Sunday, July 01, 2012

Music Sunday - Academy Award-winning Songs Edition...

I've been thinking about movie music this week, and about the songs that have won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

The songs in this category, which was not introduced until the 7th ceremony, for films released in 1934), must have been written specifically for the film in which they appear, and the award goes to the songwriters, not the singer/s of the song in the film, although there have been several instances of a songwriter also being the singer in the film.

Probably the best place to start is the winner in 1939, from The Wizard of Oz: "Over the Rainbow", written by Harold Arlen (Music) and Yip Harburg (Lyrics), and sung in the film by Judy Garland. This is a good place to start because the American Film Institute has named this the greatest movie song of all time. And it is one of my favorites. Here is how it appears in the movie:

My favorite Best Song winner, however, is this one, "The Windmills of Your Mind", written by Michel Legrand (music) and Alan and Marilyn Bergman (Lyrics), which appeared in the 1968 film, The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Steve McQueen. Sung by Noel Harrison (also an actor and the son of actor Rex Harrison), its use in the film is, I think, perfect:

The song, and the performance of the song fit perfectly, I think, the visuals that accompany it.

In the remake of the film, which starred Pierce Brosnan (and which I have not seen), the song is covered by Sting. I've heard that version, and while it is not bad, I don't like it nearly as much as the original.

Another interesting Best Original Song winner is, as unlikely as it seems, from the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), by Jay Livingston (music) and Ray Evans (Lyrics). "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" (the order of the song title was changed to "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for purposes of the ceremony), which became Doris Day's signature song, usually gets a lighthearted reading in performance. Not so in the film, where it is also performed by Doris Day:

Also bearing mention, historically speaking, is "Evergreen", from the Barbra Streisand version of A Star is Born. When this song won Best Original Song, Streisand became the first woman to win in the category for composing the music, as opposed to writing the lyrics (which were written by Paul Williams). The song also won the Golden Globe that year for Best Original Song, and Streisand won a Grammy for it for Song of the Year. It is also a good song, used effectively in the film, where she sings it with Kris Kristofferson:

In the past couple of decades, more songwriters from the rock, pop, and other contemporary music world have won Academy Awards for Best Original Song. Perhaps most notable is Bruce Springsteen's win, in 1993, for "Streets of Philadelphia", from the Tom Hanks/Denzel Washington film Philadelphia, for writing both the music and the lyrics:

Apologies for the poor quality of the sound after the song itself, but I couldn't find a video of the use of the song in the film. This performance of the song, from the Academy Award ceremonies, is wonderful, but whoever posted the clip was not as careful at the end, when Springsteen made his acceptance speech, and there is some background noise.

Other winners from the rock/pop/rap world include, Phil Collins, who has been nominated three times and won for "You'll Be in My Heart", from Tarzan; Lionel Richie, who won for "Say You, Say Me", from White Nights; Elton John, who wrote the music of "Can You Feel The Love Tonight", from The Lion King; Bob Dylan, for "Things Have Changed", from Wonder Boys; Annie Lennox, who collaborated on the music and lyrics for "Into The West", from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; and, perhaps most surprisingly (for me, at least), Eminem won for writing the lyrics to "Lose Yourself", from 8 Mile. My surprise comes not so much from has having written winning lyrics, but from the Academy voting for the song. And, on another historical note, Melissa Etheridge won for writing "I Need to Wake Up", from An Inconvenient Truth, marking the first time a song from a documentary had won in the category.

For me, one of the most interesting things about the history of Best Original Song winners is that even though I'm both a music fan and a film fan, there are so many of the songs, both winners and nominees, that I don't know at all. While some were hits, others seem to have made no mark on he world outside of the film they appeared in, at least in any venue that I am aware of.

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