishing on their beds, surrounded by their Trapper Keepers, iPods, and Nike tennis shoes waxing poetic, “Whatever will I do? Wherever will I go?”, a modern “Romeo, wherefore art thou?” We’re not sure what pieces of the film Prince saw, or if he saw it in full while writing the music, but it certainly seems to make sense that he took a cinematic approach to many of the songs and “The Arms of Orion” is no small example. It’s melodramatic, sure. It’s rimmed with sugar. We’ve heard the story a thousand times. It’s overly hopeful, panders to the simplest of star-crossed lovers. But it’s not to be dismissed as an invalid track on this album.
Prince may have examined the heavier side of love and sex, but at some point, one has to step back and have fun. In Batman, the Joker (formerly Jack Napier), whose life is dramatically altered, offers a consistently macabre and sinister party atmosphere. “Partyman” (which replaced “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic”, which replaced “1999”) is written from the Joker’s point of view, claiming to be the big man on campus and the go-to party planner. (Can you even imagine the deposit you have to put down for that?)
The music frames a sequence in which the Joker and his cronies destroy art in the Fluegelheim Museum, disrupting a lunch date with an unsuspecting Vicki Vale (who thinks she has a date with Bruce Wayne). She’s a photographer now working on the Bat-story at the Gotham Globe. The Joker crashes her date with Bruce Wayne (a date secretly set up by the Joker) and tries to seduce her to join him as his girlfriend and cohort in crime. It’s a wish the Joker makes in Prince’s song, as the sample of Vale’s “Oh, I love purple” cannot easily be overlooked.
Prince’s attempt to relay Napier’s now-twisted ideology in “Partyman” comes across as a pseudo-anthem, begging people to listen up as he “tell U what my name is!”, then proceeds to chant “Partyman” repeatedly. Prince’s braggadocio, as the Joker, serves as a fluid display of his Gemini astrological sign, which also inhabits both sides of the Joker. One side being the criminal and gangster, the other the mutated good ol’ boy of Gotham, both of which lay siege — either mentally or physically — wherever he goes. “I rock the party, I rock the house/I rock the whole world north, east, and south.”
Prince himself lived his adult life without rules and doing what he wanted to achieves his goals — like a gangster; women, money, power. His other side was just as human, loving the playtime, the parties. It would seem the Joker, like Prince, could both a Gemini, and perhaps they aren’t that far apart in their approach to life. Prince holds court throughout the song — his duality as crown and jester — demanding “all hail the new king in town.” Both are equally sought after and despised excesses.
The first side of Batman ends with a song that took me a long while to appreciate. Depending on my mood, it’s still iffy. I can understand the fanbase’s love of the “Vicki Waiting.” Told from Bruce Wayne’s point of view, it seems that Wayne laments not being able to meet with Ms. Vale whenever she calls him. His constant, and often obsessive, duty as Batman has become his mistress, while Vale waits in the proverbial wings always having to yield to his higher duty. He doesn’t seem to be able to commit his love to her because the crime of Gotham city permeates his sensibilities. “All is well in Gotham City, the sound of terror is all U hear/Sometime a pistol take the place of her body, Sometimes her body’s here.” Wayne’s obsession with the Joker’s ongoing crime spree becomes an unseen interloper in Wayne and Vale’s relationship, leaving both to sleep alone rather than together. He takes a self-deprecating approach through humor to his shortcomings to stay sane, balancing work, obsession, and love. In the song, Vicki doesn’t find his dad jokes that funny, knowing bad humor can’t replace a human connection.
The song is a clear metaphor of Prince’s life. Batman’s obsession becomes Prince’s music, Vicki becomes any particular woman in Prince’s life; Susannah, Vanity, Mayte, Manuela, Sheila, Ingrid, Kim. Prince resolves himself to his fate as a tortured and gifted musician, always answering the call of the rhythm, despite the levels of unconditional love he’s shown from his female companion. “This is where she wants 2 be, I am what she wants 2 see/Never known a love so sweet/Still I keep Vicki waiting.” His fear of not only marriage but having children is pointedly spoken in another verse, questioning his worthiness of being a father. “Talk of children still frightens me/Is my character enough 2 be (Never)/One that deserves a copy made?” Prince’s fear of genuine commitment is laid out for all to see in “Vicki Waiting.” His self-examination on display. Her love abandoned by his insecurities. Bruce Wayne’s apprehension at a relationship inevitably trickles down into any preconceived notions of producing an offspring or heir.
