Revisiting the Oscars Best Song Category

oscarsThe Best Song category at the Academy Awards is one that can highlight a great hit with lasting potential, or one that makes it clear the category is a joke. For 2012, there are only two nominees due to the lack of quality in the past year (the songs must be above a certain rating to be considered… now, at least). It’s “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets up against “Real in Rio” from Rio. Excited?

Prediction: Man or Muppet will win, but Real in Rio should win. Either way, this is a very weak year for this category and original songs in film, in general, and the Academy is pretty much admitting that by only having two nominees.

Now, let’s look back at how this can be a very good category, and also how it can be so awful it makes us want to never listen to music again. We’ll start with a year we all remember.

1980 “Fame” — Fame • Music: Michael Gore • Lyrics: Dean Pitchford

  • “People Alone” — The Competition • Music: Lalo Schifrin • Lyrics: Will Jennings
  • “Out Here On My Own” — Fame • Music: Michael Gore • Lyrics: Lesley Gore
  • “On the Road Again” — Honeysuckle Rose • Music and lyrics: Willie Nelson
  • “Nine to Five” — Nine to Five • Music and lyrics: Dolly Parton

Fame is the quintessential ’80s song and deserves the win, although Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” could’ve won had Fame come out a different year.

1981 “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” — Arthur • Music and lyrics: Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen

  • “Endless Love” — Endless Love • Music and lyrics: Lionel Richie
  • “For Your Eyes Only” — For Your Eyes Only • Music: Bill Conti • Lyrics: Mick Leeson
  • “The First Time It Happens” — The Great Muppet Caper • Music and lyrics: Joe Raposo
  • “One More Hour” — Ragtime • Music and lyrics: Randy Newman

Arthur’s Theme holds up as the type of song that should have won in this category. You can’t think of the movie without thinking of this song. Also notice that another Muppet song was nominated this year, but it wasn’t rewarded as payback for “Rainbow Connection” being robbed of this award in 1979.

1982 “Up Where We Belong” — An Officer and a Gentleman • Music: Jack Nitzsche and Buffy Sainte-Marie • Lyrics: Will Jennings

  • “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” — Best Friends • Music: Michel Legrand • Lyrics: Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
  • “Eye of the Tiger” — Rocky III • Music and lyrics: Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan
  • “It Might Be You” — Tootsie • Music: Dave Grusin • Lyrics: Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
  • “If We Were In Love” — Yes, Giorgio • Music: John Williams • Lyrics: Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman

Robbed: “Eye of the Tiger.” Still angry about that one.

1983 “Flashdance… What a Feeling” — Flashdance • Music: Giorgio Moroder • Lyrics: Keith Forsey and Irene Cara

  • “Maniac” — Flashdance • Music and lyrics: Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky
  • “Over You” — Tender Mercies • Music and lyrics: Austin Roberts and Bobby Hart
  • “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” — Yentl • Music: Michel Legrand • Lyrics: Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
  • “The Way He Makes Me Feel” — Yentl • Music: Michel Legrand • Lyrics: Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman

Like Fame, “Flashdance… What a Feeling” deserved to win, especially against anything from Yentl.

BEST YEAR EVER:

1984 “I Just Called to Say I Love You” — The Woman in Red • Music and lyrics: Stevie Wonder

  • “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” — Against All Odds • Music and lyrics: Phil Collins
  • “Footloose” — Footloose • Music and lyrics: Kenny Loggins and Dean Pitchford
  • “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” — Footloose • Music and lyrics: Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford
  • “Ghostbusters” — Ghostbusters • Music and lyrics: Ray Parker Jr.

This has got to be one of the best song years ever. Each one of these was a radio hit and still memorable today. Congrats to Steve Wonder for getting this Oscar, but the other four contenders would’ve taken it any other year.

