The news this past few days has been dominated -Brexit hysteria and Royal birthday here notwithstanding- by the sudden death of Prince. Like Bowie’s death a scant few months ago it has been a terrible shock to the music world and his fans, and whatever your own views on Prince and his music, it has to be agreed that his impact on pop culture is immeasurable. I’ve been listening to Prince’s songs since 1999 in 1982, and have bought pretty much all his albums since then, and the last few days have been pretty brutal to be honest.
So I thought I would just mark his passing by remembering the summer of 1989 and Batdance. Tim Burton’s Batman was a huge media event that summer- what the studio guys call a “movie event”. Thinking back on it, I wonder if it was the last really big summer blockbuster of the pre-internet era. You used to get news/previews in magazines but that was about it. I remember seeing stealthily-taken, off-set pictures of the new Batmobile in newspapers during the filming (the film was shot over here in England).That was no Batmobile anybody had ever seen before. I remember the news that that thin guy from Beetlejuice was gonna play the Caped Crusader and how everyone thought how nuts that was. The news that Prince was writing the soundtrack (not entirely the truth, as it turned out) was worrying even for a Prince fan. There was talk of Prince onset and actually acting in the film. We were all wondering just what the hell kind of film Tim Burton was making.
Batman was released in America in June amidst a huge marketing push by Warner. That clever Bat-logo (as reinterpreted by the film’s production designer Anton Furst, I believe) seemed to be everywhere; posters, tee-shirts, badges. The merchandising for the film was inescapable. It was the summer of Batman. I remember when it became a Stateside sensation and was featured on evening news broadcasts over here in the UK. Usually they’d show clips of Batman swooping down on criminals in the chemical factory. Reviews seemed favourable, the box-office triumphant. This was in the days of delayed releases internationally, and we didn’t get the film released over here until mid-August. We did, however, get teased by Prince’s Batman album.
I don’t know how true it is that Tim Burton didn’t want Prince involved in Batman- I guess Burton wanted Danny Elfman’s score to be the musical identity of the film, but Warner had Prince signed to their music division and they were the money men after all. As it turned out, the amount of Prince music actually in the film was fairly minimal, maybe two or three songs in all. It certainly wasn’t a situation anything like Queen’s music so central in the Flash Gordon film. But you cannot deny how clever it was from a marketing perspective. In those pre-internet days, the media attention on that album (Prince still in his peak popularity at the time) and all the airplay on MTV and radio of the single Batdance was just pure gold from a marketing perspective. I recall the album got rather savaged by critics at the time. I’ve always had a fondness for it, Prince channeling the film’s darkness into his funky songs.
And yep, Batdance seemed everywhere. It got to number one in the US, number two in the UK. It shouldn’t really work, mixing the pop-culture sensibilities of the 1960s Neal Hefti tv show music with the ‘current’ Prince-funk . So many snippets of songs from the album, and unreleased stuff like Prince’s song Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic (released many years later) were thrown in amidst dialogue snippets from the film. Its really similar to the approach that Queen took with their Flash single years before. That video, with Prince in purple guise, part Joker, part Batman. How weird was that video? That song seemed to be playing on the radio all the time, really cementing that summer as the summer of Batman. It wasn’t just a movie. It was something akin to a cultural behemoth; nearest thing I can compare it to is Star Wars and Jaws. For all the blockbusters we get these days, they don’t feel as ‘big’- they are here and gone so quickly now (ironically thinking of Batman vs Superman in particular). I think Prince’s album and its subsequent singles like Batdance was a big part of that summer belonging to the Caped Crusader.
Batdance actually was built from 200 Balloons, a song Prince had written for the scene of Joker’s parade where he threw money at the crowds while intending to gas them with his balloons. The lyrics directly referenced the scene but Tim Burton rejected it. It was replaced by Trust, a song whose only link was the Joker asking “who do you trust?” at the end of the song. 200 Balloons only turned up on the Batdance single where its closeness to the Batdance song made it seem like a remix track. Regards those remixes, I remember the William Orbit remix was rather extraordinary at the time.