The song itself takes a lackadaisical attitude, stumbling out of the gate with otherwise can’t-be-bothered drums and a secondary chord progression. It mirrors Wayne’s inability to commit to a relationship because he’s otherwise preoccupied. Even the guitar lick at the end of the chorus after he says, “Still I keep Vicki Waiting” almost feels like someone giving a semi-thoughtful “hmmm” to their predicament. “Vicki Waiting” takes the same approach, never filling out as a song, suffering somewhere between a demo and a song. We expect more from the Gemini Partyman himself. (Stay tuned, there is a saving grace to this song.)
“Trust” was used to replace “Baby, I’m A Star.” Both songs are upbeat and full of testosterone-laden vibrato. While “Baby, I’m A Star” is more of a personal anthem of self-encouragement, “Trust” seems to find Prince fully engulfed in his celebrity, albeit through the Joker. We once again hear themes in the Joker’s song that Prince has used throughout his music, those of solidarity, a new world with new ideas (“Dig it now, Another world awaits us/Another power 2 see”), and eventually renouncing the physical (possibly out of guilt?) in favor of a higher spiritual bliss. “Just let yourself go, don’t put up a fight/Sex — it’s not that type of party (Higher, higher, higher)/Girl, we’re gettin’ higher 2 night.” With Prince embracing his Gemini calling, it would seem again that Joker and Prince could be the same, someone who finds themselves in the middle of the flesh versus the soul.
Where Prince would genuinely take the higher road, here it proves the Joker is selling snake oil to the masses. He’s a reprobate, gaslighting those around him into his delusion and asking them to deny themselves for him. It’s a classic God complex, Davidian to the core. In 2019, this approach could quickly become political. Could it be that the listener is being sold a bill of future goods framed in gold but ultimately hiding a world of excess and greed? It wouldn’t be dissimilar to prosperity televangelists today who take offerings and tithes from their poor parishioners that struggle paycheck to paycheck, while the pastor & company sleep in a 10,000 sq. ft. McMansion on the hill. The Joker hands out money, “Money — how much’ll make U happy?/U can have it all if it’ll suit U right,” then gases everyone in sight. He cannibalizes those that would support him. It’s self-defeating, or is it? Is the death squad of balloons just a fear tactic, or can the Joker just not be bothered with the little people and their burden of having a failed and useless lives? Batman steals his balloons and takes them out of the danger zone for Gotham’s citizens, but not before a few lose their life to the toxic vapors emitting from them. One wonders if the Joker would change his tune had he read the same bible Prince did as a child, “what does it profit a man to gain a fortune, and lose his soul?”. Would he still sacrifice everything for power? His method of seduction works to the weak-minded; his words resonating with those listening, “Love — U cannot imagine/How much I wanna give 2 U/Hot — I get so excited, Just thinkin’ about all we could do”.
The song is a hot stepper by every standard. It’s fast-paced to the point that even Riverdance should choreograph to it, peppered with a finger-curling hook, frenetic-sampled vocals between the verses, and a dizzying production that is sure to intoxicate the listener as much as the Smylex gas from the balloons did in the movie.
The Joker continues his crusade of public manipulation with no redemptive intentions. In contrast, Prince seems to come to his senses, his spirituality (that will last) overcoming his carnal nature. He attempts to jump between Joker and the public and dissuade them from Joker’s propaganda. The only line on the whole Batman album attributed to Prince comes at the end of this song. It’s his attempt at distraction from the Joker’s hostile message. “Who do ya trust if U can’t trust God?/Who can U trust — who can ya?”. We’ve learned this much: It sure to fuck ain’t the Joker.
