Sunday, May 31, 2015

Best Song: "White Christmas" (1942)

Scene from Holiday Inn
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 1942 and The Academy is celebrating its 15th year. This was the year in which Mrs. Miniver won Best Picture and was the second one to be nominated in all four acting categories. The Best Documentary category had a one time event in which there were four winners. Irvin Berlin would present the Best Original Song category, of which he would win for his work on the song "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn

The Nominees

Song: "Always in My Heart"
Film: Always in My Heart
Performers: Walter Huston and Gloria Warren

While it runs into the same problems of me finding the slow love song a little generic, I do think that Walter Huston brings something charming to the song. It could be that his melodic voice manages to make an entrancing rhythm that makes the love song, at its core, feel very sincere. Among the many songs to tackle love, this ranks among the ones that are actually memorable and worth a second listen. IMDb claims that there were several versions played throughout the film, so I am unsure of which was nominated. However, I still think that it's pretty good.

Song: "Dearly Beloved"
Film: You Were Never Lovelier
Performers: Rita Hayworth

On the flip side of familiar subjects, I feel that Rita Hayworth has done good work during this Best Song column. However, I don't necessarily think that this song works without context. She has a nice voice and she delivers the lines beautifully, but there's nothing that's immediately striking about it that makes the song particularly great. It also hurts that it's under two minutes long and ends before there is any real resolution to the music. I like it, but it feels like something is missing from the final product.

Song: "How About You?"
Film: Babes on Broadway
Performers: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland

As I have stated before, I do feel that there's some charm to Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland that plays into their youthful age. While the lyrics date the song, it still manages to have a certain personality that makes songs like "Thanks for the Memory" stick out. It also helps that the wistful tune is also catchy. I also believe that the song probably works a lot better in the film, but the way that the song is transcribed into melodic banter is also endearing. So far, this is one of the better love songs that I have heard, and here's hoping that this isn't the last that we see of the two.

Song: "I've Heard That Song Before"
Film: Youth on Parade
Performers: Martha O'Driscoll

It makes me sad to say that despite the personality and the slight spring in its rhythm, I find this song a little too cornball for my liking. Its comedic use of instruments is a nice touch, but the song's text as a whole is just lacking in anything interesting. I know that I rag on slow ballads for being very similar in structure, but at least they have something interesting going on. Here, there's one decent hook being played over and over until it loses its charm and I become less interested in the song. I wish that there was something here that I found endearing, but it's just a mediocre song with a few good ideas.

Song: "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo"
Film: Orchestra Wives
Performers: Nicholas Brothers

This is a case like "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" in which the dance sequence kind of outshines the actual song. If you watch the video, you will see an astounding routine that is still unbelievably great. I would reward this the win just for that dance, but this is a column about music. I do think that the song is pretty good, but I do feel like the dance is inevitably distracting in ways that make you immediately forget the song. I liked it and it has plenty of great rhythm. However, I am still in awe by that dance routine. As a whole, it's just an excellent production.

Song: "Love is a Song That Never Ends"
Film: Bambi
Performers: Donald Novis

Disney is back with yet another one of their most beloved films and iconic songs in the Oscar race. This again comes down to bias, and I was unfortunately not a big fan of Bambi. While I think that the song is just as beautiful and sweet as anything that we have heard so far, I do not get the warm sensation that I should from it. However, I do come away really liking it from a production standpoint and for a song about generic love themes, it does put in its fair share of effort to make you believe in the lyrics. As a whole, this is more evidence why Disney came out of the gate as a powerhouse both from an animation standpoint as well as original songs.

Song: "Pennies for Peppino"
Film: Flying With Music
Performers: Edward Ward, Chet Forrest, Bob Wright

Well, this is awkward. After doing some serious searching, I am unable to find a recording of this song anywhere online. It isn't just that I cannot find the film version. I cannot find even a cover that would provide a deeper context for what this song actually sounds like. I guess we'll just have to hope that this doesn't happen again. With a song name like that, I was hoping for something fun and lively that would break up the otherwise so-so rhythm of this year's nominees.

Song: "Pig Foot Pete"
Film: Hellzapoppin'
Performers: Martha Raye

I know that I accused "I've Heard That Song Before" of being too silly without subtext, but this is a good example of how to make a fun song. While it may just be that I like the boogie integration of music after hearing swing and foxtrot for so long, but this one has plenty of personality. I am unsure if this is actually the film version, but overall I like the way that the lyrics unfold and you get a good sense of who this ridiculous sounding man is. I like the horns and the way that the song keeps bouncing around without being too silly. I don't know if it is my favorite from this batch of nominees, but I just wish that there was more diversity on this list to not make this stand out as much as it does.

Song: "There's a Breeze on Lake Louise"
Film: The Mayor of 44th Street
Performers: Freddy Martin

It's a nice song that is in and out before it has really any time to build. Much like the rhyming of its title, I expected this to have a lot more going on. Instead, it is a quick rhythm that sings a familiar love song that doesn't have enough time to get connected to the viewer. Maybe it works within the film's larger context, but as an individual song, it is particularly unmemorable. I think that the lyrics are kind of interesting, but because of the brevity, it doesn't really get a chance to become something more. Maybe this is an abbreviated version of the song. If so, let me know. I just want to believe that this not even minute long song is actually pretty good and has more than one decent verse to it.

The Winner

Song: "White Christmas"
Film: Holiday Inn
Performers: Bing Crosby, Martha Mears

Like most people, I am more familiar with the White Christmas version of "White Christmas." That doesn't mean that the song isn't still endearing as a duet. It may have been rerecorded and given a lot more great production quality, but the sentiments and tone still remain as strong as ever. It is also nice to see the Bing Crosby standard making the cut. It's still a good song that you likely haven't gone a year without hearing. However, there's a good chance you haven't heard it like this. It's really good, even if it's been done better.

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)
5. "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" - Orchestra Wives (1942)
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. "White Christmas" - Holiday Inn (1942)
4. "Thanks for the Memory" - The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
5. "The Last Time I Saw Paris" - Lady Be Good (1941)
6. "When You Wish Upon a Star" - Pinocchio (1940)
7. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
8. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
9. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

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