Sunday, May 10, 2015

Best Song: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (1939)

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz
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 1939 and the Academy is celebrating its 12th year. This was the first year that an award for special effects was given out (The Rains Came won). This was also the first year that there were two Best Cinematography awards handed out for black and white (Wuthering Heights won) and color (Gone with the Wind won). Sidney Howard, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for Gone with the Wind, became the first posthumous Oscar winner. Hattie McDaniel, who won Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind, became the first African American Oscar winner. In the Best Original Song category, The Wizard of Oz won for the iconic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

The Nominees

Song: "Faithful Forever"
Film: Gulliver's Travels
Performers: Leo Robin

For the most part, it is a nice little song that is done within 90 seconds. This isn't so much of a bad thing, as it never outstays its welcome. The soothing melody and the romantic lyrics definitely provide a deeper emphasis for the emotional core of the songs. I feel that as a whole, it works as this charming song that in context likely elevates it something more grand and romantic. However, it falls into a camp on initial listen of being another short and simple love song that has great production values, but doesn't really feel like a great song in the lasting sense of the words. It is fine and one that could likely grow on me. However, it doesn't have much impact on a first listen.

Song: "I Poured My Heart Into a Song"
Film: Second Fiddle
Performers: Rudy Vallee

So far, this is my favorite of this year's nominees. It may fall into the camp of familiar styling and lyricism. However, there's a lot more going on that makes me excited about it. The production is very crisp and the lyrics have a personal feel to them that makes me immediately connected to everything. I feel that more than anything, the easiest way to make a song that appeals to me in this column is to make one that feels distinct and personal instead of just a broad romantic gesture. Thankfully, the production is also a lot more upbeat and bouncy than they have been for songs of this kind before. If I were to randomly pop on a song from this year's nominees, this is likely the front runner.

Song: "Wishing (Will Make It So)"
Film: Love Affair
Performers: "A group of children"

This is a song that I like more as an idea than in execution. As I have made clear previously, I think that having love songs with broad subjects makes them feel probably a little too impersonal out of context. However, the a'Capella styling really elevates the song into something that sounds a lot more beautiful and interesting overall. I am unsure which version is the one that should be judged more specifically, but I presume it is the latter. It definitely has great harmonies and I feel that if I had context, things might make a lot more sense. For now, I feel like this is a really well made song with uninteresting lyrics.

The Winner

Song: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
Film: The Wizard of Oz
Performers: Judy Garland

It seems totally unfair to even have to judge this song against the peers. Like most children of my age, there's a certain affinity that you have for The Wizard of Oz because you watched it as a child, forming an everlasting bond with its music. This song in particular is so ingrained in pop culture that it is impossible to not know it. For me, the music that sings of hope is still beautiful because of Judy Garland's singing and the metaphorical reach for a better future. It fills you with chills from how beautiful it is. It is likely the first ear worm Best Original Song winner that I have heard on this list - though far from the last. As a whole, I really love this song way too much to say too many bad words about it. It is one of the purest songs that I have heard on this list, and thus should explain why it will be a tough one to beat for presumably the next few decades.

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. "Dust" - Under Western Stars (1938)
4. "I Poured My Heart Into a Song" - Second Fiddle (1939)
5. "Remember Me" - Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937
6. "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 Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
5. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
6. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

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