Sunday, July 5, 2015

Best Song: "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" (1947)

Scene from Song of the South
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 1947 and The Academy is celebrating its 20th year. Director Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement won Best Picture. After a large campaign, actress Rosalind Russell (Mourning Becomes Electra) anticipated to win Best Actress. She was so convinced that she stood up despite Loretta Young (The Farmer's Daughter) winning, which caused her to lead a standing ovation. Edmund Gwenn became the older person to win an Oscar up to that at the age of 71 for the film Miracle on 34th Street. James Baskett (The Song of the South) was disqualified from an acting nomination upon receiving an Honorary Oscar for the same role as Uncle Reemus, which later had Civil Rights organizations complain about its questionable depiction of African Americas. Along with that Oscar, The Song of the South won Best Original Song, sung by Baskett, with "Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah."

The Nominees

Song: "A Gal in Calico"
Film: The Time, the Place and the Girl
Performers:  Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson, Martha Vickers

I am unsure if this is the actual version used in the film. However, I have to admit that there's a lot going for this song. With a swinging rhythm, it manages to capture a light and fancy free vibe. Add in the horns as the lyrics come in and the song becomes more infectious. It may be another one of those romantic song with not much substance, but it's all in the production. You remember it because of the clarity of the instrumentation and the passion within the instruments. There's a beauty to it that gets me excited to listen to it. While I do think that maybe there is a different version that I am unaware of (IMDb lists three singers, where this version has one). So, I will just judge the song itself, which is still pretty good.

Song: "I Wish I Didn't Love You So"
Film: The Perils of Pauline
Performers: Betty Hutton

Here's another example of a singer owning a song. Betty Hutton is the sole reason that the song works. In a low, sultry voice, she sings of a woe that is impassioned with emotion. She may not provide much of a range, but the limitations allow for the restraint to emphasize the lyrics better. It is a song that captures romance with every syllable and calls for a certain self-reflection. It may not be an immediate song, but it does have Hutton's gift for luring the listener in and feeling something deeper. That alone makes this a pretty solid song.

Song: "Pass That Peace Pipe"
Film: Good News
Performers: Joan McCracken

It could just be being forced to listen to a lot of very slow songs over the course of this column, but this came booming out with such an amazing sense of assurance and enthusiasm. With the simple notion to relax book-ended with an impressive dance routine, this song is pretty great. With a lot of intricate call and responses, lyrical metaphors for acceptance, and just plain fun, this is a song that immediately grabs the listener and makes me enjoy doing this column. It is just so immediate and fun that this will be a very hard one to top this week.

Song: "You Do"
Film: Mother Wore Tights
Performers: Dan Dailey, Betty Grable

I am not sure that this is stylistically the same version, as I had trouble tracking down the original. However, it still is a lovely song with a simple structure and nice flowing lyrics. I feel that while it may be the lesser of this week's entries, it does capture something beautiful and wonderful about finding your soul mate. I like the song, even if there isn't much that is necessarily immediate about it.

The Winner

Song: "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"
Film: Song of the South
Performers: James Baskett

Much like a lot of the Disney songs on this list, I have a built in appreciation for them based on childhood. While Song of the South is a controversial film that has been largely banned, it hasn't left the zeitgeist completely. This song in particular pops up every now and then. It's such an easy, optimistic song that transcends most people's complaints about racism. In fact, I'd argue that it holds up as the film's strongest feature and one of Disney's best songs in general. There's just so much that's pure about this song that it is hard to hate.

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. "Waltzing in the Clouds" - Spring Parade (1940)
10. "Ole Buttermilk Sky" - Canyon Passage (1946)
11. "Dust" - Under Western Stars (1938)
12. "I Poured My Heart Into a Song" - Second Fiddle (1939)
13. "Remember Me" - Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937)
14. "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. "It Might as Well Be Spring" - State Fair (1945)
5. "White Christmas" - Holiday Inn (1942)
6. "Thanks for the Memory" - The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
7. "The Last Time I Saw Paris" - Lady Be Good (1941)
8. "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" - Song of the South (1947)
9. "When You Wish Upon a Star" - Pinocchio (1940)
10. "You'll Never Know" - Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
11. "On the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe" - Harvey Girls (1946)
12. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
13. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
14. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

1 comment:

  1. You consider "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" a better song than "When You Wish Upon A Star"? That's bold, considering that while the prior is ultimately just a nice little whistle tune in a largely unseen film today, the latter is played whenever the Disney logo comes up like the company knows how important it is. In fact, your ranking is not only bold, it's a bit rebellious. I'm feeling mixed about this, especially because in an objective ranking of Disney songs, "When You Wish Upon A Star" should and does deserve the #1 spot.