Sunday, July 25, 2010

June 30, 2009: Pop meets Batman!

As a kid I spent many, many afternoons vegetating in front of the gloriously campy “Batman” series that aired on ABC from 1966 to 1968. Recently rediscovering it on the Internet (the series is unavailable on DVD for an abundance of reasons), I’m blown away by how consistently funny the show remains, especially when compared to the great majority of sitcoms from its era. As a ‘60s pop geek, I’m also thrilled by the number of pop star cameos and guest-star spots during the series’ second season (which was chided for taking the camp too far by critics who didn’t quite get the show).


In the episode “Dizzoner the Penguin”, the Penguin runs against Batman for mayor of Gotham City, and we have an unabashedly cartoonish Paul Revere and the Raiders performing silly dance steps and blasting some instrumental nonsense at Pengy’s rally:







The Raiders were no strangers to television at that time as they were already regularly featured performers on Dick Clark’s Rock & Roll variety show “Where the Action Is”:







A few weeks later, Catwoman schemed to steal the mellow singing voices of British folk/pop duo Chad and Jeremy (best known in the States for their 1964 hit “A Summer Song”). The two-episode arch in which they appear (“The Cat’s Meow”/”The Bat’s Kow Tow”) is notable for the absurd claims that Chad and Jeremy were currently the most popular singing duo in the world (Simon and Garfunkel? Peter and Gordon maybe?) and that they had a reputation somewhere along the lines of the Who:


Tea Time - More bloopers are a click away

Fortunately, Chad and Jeremy take a break from their chaos and mayhem-making long enough to sing the pleasantly catchy “Teenage Failure”:


Twobm - Watch the top videos of the week here

The most substantial pop star appearance on “Batman” was that of Leslie Gore, who played Catwoman’s protégé, Pussy Cat, in the “That Darn Catwoman”/”Scat! Darn Catwoman” arch. Gore sings “Maybe Now” for Catwoman’s flyer hat-wearing henchmen…


BATMAN LESLEY GORE
Uploaded by cringer. -


…but it’s the scenes that find a drugged and randy Batman and Robin speaking in faux hipster lingo that really make these episodes twin works of genius:


BatmanandRobinonDrugs - Awesome video clips here

If any group was born to appear on “Batman”, it was The Who, a band that shared the show’s Pop Art panache, irreverently self-mocking humor, and mindless violence. Unfortunately, the pre-Tommy Who received little love in America, so the boys would have to settle for covering Neil Hefti’s indelible theme song on their Ready, Steady, Who E.P. (1966), a throwaway release fueled by Keith Moon’s surf-rock and comic book obsessions:







Eleven years later, The Jam did the same on their debut record, In the City, although this may be more of a tribute to their heroes, the Who, than the program itself.







Sub-Brian Wilson surf popsters Jan and Dean (to whom the Who paid tribute with their cover of “Bucket T” on Ready, Steady, Who), actually recorded an entire tribute album titled Jan and Dean Meet Batman (1966). The song called “Batman” is not a cover of the Hefti piece (although it does quote it), but a new song composed by Jan and Dean full of their trademark castrati harmonies and shameless cheese:


Jd Theme - Awesome video clips here

The rest of the album is filled out with ludicrous (and occasionally racially insensitive) spoken-word comedy routines and songs with titles such as “The Joker is Wild”, “Robin the Boy Wonder”, and “A Stench in Time”, which are either detestable or delectable depending on your tolerance for camp cutesiness. An instrumental titled “Mr. Freeze” is pretty slick, though:


Freeze - A funny movie is a click away

Of greater musical value is Batman and Robin: The Sensational Guitars of Dan & Dale, a children’s record recorded to cash in on the show’s success that rather bizarrely features jazz legend Sun Ra  and rock legend Al Kooper. Along with some funky jams with titles like “Penguin’s Umbrella”, “The Riddler’s Retreat”, and (once again) “Joker is Wild”, there’s the familiar theme song, although the keening chorus of the original has been replaced with a soulful chant:


Raba - Awesome video clips here

For my money, “Robin’s Theme” is the killer cut on this record. The Boy Wonder never sounded so fuckable:


Robin - For more funny movies, click here

Other retro rockers who have covered “The Batman Theme” include Duane Eddy, The Standells, Link Wray, and The Ventures, but I suppose this post would not be complete without the one that started it all:

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