“Lemon Crush”’s ear-piercing falsetto brings me to my knees, begging for the Next button. It’s the only song solely associated with Vicki Vale on the album which leaves me feeling disappointing and short-changed. I’m regretful that I don’t have much to offer in a recommendation for this song. I’m not trying to rub another man’s rhubarb, but it feels like a throwaway track. To this point in Prince’s career, it’s an almost non-existent happening. A throwaway track? Surely not! Yea, I say, behold. “Lemon Crush” is one I skip over more than not. It fits within the sound of the album, but as a track on its own, it falls short of anything exciting and engaging for me as a listener and 40-year+ Prince fan.
The lyrics and melody are worthy of a rewrite. There is an urgency in the production, a hurried pace of needing to get somewhere. Unfortunately, it never makes it to the first checkpoint, much less the finish line. I have no idea what Prince is talking about in this song unless it’s just another sexual reference. Is Prince comparing Vicki Vale’s vagina to a lemon, and it oozes when Batman or Bruce is near? But why would a woman call a man “pretty, pretty”? I’m not even sure the song is deep enough to throw the Gemini filter on it and have it make sense. The lyrics are uninteresting, juvenile, and almost embarrassing. The metaphor is ridiculous. It’s practically worth inserting “I Love U In Me” or “200 Balloons” in its tracklist place, deleting the crush altogether.
Frankly, if Prince can rewrite two Mazarati songs, put a melody to a poem (“Solo”), and write a B-side out of monosyllabic noises (“La La La, He He Hee”, “Poom Poom”), then he should have been able to rework this song into something more pleasing to the ear. I know some fans will adamantly disagree with me (because every Prince fan is the best and biggest Prince fan, you know), this remains my truth. Not sorry.
Prince is known for monster ballads. Not the Bon Jovi or Mötley Crüe type, but the Prince type. He redefined how ballads should appear on a record and made them a staple in his music. Arguably, the first one we all took notice of was “Do Me, Baby” on Controversy. Others followed on almost every album, “International Lover,” “The Beautiful Ones,” “Under The Cherry Moon,” “Insatiable,” “Condition of the Heart,” “When 2 R In Love”, “The Question of U”, “Damn U”, “Shhh,” “Savior,” and of course “Adore.” Batman shouldn’t be overlooked, because “Scandalous” sits near the end of the record as a jewel of the album. Told from Batman’s point of view, it reasons out the taboo nature of a vigilante making waves with a local photographer. (A sentiment inhabited solely by Peter Parker in the Spider-man series, which makes you wonder what the kid is really doing at night.)
Even though love is explored throughout all the characters on Batman, it’s only in “Scandalous” you hear Bruce Wayne, as his alter-ego, say “I love u” to Vicki Vale. “Understand, understand that I love U.” In the movie, Bruce has a hard time committing to the love he feels for Vicki. While Vicki is fully open to a relationship and pushes for one (albeit cautiously), it’s Bruce who resists; his internal demons laced with fear and revenge flesh themselves out and sacrifice anyone who threatens to pop that bubble. “Vicki Waiting” starts this conversation, and “Scandalous” finishes it. It’s only behind a figurative and literal mask that Bruce can tell Vicki he loves her. At one point in the movie, he tries to confess to her who he is, but can’t seem to get the words out. Later, Bruce admits that he “tried to avoid all this, but [he] can’t.” Vicki begs Bruce, “I just gotta know, are we gonna try to love each other?” She proverbially knocks at his door, while “Scandalous” starts with the sound of a doorbell. It seems quirky that Batman would use the front door, but it rings more like an emotional plea to get let in or to come in.
