Let’s Get Nuts: A Contemporary Review Of Prince’s ‘Batman’ Soundtrack Album
In the summer of 1989, primed by “Kiss” and “Alphabet St.” and “Sign ‘O’ the Times” to expect brilliance from the first taste of new Prince music, I raced out to buy “Batdance,” the first single to be released from his soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Batman. It seemed like a great idea at the time.
I remember my feeling of dazed disappointment the first time I heard “Batdance” lurch to an end. “Batdance” isn’t even a song, as such, but a cluster of unrelated chunks of underdone rhythm tracks, ineptly pasted together with chopped-up samples of film dialogue, a couple of lines flown in from other songs, Prince singing the hook from Neal Hefti’s ’60s Batman theme, and (in its album mix) a very aggressive guitar solo that has almost nothing to do with what’s going on around it. Prince and Batman together? How could that not be awesome? What just went wrong here?
Batman was the most anticipated movie of 1989, and Prince had spent the decade making a string of albums that were drop-dead classic at best (Purple Rain, Sign ‘O’ The Times) and fascinating overreaches at worst (Lovesexy, Around the World in a Day). He also really wanted to establish himself as a film composer — he’d been working on the Purple Rain sequel Graffiti Bridge for years. So when Burton asked Prince for two songs to go where he’d used “1999” and “Baby I’m a Star” in the rough cut of Batman, Prince offered to record the entire soundtrack, and whipped up a bunch of material almost entirely by himself in his studio Paisley Park.
Both “Batdance” and the album went straight to the top of the charts — and then vanished from public consciousness once everyone realized what an underfed, heartless, awkward shrug of a record Prince had made. You never hear its singles on the radio any more; they were omitted from Prince’s greatest hits sets because of licensing issues, but weren’t missed. Absent the names of a huge star and a huge movie emblazoned across the front of Batman-the-album, it’s hard to imagine many people having endured it multiple times.
The problem may have been that Prince only really thrives in his own little pocket universe — coming up with musical accompaniment for somebody else’s vision is not his strong point. Burton ended up barely using Prince’s songs in the movie (parts of “Partyman” and “Trust” are audible, and that’s about it), and Batman-the-album is so far removed from the tone of Batman-the-movie that io9’s Charlie Jane Anders came up with a hilarious plot summary of the totally different film that its soundtrack suggests.
Some of the songs that ended up on Batman weren’t written for the movie at all, and the intrusive snippets of film dialogue haphazardly dropped all over the album can’t hide how out-of-place a lot of its material is. “Electric Chair,” “Scandalous” and “Vicki Waiting” all predated Prince’s involvement with the movie; the last of those had been written as “Anna Waiting,” an 18th-birthday present for his girlfriend-of-sorts Anna Fantastic (who was also supposedly the subject of “Lemon Crush”). The album’s only real keeper is “Partyman,” whose bizarre video is worth watching or a sense of Prince’s take on what he apparently thought a Batman movie could be.
Still, there’s a handful of decent Prince material that was recorded for Batman, or released on its singles. “Dance with the Devil,” a long, unnerving song about the Joker, was cut from the album at the last minute (and has only ever appeared on bootlegs). “200 Balloons,” the source of the fast beat in “Batdance,” surfaced as a B-side; so did the deliciously funny 1986 outtake “Feel U Up” and a terrific, pervy slow jam called “I Love U In Me.”
The most ambitious piece of music that came out of Prince’s involvement with Burton’s movie is “The Scandalous Sex Suite,” the 12-inch version of “Scandalous.” It’s a late-1989 re-recording that runs almost 20 minutes, and begins with an extended, flirtatious conversation between Prince and Kim Basinger, who’d played Vicki Vale in Batman. (The rumor that circulated at the time about the sex noises in the “suite’s” final few minutes was that they involved Prince, Basinger, and a jar of honey that somehow ended up having to be cleaned off the mixing board at Paisley Park.) “The Scandalous Sex Suite” makes no pretense of belonging to Burton’s Batman; it’s Prince being his grand, freaky, sui generis self. That’s the only approach that’s ever worked for him.