Sunday, July 26, 2015

Best Song: "Mona Lisa" (1950)

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 1950 and The Academy is celebrating its 23rd year. Best Picture winner All About Eve lead the pack with 14 nominations, beating previous holder Gone with the Wind. Sunset Blvd. becomes the second film to receive nominations in all acting categories without a win. Meanwhile, the Best Original Song went to Captain Carey, U.S.A. for the song "Mona Lisa."

The Nominees

Song: "Be My Love"
Film: The Toast of New Orleans
Performers: Mario Lanza, Katherine Grayson

It has been awhile since I addressed something that has been a challenge with these older songs. For modern generations, such as myself, it is a little difficult to comprehend and enjoy operatic singing. It isn't that I find this song bad, but there's a clashing with what I generally enjoy about music. As it stands, I think that it sounds lovely and the melody gives a sense of romanticism that does the trick. However, the booming voices at the end do have a piercing sound, for better or worse, that can be a little bothersome for me. I like the song and I think that it is pretty strong, even if it is a very familiar love song lyrically. 

Song: "Bippiti-Boppiti-Boo"
Film: Cinderella
Performers: Verna Felton

Another Disney song that everyone likely knows. Following last week's "Lavender Blue," I am familiar that gibberish songs may not always work out for the best. In this case, it works out in an infectious rhyme that is met with an equally enchanting rhythm. I really like this song and while it may be very short, it packs a certain punch of literal magic into every beat. I kind of wish it was longer, but considering that its legacy has made it unforgettable, it's surprising that it is able to be so memorable in such a short span of time.

Song: "Mule Train"
Film: Singing Guns
Performers: Vaughn Moore

It's another song that's full of gibberish. However, it is also one that is quite infectious about it. I am not familiar with Vaughn Moore's work, but he manages to make riding a carriage sound like a lot of fun. I especially like that it is full of description and personality. As a whole, it is a very lively song that works not only because its detail compliments the rhythm, but there's something to Moore's deep and demanding voice. It's got a touch of emotion to it that makes the song not sound like a series of orders, but simply the thing he loves best. Overall, a very strong song about a very simple thing.

Song: "Wilhelmina"
Film: Wabash Avenue
Performers: Betty Grable

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find Betty Grable's cover of this song. I will just have to presume that melodically, it was upbeat and had a lot of personality to it. I sense a kitschy vibe, as other clips from Wabash Avenue have that vibe to them. As it stands, this is a pretty great song thanks to playful lyrics. I come away really liking it and feel that if I heard the original, it may easily be a front runner for the week. As it stands, I have to interpret my vote on this one, and even then it is just one that I enjoy too much to really ignore. It gets stuck in your head and has some of the more playful use of lyrics that I have heard in this column at least since Bette Davis' "They're Either Too Young or Too Old." Bravo.

The Winner

Song: "Mona Lisa"
Film: Captain Carey, U.S.A.
Performers: Nat King Cole

This is quite a lovely little love song. I will admit that it mostly works because Nat King Cole has a voice that resonates with you no matter what he's singing about. While the guitar has sort of a silly tone to it, I think that the passion is still there and it features a certain longing that I am glad to hear in this song. Out of context, it's hard to fully understand its impact. As a standalone song, it still is really good and gets me anxious to see if he ever does find that Mona Lisa that he's searching for.

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. "Pass That Peace Pipe" - Good News (1947)
4. "They're Either Too Young Or Too Old" - Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
5. "Cheek to Cheek" - Top Hat (1935)
6. "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" - Orchestra Wives (1942)
7. "The Trolley Song" - Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
8. "Ac-Cent-U-Ate the Positive" - Here Comes the Wave (1945)
9. "Wilhemina" - Wabash Avenue (1950)
10. "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" - Come to the Stable (1949)
11. "Waltzing in the Clouds" - Spring Parade (1940)
12. "Ole Buttermilk Sky" - Canyon Passage (1946)
13. "Dust" - Under Western Stars (1938)
14. "The Woody Woodpecker Song" - Wet Blanket Policy (1948)
15. "I Poured My Heart Into a Song" - Second Fiddle (1939)
16. "Remember Me" - Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937)
17. "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. "Swinging on a Star" - Going My Way (1944)
4. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" - Neptune's Daughter (1949)
5. "It Might as Well Be Spring" - State Fair (1945)
6. "White Christmas" - Holiday Inn (1942)
7. "Thanks for the Memory" - The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
8. "The Last Time I Saw Paris" - Lady Be Good (1941)
9. "Mona Lisa" - Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
10. "Buttons and Bows" - The Paleface (1948)
11. "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" - Song of the South (1947)
12. "When You Wish Upon a Star" - Pinocchio (1940)
13. "You'll Never Know" - Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
14. "On the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe" - Harvey Girls (1946)
15. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
16. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
17. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

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