Sunday, June 7, 2015

Best Song: "You'll Never Know" (1943)

Scene from Hello, Frisco, Hello
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 1943 and The Academy is celebrating its 16th year. This was the year in which Casablanca won Best Picture. This was also the last year until 2009 that the Best Picture category would have 10 nominations. The Ox-Bow Incident remains the most recent Best Picture nominee to not be nominated in any other field. Tom and Jerry won their first Oscar for the short The Yankee Doodle Mouse. This was the first year that the ceremony was held at the Grauman's Chinese Theater. Free tickets were handed out to men and women in uniform. The film Hello, Frisco, Hello won Best Original Song with the track "You'll Never Know."

The Nominees

Song: "Change of Heart"
Film: Hit Parade of 1943
Performers: John Carroll, Susan Hayward

It could just be the production, but the sound was a little too grainy. Also, while I am not opposed to singers with deep voices, I do feel that I am growing more and more disinterested in these love songs that follow the same melody. He gives a great, booming chorus followed by a harmonious chorus in a manner that I feel like I have heard a few dozen times before in this column. I am not opposed to songs sounding similar, but there wasn't anything lasting about this song. It may be one of those that warrants a few plays, or even context within the film to fully appreciate it. I get those songs. Unfortunately, I don't think that it works here too well.

Song: "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe"
Film: Cabin in the Sky
Performers: Ethel Waters

This is a rather solid song that works partially because of production values. The music is clear and captures a whimsical, romantic vibe that makes me already excited for the song. By the time that the vocals kick in, I am ready to kick back and just enjoy this love song about a woman who loves a man called Joe. Where most of these love songs sound like they're reading the phone book, this one actually sounds like it has passion under the collar and the bashful vocals go a long way. It also helps that the occasional specificity of the lyrics gives it a deeper and richer personality. Overall, it is pretty good and considering that it is from co-directors Vincente Minnelli and Busby Berkeley, it makes sense why it works so well. Personality goes a long way in music, and this is a solid example of that idea.

Song: "My Shining Hour"
Film: The Sky's the Limit
Performers: Joan Leslie

Another general issue is when songs take the blunt approach and are solely about an idea. While I don't feel that this song is lacking for appeal, it doesn't exactly do anything too exciting either. Maybe in context, it makes more sense. However, it is a song whose production is decent and tepid at times. I want to like it more, but it is just fine with coasting on the idea that this is a song about triumph as opposed to sounding like one. Overall, the production is what keeps this from being totally disposable. However, I don't know that it is necessarily memorable in many ways, save for the chorus, of which the title is applied. There's a harmony to it that sounds peaceful. But still, for a song about the definitive moment, it doesn't really have much confidence.

Song: "Saludos Amigos"
Film: Saludos Amigos
Performers: ?

While I have seen The Three Caballeros a handful of times, I don't think that I have seen this one. However, I like the idea of putting vibrant, powerful vocals with a twinge of Mariachi into an opening song. In Disney's young form, it is experimenting in an interesting fashion. While this song however is definitely second tier Disney songs, it definitely skids by on promise. The only issue is that as an opening song, it comes and goes without really having time to appeal to the audience. It is an example of how short songs don't have an advantage in this race, even if the short and simple method is a lot more welcoming than the overlong and bloated method. Decent, but I would have liked it more if there was a little extra going on in the song.

Song: "Say a Prayer for the Boys Over There"
Film: Hers to Hold
Performers: Deanna Durbin

Overall, I like the sentiments of the song more than the actual production. As someone who recently went on about "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B," I will confess up front that I enjoy discovering songs that are part of the American handbook. While I haven't heard this song before, I do think that there's a lot to enjoy about it. The romanticism and desire to support the troops is clearly running through the song. Maybe it's just that I don't like the deep, operatic vocals that populate these early nominees, but I feel that in a different vocal register, I may have been able to like it more. However, it still is a sweet and well made song that stands a good chance to grow on me. If for nothing, it definitely has passion in spades and uses it to make the song more bittersweet and beautiful.

Song: "That Old Black Magic"
Film: Star Spangled Rhythm
Performers: Johnny Johnston

I am guessing that this year will be populated with more of the slow burner variety. I feel that the production is solid and I like the song overall. However, I do feel that there are elements of the song that would need to grow on me. I find the lyrics to be more interesting than the rhythm. I find the production to simply go on and on until it reaches an end that isn't where I would have left it. It's a good song, but in a year full of slow numbers with deep vocalists, it's hard to find much enthusiasm behind everything. Among the songs that I have complained about so far, this is somewhere in the middle in that there's enough memorable parts, but not enough to really be all out great to me.

Song: "They're Either Too Young or Too Old"
Film: Thank Your Lucky Stars
Performers: Bette Davis

Leave it to Bette Davis to save a rather humdrum year of nominees. This song is either too long or too short because while there are portions that I don't necessarily like, I end up loving it as a whole production. It is also nice to see that there's some humor at the Academy that mixes nicely with the patriotism that Hollywood was showing at the time. Overall, this is just a really fun song and Davis' bitter personality makes it work all the more effectively. The lyrical gimmicks may be simple, but she uses them to their fuller effect. This is a song that has its own problems, but works them out in a rather astounding way. Overall, a tough one to beat for this year.

Song: "We Mustn't Say Goodbye"
Film: Stage Door Canteen
Performers: Lanny Ross

I am not familiar with Lanny Ross and I am not sure what makes him different. However, there's something to this song that has a beautiful, sentimental undertone to it that makes it all the more powerful. I am sure that within context, it would likely rise to one of my more favorites from this year. For just hearing the song, it manages to strike that balance between orchestration and vocals in a way that gets you on board. Yes, the lyrics are vague, but the personality builds to something far more beautiful. It is the power of music on display and I hope that Lanny Ross is heard from again during this run because he definitely has some powerful pipes on him.

Song: "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To"
Film: Something to Shout About
Performers: Janet Blair, Don Ameche

Another example of how production really can save a number. With some swing going on behind it, the familiar lyrics about love and having perfection are given a certain personality. We have heard a lot of love songs on this list and while this doesn't rank among the best, it does definitely manage to skid by on a solid production that is at very least memorable. Too many of these songs suffer from not having any lasting impression. Maybe they work within the film. Who knows. At least this one has something in its bland subject matter that makes it worthy of listening to a few more times.

The Winner

Song: "You'll Never Know"
Film: Hello, Frisco, Hello
Performers: Alice Faye

It kind of makes sense why this won, considering how many of these songs felt like they were about the subject of love. The song itself is passionate and runs the course of what makes a pretty good song. However, I don't know that it is necessarily my favorite of these nominees. While it is personal preference, I do feel that the more personal and specific a song becomes, the more that I am willing to connect and like it. This song's hopeful and passionate subject matter is enough to make it good, but considering that "Thanks For The Memory" managed to capture similar themes in a more impacting way, I feel that there's certain scrutiny that these Best Original Song winners should face. It is pretty good, but without context and relying solely on first impression, this is one of the more so-so entries on this list.

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. "They're Either Too Young Or Too Old" - Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
4. "Cheek to Cheek" - Top Hat (1935)
5. "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" - Orchestra Wives (1942)
6. "Waltzing in the Clouds" - Spring Parade (1940)
7. "Dust" - Under Western Stars (1938)
8. "I Poured My Heart Into a Song" - Second Fiddle (1939)
9. "Remember Me" - Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937)
10. "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. "You'll Never Know" - Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
8. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
9. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
10. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

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