1985 “Say You, Say Me” — White Nights • Music and lyrics: Lionel Richie

  • “The Power of Love” — Back to the Future • Music: Chris Hayes and Johnny Colla • Lyrics: Huey Lewis
  • “Surprise, Surprise” — A Chorus Line • Music: Marvin Hamlisch • Lyrics: Edward Kleban
  • “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister)” • The Color Purple • Music: Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton • Lyrics: Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie
  • “Separate Lives” — White Nights • Music and lyrics: Stephen Bishop

Though Lionel Richie was a fan-fave, I don’t think anyone would have objected if “Power of Love” won… every time that song comes on it’s suddenly 1985 (or 1955, wherever Marty McFly went).

1986 “Take My Breath Away” — Top Gun • Music: Giorgio Moroder • Lyrics: Tom Whitlock

  • “Somewhere Out There” — An American Tail • Music: James Horner • Lyrics: Cynthia Weil
  • “Glory of Love” — The Karate Kid, Part II • Music: Peter Cetera and David Foster • Lyrics: Peter Cetera and Diane Nini
  • “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space” — Little Shop of Horrors • Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Howard Ashman
  • “Life in a Looking Glass” — That’s Life! • Music: Henry Mancini • Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse

To think that Top Gun had one of the greatest soundtracks of the decade and it was “Take My Breath Away” that got the nomination and award. How was “Danger Zone” not nominated? “Glory of Love” isn’t a bad song, and the Academy skipped over “Somewhere Out There” before handing these statues out to virtually every animated film in the coming years.

1987 “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” — Dirty Dancing • Music: Franke Previte, John DeNicola and Donald Markowitz • Lyrics: Franke Previte

  • “Shakedown” — Beverly Hills Cop II • Music: Harold Faltermeyer and Keith Forsey • Lyrics: Harold Faltermeyer, Keith Forsey and Bob Seger
  • “Cry Freedom” — Cry Freedom • Music and lyrics: George Fenton and Jonas Gwangwa
  • “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” — Mannequin • Music and lyrics: Albert Hammond and Diane Warren
  • “Storybook Love” — The Princess Bride • Music and lyrics: Willy DeVille

Another very deserved win. It was the music that made Dirty Dancing and few will forget these songs. “Shakedown” also deserved a nod, as did “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” although I’m certain the Academy would’ve been hesitant to give an award to anything involved with the movie Mannequin.

1988 “Let the River Run” — Working Girl • Music and lyrics: Carly Simon

  • “Calling You” — Bagdad Café • Music and lyrics: Bob Telson
  • “Two Hearts” — Buster • Music: Lamont Dozier • Lyrics: Phil Collins

Phil Collins robbed for “Two Hearts.” He’d get one eventually, but for a far inferior song in Disney’s Tarzan. Ick.

1989 “Under the Sea” — The Little Mermaid • Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Howard Ashman

  • “After All” — Chances Are • Music: Tom Snow • Lyrics: Dean Pitchford
  • “Kiss the Girl” — The Little Mermaid • Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Howard Ashman
  • “I Love To See You Smile” — Parenthood • Music and lyrics: Randy Newman
  • “The Girl Who Used To Be Me” — Shirley Valentine • Music: Marvin Hamlisch • Lyrics: Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman

And it begins. The Academy’s decade-plus love affair with Disney, which also coincided with Disney’s film resurgence. I’d say, unlike the love ballads, “Under the Sea” was a well-deserved win.

1990 “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)” — Dick Tracy • Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim

  • “Promise Me You’ll Remember” — The Godfather Part III • Music: Carmine Coppola • Lyrics: John Bettis
  • “Somewhere in My Memory” — Home Alone • Music: John Williams • Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse
  • “I’m Checkin’ Out” — Postcards from the Edge • Music and lyrics: Shel Silverstein
  • “Blaze of Glory” — Young Guns II • Music and lyrics: Jon Bon Jovi

Blasphemy. Dick Tracy was a fun movie but this song, sung my Madonna, did NOT deserve it over Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory.”