In “Scandalous,” Prince picks up on that struggle (another Gemini element) and lets Bruce explore a side of himself that he doesn’t usually let happen. It’s the side that saw his parents get murdered and made him forever distrustful of people (if you can’t trust God who can u trust?), and fight the evils that took his parents and his childhood from him. “Scandalous” parades as a power ballad on the outside and Prince’s blood-curling falsetto again nails the song. Underneath, the Batman — behind his cowl — finds it his only way to be himself. Maybe the two sides of Bruce’s possible Gemini status have merged. Perhaps the multiple personalities have re-incorporated into the creature every criminal would fear. It would be the one thing Bruce thinks himself to be the opposite of, actually; something twisted like the Joker, something the common people fear instead of embrace. Bruce’s life long desire was just to be loved. In the movie, Batman blames Joker for creating him, a self-made vigil-ante void of the ability to connect to people. In cross-examination, the Joker paints a bigger picture that Batman made him because Batman’s good-guy stance swung so far one way that Joker had no choice but to manifest the antithesis of that. (And that pesky detail of Batman dropping Jack into the vat of chemicals, but who’s keeping track?) Even in The Dark Knight, Joker expresses his disdain for Batman remaining unhindered by the law. The Joker reasons that if Batman can dismiss the authority of the state, then so can he. He argues for a new balance in society between crime and the law. It would reason that the Joker and Batman are equal parts of the same Gemini. The idea alone is scandalous, much less a notorious figure nailing an award-winning photographer.
It’s quite alright to get lost in the Prince ballad similitudes, to enjoy the rapturous gospel-tinged backing vocals, the soaring chorus, and the seductive narrative that drips from his tongue. Rarely has a Prince ballad delved so deep into a man’s psyche to not only help him express himself but lay waste to the things that hold him back from being authentic with those around him. Prince never really strays far from the fact that it’s Batman doing the talking here, “2night I’m gonna be your fantasy”; arguably a duplicitous line.
The song has a co-writing credit with Prince’s father John L. Nelson. It’s not known, and possibly unlikely, how much input John had in the song. The song was also referenced and quoted three times within Danny Elfman’s Batman score.
In many ways, the album ends with “Scandalous” (as does the movie). The last track, “Batdance,” presents itself as a bonus track, a conglomerate of everything you just heard, either as an idea and quite literally just heard. The song doesn’t have a proper verse or chorus, but sections are clearly defined. Bruce, Vicki, Batman, Joker and Prince’s own Gemini character all make appearances in the song (and the actors playing them are credited in the liner notes as “special appearance presence). There are no overly bright limericks here or catchy sing-along moments. The only familiar piece you hear is Prince almost re-singing the theme from Batman and Robin television show in the song title, perhaps slipping in the familiar original melody of “Batmaaannn.” There is a more unreleased extended version circulating among collectors, but the one presented here still clocks just over 6-minutes; as long as its predecessor falling short by only two seconds. He revisits lines from former songs like “The Future”, “Electric Chair”, the chorus to the later-released “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic”, “We Got The Power”’s “hey, we got the power/hey, we got the soul”, lines from the “Batdance” b-side “200 Balloons” (which is a practical prototype of the A-side). “200 Balloons” was initially intended for the “Trust” scene in the movie (“Who’s gonna stop 200 balloons? Nobody!”). Larger sections of movie dialog are sprinkled into the song, including Joker’s visit to Vicki’s apartment, asking Bruce Wayne, “you ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight? I always ask that of all my prey. I just like the sound of it.” Even the gunshot that seemingly disables Bruce Wayne and Vicki’s screaming are both included.
The late-80’s music landscape consisted of some of the worst corporate schmaltz in a generation. Contrived duets were climbing the charts — songs like Boy Meets Girl’s “Waiting For A Star To Fall”, Dirty Dancing’s “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, Will To Power’s “Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley”, & Roxette’s “Listen To Your Heart”. Rick Wake was overproducing the shit out of artists like Taylor Dayne. Boomboxes across the United States were dripping with über-safe, big business pop.
But it was “Batdance” that sat most folks straight up in their electric chairs. It’s a fun song, and subversively a commercial for the album and film. (In fairness, lead singles are just that for a record — an ad of “something’s coming!” as a trailer is to a film.) Some would be quick to label “Batdance” as a novelty song, but that’s an unfair and harsh dismissal of something unique and incredibly attractive in radio’s wasteland.
