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

Even if you’ve never purchased a Prince album or downloaded a single one of his songs on iTunes, you’ve experienced his music every time you watched Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. It’s blaring out of the Joker’s boom box when he defaces all of those paintings in the museum. It’s coming from all of those balloons during the big parade, tricking the citizens of Gotham into trusting the Joker even though he means to poison all of them. It’s also subtly playing in the background throughout the Wayne manor party as well as during the opening scene when the family walks down the dangerous alley. Cool, but how exactly did Prince become involved with Batman in the first place?

Good, old-fashioned corporate synergy. Duh.

Here’s how it went down: Prince was signed to Warner Bros., who were more than happy to release both his Purple Rain movie and its accompanying soundtrack in 1984. 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. Why not have him record a couple of songs for the Batman soundtrack?

According to one of the film’s producers, Mark Canton, “I brought Prince over to London and you could just tell his kind of genius was in touch with the movie. By the time we had dinner that night, he had three songs in his head. Three weeks later, he had nine songs.”

See, Prince never did anything half-assed. They asked for a couple of songs; he gave them an entire album. It helped that Prince was huge Batman fan. The feeling was mutual. Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson, in particular, 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.

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 was fresh off of Bad around that time. He probably didn’t need Batman as much as Prince.

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

Batman Adam WestWhen Oprah interviewed Prince she asked, “What was the first song you taught yourself to play on the piano?” Without hesitation, he pounded out the familiar chords of the old Batman TV show theme song:

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

Altogether, it only took Prince six weeks to complete his work on the Batman soundtrack. Yeah, he was just that fast. Also, though, three of the nine songs were based on prior compositions. Either way, he turned in his proposed Batman songs on April 22, 1989, which was early enough for WB to package them together as an album, release singles and music videos, take pre-order sales (800,000 of them, to be exact) and finally put it out on June 20th, three days before the film’s opening.

Here’s the video for the lead single, “Batdance”:

Danny Elfman wasn’t so lucky. While fans were happily pre-ordering Prince’s Batman album 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, far too late for them to release it as a soundtrack simultaneously with the movie.

What that means is when Batman finally hit the theaters the only soundtrack to speak of was the one with Prince’s songs, half 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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About Kelly Konda (1817 Articles)
Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

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

  1. Really great write up! I enjoyed this loads, thanks! Have you shared this on any movie websites at all?

  2. Sorry, Partyman was not the lead single, as it was released 2 months after the album came out. The lead single was Batdance.

    • You’re right. In fact, Prince was apparently quite adamant that Batdance be the lead single. I’ve updated the article. Thanks for the correction.

  3. Vicki Vale

  4. Diane Holler // June 23, 2016 at 10:18 PM // Reply

    I had the video of Prince playing the Joker… the long version but “poof” it disappeared 😦 I absolutely love Prince’s video of Partyman!! Is it available anywhere? I’m so glad I watched it like 100 times before it was deleted

  5. Diane Holler // June 24, 2016 at 8:19 AM // Reply

    Thank you ;):):)

  6. The best!

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