Sunday, March 13, 2016

Best Song: "Flashdance... What a Feeling" (1983)

Scene from Flashdance
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 1983 and The Academy is celebrating its 56th year. Director James L. Brooks wins Best Picture with his family drama Terms of Endearment. Linda Hunt wins Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Year of Living Dangerously and became the first winner to win for playing an opposite gender. Joe I. Tompkins becomes the first African American to be nominated in Best Costume Design. The Best Make-Up category was not handed out this year. Meanwhile, the Best Original Song category was ecstatic as they sang the winning song "Flashdance... What a Feeling."

The Nominees

Song: "Maniac"
Film: Flashdance
Performers: Michael Sembello

I guess we really are in the 80's now. There is one thing that has likely been made clear over the past two weeks. I just don't get the appeal of the synthesizer as a substitute for actual musicianship. With that said, this song owned it rather well until an unnecessary cornball guitar came in halfway through. If we consider "Eye of the Tiger" as a good motivational song, then this falls somewhere below it. The lyrics aren't that invigorating, but it owns its emptyheaded charm and plays for four minutes in the familiar redundant pattern. It's not a great song, but it doesn't give me much besides an iconic chorus.

Song: "Over You"
Film: Tender Mercies
Performers: Betty Buckley

I will admit that I started off pretty charmed by Betty Buckley's singing. There was a vulnerability to her style that made every line feel personal and deeply conflicting. By the time that the chorus kicked in, I was enjoying it simply because she brought a certain passion that has been missing from a lot of recent nominees. However, the song pretty much has a certain redundancy that unfortunately takes some of the charm away by the end. It is by no means a bad song, but it still feels a little long - even at only three minutes. Still, I think that she makes this song quite interesting with a dynamic that feels different from most other performers who would tackle this song.

Song: "Papa Can You Hear Me?"
Film: Yentl
Performers: Barbara Streisand

Welcome back, Barbara Streisand. Oh, how I've missed you over the past few weeks. I will admit that while it does seem popular to rag on her, I cannot help but immediately be intrigued by her singing. There's a tenderness that she possesses as she sings passionately in a voice longing for her father. I will admit that I think this song probably works better in context. However, it's still a powerful song thanks to Streisand's ability to mute notes and raise pitches at the necessary locations. It's one of those great songs with enviable range that makes you wonder why more Best Original Song nominees don't try to be a little more ambitious.

Song: "The Way He Makes Me Feel"
Film: Yentl
Performers: Barbara Streisand

It may sound contradictory, given what I have just said about Barbara Streisand, but this song is a little too rambling. Without context, I don't know that I get the full impact of what the song's about. It's good and Streisand definitely has the assurance to pull off the tricky melody. However, I don't know that there was much that grabbed me upon initial listen. I like that it is a song that is about personal conflict, and it is nice to see this list populated with music not focused around love. However, I don't know that this hits me quite as hard as "Papa Can You Hear Me." However between the two, it really makes me want to see Yentl.

The Winner

Song: "Flashdance... What a Feeling"
Film: Flashdance
Performers: Irene Cara

Listen, I like Irene Cara a lot. I really liked her work on the Fame nominations. However, I am left largely disaffected by this song's lack of compelling production. The song is enthusiastic, but it doesn't have the passion of "Maniac" nor does it really offer anything beyond vapid glee. I want to like this song more, but there's not a lot underneath its surface. Once you get beyond the chorus, it's a very bland song with not a long to offer. Much like "Last Dance" (but worse), it likely won because it had a compelling hook. Also, it's jump from a slower melody to a faster one around 45 seconds in is atrocious. However, it has very little else that is worth remembering. I'm not entirely sure why "Maniac" didn't beat this (even if neither are the best of the bunch), but this unfortunately keeps my trend going of putting the 80's winners very low in the Best Best Song (spoiler alert: next week's winner isn't much better).