The Love Ballad Era

1991 “Beauty and the Beast” — Beauty and the Beast • Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Howard Ashman (posthumous winner)

  • “Be Our Guest” — Beauty and the Beast • Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Howard Ashman (posthumous nomination)
  • “Belle” — Beauty and the Beast • Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Howard Ashman (posthumous nomination)
  • “When You’re Alone” — Hook • Music: John Williams • Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse
  • “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” — Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves • Music: Michael Kamen • Lyrics: Bryan Adams and Robert John Lange

Alan Menken strikes again, this time for a love ballad. The other two nominated Beauty and the Beast songs are good, as was Brian Adams’ Robin Hood song, but this year was all about the title song.

1992 “A Whole New World” — Aladdin • Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Tim Rice

  • “Friend Like Me” — Aladdin • Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Howard Ashman (posthumous nomination)
  • “I Have Nothing” — The Bodyguard • Music: David Foster • Lyrics: Linda Thompson
  • “Run to You” — The Bodyguard • Music: Jud Friedman • Lyrics: Allan Rich
  • “Beautiful Maria of My Soul” — The Mambo Kings • Music: Robert Kraft • Lyrics: Arne Glimcher

What’s interesting about this year was that Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard soundtrack came out, which was one of the top selling soundtracks of all time. But the award, once again, goes to Menken for yet another love ballad, this time from Aladdin.

1993 “Streets of Philadelphia” — Philadelphia • Music and lyrics: Bruce Springsteen

  • “The Day I Fall in Love” — Beethoven’s 2nd • Music and lyrics: Carole Bayer Sager, James Ingram and Cliff Magness
  • “Philadelphia” — Philadelphia • Music and lyrics: Neil Young
  • “Again” — Poetic Justice • Music and lyrics: Janet Jackson, James Harris III and Terry Lewis
  • “A Wink and a Smile” — Sleepless in Seattle • Music: Marc Shaiman • Lyrics: Ramsey McLean

Let’s give The Boss an award, shall we? “Streets of Philadelphia” is a decent song and worthy of praise, particularly after all those lousy love ballads. Either way, weak year for the category.

1994 “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” — The Lion King • Music: Elton John • Lyrics: Tim Rice

  • “Look What Love Has Done” — Junior • Music and lyrics: Carole Bayer Sager, James Newton Howard, James Ingram and Patty Smyth
  • “Circle of Life” — The Lion King • Music: Elton John • Lyrics: Tim Rice
  • “Hakuna Matata” — The Lion King • Music: Elton John • Lyrics: Tim Rice
  • “Make Up Your Mind” — The Paper • Music and lyrics: Randy Newman

Another love ballad. What’s odd about this is that “Circle of Life” was the better and more original song. Either way, Elton John and Tim Rice deserved the award.

1995 “Colors of the Wind” — Pocahontas • Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz

  • “Dead Man Walking” — Dead Man Walking • Music and lyrics: Bruce Springsteen
  • “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” — Don Juan DeMarco • Music: Michael Kamen • Lyrics: Bryan Adams and Robert John Lange
  • “Moonlight” — Sabrina • Music: John Williams • Lyrics: Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
  • “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” — Toy Story • Music and lyrics: Randy Newman

It’s tiring listening to these. “Colors of the Wind” might not be a love ballad, but it’s Menken once again and once again a Disney song. Then again, Springsteen didn’t deserve to win for “Dead Man Walking” (particularly after “Streets of Philadelphia” was also a downer), and Randy Newman wouldn’t start inexplicably winning until the 2000s for lousy songs in Pixar films.

1996 “You Must Love Me” — Evita • Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber • Lyrics: Tim Rice

  • “I Finally Found Someone” — The Mirror Has Two Faces • Music and lyrics: Barbra Streisand, Marvin Hamlisch, Bryan Adams and Robert John Lange
  • “For the First Time” — One Fine Day • Music and lyrics: James Newton Howard, Jud J. Friedman and Allan Dennis Rich
  • “That Thing You Do!” — That Thing You Do! • Music and lyrics: Adam Schlesinger
  • “Because You Loved Me” — Up Close & Personal • Music and lyrics: Diane Warren

Barf. Lousy year. Another award for Tim Rice, but this time with stage music legend Andrew Lloyd Webber. Deserving duo but this song leaves a lot to be desired.

