Release the bats!

Bats: one of the most misunderstood creatures on the planet. While they protect us from insect-related diseases and provide essential pollination for fruits and flowers, they still get a bad rap for drinking virgin blood and other jugular infractions. Sure, they look scary, and it’s weird how they can turn into mist and paralyze you with their eyes, but these nocturnal mammals have spawned whole genres of music (examples: Beck’s 2005 album Guero and Louisville Slugger-themed hits).

Let’s start with Meat Loaf’s legendary album Bat Out of Hell. You probably know the singles “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” by heart, or by classic rock radio. Meat Loaf was the perfect vocalist to make Jim Steinman’s songs soar. Add in producer Todd Rundgren, and you have more than 40 million copies sold. You say it can’t get more epic? Along comes Bat Out of Hell II: Back To Hell. While most sequels fall flat, this album yielded a mega No. 1 single with “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”

A quick glance at the record shelves show that bats are still inspiring us. LEO’s batcomputer yielded more than 200 hundred songs with the title “Dracula,” ranging from Desmond Dekker to Kronos Quartet and Medeski, Martin & Wood. There’s Bat For Lashes, whose 2009 album Two Suns resonated with powerful art-pop. Or the Fruit Bats, with their scientific album title Echolocation (another name for our furry friends’ “sonar” hearing).

Part 2: Disk-Winged, Leaf-Nosed and Vampire Bats

Goth struck a defiant sonic chord, borrowing iconic images from film and expressionist art. Bauhaus became a semi-reluctant spokesperson for the scene with their classic “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” a brilliant mix of creepy guitar atmospheres and dub music with a slightly camp lyric and overall sense of bloody cool. Tony Scott’s film “The Hunger” shocked audiences with the deadly (and beautiful) vampire couple David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve casually night-stalking artist/musician Ann Magnuson. Of course, the film wisely cut back and forth to Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy performing in a smoky-neon-punk dungeon during these dark deeds, capturing an incredible tension. The soundtrack also featured new wave synths, a Bach cello suite and the beautiful “Flower Duet” from Leo Delibes’ opera “Lakmé.”

Part 3: Shadow of the Bat

Prince had a major hit with his 1989 LP Batman, the musical response/soundtrack to Tim Burton’s film (not to ignore Danny Elfman’s unforgettable orchestral score). Folks were quickly hooked by the quirky track “Batdance” and propelled the album to almost 3 million sales.

Honestly, is there any TV theme song greater than Neil Hefti’s 1966 “Batman” score? How many times have you hummed this tune in your life: “Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da … BATMAN!”? Not convinced? Here’s a list of artists who have performed the bat-rock classic: The Who, R.E.M., The Ventures, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, The Flaming Lips, Alien Sex Fiend, 50 Cent …

Jumping ahead three decades, we saw the magnificent live orchestra score for “Batman: The Animated Series” by composer Shirley Walker. “BTAS” received serious critical praise for its moody jazz-influenced score. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard teamed up to score Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” creating an orchestral suite fused with digital samples, keyboards and musique concrète (which won them a Grammy for Best Score).

Part 4: Bat Bites!

OK, I’ve been saving the best for last: the ultimate musical tribute to the more than 1,200 species of bats living around the globe … The Birthday Party’s “Release the Bats.” This 1981 single has everything Nick Cave and friends do so well — blistering guitars, galloping hell bass, thunderous drums, epic/hilarious lyrics and … bat bites.

So now, as the sun casts long lines and shadows draw closer, take a moment to appreciate these wonderful, misunderstood creatures. Don’t be afraid. Slightly crack your bedroom window. Yes, that’s perfect. Lay your head down on this soft pillow. Easy. It’s easy. What was that sound? Nothing. Just close your eyes.

The United Nations has declared 2011-2012 the International Year of the Bat. To learn more, visit