Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Have You Ever Danced with Prince in the Pale Moonlight?

By: The Vagabond Apprentice
I’ve always thought of movie soundtracks by pop musicians to be merely an element of support to the visual medium of film. On the odd occasion I listen to a soundtrack separated from its original purpose, it tends to have a weaker sound; more like an album of unfinished demo tracks or B-sides. I consider it not a normal part of an artist's discography because it rarely matches the experience of a traditional finished release.

This brings me to the Spring 2015 Brooklyn WFMU Record Fair. As I was expertly going through the rows of LPs, like a good vagabond should, I spotted a huge, cropped, solid-gold Batman logo’ed record cover.  I knew immediately it was Prince’s Batman soundtrack to the 1989 Tim Burton smash-hit film.  Don’t you just love those 80’s golden, gaudy colors? (yuck).  For all you young people out there, this film stars Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, and Jack Nicholson (NOT Christian Bale!).  Staring at that record, I was immediately was transformed into my former fourteen year old geek self.

A few Bat-songs I remembered from the film were “Batdance,” “Partyman,” and “Trust.”  I recall thinking back then, that the soundtrack was just another piece of sell-able Bat-merch, along with a million other bat-things, action figures, keychains, mugs, underoos, etc., that Warner Bros. was hawking.   Warner Bros. studio, who produced the DC comic, the movie, and the Prince record, definitely wanted my hard earned paper-route money for the Bat-merch that Bat-summer.

Now, twenty-six years later, I realize how wrong I was.  While the 1989 Batman film has not aged well, the Batman Soundtrack has become a timeless Bat-sterpiece rivaling “Purple Rain.”  Prince went “POW,” “BAM,” and “BIF” on this one!  This album is loaded with those classic Prince deep beats, funky guitars, groovy bass lines, and synthesizer pulses.  For the most part, the songs really don’t have much to do with Batman, comic books, or the movie in general.  Doing some research, I found out that Prince was desperately in need of a hit album at the time, so Warner Bros. persuaded him to change a few lyrics, add a bunch of audio movie quotes clips, and slap on a “Batman” logo cover, so that the album related in some way to the movie.  You can tell though that Prince had fun being part of this Batman tidal wave.  He seems enthusiastic and uninhibited on the album and to this day, he still performs songs off this record at concerts.

Looking at the lyrics sheet, I noticed songs are pseudo-sung by Bruce Wayne, Joker, Vicki Vale, and Gemini.  Who is Gemini you ask?  Gemini is Prince’s alter ego for this record.  Huh?  And in all the marketing for this album, Prince wore a "Gemini" superhero costume that was split down the middle; it had a half Batman outfit and half Joker outfit, which also looked similar to Batman villain, Two-Face’s costume.  Is Prince trying to be a new Batman character?  Is he being conceptual and making a statement that no man can be all good or all evil?  Prince’s birth sign is Gemini (June 7th), does that have anything to do with it?  Your guess is as good as mine.

As with Prince records, the lyrical concepts throughout the LP are mostly about sex, women, love, and partying.  I mean, what does a “Lemon Crush” have to do with Batman?  Absolutely nothing, but it's an amazing, kick-ass song.  Another fascinating stand out is the slow, romantic duet “The Arms of Orion,” sung by Prince and the 80’s Grammy Award winner Sheena Easton.  Usually, Prince’s love songs sound like he’s on the prowl, lusting for a woman, like a tiger lusts for bloody, raw meat.  Not here.  In this song his tone is of true love and being content with his deep affection. It’s a top notch 80’s ballad.  Last but not least, I must talk about “Batdance.”  This bombastic, amazing track is a collage of music and audio movie quote clips that needs to be heard to be believed.  It's electrifying and manic.  Prince also does a guitar solo that rivals former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash on it.  (Don’t forget to check out the “Batdance” music video, Prince and his crew perform the movie in a seven minute interpretive dance.  It is bizarre and super funny.)  If you buy this record, I guarantee you will “Go, go, go with a smile!”

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