So, let’s just get this out of the way: My favorite Prince album is the “Batman” soundtrack.
It’s criminally underrated. It’s dark, it’s frantic and it’s headlined by “Batdance,” a wild track that flips Bruce Wayne, Vicki Vale and Joker samples into a sexually-charged future funk opera.
I just wish the world could’ve heard the remix of “Batdance,” which features a guest rap verse from Big Daddy Kane. It’s wildly different -- stripped-down percussion, vocals from Prince that weren’t in the original, riffs on the old “Batman” TV theme, and a furious, wailing synth solo.
Prince apparently loved it, but Warner Brothers wouldn’t release it. But why?
I wanted to know what happened to this phantom recording. So I tracked down the man behind the mix: a legendary producer and remixer named John Luongo, who got his start as one of the first DJs of the disco era.
We talked about working with Big Daddy Kane, why he made the song so different, and whether or not he thinks his mix will ever see an official release.
Here’s our conversation, lightly edited for clarity:
How did Prince know you?
I’d done some work for Prince before. He had a record he’d produced with Jill Jones, called “For Love,” and I’d done a remix of that, and he really liked it. So one day I was on a plane, and a Warner Bros. executive recognized me. He came up to me and said, “I have a project for you.” When he told me it was Prince, I said yes, immediately.
Whoa. Just like that?
Things used to work like that back then! It wasn’t uncommon for me to bump into somebody and get offered a mix or a production. It was more open back then. People were open to spontaneous things happening. Today it’s a little more contrived.
Aside from that track you remixed for him, were you listening to a lot of Prince at the time?
Oh, of course. He was a genius, everyone knew that. A lot of people don’t know this, but he was a constant inventor. He was showing us new ways to use instruments that most people could barely play. He discovered that if you took the side stick sound on a Linn Drum machine, and you toned it down, it would make this beautiful thwoonk sound. Kind of like a kick drum. And that’s how he made the percussion sounds on “When Doves Cry.” And everybody copied him.
He was brilliant. I followed him, I studied him. I loved his music, I loved his creativity. I loved the fact that you never knew what he was going to do. And now I was doing something for one of the most creative geniuses of our time, whose only criteria was that you had to do something that was brilliant and never before heard by anybody.
When Warner Bros. gave you the job, was the “Batman” soundtrack album already out?
No, it wasn’t out yet. Prince was still in the process of working on it, so I had all his raw recordings. I got vocals that weren’t included in his original “Batdance” song, but that I used in my mix.
But Warner Bros. gave me all these restrictions. I couldn’t use certain lines from the Batman movie. I wanted to use little clips of dialogue, but I had to find out what lines in the movie had been cleared for usage. ...
Because they had to deal with people like Jack Nicholson. If you used certain lines, he said Jack might be entitled to a royalty. So they were worried whether he’d grant permission for that. It was like a spiderweb of rules. As if it wasn’t complicated enough, trying to make a record for Prince, who I knew was the one of most demanding people in the world. No pressure, right? [laughs].
How did you get Big Daddy Kane on the record?
He was on a label owned by Warner Bros. That made it easier. But really, he had a great reputation. I knew there was a great respect for him in the community. And I think his work and persona was something that Prince appreciated, too. He had a melodic quality to him, which some rappers really didn’t. You put all that together, and it made him a really attractive addition. So when he got to the studio, I gave him some specifications, but everything was all of his own creation, right on the spot. He was brilliant, such a professional to work with.
So what happened to the song?
The whole thing, recording, mix and editing, took a day and a half. But I had a deadline! I remember FedEx was there waiting as I did my best to finish up, so we could make the next plane to rush it over to L.A. and Minnesota to let Warner Bros. and Prince hear what I had done. ... And then Warner Bros. said they didn’t like it; it was too different. And that was it. They didn’t release it.
That’s it? Do you still have it somewhere?
Oh, I’m sure I have it in storage -- I’m going to go look for it tomorrow. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure I have at least one other instrumental remix of the “Batdance” record that I didn’t even send to Warner Bros. I used to do that, just make things for myself, put little twists in them that I knew the label wouldn’t like, but if I had my way, it’s what I would do. And I should have some of those around. There’s a very good chance I have some Prince stuff that never got released anywhere, not even on bootlegs.
It would be cool to hear those too. I wonder how different those are from the Big Daddy Kane version I heard.
Wait, have you heard it?
Yeah, a really low-quality copy. It’s on the Internet.
Wow, thanks a lot. [laughs] You’re ruining my day! You’ve heard my song, my song that I can’t even get an official copy of! I haven’t heard it in years.
... So, did you like it?
I do. But if I’m being really blunt, I can see why Warner Bros. didn’t like it. The rap probably seemed like a gamble to them, and the rest of the song is pretty different from the original material.
It is. But that was on purpose. Hey, I was making that record for Prince! And the only requirements I’d been given from him personally were to do something different. Something that had never been done before. So I did it.
This guy is one of the greatest creators, the greatest innovators, someone who pushes the envelope. Lives outside the box. I could have made a very “safe” mix that Warner would have loved. But if I didn’t take a shot at it, I couldn’t respect myself.
Are you sad that your “Batdance” remix was never released? Do you wish you played it a little safer, and made it less “weird”?
No, I have no regrets about that record. I wanted Prince to like it. I really didn’t care if Warner Bros. liked it. I wanted the guy who I admired to admire something that I had done for him.
And so when one of my friends, this engineer named Sal Greco who worked with Prince at Paisley Park, told me that Prince had heard the mix, and that he loved it, that was enough for me. That was the greatest honor in the world. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t change a thing.
Do you think you’ll ever release the record?
I’d love to, but I can’t just put it out. I’d probably spend four years in Sing Sing [laughs]. Maybe, if I can find it in my storage, I could take it over to Warner Bros. and say you know what, how about we do something with this? And release it with their blessings. I would be very open for that.
That would be pretty cool.
You know, I’ve been in this business for over 30 years. I really love the artists, the people in it. I want to show things that show appreciation. I think a lot of his fans would love it. It’s a piece of history, this song that Prince loved, but that wasn’t allowed to come out. There’s gotta be a lot of songs like that. And maybe there’s the chance that they can see the light of day. It would really be nice.