Sunday, October 11, 2015

Best Song: "Moon River" (1961)

Scene from Breakfast at Tiffany's
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 1961 and The Academy is celebrating its 34th year. This was the year that West Side Story swept the awards with 11 nominations and four wins, including for Best Picture. Sophia Loren became the first Best Actress winner in history to win for a foreign language film with Two Women.  Meanwhile, the Best Original Song category went to Breakfast at Tiffany's for the Henry Mancini-penned "Moon River."

The Nominees

Song: "Bachelor in Paradise"
Film: Bachelor in Paradise
Performers: Mack David (?)

I was unable to find who the actual singer of this song was. However, I am so happy to be in the era of Henry Mancini-composed music. He was just so upbeat and lively. Much like last year's up-tempo selections, this is a welcomed addition. I think it's more the melody that gives the song an immediacy. The rest feels a little understated, and it's hard to fully appreciate it from a lyrical standpoint. While it definitely is fresh from the perspective of the other nominees, it's one that is missing something a little extra to make it go from good to great. Still, Mancini proves once again why he was great at composition. Love that jingle-like melody.

Song: "Love Theme From El Cid (The Falcon and the Dove)"
Film: El Cid
Performers: Chorus

In a strange twist of fate, I could find the melody but not one with lyrics. To the best of my knowledge, this is an accurate cover of the song. It's a violent, passionate song that gets me in the mood for whatever El Cid was about. It's a typical romantic song that captures the love in every note. Overall, I am really enjoying the theatrics of this song, as it creates something far more powerful and unique. It definitely fits the billing for being a love theme for a movie. Great production. The lyrics soar in between the melody. Definitely a solid entry.

Song: "Pocketful of Miracles"
Film: Pocketful of Miracles
Performers: Choir

As a standalone ditty, it's actually a lot of fun. It has a lot of great, repetitive rhythm that fits the attitudes of a Frank Capra film. I even like the children's chorus feel of it all. The only thing is that it's such a simple and quick song that it's hard to fully appreciate it, especially as we get into a period where Best Original Song nominees have stepped up their production game and turned it into its own theatrical art form. This is, at very least, a fun throwback that is quickly memorable and gets you happy quickly. Good, not great.

Song: "Town Without Pity"
Film: Town Without Pity
Performers: Gene Pitney

Well, that was nothing short of amazing. It's got the perfect film noir vibe thrown into the background and adds a sense of espionage to the song. Then Gene Pitney jumps in and begins singing in this smooth, seductive voice of themes both romantic and bleak. It's a beautiful mixture that results in something very powerful. As the horns and guitar kicks in, the song's already made its impact. However, it's inevitably Pitney's work on the chorus that is exceptional and puts it over the top. It's one of those surprises that I have found from time to time that sticks with you and makes you want to immediately play it again. I love this song.

The Winner

Song: "Moon River"
Film: Breakfast at Tiffany's
Performers: Audrey Hepburn

It may seem almost too unfair to admit that I have a strong bias for this song. Not since "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" has a song had a personal connection towards me, filling me with emotion and causing me to overlook several of its flaws. It's also a very simple and powerful song that gets me every time. The squeamish vocals mixed with a sense of optimism and romanticism helps to make this a personal favorite that ranks among the best. It's also reflective of why Henry Mancini was so great. Even when he was being sentimental, he made music that was lively and fun. I won't kid you. This is among my all-time favorites and will likely be hard to top for quite some time.

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. "The Green Leaves of Summer" - The Alamo (1960)
2. "That's Amore" - The Caddy (1953)
3. "A Town Without Pity" - A Town Without Pity (1961)
4. "The Man That Got Away" - A Star is Born (1954)
5. "Carioca" - Flying Down to Rio (1934)
6. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" - Buck Privates (1941)
7. "Wild is the Wind" - Wild is the Wind (1957) 
8. "(Love is) The Tender Trap" - The Tender Trap (1955) 
9. "Pass That Peace Pipe" - Good News (1947)
10. "They're Either Too Young Or Too Old" - Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
11. "Cheek to Cheek" - Top Hat (1935)
12. "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" - Orchestra Wives (1942)
13. "The Trolley Song" - Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
14. "Ac-Cent-U-Ate the Positive" - Here Comes the Wave (1945)
15. "Zing a Little Zong"  - Just For You (1952)
16. "Almost in Your Arms (Love Song from Houseboat)" - Houseboat (1958)
17. "Build Me a Kiss to Dream On" - The Strip (1951)
18. "Wilhemina" - Wabash Avenue (1950)
19. "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" - Come to the Stable (1949)
20. "Waltzing in the Clouds" - Spring Parade (1940)
21. "Strange Are the Ways of Love" - The Young Land (1959)
22. "Ole Buttermilk Sky" - Canyon Passage (1946)
23. "Julie" - Julie (1956)
24. "Dust" - Under Western Stars (1938)
25. "The Woody Woodpecker Song" - Wet Blanket Policy (1948)
26. "I Poured My Heart Into a Song" - Second Fiddle (1939)
27. "Remember Me" - Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937)
28. "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. "Moon River" - Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
2. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - The Wizard of Oz (1939)
3. "The Way You Look Tonight" - Swing Time (1936)
4. "Swinging on a Star" - Going My Way (1944)
5. "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" - The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
6. "All the Way" - The Joker is Wild (1957)
7. "Never on Sunday" - Never on Sunday (1960)
8. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" - Neptune's Daughter (1949)
9. "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" - Here Comes the Groom (1951)
10. "Three Coins in the Fountain" - Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)
11. "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin')" - High Noon (1952)
12. "Love is A Many Splendored Thing" - Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955)
13. "It Might as Well Be Spring" - State Fair (1945)
14. "White Christmas" - Holiday Inn (1942)
15. "Thanks for the Memory" - The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
16. "The Last Time I Saw Paris" - Lady Be Good (1941)
17. "High Hopes" - A Hole in the Head (1959)
18. "Gigi" - Gigi (1958)
19. "Mona Lisa" - Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
20. "Buttons and Bows" - The Paleface (1948)
21. "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" - Song of the South (1947)
22. "When You Wish Upon a Star" - Pinocchio (1940)
23. "Secret Love" - Calamity Jane (1953)
24. "You'll Never Know" - Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
25. "On the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe" - Harvey Girls (1946)
26. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
27. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
28. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

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