Behind The Song: The ‘60s Batman Theme

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

When asked by Oprah Winfrey on October 13, 1996, how he learned how to play music, Hall of Fame rocker Prince responded: The Batman Theme.

Yes, that famous simple riff: da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-BATMAN!

That’s what got Prince. That’s what opened the world of music, songwriting and whatever else came with it for the famed artist.

Prince, of course, would go on to write the soundtrack for the Tim Burton-directed 1989 Batman movie, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Perhaps it was out of appreciation for the movie’s predecessor, the 1966-68 caped crusader series (starring Adam West), that he signed up for such a big project.

The Purple-clad Prince even used a bit of the theme on one of his 1989 songs, “Batdance,” which you can check out below.

Many musicians have sampled the memorable theme, including Eminem in his 2002 “Without Me.” The Who recorded a cover of it for their 1966 EP, Ready Steady Who. Snoop Dogg sampled it for his 2002 song “Batman & Robin,” Eddie Vedder’s daughter Harper recorded a version of it that’s played on the band’s SIRIUS channel and The Lego Batman Movie used a version, too. Link Wray and The Kinks also had versions.

But why? Why has this simple song been in so many places?

There are a few reasons. For one, it’s simple, repetitive, and as such, memorable. It’s a standard 12-bar blues in D-Major. With each da-da-da-da, it hooks into your brain. The theme also traveled into millions of homes over the years, from its debut in 1966 through the show’s ending in 1968. But more importantly, the show aired in re-runs seemingly every day since. Lots of kids home from school in the summer or on sick days got a chance to hear that theme.

Written by trumpeter and composer Neal Hefti for the series, the track is reminiscent of Dick Dale-esque surf music. “Batman!” is shouted 11 times. And there are no other lyrics. Infused within the tune are horn blares for the signature punches-plus-cartoon-THWAPS.

Hefti has joked that he is credited on the song, “word and music by Neal Hefti.” The “Batman!” chorus is made up of eight singers, he said.

Hefti also said in TV’s Biggest Hits by Jon Burlingame that the song is comprised of “bass guitar, low brass, and percussion to create a driving rhythm, while an eight-voice chorus sings ‘Batman!’ in harmony with the trumpets.”

In the end, the song is memorable because it’s simple, sharp, and ubiquitous. It’s a delightful theme, perfect for kids, adults, and even the hard-of-hearing elderly to get behind with its repetitiveness. And if it’s good for Prince, it’s good for us.

We can hear it now: Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-BATMAN!

Photo by William Gottlieb/Redferns

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