1997 “My Heart Will Go On” — Titanic • Music: James Horner • Lyrics: Will Jennings

  • “Journey to the Past” — Anastasia • Music: Stephen Flaherty • Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens
  • “How Do I Live” — Con Air • Music and lyrics: Diane Warren
  • “Miss Misery” — Good Will Hunting • Music and lyrics: Elliott Smith
  • “Go the Distance” — Hercules • Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: David Zippel

The epitome of overdone power ballads HAD to get the award. (At least it wasn’t Celine Dione accepting it!)

1998 “When You Believe” — The Prince of Egypt • Music and lyrics: Stephen Schwartz

  • “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” — Armageddon • Music and lyrics: Diane Warren
  • “That’ll Do” — Babe: Pig in the City • Music and lyrics: Randy Newman
  • “A Soft Place to Fall” — The Horse Whisperer • Music and lyrics: Allison Moorer and Gwil Owen
  • “The Prayer” — Quest for Camelot • Music: Carole Bayer Sager and David Foster • Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, David Foster, Tony Renis and Alberto Testa

I would’ve preferred it if Aerosmith’s Armageddon song took this statue over another Stephen Schwartz cartoon song, but the award wasn’t actually going to Aerosmith (just the music and lyricist) so who cares. What’s actually interesting about this win for The Prince of Egypt is that it was Jeffrey Katzenberg’s big F-You to Disney, who he had bitterly split with after producing some of its other award-winning hits the previous decade.

1999 “You’ll Be in My Heart” — Tarzan • Music and lyrics: Phil Collins

  • “Save Me” — Magnolia • Music and lyrics: Aimee Mann
  • “Music of My Heart” — Music of the Heart • Music and lyrics: Diane Warren
  • “Blame Canada” — South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut • Music and lyrics: Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman
  • “When She Loved Me” — Toy Story 2 • Music and lyrics: Randy Newman

Here it is, the Academy apologizes to Phil Collins with an overdue award by giving it to him for a song he didn’t deserve it for. Simply put, “Blame Canada” was robbed, and having Trey Parker and Matt Stone in dresses (and on acid) accept this award would’ve been the highlight of the decade.

2000 “Things Have Changed” — Wonder Boys • Music and lyrics: Bob Dylan

  • “I’ve Seen It All” — Dancer in the Dark • Music: Björk • Lyrics: Lars von Trier and Sjón
  • “My Funny Friend and Me” — The Emperor’s New Groove • Music: Sting and David Hartley • Lyrics: Sting
  • “A Fool in Love” — Meet the Parents • Music and lyrics: Randy Newman
  • “A Love Before Time” — Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon • Music: Jorge Calandrelli and Tan Dun • Lyrics: James Schamus

Bob Dylan. Björk. Sting. Randy Newman. Puke.

2001 “If I Didn’t Have You” — Monsters, Inc. • Music and Lyrics: Randy Newman

  • “Until…” — Kate & Leopold • Music and Lyrics: Sting
  • “May It Be” — The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring • Music and Lyrics: Enya, Nicky Ryan and Roma Ryan
  • “There You’ll Be” — Pearl Harbor • Music and lyrics: Diane Warren
  • “Vanilla Sky” — Vanilla Sky • Music and Lyrics: Paul McCartney

The worst songwriter who constantly got snubbed finally takes home his first statue. The Randy Newman love-fest begins. Enya’s “May It Be,” a lovely song, was robbed.

2002 “Lose Yourself” — 8 Mile • Music: Eminem, Jeff Bass and Luis Resto • Lyrics: Eminem

  • “I Move On” — Chicago • Music: John Kander • Lyrics: Fred Ebb
  • “Burn It Blue” — Frida • Music: Elliot Goldenthal • Lyrics: Julie Taymor
  • “The Hands That Built America” — Gangs of New York • Music and Lyrics: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. (U2)
  • “Father and Daughter” — The Wild Thornberrys Movie • Music and Lyrics: Paul Simon

The Academy didn’t shock anyone when it picked a rap song to win in this category, because it was perhaps one of the most deserving of the decade. It makes the category relevant again.

