Holy cover tune! Listen to 20 different versions of the 'Batman' theme

What do the Who, the Kinks, the Jam and R.E.M. have in common?

If you were in a surf or garage band in 1966, you played the theme from Batman. There was no avoiding it. You may not have released it on record, it may only have been in practice, but you can bet your Gotham dollars that the "Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na" sing-along was part of your repertoire. 

Today, the Neal Hefti composition remains a surf, rockabilly, mod and television classic. Additionally, there have been heavy metal and acid house covers of the theme song, ranging from the sincere to novelty tunes. We'd be curious to know if another TV theme song has been covered more often.

In 1966, Batman was a pop culture phenomenon. Not only were there dozens of rock & roll bands ripping through the theme song, the actors from the show dropped records themselves. This is not a complete list of covers, but the most notable and oddest. And, yes, there definitely are differences between them.

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1. Neal Hefti

1966

We begin with the writer himself, Hefti, a former jazz trumpeter who became a composer and arranger for Count Basie. After Batman, Hefti penned the theme song to The Odd Couple.

Image: Discogs

2. The Who

1966

The inimitable British quartet bashed through a handful of covers on its EP Ready Steady Who, released between the band's first two albums. Pete Townshend and Keith Moon add significant flair to this quick cut, which can now be found as a bonus track on A Quick One.

Image: Discogs

3. The Kinks

1967

Alas, the Kinks never cut an official studio version of the theme, but jumped into the jam during a gig at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, in 1967. It can be heard in the live recordings.

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4. The Jam

1977

If it worked for the Who and the Kinks, by golly the Jam were gonna do it, too. The mod-punks absolutely rocket through "Batman Theme" on their debut album, In the City, kicking off with a frantic drum fill by Rick Buckler.

Image: Discogs

5. Jan and Dean

1966

The harmonic surf duo took a strange detour from the beach at the tail end of their career, releasing the Jan and Dean Meet Batman concept album, which went far beyond mere theme on songs like "Mr. Freeze" and "Flight of the Batmobile."

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6. Link Wray

1966

If you need a tough, cool take on the theme, look no further than Link Wray, the rockabilly king who bit into each twisting riff like a shark. This take also injects some bizarre voice-overs with Robin asking about "nuclear power for the Batmobile."

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7. Nelson Riddle

1966

On the show's official soundtrack, Frank Sinatra's frequent collaborator Riddle jazzed up the joint, jumping into a swing-a-ding-ding interlude complete with flute solo. Though, he does surprisingly zip through the opening riff with greater velocity than even the Jam.

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8. The Marketts

1966

Perfect for BBQs and beach blanket bingos, this brassy version comes courtesy of some serious studio talent. The Marketts were an L.A. band of session musicians, including rhythm section Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine, who powered the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds.

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9. The Ventures

1966

Dig the cartoon art on this Japanese single release. The instrumental surf act changes up the tempo with some stop-and-go moments. What exactly is that machine gun sound rattling away in the left channel? The Penguin? Nifty guitar and whistle solos, though.

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10. Bruce & The Robin Rockers

1966

This cash-in from England was likely for Brits who couldn't get their hands on an import. Fun band name, even if it mixes secret identities with hero names. Here we have a sax solo.

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11. The "V" Rangers

1967

Austria had its own take, too, an enjoyable raw slice of garage fuzz with buzzing organ, bouncing bass and searing guitar solo. It rocks hard and slips into a surprising groove.

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12. The Revengers

1966

After an intro of echoing, galloping guitars, this funky version essentially turns the tune into "Wooly Bully." Great bass line, too.

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13. Bob Kuban & The In-Men

1966

This take differentiates itself with a soulful organ solo, but we mostly wanted to include it for the fantastic cover to The Cheater, the album on which is it found.

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14. Al Caiola and His Orchestra

1966

The guitarist tackled just about every TV theme of the era, as demonstrated by this promo 45 from '66.

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15. The Sensational Guitars Of Dan & Dale

1966

A toy company released this record, but there was no kidding around when it came to "The Sensational Guitars of Dan & Dale." The group actually included members of Sun Ra's Arkestra and Al Kooper's Blues Project. Yep, one of the most forward-thinking jazz acts of the 20th century earning some side money with DC characters.

Image: Discogs

16. The Standells

1966

The cult proto-punks recorded a hot take on the song, as well. It can be heard as a bonus track on some reissues of Dirty Water. The Standells were one of many 1960s garage acts to appear on television comedies, too.

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17. R.E.M.

1992

And here we get into the oddities. R.E.M. submitted a new take on "Batman Theme" for Batman Returns, but the song was not used in the film or its soundtrack. The band released it as a B-side to "Drive," cheekily retitling it "Winged Mammal Theme." It's strikingly different, though Michael Stipe does provide the obligatory "Batman!"

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18. John Zorn

1990

While the jazz players behind "Dan & Dale" played it straight, avant-guard saxophonist Zorn turned the tune into challenging skronk for the opening track to his Naked City.

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19. The Well Paid Scientists

1998

Sure, why not turn it into an aggressive '90s rave cut, too.

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20. Frank Sidebottom

1986

We finish with the strangest and briefest of versions. Frank Sidebottom was British comedian Chris Sievey wearing a giant fake head, who inspired the character in the recent Michael Fassbender movie Frank. He released a silly EP of sci-fi songs in 1986 that briefly included "Batman." You can hear it at 1:00, if you dare.

Image: Discogs

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