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.

Prince appeared set to leave the career-making decade of the '80s on a losing streak. But then Tim Burton came calling.

The Batman soundtrack had all the makings of a money-grabbing tie in, since Warner Bros. served as both the studio for Burton's film and as Prince's label. But a funny thing happened on the way to that pile of cash. Prince came up with a still-intriguing approach to the album – having the songs represent additional thoughts and feelings of the movie's main characters – even as he used the project to examine his career crossroads.

"The Future," a slice of angular, surprisingly dark funk that serves as the album-opening cut, leverages both concepts beautifully. He spends the song, as with much of the soundtrack, examining good vs. evil – in an echo not just of Burton's script, but also of his own moral struggles dating back to the shelved Black Album. The song begins with a telling sample, as Michael Keaton's Batman says, "I'm not gonna kill you. ... I want you tell your friends about me."

Similarly, this served as Prince's reintroduction to the wider world, after Under the Cherry Moon flopped at the box office and Lovesexy failed to live up to commercial or critical expectations. Batman became Prince's first No. 1 since Around the World in a Day back in 1985. That undoubtedly had more to do with interest in the film itself, rather than the complex and intriguing music inside – most of which never made it into any cinemaplex. (“The Future” can only be heard incidentally in the movie, from a passing car radio.)

Anyone who bothered to dig more deeply into the Batman soundtrack via "The Future" found Prince – in the guise of Bruce Wayne – wrestling with looming issues both large and small, both personal and societal. In this one song, he took on community ills, poisoned politics and even the film industry itself (“Systematic overthrow of the underclass /  "Hollywood conjures images of the past”). And he was just getting started, on an album that presents as a kind of remix of Batman – long before that king of thing was part of the zeitgeist.

He's questioning fame, too – questioning everything that brought him to this place. Goosed along by a sample of Clare Fischer strings from the likewise-shelved Crystal Ball project and voices from the Sounds of Blackness choir, Prince surveys a bleak landscape before surmising that the principal thing it – and, yeah, he – requires is "spirituality that will last." It's a message both to the film's characters, and to himself. This last burst of commercial fare would precede a decade defined by deep questions of identity and purpose. He begins that journey right here.

Unfortunately, by the time "The Future" arrived as the fifth and final single from Batman, some 11 months after the album was released, any buzz surrounding the soundtrack had dissipated. Again, Prince did something unusual: For the first time, he added an outside voice in remixer William Orbit, who took a house-inspired approach for a Europe-only 45 release. Nevertheless, "The Future" failed to chart in the U.K., though it became a Top 40 hit in Germany and the Netherlands.

Prince Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness

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