Batman Turns 75: The Dark Knight’s Long Rock and Roll History
Batman is now officially 75 years old, which makes this the perfect time for us to look back on the famous masked vigilante’s surprisingly long history with rock and roll.
The Dark Knight made his first appearance in a comic book on March 30, 1939 with issue #27 of ‘Detective Comics.’ As everyone knows, since then he’s appeared in TV shows, blockbuster movies and best-selling video games. But what might surprise you is just how large of a shadow the Caped Crusader has cast over the world of rock music.
The character’s popularity exploded with the 1966 debut of the ‘Batman’ TV show. The program was part action-adventure, part pop art and part tongue-in-cheek comedy. A far cry from the darker Batman of the early comic books or the more recent ‘Dark Knight’ films, this Batman, played brilliantly by Adam West, was a spoof decked out in Mod vision. The theme song, written and performed by Neil Hefti, was an urgent slice of pop music that made the Top 40 in early 1966.
The song’s popularity resulted in cover versions from the Kinks (listen here), the Who (here) and many more. Surf rockers the Markettes hit the Top 20 with their version, and also made an entire Batman-themed LP. Fuzz masters Davie Allan & The Arrows also tackled the song. Surf legends Jan & Dean not only covered the song, but made an entire Batman inspired album titled, obviously, ‘Jan & Dean Meet Batman.’
Around the same time a budget label album entitled, ‘Batman and Robin: The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale‘ was released to cash in on the Batman phenomenon. There was, however, no Dan or Dale — only members of the Blues Project (including Al Kooper) and the Sun Ra Arkestra, who recorded the all-instrumental album to make a few Bat-bucks.
Some bands even appeared on the show itself, such as American rockers Paul Revere & the Raiders, who popped up in an episode titled ‘Hizzonner the Pengui.’
British Invasion stars Chad & Jeremy played themselves in an episode called ‘The Bat’s Kow Tow,’ in which the lovely but dastardly Catwoman steals their voices. Hijinks ensue, and we got to hear some great music along the way:
Around this same time, tribute bands such as Robin & The Batmen, the Gotham City Crime Fighters, Bruce & The Robin Rockers and the Sensational Bat Boys sprang up across America with Batman-inspired wardrobes and music.
The phenomenon was not limited to the United States. German rockers the Batmen, who all dressed in capes and masks, released a single entitled ‘Batman.’
Nor did the parade of ‘Batman’ covers stop with the show’s final episode in 1968. Later day mods the Jam also recorded the tune on their 1977 debut, ‘In The City.’ Even the Flaming Lips have tried their hand at it.
In 1989, Batman reached new levels of popularity thanks to a massively successful big-screen motion picture named ‘Batman,’ starring Michael Keaton and directed by Tim Burton. Funk-rock superstar Prince wrote an entire album’s worth of songs inspired by the movie. Although only a couple of those tracks appeared in the film for more than a few seconds, the record and its lead single ‘Batdance‘ were both huge hits. (If it’s guitar heroics you’re looking for, stick with ‘Electric Chair.’) Oingo Boingo singer and songwriter Danny Elfman composed the score for the film, as well as its 1992 sequel ‘Batman Returns.’
A third film in the series, 1995’s ‘Batman Forever,’ came with a star-studded soundtrack highlighted by U2‘s Top 20 hit ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.’
The last film of this era, 1997’s ‘Batman & Robin,’ featured rock and roll from the likes of R.E.M. and Smashing Pumpkins, but the songs had about as little to do with Batman as the terrible, terrible, terrible movie they came from.
The most recent trilogy of Batman movies — 2005’s ‘Batman Begins,’ 2008’s ‘The Dark Knight’ and 2012’s (horribly misguided) ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ — wisely didn’t attempt any crossover soundtracks, but musicians haven’t stopped paying their own tributes to Batman.
In 2009 former Dead Boys guitarist New York Doll Sylvain Syvain formed a new band called the Batusis, which took its name from the ‘Batusi’ dance Batman so proudly displayed in the episode ‘Hi Diddle Riddle.’ The ‘Batusi’ has also turned up in TV shows and movies like ‘The Simpsons‘ to ‘Pulp Fiction.’