Friday, August 1, 2008

Holy Disappointment, Batman!

I wrote on Wednesday about my experience with Neal Hefti’s “Batman Theme.” I said it was the second “Batman” record I bought. Now I get to tell you about the first one.

In 1966, for all his DJ experience and needle-dropping expertise, five-year-old caithiseach was not wise to all of the pitfalls associated with record-buying. Most of my collection of 45s came as gifts from Uncle Tom, and I had gone record-shopping myself just once before, for a single I’ll discuss in November. I had to have the Batman theme, of course, so I pulled the right strings and got myself a ride thirty blocks north to a record store in Gary.

By this time, I had experience with the concept of saving money to buy something. I got 25 cents per week as an allowance, though most of the time I didn’t get far enough away from home to spend that quarter. In 1965, a coin caught my eye, a silver dollar from Canada that celebrated Charlottetown, Québec’s centennial. I had to save for four weeks to come up with the purchase price of one dollar American. But I did it, and the purchase was a sweet one.

When I went to buy my first 45, the transaction was easy. The subsequent trip for the Batman single, however, was as fraught with peril as any experience the Caped Crusader ever faced, at least on the small screen.

I wrote before about soundalike records, specifically Hit Records and Big 6 Records. In the case of Batman, soundalikes were not an issue, but competing versions created a challenge.

I marched into the record store, my mother in tow, and told the very tall older lady (age seventeen, five feet tall) that I wanted the Batman record. She yanked out a Liberty single, I handed over my 69 cents, plus one cent state sales tax, and we slalomed through traffic on Broadway as smoothly as Batman in the Batmobile in order to get me home so I could play my new 45.

What an experience that was. I didn’t know then that three artists had released chart songs related to the Batman TV show:

The Marketts, “Batman Theme” (Warner 5696) hit Hot 100 2/5/1966, reached #17
Neal Hefti, “Batman Theme” (RCA Victor 8755) hit Hot 100 2/12/1966, reached #35
Jan & Dean, “Batman” (Liberty 55860) hit Hot 100 2/12/1966, reached #66

I wound up with the Jan & Dean recording. I blame the tall, older lady, because she had to know that this scrawny kid with 70 cents to his name was after the show’s original theme music, yet she foisted off the less successful Liberty release on me to relieve pressure on her overstock. I could have waited a year and gotten a copy for a nickel from Uncle Tom.

So I sat there, stunned, listening to something that most definitely was not the proper recording. My poor mom felt bad for having been co-duped by the short pimply teen girl. Maybe the girl thought she was giving me what I wanted, since I asked for “Batman” rather than the “Batman Theme.” I’ll never know, because I neglected to get her name so I could interview her for this piece. But it’s 42 years later, so she’s 60, and I have the satisfaction of imagining that she’s still stuck in a retail outlet, selling the wrong CD to some kid who gets only ten dollars’ allowance per week.

I’d like to be able to say that I still have the Liberty single, but it didn’t even make it to the Great Meltdown. At some point shortly after its purchase, I sat on it, and it broke in two.

That was not a clever ploy designed to get me a replacement single. I had broken a few other records along the way, once in cooperation with my mom’s recliner, and once when my kindergarten classmate Glen sat on a 78 I took to school. Ooh, I said last time that I was allowed just two contributions to the nap-time music series, but I got to play that 78, name now forgotten, as well. But I was three for three in the clapping vs. napping department.

After I broke my Jan & Dean 45, the decision was made that I could get another 45, and this time there would be due vigilance and, thus, the proper recording would make it into my collection. I played that Neal Hefti record an awful lot in the spring of 1966, and not just as a prelude to Batman’s TV exploits. It was all Batman, all the time, for a month or so.

Neal Hefti, the composer of the Batman theme I sought, was born in 1922 in Nebraska. He enjoyed a very solid career in the bebop era, playing trumpet for Woody Herman and composing/arranging for Herman and Count Basie. He became known as an extremely gifted arranger, and he influenced the Basie sound for two decades, beginning in 1950, with a combination of distinctive arrangements and significant compositions.

He moved into film and TV scoring in the 1960s; he wrote the theme to The Odd Couple as well as the Batman TV theme, for which he won a Grammy. He put together bands from time to time and remained active into the 1990s.

His chart competition for the “Batman Theme” came from the Marketts, essentially a Hollywood studio group made up of whichever session players were available to producer Joe Saraceno, who also produced work by the Ventures. The Marketts, who generally dealt in surf music, scored three Top 40 hits, including the #3 smash “Out of Limits.”

And Jan & Dean, who ran the Batman concept through the Jan & Dean filter and made it sound like all of their other hits, are legends of surf rock who should need no introduction. If you think you haven’t heard them before, their song “Batman” will remind you so much of “Surf City,” “Dead Man’s Curve” and “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)” that you will know this duo immediately.

Now that I have purged Batman from my musical soul, I’ll revisit 1970 next week. Until then, enjoy this other Batman song, which is kind of fun, as long as you’re not fervently hoping to hear the TV theme. See you Wednesday!

Jan & Dean, Batman

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