Prince Parties Like It’s 1966 With the Campy ‘Batdance': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
“Batdance” was the last track and the first single from Batman, Prince’s 11th studio album. The sprawling six-minute song spawned dozens of arguments when it debuted June 9, 1989. Was it an actual song, or just a collage of audio clips from the film and teases of other songs on the album? Was the album, a collection of songs inspired by, but for the most part not used in the movie, even a soundtrack? The one thing everyone agreed on was that the track and the album were big hits. “Batdance” became Prince’s fourth No. 1 smash, his first since Parade’s “Kiss”; the album spent six weeks at No. 1 in the U.S. en route to global sales of 11 million.
So many ideas were dumped into the “Batdance” album mix, and several official remixes, that it wouldn’t surprise anyone to credit some of the percussion to Prince’s actual kitchen sink. Musically, the song starts out as a thumping industrial dance track before becoming a guitar-fueled rock anthem, and finally a club banger. It’s almost three different song ideas stitched together. Prince’s vocals are limited to an assist here and there. Jack Nicholson’s Joker gets most of the spotlight, with Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger chiming in primarily as rhythmic effects. The song also includes snippets of Batman cuts “Electric Chair” and “The Future” plus Neil Hefti's theme to the 1966 Batman TV show like an acid trip version of the hit novelty medley “Stars on 45." The remixes feature snippets of “200 Balloons” and a Camille-sung “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic" as well as a pair of unreleased songs, “We Got the Power” and “House in Order.”
According to legend, Tim Burton asked Prince for a song or two to replace “Baby I’m a Star” and “1999” which were used in a rough cut of the film. Prince was so inspired by the film that he returned with a full album of new and re-purposed material. Burton rejected “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic” (which would later headline Prince’s 23rd album) and “200 Balloons” (which would become the b-side to “Batdance”). In their place, Prince recorded “Partyman” and “Trust." “Vicki Waiting” was a quick makeover of “Anna Waiting”, recorded earlier about then-girlfriend Anna Garcia (no relation to Prince’s future wife, Mayte Garcia). Prince’s final recording for the album, the upbeat “Batdance”, was rushed together to replace “Dance With the Devil," a haunting original song built around one of the Joker’s ominous lines in the movie. “Devil” remains officially unreleased but it is one of the more widely available bootlegs.
The video reunited Prince with Purple Rain director Albert Magnoli, who was doubling as Prince’s manager at the time. The clip was an ambitious departure for Prince, whose clips up until then were primarily doctored band performances. In the video, Prince (sporting his Graffiti Bridge hairdo), rocks some New Order-worthy beats in the studio as he monitors the attack of choreographed, dancing, androgynous Batpeople, Caesar Romero-era Jokers and Vicki Vale clones. The video hearkens back to the campy, Adam West era of Batman – complete with the TV show’s groovy dance sequences. But some scary gun sequences turn the affair surprisingly dark for a Prince video.
A few years before Prince died, Steven Hyden of the A.V. Club revisited the song and the album. “’Batdance’ is a novelty track that rode to the top of the charts on the strength of Batman’s popularity, and it essentially helped Prince’s album do the same," he wrote. "‘Batdance,’ in turn, was a commercial for Batman dressed up as a Prince comeback single. Nevertheless, ‘Batdance’ is better than it’s remembered as being. The quotes from the film are integrated with intelligence and wit, Prince plays some excellent rock guitar, and the different sections of the song gel surprisingly well."
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