But this oddity of a song hit #1 on the charts. It had everything in its favor: a much-anticipated film, a rock superstar producing the soundtrack, and more sections than “Bohemian Rhapsody” (although less impressive than Queen’s opus if we’re honest). Its mid-section shifts gears from the otherwise “Trust” driven BPM into a half-time shuffle. Not since Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me” did a song stop to change tempos in the middle, then go back to the original pace, and still be a hit. “Batdance” does, and it worked. (By the way, Richie’s song was #1, too.) The faster section would later be used on the 12" as the “Bat Mix,” and the slower part used as the base for the “Vicki Vale Mix.” The stop’n’change tempo technique was in few songs after that, until Green Day brilliantly employed it on their American Idiot album.
Prince ends the song with a loop of the Joker’s laugh box playing once he falls to his death, losing his battle with Batman in the bell tower. It’s then you hear Batman say, “Stop!”, ending the song, the album, and putting a final end on Joker’s death-by-laughing-gas rampage that terrorized Gotham City.
One fan described “Batdance” as, “…layers of rock and funk that no one else could do. The guitar solo is batshit crazy. And that transition from Bat Rock to Vicki Vale? ‘Stop the press!’ Unbelievable. To this day, I’ve never heard a segment like those three beats. It’s as if the music is being played sideways. [It]’s pure genius that only Prince could have created.”
“Batdance” isn’t your typical big movie hit song. It wasn’t even in the movie, yet partially relied on the film’s dialog to support itself. I would argue it could survive without any movie dialog; its fiery guitar solo, quick breaks, and paralyzing rhythm arrangement are fully hashed and seal the song’s completion. But once you hear it, you’ll never hear anything like it again.
Looking back, we realize there are no huge songs on the Batman soundtrack. There are no Bic lighter anthems, no songs that anyone was necessarily humming six months after the fact. The singles history was spotty, but the album reached #1 within a few short weeks of its release. People remember that Prince did the soundtrack to the first real Batman movie and that’s good for everyone. The soundtrack is more than a set of random dark-toned songs thrown together that might speak to the movie’s storyline. They were all written for the film, fully inspired by it. Critics dismissed it as a mediocre attempt by Prince to re-seat his career. Many soundtracks are average, at best, because they’re either a melange of random songs or are so firmly dated into the movie’s aesthetic that people lose interest in nostalgia. But Batman’s solid song construction, burnished production, overcast themes, and tempestuous self-exploration are quality ingredients that create an album which stands up against its predecessor Lovesexy or the following year’s Graffiti Bridge.
With the proposal of taking a beat (he don’t mind), Batman proved to do two things for Prince: take time off from making a proper Prince album, and still be creative and release new music. It feels like a Gemini’s ultimate paradox. That inherent Gemini quality shines brightly since it’s as much not a Prince album as it is a Prince album. Batman’s manifestation is Prince challenging himself through someone else’s agenda; it’s an opportunity where he could take himself out of his celluloid imagination — like the substandard box office misses of Under The Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge — and prove he could be part of a big budget project, thus producing a fantastic soundtrack.
Batman ages as one of the most focused times in Prince’s first decade as an artist. It was technically the beginning of his second decade in the business, as the album was released in the eleventh year since For You. Even without a film tie-in, Batman by any other name stands as a solid solo Prince album. “The Future,” “Electric Chair,” and “Trust” could easily give the nod to the end of the 80s; a shifting of time. “Partyman” and “Batdance” are the party songs. “The Arms of Orion” and “Scandalous” are the ballads du jour. “Vicki Waiting” is the “Strange Relationship” or “When Doves Cry” (both about troubled dynamics between a couple) that pad out the middle. The album finds a comfortable seat between Lovesexy’s quasi-doctrine of heaven, God, and ecstasy; and Graffiti Bridge’s attempt to blend older songs into a new 90s spiritual angelic whisperings of the continuing yearnings for “a new spirituality that will last” spritzed with sexual machismo tucked in a fresh jockstrap. Prince still pulls from his Lovesexy dogma with samples of “clap your hands, stop your feet” from the 1988 album’s opening “👁 No” track, in the “Vicki Vale Mix” of “Batdance.” But Batman’s common thread — the same one that ties Lovesexy and Graffiti Bridge to it as a trilogy of Prince’s reawakened spirituality — is redemption from lust and the easy path.
