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4 Things I Didn’t Know About Prince’s Work on the 1989 Batman Soundtrack

Posted on the 22 April 2016 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Even if you’ve never purchased a Prince album or downloaded a single one of his songs on iTunes, if you’re a Batman fan you’ve experienced his music many times before. It’s blaring out of a boom box during the Joker’s museum heist in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, and it’s greeting the citizens of Gotham during the Joker’s parade, acting like a siren song asking the people to trust the Joker as he secretly prepares to poison them. Plus, there are other, more subtle Prince moments in the movie which you might have completely missed, like the music which plays at the beginning when the family walks down the alley or at the beginning and end of the Wayne manor party. But how exactly did Prince become involved with Batman?

It was a collaboration born both out of old-fashioned corporate synergy AND genuine passion. Prince was signed to Warner Bros., a partnership which had proved especially fruitful in 1984 when the studio’s film and music labels were respectively responsible for the Purple Rain movie and soundtrack. Through that project, Prince became the first recording artist to have the #1 album, single and movie in the U.S. at the same time. However, his next multi-media event, 1986’s film Under the Cherry Moon and its’ related soundtrack Parade, flopped. After his subsequent albums, 1987’s Sign o’ the Times and 1988’s Lovesexy, were, at best, modest sellers, WB wanted a bigger hit, and asking Prince to record a couple of songs for the Batman soundtrack seemed like a quick solution.

Of course, Prince recorded an entire album of Batman songs, more than they could possibly use. He even incorporated dialog from the movie into the music. Turns out, Prince was a huge Batman fan, and a lot of the people making Batman, especially Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson, were huge Prince fans. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone actually wanted Prince’s music in the movie.

1. Tim Burton Didn’t Want It

As Tom Shone argued in Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer, the story of the making of Batman is largely of how the studio and two renegade producers pushed Tim Burton around and forced him into making the movie they wanted. That might seem like an inherently false argument considering how of much of the visual style of the film is so clearly indebted to Burton’s signature aesthetics, but from several key casting decisions to, indeed, the composition of the entire script the producers so thoroughly forced their will onto Burton that he’s repeatedly referred to his Batman experience as “a real nightmare.”

So why should the soundtrack be any different? Burton had successfully lobbied for Danny Elfman to compose the film’s eventually iconic orchestral score, but Prince? They had to twist Burton’s arm to get him to agree to that. If he’d had his own way, these scenes would have at least sounded very different:

That’s not to say Burton simply rolled over. For example, for the parade scene Prince originally submitted a song called “200 Balloons,” which, as you can guess by the title, was quite literally about what was happening in the scene. Burton rejected it in favor of “Trust.”

However, he probably didn’t want any of it. He later opened up to Rolling Stone:

This is what happened. You learn something new every day. Now, here is this guy, Prince, who was one of my favorites. I had just gone to see two of his concerts in London, and I felt they were like the best concerts I’d ever seen. Okay. So. They’re saying to me, these record guys, it needs this and that, and they give you this whole thing about it’s an expensive movie so you need it. And what happens is, you get engaged in this world, and then there’s no way out. There’s too much money. There’s this guy you respect and is good and has got this thing going. It got to a point where there was no turning back. And I won’t want to get into that situation again.

When asked if he feared Prince’s music somehow instantly dated the movie, Burton appeared to agree, adding:

[The music] completely lost me. And it tainted something that I don’t want to taint.

To be fair, at this point superhero movies all look so thoroughly different from Tim Burton’s Batman that the music is now but one of many things which date the material.

2. They Talked About Making It a Collaboration with Michael Jackson

064-michael-jackson-theredlistCan you imagine the two kings of 80s pop who both also flirted with movie stardom making an album together? And that album is a soundtrack to a Batman movie?

It almost happened. During a casual 2001 Rolling Stone interview, Prince looked back on Batman and revealed, “Did you know that the album was supposed to be a duet between Michael Jackson and me? He as Batman, me as the Joker?” In practice, that would have meant Prince playing the funkier songs and Jackson performing the ballads. To the disappointment of pop culture enthusiasts everywhere, this obviously never came together. Record label issues might have had something to do with that, considering Prince was a WB artist and Jackson was signed to Epic. Plus, Jackson, who was fresh off of Bad around that time, probably didn’t need it as much as Prince.

3. The First Song Prince Taught Himself Was Batman-Related

Batman Adam WestHow far back did Prince’s love for Batman go? When Oprah interviewed him she asked what the first song he taught himself to play on piano was. He happily obliged by playing the theme song to the Adam West Batman TV series for her:

Keep in mind , Prince was roughly 8-year-sold when Batman premiered in 1966 and 10 when it aired its finale. That put him in the perfect age bracket for Batman, with its candy-colored sets, “Pow!” boxes and energetic music.

4. Prince’s Batman Album Was Released Seven Weeks Earlier than Danny Elfman’s

Prince was always an insanely prolific artist, which is why it’s not a surprise that he cranked out an entire album of Batman songs when they just asked for a couple. On top of that, it only took him six weeks to complete his work, although that’s partially because three of the nine songs were based on prior compositions. He turned in his proposed Batman songs on April 22, 1989 early enough for WB to release them as an album June 20, three days before the film’s opening.

“Partyman” was the lead single, with Prince playing is own version of The Joker in the music video:

By the time Prince’s Batman album came out, it had already sold 800,000 pre-orders. However, while all of those fans were excitedly placing their pre-orders Danny Elfman was hurriedly recording the film’s orchestral score with the London Symphony Orchestra. He only had two weeks to compete recording because Burton had taken so long to finish his final cut of the film. As such, Elfman’s music was not turned in to WB until June 6th, too late for them to release it as a soundtrack simultaneously with the movie.

So when Batman came out the only music soundtrack you could find was the one with the Prince songs, four of which weren’t even in the movie. A soundtrack featuring Elfman’s music was not released for another seven weeks, at which point Prince’s Batman album had spent six weeks at the #1 position on the Billboard 200 chart.

Source: Billion Dollar Batman

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