If Moroder’s work is indicative of what one might call a Golden Age of superhero soundtracks, then the Silver Age definitely kicks off with Prince’s fascinating and stupefying Batman soundtrack. Sitting at the top of the Billboard charts for six weeks and selling over three million copies, it was a pop-culture behemoth, but like most things involving Prince, it was also totally fucking crazy. Just listen to “Batdance” and watch the insane video above. Alex Pappademas at Grantland recently described the song as, “kitschy, shrieky, [and] underratedly funky,” and it’s hard to disagree.
Like the Batman film series itself, the Batman soundtracks became bloated, lumbering and increasingly silly over time, though I’ll still rep for the Batman Forever soundtrack. Perhaps best remembered for U2’s grinding, slightly atonal “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” and Seal’s mega-smash, prom-theme staple “Kiss From A Rose,” the album was produced by the RZA and features an eclectic selection of artists that feels appropriate for such a bizarre and borderline schizophrenic film. With contributions from Nick Cave, the Flaming Lips, Brandy, Massive Attack and Method Man, it feels both wildly indulgent and oddly personal. Its genre-hopping, all-encompassing worldview is the type of musical universe I want to live in, and it’s a minor revelation when compared to the monochromatic alternative rock of The Avengers.
In addition to blockbusters like the Batman soundtracks, the ’90s also saw the release of many brilliant and weird collections centered around lesser-known heroes. With CDs flying off the racks, every superhero film was given a soundtrack no matter how ill-fitting the songs might have been, and often tracks were specifically commissioned for the film. This means we get things like the Judge Dredd soundtrack, which featured the Cure’s swoon-worthy “Dredd Song” and Cocteau Twins’ dreamy “Need Fire.” Or the soundtrack for the Shaquille O’Neal vehicle Steel, which led to a surprisingly decent collaboration called “Men Of Steel” featuring Ice Cube, B. Real, Peter Gunz, KRS-One and Shaq himself. Or the trance/rave sensibility of the Blade franchise. I could go on.
The Silver Age’s innovative and experimental tendencies reached their pinnacle with the release of the Spawn soundtrack, a dark, brooding collection of collaborations between many of 1997s biggest metal bands and burgeoning DJs/electronic producers. Apparently inspired by the now-legendary and way ahead of its time Judgment Night soundtrack, which paired metal bands with hip-hop acts, the Spawn soundtrack is startling for its commitment to the concept of collaboration and teamwork. Though not all of the songs are particularly inspired or innovative, the best ones have a twisted, menacing edge and a dark sense of humor. Standouts include “Satan” by Orbital and Kirk Hammett, “No Remorse (I Wanna Die)” by Slayer and Atari Teenage Riot, and “T-4 Strain” by Henry Rollins and Goldie.
Of course, the Silver Age was never built to last. As the superhero movie revival took hold of the public’s imagination with the smash debuts of the X-Men, Spider-Man and Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, we entered what I’m gonna go ahead and call the Dark Age of American superhero soundtracks.
Next page: Entering the Dark Age with Spider-Man, Watchmen and others