Sunday, May 17, 2015

Best Song: "When You Wish Upon a Star" (1940)

Scene from Pinocchio
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 1940 and The Academy is celebrating its 13th year. This was the first year that the screenplay category was separated into Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. This was also the first year the nominees were held in secrecy in envelopes, thus leading to the phrase "May I have the envelope, please." Alfred Hitchcock' Rebecca won Best Picture and producer David O. Russell became the first person to win consecutive Best Picture awards (Gone with the Wind being the other). Pinocchio became the first animated film to win competing awards including Best Original Score and Best Original Score for the song "When You Wish Upon a Star." 

The Nominees

Song: "Down Argentine Way"
Film: Down Argentine Way
Performers: Betty Grable, Don Ameche

The nominations this year kick off strong with a song that is full of life and personality. I enjoy that the song itself is bilingual and combines rhythmic styles to make a dance song that is catchy. Along with clicking sounds, this is a rather catchy song that sticks with you not only because of length, but because the production is so solidly orchestrated. Without knowledge of the film, I cannot really predict what the point of the song is besides a big advertisement for Argentina, but it sure makes the country sound lovely. I especially like how the song builds, joining the lyrical styles of both performers to make something more celebratory than the Oscars are used to. Overall, a really strong production.

Song: "I'd Know You Anywhere"
Film: You'll Find Out
Performers: Ginny Simms

It is a lovely song with a nice froxtrot-style rhythm that keeps the music bouncy enough. I feel like even the song lyrically has a lot of charm to it. The only issue is that having heard so many love songs in the Best Song column that is essentially in this key, it is hard to really find much reason to feel excited about this song. It is fun and one of the better numbers, but it doesn't have as much distinguished personality as it could. For the most part, it is a song that is just all right and lovely at the same time.

Song: "It's a Blue World"
Film: Music in My Heart
Performers: Tony Martin

Much like the previous entry, this is a song that sounds lovely and I cannot fault Tony Martin for bringing passion to the song. It is beautiful in that way. However, the melancholy lyrics and the simplicity keep it from having an immediate personality and keeps me from immediately loving it. The song is pretty good, especially as his voice wavers through the notes and adds something extra to the emotional core. However, the short and simple route has proven to be something that hasn't sat well with me, especially when trying to figure out why these songs are so great.

Song: "Would You LIke to Be the Love of My Life"
Film: Second Chorus
Performers: Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard

It makes sense why Fred Astaire keeps showing up at the Oscars. While his music style may be almost the same as performers that I have been lukewarm on, he has a certain passion that is radiant. He knows how to make the simplest of lyrics take on a grand, sweeping quality to them. This song is very basic, but there's a sense of anticipation and romance in it that drives the song from a mere question to the prelude to something greater. It may not be Astaire's best, but he's been racking up a lot of great numbers at the Best Original Song category that would make for an interesting ranking compilation of his work sometime down the line.

Song: "Only Forver"
Film: Rhythm on the River
Performers: Bing Crosby

It has been awhile since we heard from Bing Crosby, and he returns with a decent song that is more evidence that a vocal style can make or break a song. While the lyrics are typical in their simplicity, he makes the harmonious quality shine despite lacking a memorable melody. Even the duet that comes at the end manages to carry something special. However, I do feel like the song's one issue is that it doesn't leave a lasting impression on the first listen, specifically because of the instrumental production. I can't recall a harmony and the lyrics aren't necessarily the best. It is a good showcase for Crosby's voice, but there isn't much else that I enjoyed about this particular song.

Song: "Our Love Affair"
Film: Strike Up the Band
Performers: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney

It's the return of Judy Garland, who also turned in my favorite Best Song winner so far. I feel like this song has a lot going for it. For starters, there's the optimism of youth wanting to grow up. There's Mickey Rooney doing his charming thing. While the filming itself looks very awkward, it does have a lot of exuberance and joy in it that helps it to stand out. I don't necessarily think that it is as great as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," but it does strengthen my interest in Garland as a singer and I am sure in time I will like this song more. Among the songs that have straightforward lyrics this year, this is likely my favorite so far.

Song: "Waltzing in the Clouds"
Film: Spring Parade
Performers: Deanna Durbin

This is a song that reminds me of the great diversity of 1938. While it wasn't the perfect year, it was an interesting one to listen to. While the only other song that sounds "different" from what I have heard before was "Down Argentine Way," this one is also pretty great. It really feels like a waltzing through the clouds in the best ways possible. The orchestration is so upbeat and catchy that this may as well be the ear worm of the year. Even if the song dies down and changes into melody and dance, I am still enjoying myself the entire time and thinking the lyrics in my head. This song is just so full of life that I have trouble wondering why there isn't more songs like this on this year's list.

Song: "Who Am I"
Film: Hit Parade of 1941
Performers: Frances Langford

It's a solid song that highlights the vocal stylings of Frances Langford and lets her sing to her heart's contempt. I like it and feel that she brings something special to the song. However, without context, it is hard to really appreciate this song. It is also hard to really like because this year has a lot of songs that are more reliant on vocalists than entire productions. This isn't problematic, but it makes the songs in general more of an acquired taste that take longer to enjoy and remember. I like it, but it ranks pretty low on my personal favorites from this year's nominees.

The Winner

Song: "When You Wish Upon a Star"
Film: Pinocchio
Performers: Cliff Edwards

It begins to get tricky when asking to compare Best Original Song winners and nominees when Disney gets involved. This is largely because, like most people, I grew up on these films and had a sentimental attachment. This song winning makes a lot of sense because of its optimistic message placed into one of Disney's most striking movies. The melody is instantly memorable and it captures your attention. If there is any fault, I am not a huge fan of Pinocchio, so my love of the song isn't nearly as strong as more obsessive fans. However, it's still really strong and it's hard not to like. It is interesting to see that this is the first major break for Disney, which is someone we'll be seeing a lot of in the remaining entries on this list. So strap in.

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. "Waltzing in the Clouds" - Spring Parade (1940)
4. "Dust" - Under Western Stars (1938)
5. "I Poured My Heart Into a Song" - Second Fiddle (1939)
6. "Remember Me" - Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937
7. "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. "When You Wish Upon a Star" - Pinocchio (1940)
5. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
6. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
7. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

No comments:

Post a Comment