Retrospective Review: BATMAN Soundtrack by Prince

Batman and Prince go together shockingly well. The Batman character and Prince’s music and public persona are complete opposites yet somehow Prince was able to make an entire hit album to go along with the 1989 film. Batman (1989) is a true testament to how talented Prince was.
It’s been nearly thirty years since the Batman film and album were released. In the thirty years since dozens of superhero films have been released. Their success at the box office and their success with critics has overshadowed Batman to point where it has become an afterthought in most people’s minds. The Dark Knight trilogy has replaced the Batman films of the late eighties and nineties as the best interpretation of the character. That’s because at the end of the day, the 1989 Batman movie was more of a cultural spectacle than a truly great movie. 1989 was the year of Batmania as the Batman movie made over $400 million at the box office and made over $750 million in merchandise sales. Prince played a major part in tying the world of Batman into the world of pop music. Prince hadn’t had a number one album in several years and while his music was still critically acclaimed, he wasn’t as commercially viable as he was since Purple Rain was released. The Batman album temporarily restored his commercial prominence.
The Batman soundtrack has held up under scrutiny. Prince was only supposed to contribute a couple songs for the film, but he decided to record an entire album of new material. Unlike the Batman film which had a dark, violent, atmosphere, Prince’s soundtrack embraced the colorful and goofy nature of comic books. You can tell from the music videos that Prince’s tongue is planted firmly in his check. Prince’s funky rock and dance songs contrasts greatly with the dreary and gothic world that director Tim Burton constructed. Listening to this album makes one realize that Prince understood Batman better than many of the people that have been in control of the character’s creative direction over the years.
Prince’s persona became darker during the Batman period while still maintaining his flamboyant personality.
What’s also great about this album is how Prince used the lyrics of the songs to describe the personalities of the various characters in the Batman film, but still let listeners that weren’t familiar with the film to enjoy the music. ‘The Future’ and ‘Scandalous’ describe Batman, ‘Partyman’ and ‘Trust’ describe the fun-loving Joker, ‘Vicki Waiting’ is a love song told from the perspective of Bruce Wayne, ‘Lemon Crush’ is told from Vicki Vale’s viewpoint, ‘The Arms of Orion’ which is a duet between Prince and Sheena Easton is from the perspectives of both Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale, and ‘Batdance’ is a song that describes all of the characters that were previously listed.
Prince as he appears in the ‘Batdance’ music video.
Batman was Prince’s final album of the 1980s and was another commercial and critical success for him. The album topped the Billboard 200 chart for six straight weeks and would sell two million copies in the United States and over eleven million copies worldwide. ‘Partyman’ and ‘The Arms of Orion’ would reach the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. ‘Batdance’ would become Prince’s fourth number one single on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite ‘Batdance’s’ success, it is now considered a novelty song. The commercial success of this album can also be attributed to the success of the Batman film as Prince’s commercial viability was fading by 1989.
Despite the Batman album’s success, many of the songs faded into obscurity because Prince sold the publishing rights to the album which barred him from releasing them on a greatest hits album. This was eventually corrected when Prince resigned with Warner Bros. and the song ‘Batdance’ was featured on the posthumous greatest hits album entitled 4Ever. Another reason, that the Batman album faded into obscurity is because it was seen by fans as a shameless corporate tie-in. The only songs people may be familiar with are ‘Partyman’ and ‘Trust’ which were both featured prominently in the film, but those songs come as funny background noise than actually playing a part in the plot of the film. Prince still occasionally
performed some of the songs from the Batman album in concert despite the wider public not being familiar with the songs.
Batman is a weird yet great album for a weird yet great moment in popular culture. Is it Prince’s best work? No, but it still fun listening to and better than it has any right to be. It also shows Prince in a period of transition as he starts to experiment with new musical styles. This album is worth listening to if you’re a fan of artists trying new things and being very successful in the process.