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 Rainbow Connection" - The Muppet Movie (1979)
5. "The Man That Got Away" - A Star is Born (1954)
6. "Ben" - Ben (1972)
7. "The Sweetheart Tree" - The Great Race (1965)
8. "Carioca" - Flying Down to Rio (1934)
9. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" - Buck Privates (1941)
10. "Nobody Does it Better" - The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
11. "Out Here on My Own" - Fame (1980)
12. "Eye of the Tiger" - Rocky III (1982)
13. "Gonna Fly Now" - Rocky (1976)
14. "Charade" - Charade (1963)
15. "Pieces of Dreams" - Pieces of Dreams (1970)
16. "Wild is the Wind" - Wild is the Wind (1957) 
17. "(Love is) The Tender Trap" - The Tender Trap (1955) 
18. "Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)" -Mahogany (1975)
19. "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" - Yentl (1983)
20. "Pass That Peace Pipe" - Good News (1947)
21. "They're Either Too Young Or Too Old" - Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
22. "Cheek to Cheek" - Top Hat (1935)
23. "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" - Orchestra Wives (1942)
24. "Georgy Girl" - Georgy Girl (1966)
25. "The Trolley Song" - Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
26. "Ac-Cent-U-Ate the Positive" - Here Comes the Wave (1945)
27. "Come Saturday Morning" - The Sterile Cuckoo (1969)
28. "Live and Let Die" - Live and Let Die (1973)
29. "Blazing Saddles" - Blazing Saddles (1974)
30. "Life is What You Make It" - Koch (1971)
31. "Thoroughly Modern Millie" - Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)
32. "Where Love Has Gone" - Where Love Has Gone (1964)
33. "Zing a Little Zong"  - Just For You (1952)
34. "Ready to Take a Chance Again" - Foul Play (1978)
35. "Walk on the Wild Side" - Walk on the Wild Side (1962)
36. "Almost in Your Arms (Love Song from Houseboat)" - Houseboat (1958)
37. "Build Me a Kiss to Dream On" - The Strip (1951)
38. "Star!" - Star! (1968)
39. "Wilhemina" - Wabash Avenue (1950)
40. "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" - Come to the Stable (1949)
41. "Waltzing in the Clouds" - Spring Parade (1940)
42. "Endless Love" - Endless Love (1981)
43. "Strange Are the Ways of Love" - The Young Land (1959)
44. "Ole Buttermilk Sky" - Canyon Passage (1946)
45. "Julie" - Julie (1956)
46. "Dust" - Under Western Stars (1938)
47. "The Woody Woodpecker Song" - Wet Blanket Policy (1948)
48. "I Poured My Heart Into a Song" - Second Fiddle (1939)
49. "Remember Me" - Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937)
50. "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 We Were" - The Way We Were (1973)
4. "The Way You Look Tonight" - Swing Time (1936)
5. "The Morning After" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
6. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
7. "Swinging on a Star" - Going My Way (1944)
8. "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" - The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
9. "It Goes Like It Goes" - Norma Rae (1979)
10. "Theme From Shaft" - Shaft (1971)
11. "For All We Know" - Love and Other Strangers (1970)
12. "All the Way" - The Joker is Wild (1957)
13. "Never on Sunday" - Never on Sunday (1960)
14. "Chim Chim Cher-ee" - Mary Poppins (1964)
15. "I'm Easy" - Nashville (1975)
16. "Talk to the Animals" - Dr. Dolittle (1967)
17. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" - Neptune's Daughter (1949)
18. "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" - Here Comes the Groom (1951)
19. "Born Free" - Born Free (1966)
20. "Fame" - Fame (1980)
21. "Three Coins in the Fountain" - Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)
22. "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin')" - High Noon (1952)
23. "Love is A Many Splendored Thing" - Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955)
24. "It Might as Well Be Spring" - State Fair (1945)
25. "White Christmas" - Holiday Inn (1942)
26. "Thanks for the Memory" - The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
27. "The Last Time I Saw Paris" - Lady Be Good (1941)
28. "High Hopes" - A Hole in the Head (1959)
29. "Gigi" - Gigi (1958)
30. "Mona Lisa" - Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
31. "You Light Up My Life" - You Light Up My Life (1977)
32. "The Days of Wine and Roses" - The Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
33. "Up Where We Belong" - An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
34. "The Shadow of Your Heart" - The Sandpiper (1965)
35. "Buttons and Bows" - The Paleface (1948)
36. "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" - Song of the South (1947)
37. "When You Wish Upon a Star" - Pinocchio (1940)
38. "The Windmills of Your Mind" - The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
39. "Last Dance" - Thank God It's Friday (1978)
40. "Secret Love" - Calamity Jane (1953)
41. "Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)" - Arthur (1981)
42. "Evergreen (Theme From A Star is Born)" - A Star is Born (1976)
43. "Call Me Irresponsible" - Papa's Delicate Condition (1963)
44. "You'll Never Know" - Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
45. "On the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe" - Harvey Girls (1946)
46. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
47. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
48. "Flashdance... What a Feeling" - Flashdance (1983)
49. "We May Never Love Like This Again" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
50. "Sweet Leiulani" - Waikiki Wedding (1937)

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