World’s Worst Songs: “Batdance” by Prince

The inevitable pop-culture collision of 1989: Batman meets Prince.

Hollywood has been making Batman movies more-or-less continuously for a generation now, going back to 1989 and continuing through this past summer’s The Dark Knight Rises. The 1989 Batman was intended to make everyone forget the colorful, cartoonish Batman of 60s TV. Its Caped Crusader would be dark and driven, and Gotham City would be a forbidding futurescape and not the cardboard New York of TV. It would star Jack Nicholson as the Joker, dream casting at that moment in history. It would be directed by Tim Burton who, while not yet the famed auteur he would become, was already known for possessing a unique vision. Burton cast Michael Keaton as Batman. As odd as that strikes us now, it was strange even then, for Keaton was known as a comic actor. And it would feature soundtrack music by Prince.

It’s that last part that interests us here, for Batman inspired one of the World’s Worst Songs: “Batdance.”

“Batdance” doesn’t actually appear in the film, although it contains random snippets of dialogue. According to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), it’s “an amalgam of many musical ideas floating around [in Prince’s head, presumably] at the time. Elements from at least seven songs (some unreleased) were incorporated into ‘Batdance.'” Which would explain the mess that it is, a schizophrenic pile of ideas patched together without rhyme or reason. When it hits a groove, it quickly abandons it and goes looking for another to abandon. You can’t hum it, you can’t sing it, you can barely dance to it, and on the radio it sounds like something has gone dreadfully wrong at the station.

Prince and his record label knew going into the Batman project that it would represent a significant milestone in his career—so how come “Batdance” is so lazy? Only the Purple One knows for sure. One thing we know: a sin shared in common by many of the World’s Worst Songs is sloth, and “Batdance” is one of the most slothful singles ever to make #1.

The only version of “Batdance” available online is the full-length one, which runs seven minutes, and in which Prince’s pastiche of discarded ideas at least has room to breathe. It’s a vast improvement over the four-minute radio edit, although it still sounds like the collection of outtakes it is. Hear it and see the video here.

  • DavidMedsker

    Only the slower part in the middle, with the Nile Rodgers scratch guitar, is worth a damn, and even that is a crapshoot. This is one of those instances where the anticipation for the movie clouded people’s judgment over the single, because you’re right – it’s bad, hence the joke at its expense in “Shaun of the Dead.”

  • MichaelFortes

    If you listen to the entire Batman album and all the period b-sides, you will hear the sense in the song’s construction. It literally is what Wikipedia says. When it came out, I was completely fascinated with it and I still love it today. It’s more of a danceable art piece than a pop song, and in that regard I would call it the boldest experimental art piece ever to infiltrate the pop charts. It also jived with my interest at the time in chopping up speech recordings to make them unintentionally comical. I would hardly call this one of the world’s worst songs. Most misunderstood, maybe, but then again it did hit #1 and I don’t remember a single person in my age group at the time saying a single negative thing about it, so who knows. All I know is, I listen to the Batman album more than most Prince albums. I think it and the title track hold up remarkably well.

  • Sean Orcutt

    yikes! I used to love this song (even had the 12″), but listening to it now, yes, it is pretty bad. Just when you think it’s getting good..BAM….it stars sucking!

  • tyron

    the prince batman album is not bad at all its pretty good and you can sing to it if you listen to it for a second.

  • Jon

    It’s a great song