Sunday, May 3, 2015

Best Song: "Thanks For the Memory" (1938)

Scene from The Big Broadcast of 1938
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 1938 and the Academy is celebrating is 11th year. The Grand Illusion became the first foreign film to be nominated for Best Picture. Frank Capra became the first person to win Best Director three times for the films It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deed Goes to Town (1936) and You Can't Take It With You (1938). Spencer Tracy became the first actor to win back-to-back acting awards for Captain Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938). The Academy also saw an influx of Best Original Song nominees with its highest number to date with 10 nominees. The Big Broadcast of 1938 eventually won with its song "Thanks for the Memory."

The Nominees

Song: "Always and Always"
Film: Mannequin
Performers: Joan Crawford

It is a lovely and simple song that clocks in at under two minutes. The themes are familiar, especially this far into the Best Original Song cannon. Thankfully Joan Crawford knows how to put emotion into the simple lyrics and ends up creating something that is wholly beautiful and inspired. My only issue here is that without context, the song simply sounds elegant without any real substance. I find that this is a recurring issue with these older songs, which are actually very well done, but sound a little too simple to later Best Original Song nominees and winners. However, I still like this one quite a bit and we're off to a strong start in a year full of overcrowding.

Song: "Change Partners"
Film: Carefree
Performers: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers

It is so hard to ever be mad at Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers because unlike Bing Crosby, they have been consistently enjoyable. In this case, the lyrics are clever and sung with gusto as the subject of being adventurous is explored. I like these type of songs because they have personality and even the lyrics by Irving Berlin pop. It makes them memorable, which I feel is an unfortunate issue with these older songs as well. However, this is really good and probably ranks as one of my favorites of their many, many nominations so far.

Song: "The Cowboy and the Lady"
Film: The Cowboy and the Lady
Performers: "Cowboys in the store"

While this song isn't listed on IMDb as being performed by any particular performer, I will admit that I like that we finally are adding more of a country diversity to the overall feel of the Best Original Song. The ukulele goes a long and adds a personality to the bopping song as it goes through the rhythms. I am aware that this isn't the first country song to be nominated, but it is the first with actual personality. While I feel that something is lost in not having visual, I feel that it fits the personality of a song credited to "Cowboys in the store." I don't know what that means, but they definitely play with enough charm to make me like it. I feel that if I could hear a properly recorded version of it, I may be able to give a more proper assessment.

Song: "Dust"
Film: Under Western Stars
Performers: Roy Rogers

It may seem odd to say, but this is the first song of every nomination that actually feels like a strong Best Original Song contender. While I have enjoyed several that have come before, this is one of the few that actually has an emphasis and lingering themes that causes you to remember the song. It is a story told by Roy Rogers of the forgotten land lost to the dust bowl. It may sound more dated than most songs on this list, but it also has a melancholy vibe to it that reflects on something deeper and more conflicting of society. It may not be the most enjoyable, but it definitely feels more important than more songs about love that have no real definition.

Song: "Jeepers Creepers"
Film: Going Places
Performers: Louis Armstrong

This is another case of an older song that I have heard, but wasn't aware that it was from an older film. It also helps that Louis Armstrong's distinct voice register manages to add a wacky vibe to the whole song and turns it into something a lot more interesting in the process. It may seem contradictory to say, especially after "Dust," but it is a great nonsensical song that I feel deserves to be on this list just for its sheer craft. I feel that Armstrong is really the standout of the song and adds a comical touch to it. I wish that I could understand the larger context of which it is involved, but for now I am fine with the song's bouncy rhythm.

Song: "Merrily We Live"
Film: Merrily We Live
Performers: "Offscreen chorus"

I don't have any issues with short songs, but I do feel like there is something lost in trying assess all these songs. They come and go before there's any chance to really enjoy them. This song has an upbeat and nice production that makes me excited. However, by the time that I am enjoying it, it is over. It is a plus that the music doesn't outstay its welcome, but it also strips it of personality, even if this is very different from almost all nominees this year (a strong sign so far). I enjoy it and I like how it comes to an abrupt end, but I wish that there was more to it; a common complaint that I have with a lot of these older films from the past few weeks.

Song: "A Mist Over the Moon"
Film: The Lady Objects
Performers: Lanny Ross

This year's nominees are full of personal contradictory. Where I complained that the previous entry was too short, I was thinking that this was a little long. There is nothing wrong with the lyrics or Lanny Ross' singing style. It is simply that as the years have progressed and I have heard my fair share of classical performers, it's hard to distinguish too much love for the songs that just don't click. I like the passion that is on display, but it drags a little as the song progresses, and I am unsure if that is a good or a bad thing. Maybe it is simply the mood I am when listening to this. However, there isn't much to this that makes me invested, so it already is my least favorite of this year's batch so far.

Song: "My Own"
Film: That Certain Age
Performers: Deanna Durbin

It's another familiar song that I feel like I have heard before on this list. However, I do like the work that is done here. There's plenty of jaunty foxtrot rhythms and the lyrics have a certain passion to them that make me enjoy the song. It is relaxing and I like the orchestration on it. In fact, I like that in a year jam packed with diversity that the old style is what sticks out the most. I like this song and feel like there's a lot to enjoy, even if I still have issues getting into these songs' long intros. Not the best, but it definitely has its place on the list.

Song: "Now It Can Be Told"
Film: Alexander's Ragtime Band
Performers: Alice Faye

I stand by my choice to judge a song outside of the context, though I would love if it wasn't the case. In general, I am surprised that this song, which is in a film featuring the word ragtime isn't actually in the style. With that said, it is a nice yet familiar love song that tells a story that I presumed took place over the course of the film. It has a nice and soothing quality to it that makes me immediately interested in the lyrics. I wish that this was actually more of a ragtime song, but I will not gripe about the things that I wish it was. Instead, I'll give this song points for being good, even if the subject of same sounding love songs is getting a little repetitive at this point and I am glad that this year reflected a great shift towards other styles.

The Winner

Song: "Thanks for the Memory"
Film: The Big Broadcast of 1938
Performers: Bob Hope, Shirley Ross

One of the interesting things about the music that appeals to me is that even thought I don't know their story, they tell one that is interesting. In this case, it is very specific and full of candid moments that I am sure were scattered throughout the film. I am even convinced that I would be more invested if I saw this in the film. However, I do come away really charmed by how raw it is and that the performers are constantly laughing and breaking rhythm in order to make the song more authentic. That alone makes this one of the more worthwhile winners and one that I am sure to listen to again just to understand and appreciate over time. For now, it ranks pretty high on my favorites scale.

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. "Remember Me" - Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937
5. "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. "Thanks for the Memory" - The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
3. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
4. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
5. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

No comments:

Post a Comment