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Music

How the 1960s TV show 'Batman' inspired Prince's entire career

Pop icon Prince famously had one of the most vivid imaginations in music history. His style, in both the musical and aesthetic sense, is timeless and unique to his unwavering sense of the self and fluidity. Across all his masterpieces such as 1999 or Purple Rain, it is clear that Prince’s dynamic world was created by his imagination, which cherrypicked from across the spectrum of popular culture when cultivating this iconic oeuvre.

It transpires that his first foray into music was inspired by one of the most famous imaginary worlds in popular culture, that of the DC Comics hero Batman. This revelation makes a lot of sense, as none of us are likely to forget that Prince wrote the soundtrack album for Tim Burton’s 1989 adaptation. Prince was a big fan of the 1966 Batman TV series starring Adam West, and its timeless theme tune was the first melody the Minneapolis native ever played on the piano, his first dalliance with music. 

It’s well-known that Prince’s love of music came from his father, John Nelson, who was the pianist in a local jazz outfit. However, Nelson departed the family home when Prince was just seven-years-old, leaving behind his piano, which Prince practised on daily. It was around this time that he fell in love with the Batman TV show and taught himself the theme tune. 

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He was enchanted by the instrument, but when he moved to his aunt’s house aged, 13 he had to find new instruments to play. However, he had begun his journey into music on the back of Batman’s theme, and it was to prove invaluable, adding another string to his ever-expanding bow. “My first drum set was a box full of newspapers,” Prince explained in a 1983 interview with Rolling Stone. “At thirteen, I went to live with my aunt. She didn’t have room for a piano, so my father bought me an electric guitar, and I learned how to play.”

Prince was lauded for his multi-instrumentalism, and it was this that gave his music the dynamic edge that everyone loved. After taking the world by storm across the ’80s, there’s no surprise that the producers of Tim Burton’s Batman were keen for him to score the soundtrack. Added to this was the fact that Tim Burton was a longtime fan of Prince, although at first, he wanted to keep Prince, who he respected greatly, out of the commerciality of the blockbuster.

Burton’s initial efforts were in vain, though, and he could not resist the pressure from the producers for long, and Prince was hired to write the album. 

It turned out to be a success for all those involved, and Prince’s record, Batman, stayed at number one on the Billboard 200 for six weeks, giving him his first number one album since 1985’s Around the World in a Day. Added to this, the lead single ‘Batdance’ was also Prince’s first number one since ‘Kiss’, putting Prince back where he belonged, at the top. 

It’s genuinely astounding to think that none of this would have happened if the young Prince had not first heard ‘Batman’s Theme’ as a child in the 1960s, but we all have to start somewhere, and it seems only right that Prince’s creative vision be in part influenced by the gothic world of Batman. You can’t help but think that Prince’s iconic appropriation of Purple had something to do with Cesar Romero’s Joker. 

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