Be honest—you’re gonna sing it all day now, aren’t you?
Every good hero needs a theme song, and they’ve all had their moments in the melodic sunlight. The Spider-Man tune has been known to induce headbopping and undoubtedly inspired Homer Simpson, and the John Williams Superman movie theme certainly makes my heart skip a couple beats when I hear it. But out of all our super friends it seems that no one has inspired more music (or musicians, for that matter) than the caped crusader. It may be campy, or pop-flavored, or just plain epic—however you cut it, Batman has more melodies to make him up than any superhero I can recall.
We’re all familiar with the 60s surfer-rock inspired theme from the Adam West television show, but what amazes me is how many legitimate bands have covered or riffed on this terrifyingly catchy two minute jam. From The Kinks to The Flaming Lips to The Who to Eminem, there is bound to be at least one version out there that suits your tastes. Prince and R.E.M. both adapted the number for film, but it was The Artist Formerly Known As alone who actually made the final cut with the unforgettable “Batdance.”
If you haven’t seen this music video, I highly recommend you click on it. It will change your life.
The 60s Batman TV show had its share of musical guest artists, including one memorable episode where Catwoman stole the voices of two rising stars of Great Britain: Chad and Jeremy. Sadly, all the attention Julie Newmar paid them couldn’t bring them transatlantic fame. Paul Revere & the Raiders also had a spot, campaigning for the Pegnuin when he ran for Mayor. Real powerhouse pop stars were keen to get in on the first Tim Burton film: Prince got the honors, but originally Michael Jackson was going to write music for it as well, until Burton chewed out the studio for trying to make him too commercial. Mind you, this is after Jackson reportedly asked if he could play the Joker... Just, just try and picture that. You know what, nevermind, please don’t.
The score that Danny Elfman provided for Burton’s films earned him his stripes as a new composer-to-be-reckoned-with in Hollywood, so much so that some of the old guard decided to insinuate that he couldn’t have written it, given his background. Elfman wrote them a kind letter in return. (Worth a read, if you have a moment, though there’s some decidedly rude words in it. Whenever I explain my love of Elfman, I usually cite this letter.) Despite what the nay-sayers may have implied, Danny Elfman’s signature cannot be mistaken in the Burton scores.
What’s more, there was something so right about the match; a man who had fronted a rock band previously known as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (I’d like the see Prince top that one) learning that he had his own alter ego to nurture as a composer. The soundtrack did more than underscore action, it took us to Gotham. The theme became an instant classic, to the point where an altered version was used for the season one opening credits of Batman: The Animated Series. It remained that way until they changed the show to The Adventures of Batman and Robin and had Shirley Walker compose a new, more lighthearted theme.
The Schumacher films, while lacking in decent scripting or any character development (among many other things) did have two very nice scores, penned by Elliot Goldenthal. While they didn’t have the early flare and sheer uniqueness Elfman brought to the table or Zimmer and Howard’s later determination to try something completely new, Goldenthal’s themes were one of the highest points of the Schumacher era, attempting to add some emotional impact and complexity (even when there was none to be had) and frequently defibrillating the films back from the brink of cardiac arrest. Hans Zimmer actually said that he felt those scores had been overlooked; in fact, those soundtracks did as well commercially as Prince’s Batman album had when it was released. I mean, let’s face it, with track names like “Fledermausmarschmusik” and “Batterdammerung,” how could your score be anything but ironically awesome?
There was no Bat Musik to be had for several years until Chris Nolan got his hands on the wunderteam of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard for his Batman reboot. Interested in going a different route than anyone before them, Zimmer and Howard made the choice to embrace the dualities of Bruce Wayne’s character within the music. This led to a blend of classic orchestral scoring along with certain eletronic elements, the intention being to mirror Batman’s reliance and trust in technology. They took it a step further, applying that method of thinking in how they scored Bruce’s grief as a child over the death of his parents, resulting in a repetative voice, caught in a cycle of mourning and broken beyond repair. The score wasn’t concerned with epics and heroism, but instead busied itself with the person we all wanted to get to know better—the man who spends his free time in a bat cave. The results were innovative and effective; some may say the scores for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are the best we’ve had, and while it’s not an argument that is likely to end soon, there’s no shame in being appropriately impressed.
So there’s your Bat Musik breakdown. That’s a lot of music for one guy in a cape, but why? One could argue that it’s merely because of how often Batman gets reinvented for the screen, and you’d have a point, but I believe there has to be something more to it than that. Batman has a way of capturing people’s imaginations that goes far beyond your typical superhero infatuation. There is something too amusing about the fact that all of this music seems to fit together in a bizzare patchwork, just a way of showcasing new aspects of our knight and the city he has committed himself to for life. I am counting on plenty of Batman music in our future, and who knows what we could end up with?
Hopefully nothing as catchy as the little diddy I planted in your head earlier. BATMAN! Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na....
This article originally appeared as part of Tor.com’s Bat-Week.