Sunday, August 30, 2015

Best Song: "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" (1955)

Scene from Love is a Many Splendored Thing
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 1955 and The Academy is celebrating its 28th year. Director Delbert Mann's Marty becomes a very unique Best Picture for many reasons. It is the second film to have also won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. It is also one of the few winners to have been adapted from a TV series. It also is the shortest film to ever win an Oscar. In the Best Original Song category, Love is a Many Splendored Thing's eponymous song wins over the hearts of voters.

The Nominees

Song: "I'll Never Stop Loving You"
Film: Love Me or Leave Me
Performers: Doris Day

Much like Fred Astaire before, it does seem like Doris Day is prone to keep popping up in the 50's era of Best Original Song nominees. There isn't much wrong with that. She does have a pretty commanding voice. You do understand her longing. The piano melody is lovely and I think that it impacts any shortcomings of the song. However, I am not really a big fan of the overall song, which sounds familiar and simple in a way that doesn't immediately grab you. Again, without context, it is impossible to properly judge these songs. However, I do think the best songs can stand up on their own. I don't know that this one does.

Song: "Something's Gotta Give"
Film: Daddy Long Legs
Performers: Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron

Speaking of Fred Astaire, he's back with a new dance partner: Leslie Caron. Just judging from the progression of the Best Original Song category, this does feel like an effective throwback to even 15 years prior. There's a romanticism and simplicity to the structure that feels more like a set-up for the rather solid dance number. I will admit that maybe this isn't the greatest or most memorable Astaire number, but it does have plenty of charm and reminds me why he was such an effective force early on. He still has the chops and can get you in the mood for dancing.

Song: "(Love Is) The Tender Trap"
Film: The Tender Trap
Performers: Frank Sinatra

And just like that, Frank Sinatra pulls out ahead with what he does best. With a great backing back playing a swinging beat, he gets down to business with one of his catchiest songs. It's a very simple song lyrically. You can figure out what he'll sing. But the thing is that he pulls you along, making you enjoy every melody and get immersed in the flimsy story. You care because he's passionate. Then suddenly, the chorus kicks in and you're in love with it all over again. It is just an infectious pop song that works thanks to its overall production. If nothing else, you must admire the way that the band compliments Sinatra's lyrics. They punch at exactly the right times.

Song: "Unchained Melody"
Film: Unchained
Performers: Todd Duncan

I am aware that this song has since become a staple to the pop music world. I will be honest that despite this, I have known it mostly by title than anything else. I'm also sure that I will get flack for praising more upbeat songs while complaining about the ballads being too slow. However, I do think that this version of the song just lacks any major punch. It doesn't have much immediacy to it and I don't get the brilliance behind it. Sure, Todd Duncan is a pretty good singer and adds a life to the music, but I don't feel the passion out of the film's context. It is good, but I have trouble understanding why it is great based off of this version.

The Winner

Song: "Love is a Many Splendored Thing"
Film: Love is a Many Splendored Thing
Performers: Sammy Fain

There is definitely something that feels different about this winner over the past. First, it feels more produced with the vocals almost isolated from the instruments. It helps that Sammy Fain is a pretty good singer and makes the longing work. He's not as good as Nat King Cole, but he does make those lyrics soar. The production is solid as well with a flowing melody that captures something operatic about romance. While I don't love the song, it definitely grabs you and you're able to recognize it. A lot of it, I think, is because of Fain's singing. Even then, this is just a very well produced song and I enjoy the end result.

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. "That's Amore" - The Caddy (1953)
2. "The Man That Got Away" - A Star is Born (1954)
3. "Carioca" - Flying Down to Rio (1934)
4. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" - Buck Privates (1941)
5. "(Love is) The Tender Trap" - The Tender Trap (1955) 
6. "Pass That Peace Pipe" - Good News (1947)
7. "They're Either Too Young Or Too Old" - Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
8. "Cheek to Cheek" - Top Hat (1935)
9. "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" - Orchestra Wives (1942)
10. "The Trolley Song" - Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
11. "Ac-Cent-U-Ate the Positive" - Here Comes the Wave (1945)
12. "Zing a Little Zong"  - Just For You (1952)
13. "Build Me a Kiss to Dream On" - The Strip (1951)
14. "Wilhemina" - Wabash Avenue (1950)
15. "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" - Come to the Stable (1949)
16. "Waltzing in the Clouds" - Spring Parade (1940)
17. "Ole Buttermilk Sky" - Canyon Passage (1946)
18. "Dust" - Under Western Stars (1938)
19. "The Woody Woodpecker Song" - Wet Blanket Policy (1948)
20. "I Poured My Heart Into a Song" - Second Fiddle (1939)
21. "Remember Me" - Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937)
22. "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. "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" - Here Comes the Groom (1951)
6. "Three Coins in the Fountain" - Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)
7. "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin')" - High Noon (1952)
8. "Love is A Many Splendored Thing" - Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955)
9. "It Might as Well Be Spring" - State Fair (1945)
10. "White Christmas" - Holiday Inn (1942)
11. "Thanks for the Memory" - The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
12. "The Last Time I Saw Paris" - Lady Be Good (1941)
13. "Mona Lisa" - Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
14. "Buttons and Bows" - The Paleface (1948)
15. "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" - Song of the South (1947)
16. "When You Wish Upon a Star" - Pinocchio (1940)
17. "Secret Love" - Calamity Jane (1953)
18. "You'll Never Know" - Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
19. "On the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe" - Harvey Girls (1946)
20. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
21. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
22. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

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