Oscar’s Crimes – Part 3: Best Original Song of 1957 and 1965
All Points Bulletin:
Be on the lookout for a small, bald, gold man. He is 13 and 1/2 inches tall, weighs 8.5 lbs, sexual organs seem to be absent, tends to stand very still, constantly wielding a crusader’s sword, and is made of gold plated britannium on a black metal base. He is wanted for a list of crimes against the art of film that spans over 83 years. Consider him to be armed and dangerous.
This latest rundown of Oscar Crimes has us looking at the history of the Original Song Category:
Best Original Song of 1957 & 1965
Though I don’t know for sure, my guess is the Best Original Song Category is a holdover from the days when Hollywood cranked out huge numbers of musicals, throughout the first 50 years or so of the sound era. While the musical genre has returned in the past couple of decades, the real heyday of the musical was from the 1930s through the 1950s. Back then, you would have your latest Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers vehicle, a dynamically choreographed Gene Kelly showstopper, Roy Rogers singing his way through a B picture, or any number of big budget productions featuring chorus girls and rows of tuxedoed men tap dancing in perfect rhythm. Subsequently, in a given year, the movies would be filled with original songs written specifically for the screen, so it was totally understandable that they be rewarded.
Then came rock and roll. Generations eventually saw that older model of musical as anachronistic and corny. In the sixties, some great musicals were still made (West Side Story, My Fair Lady, etc.), but it’s often thought the last real “Hollywood” musical was Cabaret in 1971. There were others throughout the rest of the century (Hair, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, New York New York, Purple Rain, Newsies), but they became much fewer and far between. And not many were financially successful anymore.
So the model for songs that qualified in this Oscar category moved to songs that either played over the end credits, or that played a significant part in the film itself. Sometimes that works great; other times it’s just a tool for the studio to sell the soundtrack after you spent money on the movie ticket. Any and all of these models for using a song in a movie are valid. There are no rules about what’s right.
When the Best Original Song Award is at its best, a song is named that immediately evokes the movie in your head. It defines the film. Some examples of winners that got it right:
“Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire (2009)
“Falling Slowly” from Once (2008)
“Beauty and the Beast” from the animated version (1991)
“Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid (1989)
“Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins (1964)
“Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
“Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah” from Song of the South (1947)
This list could get really long, but, needless to say, when this category works, it can work great.
But when it doesn’t, oh man can things go off the rails.
The first problem at least I can understand. They want to reward songs that were specifically written for the movie in question. So while you end up with songs that are memorably linked to the movie that featured them, if the song was written previously it doesn’t qualify. That’s how we get what would seemingly be an oversight in certain years. An example would be: can anyone think of Saturday Night Fever and not think of Bee Gees music? No, but they weren’t original songs. They were written before and then used in the film itself. This also explains why Simon & Garfunkel’s soundtrack for The Graduate didn’t qualify. It’s probably one of the best soundtracks of all time, with a plethora of classic songs on it, but with the exception of “Mrs. Robinson” they were all previously recorded (the film only used snippets of “Mrs. Robinson” and the rest of the song wasn’t written until after the movie).
But the biggest crimes landed in the years 1957 & 1965. At the time, the Academy must have not been respecting Rock as a prestigious enough genre (the same might currently be said of Oscar’s attitude towards Rap). This dismissal of Rock leads to some of Elvis’s best songs, specifically written for the screen, not being nominated for Best Original Song.
Look at the nominees for 1957:
“An Affair To Remember” from An Affair to Remember
“All The Way” from The Joker Is Wild (winner)
“April Love” from April Love
“Tammy” from Tammy and the Bachelor
“Wild Is the Wind” from Wild Is the Wind
I don’t care what planet you are from, there is now way that any of those nominees is better than Jailhouse Rock. Not a chance.
And here were the nominees of 1965:
“The Ballad of Cat Ballou” from Cat Ballou
“I Will Wait For You” from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
“The Shadow of Your Smile” from The Sandpiper (winner)
“The Sweetheart Tree” from The Great Race
“What’s New Pussycat?” from What’s New Pussycat?
Now, while most of you after reading these titles are doing your best Tom Jones crooning to “What’s New Pussycat?”, there is no way that anyone can ever say that any of these songs deserve recognition over any song from Help by The Beatles. THE BEATLES for god sake! Just in case you need a little jogging of your memory, let’s quickly run down the hits that were in Help: “Help!,” “The Night Before,” “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” “Another Girl,” “Ticket To Ride,” “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl.”
So, one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, boasting more bona fide popular tracks than most other movies can even dream of—a movie that they could’ve thrown a dart at and hit a great song—isn’t even nominated. Wow.
We recently just heard the nominees for 2010 for this category. This is one of those years with very little in the way of truly memorable songs. It serves as a great example of how hot and cold this category can run. This is one of those years that they almost might as well not have this award. But how they could have missed the mark so badly in these two years is a crime.