How can it be a week without Prince alive on this planet?
Maybe he’s still alive on some other planet, gone to some purple planet. Or, to fit the cliché, he’s jamming with Jimi Hendrix in heaven’s greatest band. Possibly showing up George Harrison on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” even.
There’s so much to say and write about the Purple One. I’ve already written plenty here at Forces of Geek, as have others. I wouldn’t even call myself a fan, yet how could I escape Prince’s artistry and 35 years of genre-defying musical entertainment?
I hold a deep respect deserved for such a supremely talented person who, as an artist and man, prized self-determination and collaboration above all. A man with so much ego that in “Little Red Corvette” he sings the catchiest song ever about casual sex. In “Controversy,” he sings, “Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay?” in 1981. This dude would, in “When Doves Cry,” release a six-minute song without a bass track.
Prince’s devotion to being himself and doing things on his terms often went to some wild places, too
We all could go on forever about Prince and all his amazing feats. But, today, let’s discuss how Prince made the soundtrack to Batman, my favorite movie of all time and a fundamental building block of my nerd world.
Prince’s Batman album is Prince at both the best and worst of his don’t-give-a-shit audacity and ego. It’s got both amazing tracks and awful ones. Primo sex jam “Scandalous” was so fire that Danny Elfman incorporated it into his love theme for Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale.
Yet “Batdance” belies every bit of how Prince reportedly recorded the album in six weeks, filled with throwaway funk riffs and dialogue samples.
That said, I still hum “Partyman” every time I walk into a museum. My father took my brother and me to see Batman on a hot June day in 1989, and he laughed so hard watching Jack Nicholson flop around and gleefully destroy artwork.
If anybody likes to party, it’s the Joker.
When news got out that Prince died, I was at work. A co-worker asked me, “What’s your favorite Batman soundtrack song?”
The 1980s and ’90s were a prime era of movie soundtracks and multiple tracks of hit songs, and the four Burton/Schumacher Batman movies were no different. They made more than $700 million domestic box office, and soundtracks reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200.
So, in honor of Prince and his songs in Batman’s service, here are some of my other favorite songs from Batman movie soundtracks.
“Face To Face” by Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees (Batman Returns)
I can’t say I needed Batman Returns to show up when I was 11, but there it was, sneaking the public into Tim Burton psycho-sexual fever dream.
It would be a lot more years before I knew the German Expressionism that animated the film. But if you needed a movie that really toyed with a pubescent lad, this one did it. How else do you explain sex monsters from the sewers, sex monsters in corporate penthouses, and a witchy woman in leather at the center of it all?
But there was one more witchy woman in the mix. Batman Returns introduced me to alt-rock icon Siouxsie Sioux.
She and the band bring Wuthering Heights gloomy grandeur to a song about lovers and enemies intertwined in passion and misery.
Also, it’s among my favorite ways in which a soundtrack song can be built from the score, as it uses Elfman’s chord progression for Penguin and Catwoman’s signature strings.
Lovely. And creepy.
“Gotham City” by R. Kelly (Batman and Robin)
Actually, I hate this song. Just as I hate this movie.
I can barely tolerate R. Kelly, too. His alleged-but-I-believe-it rampant statutory rape long overtook most enjoyment of his songs.
As entertainment value alone, R. Kelly can be creative, inventive, and a fascinating figure in whom the ratchet becomes the sublime. He’s also a guy who will make a disgusting sex jam one minute, and some church-ready street hymn the next.
Or, in the case of “Gotham City,” a batshittingly confounding mess. I guess I love to hate it!
Who knew that what Batman truly needed was a soulful Caped Crusader singing “Man in the Mirror”-lite as his hero rides a chopper in midtown Manhattan? All with Lion King-ish humming that explodes into a gospel choir and then mellows out with a children’s choir and Kelly standing in a sea of clapping children?
But R. Kelly wasn’t content with that. He needed a remix, and a video featuring the finest latex clothing, intercuts of gritty footage of black children, and the pimped-out Batmobile rolling in the ’hood. Gotham City for the ghetto, indeed.
Fuck you, R. Kelly.
And now you all know my torment.
There’s only one way to cleanse my head of this moment down the memory hole, and that’s with my favorite Batman soundtrack song.
“Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me, Kill Me” by U2 (Batman Forever)
Here it is. My favorite.
I really disliked Batman Forever when it came out. It was a betrayal of the moody, dark, expressionistic and weird Batman movies Tim Burton made. It was Batman back in the world of camp. (I’ve since revised my stance on the film. It’s fun on its own.)
But this song? Oh, this song I was on board with from day one.
It’s got cool-guy guitars, an easy riff, superhero strings. The title alone pushes in many extreme directions like a comic book sideshow.
The song is thoroughly ’90s. It would have been right at home on a Stone Temple Pilots album, really. Yet here it is, a Zoo-ropa outtake about fame and loathing as Bono’s Zoo TV Tour alter egos battle it out in Gotham.
Look at the gamut these few songs alone run. We’ll never get anything like this again.
Lorde may curate a top-level, eclectic squad of artists for those Hunger Games soundtracks, but we won’t get anything as self-indulgent and throwaway as what Prince did. And no, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s mixtape soundtrack, full of songs people already like, doesn’t count.
But if superhero movie soundtracks ever feel the need to go weird again, follow Prince’s lead.
Always follow Prince.