Sunday, April 26, 2015

Best Song: "Sweet Leiulani" (1937)

Welcome to Best Song, a new weekly column released on Sunday dedicated to chronicling the Best Original Song category over the course of its many decades. The goal is to listen to and critique every song that has ever been nominated in the category as well as find the Best Best Song and the Best Loser. By the end, we'll have a comprehensive list of this music category and will hopefully have a better understanding not only of the evolution, but what it takes to receive a nomination here. It may seem easy now, but wait until the bad years.

The Preface

The year is 1937 and the Academy is celebrating its first decade. A Star is Born becomes the first color film to receive a Best Picture nomination. Luise Rainer becomes the first actor to win two consecutive acting Oscars for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937). The Life of Emile Zola has won Best Picture. Bing Crosby has won Best Original Song for "Sweet Leilani" from the film Waikiki Wedding. This year saw the inclusion of five nominees, which is one less than the year before. 

The Nominees

Song: "Whispers in the Dark"
Film: Artists and Models
Performers: Connee Boswell

The one issue with doing this column weekly is that a lot of songs blend in and without cinematic context only makes it harder to appreciate what it's going for. While it is a fine song and I like the foxtrot melody that Connee Boswell is singing, I do find it a little familiar and a little cliche. The melody is the real driving force in this song and the lyrics have their moments, but nothing exciting really happens in the song. It is also interesting that this song was going to be sung in a Marlene Dietrich film the year prior, but was scrapped. For what it's worth, the song has plenty of charm, but I feel like of the handful of songs that I have heard so far, it isn't the most exceptional. I can get its appeal, but in the grand scheme, I have trouble appreciating it without context.

Kenny Baker in Mr. Dodd Takes the Air
Song: "Remember Me"
Film: Mr. Dodd Takes the Air
Performers: Kenny Baker
*NOTE: Due to embedding restrictions, I am unable to post the video here. Follow this link to watch the video of it being performed by the same artist in a broadcast.

While it is an acquired taste to get used to that pitch, I must admit that I like this song's enthusiasm. Despite not knowing the context of the lyrics, I am able to feel like there's emotion and passion in the lines. This is also a relief to know that this is the second song from a new entry on this list as opposed to the familiar Bing Crosby or Fred Astaire. It isn't that they're bad, but I feel like the Academy's bigger issue early on is that they didn't recognize a more diverse pool of performers. It may just be my lack of knowledge of what was available at the time, but it is nice to see Baker on this list. He definitely has a lot of enjoyable moments in his song and I do hope that he's back on this list soon.

Song: "They Can't Take That Away From Me"
Film: Shall We Dance
Performers: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

While I stand by my previous statements about seeing the old familiar hats once again, it is really hard to stay mad at any of them. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers have impeccable chemistry that continues to resonate and it's easy to see why they're continually referenced in this category. Yes, they have the same melodies and lyrics that most of the other songs that I don't call interesting have, but they manage to fill them with a life that makes them impossible to resist. I come away feeling the same here, especially as the song feels passionate and full of purpose. I wish that I could find more fault in them just so I can start complaining about Best Original Song repeat offenders, but these two have great music collaborators on their side. Overall, a great song and an easy reminder why they're favorites.

Song: "That Old Feeling"
Film: Vogues of 1938
Performers: Virginia Verrill

It seems like one of the bigger themes of this year's nominees is discussing love through a nostalgic lens. I will admit that overall the nominees are a step up from last year. Even though I feel that this song hits a lot of familiar notes, it is interesting to hear Virginia Verrill sing through different levels of her register. It adds personality and the lack of polished quality makes me enjoy the lyrics of nostalgia a whole lot more. Everything about this song is pretty good and somehow feels distinguished enough from its other nominees that I can actually appreciate it a lot more than "Whispers in the Dark." 

The Winner

Song: "Sweet Leilani"
Film: Waikiki Wedding
Performers: Bing Crosby

Listen, I think that Bing Crosby has made a lot of great music and I don't fault his many, many nominations. However, this may be the least interesting Best Original Song winner so far. It isn't because of how short or simple it is. It's more that in a year that sees the overall song production get far more interesting, it goes for Crosby's least interesting song. Much like I am trying to understand why each of these songs were nominated, I am trying to figure out why this one won. There isn't much interesting to it when compared to "They Can't Take That Away From Me" or "That Old Feeling." This is just too bland and forgettable and feels like a win specifically because we all agree that Crosby is great at his job. It will be hard to beat this Best Original Song winner for least favorite for hopefully some time.

Best Loser

A comprehensive list and ranking of the songs that were nominated but did not win. This is a list predicated on which song that was nominated I liked the best.

1. "Carioca" - Flying Down to Rio (1934)
2. "Cheek to Cheek" - Top Hat (1935)
3. "Remember Me" - Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937
4. "I've Got You Under My Skin" - Born to Dance (1936)

Best Best Song

A comprehensive list and ranking of the songs that won this category. 

1. "The Way You Look Tonight" - Swing Time (1936)
2. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
3. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
4. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

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