At the height of the popularity of the Batman TV show – that would be 1966 – there seemed to be no end of musical cash-ins. The wonderfully kitsch original soundtrack LP, Jan and Dean’s surf rendition of the soundtrack, enough cover versions of the theme music to fill up an entire album (seriously – the bootleg album Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na – Batman Theme – Returns is well worth seeking out), and a novelty record by Frank Gorshin in his role of the Riddler are all impressive. But the oddest Batman vinyl cash-ins must be the songs recorded by Burt ‘Robin’ Ward, who – naturally – got together with Frank Zappa for a 1966 session that spawned one single.
The idea started with the understandable desire by MGM Records to cash in on the success of the show and the popularity of Ward with teenage girls. His tracks on the Batman soundtrack – Holy Flypaper in particular – were highlights of that record, after all. Producer Tom Wilson was brought in and he, in turn, contacted Zappa, who was then still at the start of his career with the Mothers of Invention but already working in record production. Zappa arranged and conducted the tracks in the session, and brought in members of the Mothers – among other musicians – to perform on the songs. Well, we say ‘songs’…
Ward was not a singer by any stretch of the imagination and attempts to record Orange Colored Sky did not go well, even though the record was conceived as a comedy number. His performance was so bad that a second session was arranged, while Ward was given singing lessons. These did not help. Zappa then had the idea that a spoken-word piece might be better, and so Boy Wonder, I Love You was created, with Ward and Zappa cobbling together highlights from the actor’s fan mail to create a semi-fictional love letter from a female fan that Ward reads out. It’s essentially a teenage girl’s wet dream, with the actor teasing the fact that YOU, the (female) listener could at least get his attention (even if it remains ambiguous about how much further things might go).
At least, this is Ward’s version of events, as featured in his lively autobiography My Life in Tights. Unfortunately, the more prosaic truth is that the entire session was recorded in two days, and Boy Wonder, I Love You was always planned as the A-side, and no one cared if Ward could sing or not. But that’s a less interesting story. Nevertheless, there’s something very Zappa about this whole project, as both a tongue-in-cheek and satirical study of popular culture.
Sadly, the single was not a hit, and the four remaining tracks from the session went unreleased, a situation that has yet to change.