2003 “Into the West” — The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King • Music and Lyrics: Fran Walsh, Howard Shore and Annie Lennox

  • “Scarlet Tide” — Cold Mountain • Music and Lyrics: T-Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello
  • “You Will Be My Ain True Love” — Cold Mountain • Music and Lyrics: Sting
  • “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” — A Mighty Wind • Music and lyrics: Michael McKean and Annette O’Toole
  • “Belleville Rendez-Vous” — The Triplets of Belleville • Music: Benoît Charest • Lyrics: Sylvain Chomet

This song benefited from The Return of the King love fest, but the song itself hardly deserved the prize, nor the nomination. It’s even more frustrating when a song this bad wins when Enya’s “May It Be” from The Fellowship of the Ring did not. However, no other nominated songs in 2003 really deserved to win either.

2004 “Al otro lado del río” — The Motorcycle Diaries • Music and Lyrics: Jorge Drexler

  • “Vois sur ton chemin (Look To Your Path)” — The Chorus • Music: Bruno Coulais • Lyrics: Christophe Barratier
  • “Learn to Be Lonely” — The Phantom of the Opera • Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber • Lyrics: Charles Hart
  • “Believe” — The Polar Express • Music and Lyrics: Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri
  • “Accidentally in Love” — Shrek 2 • Music: Adam Duritz, Charlie Gillingham, Jim Bogios, David Immerglück, Matthew Malley and David Bryson • Lyrics: Adam Duritz and Daniel Vickrey (all of Counting Crows)

Yeah, starting to think this category sucks again.

2005 “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” — Hustle & Flow • Music and Lyrics: Juicy J, Frayser Boy and DJ Paul(Juicy J & DJ Paul are members of Three 6 Mafia. Frayser Boy has collaborated with Three 6 Mafia but is not a member.)

  • “In the Deep” — Crash • Music: Kathleen York and Michael Becker • Lyrics: Kathleen York
  • “Travelin’ Thru” — Transamerica • Music and lyrics: Dolly Parton

I thought the Academy satisfied rap fans by already awarding this category, but apparently this Pimp song is also deserving of a trophy. Then again, who remembers the other two nominees? Bad year. At least this made for a fun acceptance speech to watch.

2006 “I Need to Wake Up” — An Inconvenient Truth • Music and Lyrics: Melissa Etheridge

  • “Our Town” — Cars • Music and Lyrics: Randy Newman
  • “Listen” — Dreamgirls • Music: Henry Krieger and Scott Cutler • Lyrics: Anne Preven
  • “Love You I Do” — Dreamgirls • Music: Henry Krieger • Lyrics: Siedah Garrett
  • “Patience” — Dreamgirls • Music: Henry Krieger • Lyrics: Willie Reale

Music-heavy movie Dreamgirls doesn’t take an award from this category? That’s what often happens when three get nominated – they cancel each other out, and then Melissa Etheridge wins. Well, at least it wasn’t Randy Newman.

The Recent Years Suck – No Commentary Needed

2007 “Falling Slowly” — Once

  • “Happy Working Song” — Enchanted
  • “So Close” — Enchanted
  • “That’s How You Know” — Enchanted
  • “Raise It Up” — August Rush

2008 “Jai Ho” — Slumdog Millionaire

  • “O…Saya” — Slumdog Millionaire
  • “Down to Earth”

2009 “The Weary Kind” — Crazy Heart

  • “Almost There” — The Princess and the Frog
  • “Down in New Orleans” — The Princess and the Frog
  • “Loin de Paname” — Paris 36
  • “Take It All” — Nine

2010 “We Belong Together” — Toy Story 3 • Music and Lyrics: Randy Newman

  • “I See the Light” — Tangled
  • “Coming Home” — Country Strong
  • “If I Rise” — 127 Hours

The old man and his piano win again. Well, at least 2011 has The Muppets.

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