After 75 years, and at least four disappointing major motion pictures, Batman has finally been satisfyingly translated into a new medium that has long eluded writers, directors and performers: the pop song. Our list of Songs About or Inspired by the Darkest of Knights include everything from vintage instrumentals to tracks inspired by a little plastic brick version of Batman.
'Untitled Self Portrait' (2014)Will Arnett and Mark Mothersbaugh
Batman plays a supporting role in 2014's 'The Lego Movie.' The flick's hilarious take on the grim vigilante spins the Dark Knight detective as an inept, egotistical jerk-ass who neglected Batarang practice long enough to write his own theme song. While the rest of that plastic world blissfully go about their daily lives singing “Everything is awesome,” Batman growls, "Darkness / No parents / Continued darkness / More darkness" over a pulverizing techno track. In our reality, the song was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh (the Devo frontman-turned-composer), written by co-writers and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and then performed by Will Arnett, whose raspy remarks represent the best Bat-voice since TV's Adam West. It's also the most thematically appropriate Bat-song since the 1960s television show. Since Tim Burton's brought 'Batman' to the big screen in 1989, directors, synergizers and musicians of various stripes have been trying to tie Batman into rock music, with wildly varying results and assorted degrees of Bat content.
Bat Content, on a scale of 1 to 10: 10. Nailed it — first try! Granted, as the Batarang scene demonstrates, Mr. Wayne is at his best when he doesn't have another outlet. That said, the spoken-word delivery is a natural extension of his inner monologue.
'Batman Theme' (1966)Nelson Riddle
Big-band leader Nelson Riddle and his crew performed Neil Hefti's classic theme song, which plays like a sped-up riff on the jazzy 'Peter Gunn Theme.' The simple, repetitive tune made an immediate, unforgettable impression. Over time, it has proved as adaptable as the Batman himself, surviving translations by surf-guitar kahuna Link Wray, metal heroes Voivod and mod squad the Jam.
Bat Content, on a scale of 1 to 10: 9. The indelible lyrics — ok, lyric — doesn’t delve deep into the rich mythos of the Gotham City, but what little there is is 100 percent Batman.
'Face to Face' (1992)Siouxsie and the Banshees With Danny Elfman
As an alumnus of Oingo Boingo, 'Batman'/'Batman Returns' composer Danny Elfman had post-punk cred, so he was able to seamlessly collaborate with goth queen Sioxsie Sioux on this slinky slow-dance number. Establishing a pattern for future Batclips, the video juxtaposes movie clips and original footage of the artist in an environment not-unlike the movie it promoted. In this case, the Sioux rolls around in a tight-fitting leather suit like the getup worn by Michelle Pfeiffer’s catwoman.
Bat Content: Since the tune plays briefly in the movie, the lyrics could be interpreted as plot-specific, so it gets a tentative 6.
Warner Bros.’ 1989 smash 'Batman' pulled out all the stops to create a crossover juggernaut. Prince's corporate overseer gave him the green light to record a concept album to tie in with the movie. Holed up in his studio like Bruce Wayne in the Batcave, the funky one hauled out some existing tunes, wrote new songs and linked each track to a character from the movie. Peppered with dialogue samples, the album spans sultry slow jams to funk workouts. In the popular video for the single "Batdance," Prince mashed-up Batman and the Joker into a Two Face-style character called Gemini, who blew himself up at the end of the clip. Like most soundtracks, the bulk of the songs don't appear in movie, but the "from and inspired by" cuts survived the explosion and went platinum.
Bat Content: 8. It’s a cute audio souvenir from director Tim Burton's visually impressive art-action hybrid.
Note: Prince has scrubbed all possible audio recordings from the internet, but look at the guy dance!
'Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me' (1995)U2
Like the covetous Prince before them, U2 tried to write themselves into Gotham City. Clips from the movie alternate with bargain-basement cartoon footage of U2 playing a rooftop concert, fronted by Bono alter ego Mephisto, who’s waging a campaign against the Bat. But Mephisto is no Harley Quinn, and the 'toon did not cross over into comics -- though some of the imagery, like walls of video screens, pops up again in 2008's 'The Dark Knight.' (The movie also used Seal's evocative 'Kiss From a Rose' in the credits, trying to play off its flower reference as a callback to Tim Burton's first Batflick. (E for effort, guys.)
Bat Content: 0. The song rolls over the credits, and references to bright lights, a big car and sensual violence aren't enough to qualify it as a real tie-in.
'The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning' (1997)Smashing Pumpkins
The song somehow won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock performance, but the lackluster riff is as forgettable as everything else Smashing Pumpkin head Billy Corgan recorded after the band's classic lineup began dropping like so many of the Joker’s goons. Corgan claimed the song was inspired by the darker 1940s film-serial incarnation of Batman. But in the video, the band plays prop guitars that look like the came from Dr. Freeze’s lab, and the song is a perfect fit for the least memorable Batmovie.
Bat Content: We’ll take Corgan’s word for it and give it a token 5, because meh.
'Trapped Under Ice' (2009)Austrian Death Machine
Metal band Austrian Death Machine performs Arnold Schwarzenneger-themed songs. Fronted by a Schwarzenegger impersonator — or possibly clone — known as Ahhnold, the California outfit writes original songs based on the Governator's choice quotes from fan-favorite flicks. And when the shtick started wearing thin, they bulked up their catalog with thematically approriate cover songs to match Arnold's action movies like the Misfits' 'I Turned Into a Martian' and this nod to the big man's role as 'Batman and Robin''s second-least-terrible rendition of an otherwise awesome villain. The whole gag was a lot more enjoyable before mainman Tim Lambesis was arrested for hiring a hitman to kill his wife.
Bat Content: 8. As the intro skit shows, unlike Ah-nuld himself, this band of admirers knew how to play the dialogue for laughs.
'New Dawn Fades' (2011)Christopher Drake
Composer Christopher Drake is behind the scores of many excellent, under-acknowledge straight-to-video cartoon Batmovies including 'Year One,' which channels the decaying-city malaise of the comic book's seminal source material. So this uncredited instrumental version of the Joy Division staple is a perfect choice to send the movie out. Indebted to Moby’s 1995 cover, Drake's take uses echoing electronic drums and rumbling guitars to forecast rays of hope in an ominous future.
Bat Content: The song wasn't inspired by Batman, and it's not about him in any way, shape or form . . . but the surprising choice channels the mood appropriately, so 8.
'Fat Man on Batman Theme' (2012)Kevin Smith and David Manheimer
When director-podcaster-Batfanatic Kevin Smith needed a theme for his semi-weekly Batman talk show, he sent out a call for a musician to score a piece in the tradition of Jerry Reed's country romp 'The Bird.' Rock veteran and studio ace David Manheimer whipped up a catchy jingle for Smith to riff about his favorite superhero, "The Dark Knight who punches dirty turkeys in the face."
Bat Content: The song is more about Smith than Batman, but a couple quotable lines make it Batty enough to earn it a respectable 7.
‘Still With Me’ (2011)Tritional
This obscure song from Texas duo Tritional and guest singer Cristina Soto made a splash in late 2013 as the haunting soundtrack to the trailer for the videogame 'Batman: Arkham Origins.' In a mere 30 seconds, the photo-realistic computer-animated clip manages to tell Batman's entire origin story, then drops you directly into his latest and greatest interactive adventure. After a dozen misfires from well-meaning rock bands, this spare tune piano-driven melody finally captures the drama and sorrow present in so many Batman images, stories, cartoons and comics -- but painfully few Batmovies.
Bat Content: 9. As written and performed, it has nothing to do with Batman, but once you've experienced it as part of the Arkham trailer, you'll never be able to hear about it again without thinking of our hero's epic, lifelong mission.