One of the more notable aspects, as far as tie-ins go, of the three Christopher Nolan Batman movies, is that there isn’t a single pop song in the entire cluster of them. They are entirely pop-song-free, which is really something considering how soundtrack-driven the last batch of Batman movies was (beginning with the Prince-fuelled Tim Burton original and then continuing through the two Joel Schumacher tragedies). In honor of “The Dark Knight Rises” (which really is as good as everyone is saying), we look back to the ten jams that defined the Dark Knight (that you might have forgotten about). All of these tunes are perfect for your next night out in Gotham City.
Prince, “The Future” from “Batman”
The first single from the smash “Batman” album (it was released in Europe, heavily remixed by William Orbit) is a song that we’re pretty sure never actually appears in the movie. Still – it totally kicks ass and is easily the highlight of the inescapable Prince tie-in album to the Tim Burton movie. Burton was notoriously unhappy with the synergistic album (and as a stipulation for returning for the sequel, he would exclusively choose all music that went into the film), but that doesn’t stop this from being a killer track. Between the squiggly synth line, the foreboding lyrics, and the snippets of dialogue from the movie (ostensibly the entire track is based around Jack Nicholson’s villainous line “Think about the future”) the song remains a groovy-as-fuck classic. (We remember James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem including it in a mix not too long ago.) This also goes to substantiate the theory that when it comes to Batman soundtrack songs, the more tangential the connection to Batman, the better the song.
Seal, “Kiss from a Rose” from “Batman Forever”
As the years wear on, “Batman Forever” is looking more and more like the least memorable Batman entry in the entire pantheon, largely because of its blandness and naked eagerness to please (by comparison, “Batman & Robin” is a more enjoyable mess), but Seal‘s “Kiss from a Rose” is still stuck in our heads. Originally released in 1994 as part of Seal’s second self-titled album (known as Seal II by people who like to talk about this kind of thing), it was re-released for the “Batman Forever” soundtrack and promptly blew up. It’s woozy romanticism and darkly tinged feel were supposed to evoke the relationship between Val Kilmer‘s Bruce Wayne and Nicole Kidman‘s Chase Meridian, originally intended to play over a scene where those two get it on. It didn’t end up with that scene but rather was saved for the end credits, which is for the best anyway because you can’t help but sing along really, really loudly.
Prince, “Partyman” and “Trust” from “Batman”
“Partyman” and “Trust” are two Prince songs that are actually used in the movie, and they’re used marvelously. “Partyman” accompanies a scene where the Joker, in one of the more bizarre and intangible plot threads of the movie, decides to assert himself as some kind of art world deconstructionist, going to a Gotham museum and garishly painting over priceless paintings and sculptures. The scene doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense, but at least with the Prince song, it has a certain amount of bounce (also the idea that one of the Joker’s henchmen is being brought along simply to hold a boom box is sort of amazing). The second song, inspired by the Joker’s line “Hubba-hubba-hubba-hubba, who do you trust?” plays over a sequence where the Joker rolls through town on a parade float, passing out money, while plotting to kill the citizens of Gotham with giant balloons filled with poison gas (no, this doesn’t make much sense either). This song is not only a really great party jam and captures the frenzied mood of the sequence, but is a testament to Prince’s rapid-fire genius — the “Batman” album was made in six weeks, sometimes incorporating demos or previously recorded songs, modified to fit the super-heroic purposes.
R. Kelly, “Gotham City” from “Batman & Robin”
Only R. Kelly can turn a song about a city full of deformed freakshows and masked vigilantes into a very-nearly gospel song, full of easily digestible spiritual uplift and a chant-along chorus. (A more-further-removed-from-Batman remix version, which featured a lot more references to “the ghetto, ghetto,” appeared on Kelly’s needlessly self-indulgent 1998 double-album R.) What’s so amazing about “Gotham City” is how you do genuinely get caught up in the song’s blindingly positive message, even though everything you’ve been shown thus far has suggested that Gotham is not “a city of justice, a city of love, a city of peace,” as Kelly so emphatically croons. It’s nice to have a little R&B back in the Batman soundtracks, though. Sing it Kels!
Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Face to Face” from “Batman Returns”
“Batman Returns” is sorely lacking in the pop music department, mostly because of Burton’s outrage at his forced usage of the Prince songs for the first film. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t at least one memorable pop music moment, and it comes courtesy of eighties art-pop sensations Siouxsie and the Banshees. The song, “Face to Face,” was co-written by Danny Elfman, which is kind of incredible given the amount of music he wrote for the film (about double the normal amount of music for a typical film). The song plays over the masquerade ball hosted by Christopher Walken‘s character, which Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) and Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfieffer) mistake for being a black-tie dinner. Alternate versions of the song were released, including a more pop-friendly version with an Elfman-penned chorus and a club mix (by big beat pioneers 808 State). It’s just as good as anything on the Prince album.
U2, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” from “Batman Forever”
Produced by No Doubt stalwart Nellee Hooper and featuring a wholly animated music video (with animated versions of U2‘s ZooTV personas), “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” is a jangly glam-rock ditty that perfectly captures the anarchic spirit of Gotham City (much better than, say, “Gotham City”). Originally conceived during the Zooropa sessions (it does have that reverb-y feel of some of those songs, most notably “Numb”), it was a big hit for the album, if not the critics (it was nominated for the Razzie for Worst Original Song, unsurprisingly losing to a track from “Showgirls“). The song is a whole lot of fun to this day, and was resurrected for the band’s live show during the 2010 U2 360 Tour (which we feel like is still going on somewhere). As a kid we also loved the comic book-y single sleeve. So there’s that, too.
Smashing Pumpkins, “The End is the Beginning is the End” from “Batman & Robin”
It’s interesting to think that “The End is the Beginning is the End,” a rollicking Smashing Pumpkins track from “Batman & Robin,” was some of the first new Smashing Pumpkins material to come out after the blockbuster success of their era-defining double-album Melon Collie & the Infinite Sadness. It kind of makes it even more impressive. Featuring predominantly electronic elements (foreshadowing the direction the band would go in with their next album, the unfairly ignored Adore), the song mixes Billy Corgan‘s dreamy lyrics (what exactly is a “crystal crow”?) with a propulsive beat and a gnarled, shredding guitar. (A more down-tempo variation, “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” also accompanied the album.) It’s a far more intellectual and deeply felt piece of pop song-craft than you would expect for a movie that features Arnold Schwarzenegger spouting ice puns.
Massive Attack and Tracey Thorn, “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game” from “Batman Forever”
Today, the team up of mysterious trip-hop band Massive Attack and Tracey Thorn, formerly a trip-hopper herself but reborn in recent years as a sophisticated pop star, would be catnip to music fans everywhere. But little thought was given to this track from the “Batman Forever” soundtrack, an unheralded cut amidst all the big-name stars (Brandy, the Offspring, PJ Harvey, and The Flaming Lips also appeared) and showy singles. It’s a cover of a Marvelettes Motown classic (other people who have covered it include, memorably, Grace Jones and Jerry Garcia), here slowed down and refined and pumped full of smoky atmosphere. We’re not sure what, if anything, it has to do with Batman or the fair citizens of Gotham, but when you’ve got a song this groovy, that stuff doesn’t really matter.
Moloko, “Fun For Me” from “Batman & Robin”
Whoever was in charge of getting Moloko, the amazing Brit pop band led by incurably charming lead singer Roisin Murphy, exposure in the mid-nineties thought the answer could be found in jamming them into every soundtrack imaginable. While that might have worked out for fans of intelligent pop music (their song from “Mystery Men,” “Colossus,” might be even better than this), it didn’t mean much in terms of upping their cachet in America and their last album wasn’t even released domestically, the band split up, and Murphy has since had a tough go at a solo career despite being a total fucking genius. All that said, “Fun for Me” is a terrific pop ditty off the “Batman & Robin” soundtrack (one we’re not entirely sure even plays in the movie). Plus, it’s really fun to sing along to a song whose lyrics include the words “zing zang zoom.” Zing zang zoom, planet earth.