The whole album purposely bites from the predominantly spiritually-oriented material Prince was writing during this time. But all the demigod accouterments were quickly dropped by 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls, almost as if they never existed. That is until they resurfaced with a vengeance on the Rainbow Children (2001). Listening to Batman, as it is, not only allows listeners to enjoy a new batch of Prince music, but it also lets us nerd-out to the most famous DC Comics superhero at the same time. (You aren’t gettin’ that shit in the Marvel Universe.) In 2019, it feels just different enough that even if you don’t necessarily realize it’s a Prince album, you’re certainly glad it is once you do.
Not to be missed:
- The Scandalous Sex Suite EP — the 12" version clocks over 19-minutes, in three sections (“The Crime,” “The Passion,” “The Rapture”), with new dialog and sexual noises by Kim Basinger, and new lyrics. The guitar solo in “The Passion” section (part of which is borrowed from Sheila E.’s “Dear Michaelangelo”) has remained unparalleled. The single also has a b-side “Sex,” and the twice-released “When 2 R In Love” (from the Black Album and Lovesexy).
- “Feel U Up” — B-side to “Partyman” that dates to 1981 but was updated for this purpose. Go for the “Long Stroke” here, although if you’re up for a quickie, the 7" “Short Stroke” will do just fine. Seven inches is nothing to sneeze at, hunty.
- “I Love U In Me” — B-side to “The Arms of Orion.” Fans recoil at lines like “when we’re making love it’s like surgery,” but maybe they’ve just never made love quite like that.
- “The Future”/”Electric Chair” single — both are remixed by William Ørbit who, although he remixed “Justify My Love,” saw more significant success almost a decade later producing Madonna’s Ray of Light (1998). This single is harder to find, as it was only released in Europe, and done so almost a year after the album was released.
- “Partyman” video — it’s a romp through a Joker-inspired party, complete with everyone being roofied to death in the end. It’s a fun time for all. The same video mix of the song can be found on the 12" “Partyman” single, as well as “The Purple Party Mix,” and the aforementioned “Feel U Up” B-side.
- “Electric Chair” — Saturday Night Live performance, introduced by host & Batman co-star Jerry Hall.
- “Vicki Waiting” Live track from NPG Music Club — this live offering of the Batman song was the only other release the song ever saw. To me, it’s superior to the album version.
If you want to change things up, create your own Batman extended playlist as follows:
- The Future (Ørbit remix)
- Electric Chair (Ørbit remix)
- The Arms of Orion
- Partyman (The Video Mix); the extended section is funky and humorous.
- Vicki Waiting (NPG Music Club live version); new life breathed into it
- Lemon Crush (if you must, but I’d suggest “I Love U In Me” or “200 Balloons”)
- Scandalous (the whole of The Scandalous Sex Suite EP)
- Batdance (The Bat Mix)
- 200 Balloons
- Batdance (Vicki Vale Mix)
- I Love U In Me
- Feel U Up
Starting June 20, 2019, my Twitter will be updated regularly on anniversary dates, with relevant Batman-related events, releases, etc., all celebrating Batman’s 30th anniversary. Use #Batman30 across all social media platforms. You can stream Batman through most music streaming services.
You can read the original edited, version of this article on Housequake.
Ernest Sewell was born & raised in Oklahoma. After living across the U.S. in places like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis, he’s settled in upstate New York for the past twenty years. He’s authored and published two books and is currently working on a new horror novel due in 2020. He shares his home with a friend, three cats, and his vinyl collection, all of whom have the same level of love from him. When he’s not causing an uproar on Prince forums or social media, he enjoys reads (a lot), trying new recipes, and prank calling people.
“Don’t take yourself too seriously. No one else does.”