Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sun Ra + Al Kooper = Batman and Robin?!

In 1966, a toy company in Newark, New Jersey released a children's record called Batman and Robin to cash in on the popular Adam West TV series of the same name. The music on the LP was credited to "The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale," but in fact the band was one of the greatest uncredited session combos of all time, including the core of Sun Ra's Arkestra and Al Kooper's Blues Project. To keep the music licensing fees to a minimum, all the tracks were based on public domain items like Chopin's Polonaise Op. 53, the horn theme from Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and the love theme from Romeo and Juliet, and generic rock riffs.

Well, actually, the first track IS based on the Neal Hefti Batman TV theme, which I somehow doubt that the record's producers paid for. But wait a second, how did we get here?

In my case, by way of the Dangerous Minds blog, and I must say this is exactly the sort of information that I look to them for:

Danna nanna nanna nanna SUN RAAAAAA: The space-jazz guru’s astounding ‘Batman and Robin’ LP

This post led me to another at the blog of WFMU, East Orange, New Jersey, "the longest-running freeform radio station in the U.S.," from whence the description above.

Sun Ra and The Blues Project Do Batman and Robin (MP3s)

Dangerous Minds also pointed to an excellent review of the album by Bruce Eder at AllMusic:

The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale: Batman and Robin

So how's the music? A heckuva lot of fun.

The album—and again, this was marketed to children to cash in on a goofy TV show—is accordingly badass, full of satisfying soul riffs and fiery surf-guitar leads. (Ron Kretsch at Dangerous Minds)

It's all almost too good to be true, catching the Blues Project when they were still playing together happily -- maybe this isn't the jam they would have wanted preserved 35-plus years later, but neither is it embarrassing, and fans of either Sun Ra or the Blues Project might well want this record just for the sheer strangeness of it.

All the tracks are at the WFMU post. They are a joy, especially the earwormy "Robin's Theme." The unidentified female singer on that one really whoops it up.

The Dangerous Minds post offers an additional track as a bonus, a later Sun Ra single titled "I'm Gonna Unmask the Batman," which put me in mind of Wesley Willis's superhero songs such as the sublime "I Whipped Spiderman's Ass."

Love this (characteristic) Willis line: "Spiderman was being such a stupid jerk!"

BTW, I was lucky enough to experience Sun Ra and the Arkestra live once, at a pretty intimate gig in Berkeley in the late Eighties, and it was unforgettable.

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