Sunday, May 24, 2015

Best Song: "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (1941)

Scene from Lady Be Good
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 1941 and The Academy is celebrating its 14th year. This was the year that How Green Was My Valley infamously beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture. Ford also held two distinct honors as the first director to win three Best Director statues and the first to win one back to back (the other being The Grapes of Wrath). Joan Fontaine became the only performer to win an acting Oscar for an Alfred Hitchcock film (Best Actress - Hold Back the Dawn). This was also the first year that the Best Documentary category was given out for Churchill's Island. With a total of nine nominations, The Little Foxes would hold the honor of being the most nominated film (9 nominations) without winning one until Peyton Place in 1957. Lady Be Good took home the prize for Best Original Song with "The Last Time I Saw Paris."

The Nominees

Song: "Baby Mine"
Film: Dumbo
Performers: Betty Noyes

Planting its place once again in the Best Original Song Category, Disney delivers yet another great song in one of their most beloved films. The lullaby style of "Baby Mine" is something that on its own can soothe the jilted nerves. However, in the context of the larger film, it is able to become more of a striking moment thanks to the context. It becomes a powerful song that could make anyone cry. While I don't feel like it is my favorite song, I do want to give it credit for being a simple yet powerful one whose melody is enough to pluck the heartstrings.

Song: "Be Honest With Me"
Film: Ridin' on a Rainbow
Performers:Gene Autry

It's nice to see a country song in the mix as the Singing Cowboy appears to sing us a little ditty. With nothing but a guitar and an accordion, he manages to capture the upbeat enthusiasm of the song's simple lyrics bring them to life. If the purpose of a great song is to be immediately recognizable, then Gene Autry has mastered the craft with a song that is easy on the ears and easy to learn without seeming contrived. It may not be an exceptional song, but it definitely proves that there were great country songs out there in the 40's worthy of nominating.

Song: "Blues in the Night"
Film: Blues in the Night
Performers: "Blacks during a montage"

I want to personally note that I am not sure if this is the version heard in the film. If it isn't, please let me know. However, I think that as a production, it is very solid. While it takes its sweet time to get to the sweet stuff, it does have a nice melody that feels ominous and really gets you in the mood. With nice vocal harmonies, this is a very solid song that sticks with you, even if it is a little too simple in structure and leaves something to be desired. Even then, it still have enough energy to make this one of the more exciting entries in an already impressively diverse year.

Song: "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B"
Film: Buck Privates
Performers: The Andrew Sisters

When looking at the line-up for this week's nominees, I was personally excited to see this one on here. Besides not knowing that this was from an Abbott and Costello movie, the song is one that always brings back good memories. I have heard it out of context as it has evolved into more of a patriotic tune than one of a silly little slapstick movie. With the three-part harmony and the horn driving the rhythm, it makes for one of the most upbeat and classic songs of its era about the military. It may not be the most nuanced song of its era, but it definitely gets you excited and will be stuck in your head for hours afterward. I am mostly surprised that any song like this that has since entered the American Songbook would actually be Oscar-nominated. I guess that they sometimes got things right. Now the question lays on what the winner has that this does not.

Song: "Chattanooga Choo Choo"
Film: Sun Valley Serenade
Performers: Glenn Miller and His Orchestra

For starters, I am only familiar with the first three minutes of the song. While I recognize its place as a big band standard, it does go into some odd directions. While I like the rhythm and the initial lyrics, it does begin to wear after awhile. Again, an issue with reviewing these songs is sometimes not having context. I am not entirely sure why these people are waiting for the train or if we should really care about either party. However, I feel like the last half is just an excuse to watch two men do some amazing dance moves. The song itself still radiates with energy and is enjoyable in all aspects, but I do feel like it gets a little redundant the longer it goes on. Still a favorite off of this list.

Song: "Dolores"
Film: Las Vegas Nights
Performers: Bert Wheeler, Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra

Once again, I recognize that this isn't the original version with Bert Wheeler's part being sung by Frank Sinatra. I am going to try and judge the song more on quality than vocal patterns. As it stands, it falls into a camp of songs that I generally have found tedious on this list. It is a slow love song that has goofy rhymes for a girl named Dolores. With backing vocals chiming in, it adds a nice touch that makes it seem more romantic. However, it still is at best ambient and swooning in measures that aren't immediately memorable; or at least help them stand out in the race for Best Original Song. I like it well enough, but it needed something extra to be memorable.

Song: "Out of the Silence"
Film: All American Co-Ed
Performer: Frances Langford

The Youtube video I used didn't allow for embedding, so please visit the page here. Much like "Dolores," it is a song that is perfectly fine and has nice harmonies, but I don' really feel that moved by what else is there. Sure, Frances Langford has a powerful voice that really empowers you as she sings about heaven. I'll give her that. However, the song kind of flows through without much else really going on. The song is fine and I would be curious to hear more from Langford. However, this song doesn't necessarily get me excited in quite the ways that other songs on this list have. Good, but not great.

Song: "Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye"
Film: You'll Never Get Rich
Performers: The Four Tones

Once again, it is hard to get through this Best Song column without at least acknowledging Fred Astaire. While he only dances to the song, it is more evidence that he had connections to some of the finest song writers and composers of his era. With The Four Tones singing the song, it adds a melancholy vibe to the song that feels more personal and intricate than the average song. It may be made memorable by Astaire's very presence, but the song is able to stand up on its own and gives one of the better tunes about loneliness that have been present on this list. With a deep voice and a certain passion, it is a nice counterbalance to all of the optimistic songs that have been present on this list.

The Winner

Song: "The Last Time I Saw Paris"
Film: Lady Be Good
Performers: Ann Sothern

Once you get past my initial gripe of it beating "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B," I actually come away really finding charm in the song. The lyrics about dodging cabs and finding romance at every turn is something that is personified in her deep, soothing voice. While I have been harsh on love songs that don't feel substantial, I think it's because they cover the basic outline of a song without much effort. I don't often feel like there's a deeper point to them, and that's an issue when you're trying to come up with a Best Song. In an impressively diverse year that brings a lot of personal favorites, I am fine with this one winning because much like "Thanks for the Memory" a few weeks ago, it has something deeper and more personal to say about love than the basic sentiments. It may seem like an odd thing to gripe over, but it does make a lot of difference. Also, Ann Sothern definitely makes the song more interesting with her vocal design.

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. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" - Buck Privates (1941)
3. "Cheek to Cheek" - Top Hat (1935)
4. "Waltzing in the Clouds" - Spring Parade (1940)
5. "Dust" - Under Western Stars (1938)
6. "I Poured My Heart Into a Song" - Second Fiddle (1939)
7. "Remember Me" - Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937
8. "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. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. "The Way You Look Tonight" - Swing Time (1936)
3. "Thanks for the Memory" - The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
4. "The Last Time I Saw Paris" - Lady Be Good (1941)
5. "When You Wish Upon a Star" - Pinocchio (1940)
6. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
7. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
8. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

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