Along with his secret identity and clever detective skills, Batman hides a checkered musical legacy under his famed cape and cowl. The musical scores and Batman-inspired songs are as varied as the cinematic chapters of the character's long narrative.
So as the DVD/Blu-ray of Christopher Nolan's third and final Batfilm, The Dark Knight Rises, hits stores in time for Christmas, we thought it a fine time to rediscover the music and musicians — from composers to goth bands, from pop stars to Japanese electronic artists — that have soundtracked Batman's caped crusading over the years.
Batman (television series, 1966-1968)
Batman, or "the Bat-Man" as he was originally named, was never intended to be the campy, over-the-top hero of the 1960s TV show. Rather, Gotham City's hero was meant as a mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and Zorro with a dark past and a noir bent.
Nevertheless, when mainstream culture first met Batman on their televisions decades after his creation, this was the first impression:
The song, ubiquitous to students of pop culture, was written and arranged by jazzman Neal Hefti. He was nominated for three Grammy Awards for his theme song, winning one.
In 1966, Hefti released Hefti in Gotham, an album which featured music he'd written for the show, including such songs as "Robin's Egg Blues," "My Fine Feathered Freaks" and "The Batusi."
In the liner notes of the album, Hefti explains how he, a "composer-for-hire," felt when given the task of writing the theme to the anticipated new show: "My mouth went dry and my skin became chill ... I knew this would be hard, very hard, to keep to myself. I worked around the clock until my job was done. I planned carefully to take my batuscript to the studio ... and I was congratulated on keeping the great secret. Batman Theme was now a reality."
Batman (film, 1989)
When Tim Burton's 1989 cinematic reboot Batman rose from the shadows, he was accompanied by two soundtracks. One, the evocative score by composer Danny Elfman, a dark, epic work that complemented the dark, epic world that the director created for our troubled hero.
On the other hand we have Prince. Prince! How did the purple-clad pop star come to the dark alley of Burton's Gotham? It surely didn't add up on paper. Prince was coming off a pair of albums that slipped commercially, and his romantically charged, hip-thrusting, yelping pop would not seem an artistic fit for a film about crime fighting. Well, as Elfman revealed in a recent MTV interview, it was studio pressure that brought Prince to the film, and original plans had the pop star actually co-writing the on-screen score in tandem with Elfman.
Of course, that didn't happen, but a companion album did. And Prince's surprisingly good Batman-themed album featured dance-heavy tracks like "Partyman" and "Batdance" (which featured an homage to Hefti's 1966 theme), and mixed in trademark Prince ballads like "Scandalous" and "The Arms of Orion," a duet with Sheena Easton.
The soundtrack re-energized Prince's career, topping the Billboard charts in the U.S. and U.K. And the score earned a Grammy Award for Elfman.
Batman Returns (film, 1992)
With Burton back in the director's chair for the second Batman film, Elfman returned as well to update his score.
While Prince did not return for another Bat-venture, Elfman enlisted another artist to write a song for the film: Siouxsie and the Banshees. The goth act recorded "Face to Face," which was a subtle examination of the relationship between Bruce Wayne/Batman (Michael Keaton) and Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Michelle Pfieffer). Well, subtle except for the purring.
Elfman's score was originally released as a 21-track album, which concluded with "Face to Face." Later, a complete double-album version of the score was released, which also included Rick James's "Superfreak."
Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
While Batman Returns would be Elfman's last film as a composer, he did agree, at first reluctantly, to score Batman: The Animated Series.
After doing the score, which gave a serious nod to his work on the Burton films, Elfman handed over the score to his frequent collaborator, Shirley Walker.
Walker set about scoring the individual episodes along with several other composers including Lolita Ritmanis, and Michael McCuistion.
Here's an extended version of the theme, composed by Walker:
A 2-CD set of the music of the series was released in 1995, and limited to a pressing of 3000 copies.
The show also gave fans a chance to see the hero in the spotlight. Here, Batman as silky-throated crooner:
Batman Forever (1995)
Batman returned again in 1995, but Burton and Elfman would not have anything to do with this one, which put Val Kilmer behind the mask. Instead, Joel Schumacher took over the franchise, and enlisted composer Elliot Goldenthal.
As with 1989's Batman, this film had two separate albums – one contained Goldenthal's Grammy-winning score, which featured the film's lead single, U2's Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me:
The other album released was a soundtrack of new recordings by a motley mix of acts including Brandy, the Flaming Lips, PJ Harvey, Seal, Nick Cave, Michael Hutchence, Sunny Day Real Estate, Method Man and others.
Seal's song "Kiss From a Rose" won a trio of Grammys, including song of the year.
Batman & Robin (1997)
Goldenthal returned to the franchise one more time, in Schumacher's critically panned, Clooney-fied Batman film.
The only critical bright spot for the film may have been the commissioned song "The End is the Beginning is the End" by the Smashing Pumpkins, which won a Grammy Award for best hard rock performance.
Goldenthal's score, which mixed in more exotic music and jazz horns to help support the Poison Ivy character, was never released commercially, however another "pop" compilation was. The "music inspired by" soundtrack opens with the Smashing Pumpkins song, and closes with the band's reprise, "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning." In between are songs by late-'90s acts including Soul Coughing, R. Kelly, R.E.M., Jewel and more.
However, like the rest of Batman & Robin, the music did not reach the commercial or critical success of the efforts that proceeded.
Batman Begins (2005)
With Batman Begins, the caped crusader was rebooted once again, this time by filmmaker Christopher Nolan. The job of scoring for the reimagined Batman fell to a pair of composers: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.
The unusual dual-composer pairing was designed to mirror the two sides of Bruce Wayne – billionaire playboy by day, crime fighter by night.
The composer's final score – a mix of classical and electronic – was released as a 12-song album. Each of the song titles was named after a genus of bats.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Zimmer and Howard combined forces once again on Nolan's second Batman picture. The score, which once again combined electronic and classical music, was awarded both a Grammy and a BRIT Award.
For the film, the duo enlisted Japanese electro duo Boom Boom Satellites to record a pair of songs that were used during the film.
Here's the duo's "Scattering Monkey," which was used in the nightclub scene:
The soundtrack was released in two editions. The special edition featured a second disc and contains remixes of the score by artists such as the Chemical Brothers and Paul van Dyk.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The Dark Knight Rises is the first of the three Nolan films that Zimmer has created without the help of James Newton Howard.
Zimmer's solo score, which you can listen to here, is exciting. Here he presents a thumping series of crescendos, a heaving, raucous and relentless buildup to the climax of the film and ultimate conclusion to Nolan's trilogy, considered the finest comic book movies in film history.
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on Jul 19, 2012