35 Years of Best Original Song: The Conflux of Music and Cinema from Oscar's Perspective
We take a look back at all the Best Original Song winners and nominees from 1980 through today to see who won, who should have won, and who were snubbed completely.
The Academy Awards celebrate the best in the motion picture industry from the prior year, which of course includes actors, actresses, directors, technical wizards and many others associated with the long and arduous process of creating a movie. Music has long been an integral part of movie-making -- so many songs are irrevocably ingrained in our collective minds as associated with a particular scene, or a specific film. Music helps make the cinematic magic happen, whether it's the orchestral score that ramps up the excitement and drama, or original songs that express aspects of the film through the lens of a songwriter. They may help to frame a scene, set the mood, develop a character, or even further the narrative. The Best Original Song category is intended to honor the songwriters (not the performer) of the best original song written specifically for a film. The song has to appear in the film itself to be eligible (this can include opening or closing credits). Over the decades, the nominees have ranged from obvious and well-deserved to highly questionable. With the 88th Annual Academy Awards approaching on Sunday, 28 February, it's a good time to look back over the last 35 years and reminisce about Best Original Song selections of the past. Sometimes Oscar got it right, sometimes... not so much.
53rd Annual Academy Awards – 1980 (Held 31 March 1981 in Los Angeles)
Winner: "Fame" from Fame – performed by Irene Cara
Music: Michael Gore, Lyrics: Dean Pitchford
Should have won: Dolly Parton's witty worker's anthem "9 to 5", a chart-topper in both pop and country, was at least as deserving as "Fame" and probably should have taken home the trophy. Another strong nominee was "On the Road Again", Willie Nelson's classic from Honeysuckle Rose. The category was rounded out with "Out Here On My Own", also from Fame and co-written by the late Lesley Gore, and "People Alone" from The Competition.
Snubbed: Xanadu was completely ignored, despite a #1 single for Olivia Newton-John in "Magic" and a #8 hit for the title song performed by Newton-John with E.L.O. Blondie's "Call Me" from American Gigolo was also passed by for a nomination, as was Kenny Loggins' hit "I'm Alright" from Caddyshack. There was no Oscar love for Paul Simon's "Late in the Evening", a Top 10 hit from his film and album One-Trick Pony. And nothing from the Village People's Can't Stop the Music?!?!? Well, perhaps we'll give Oscar a pass on that one.
54th Annual Academy Awards – 1981 (Held 29 March 1982 in Los Angeles)
Winner: "Arthur's Theme (Best that You Can Do) from Arthur – performed by Christopher Cross
Music and lyrics: Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen.
Should have won: Oscar really blundered this year. Either the powerhouse duet "Endless Love" by Lionel Richie & Diana Ross, or Sheena Easton's stunning James Bond theme "For Your Eyes Only" would have been far better choices than the milquetoast theme from Arthur by soft-rock hero Christopher Cross. Also nominated were "One More Hour" by Randy Newman from Ragtime, and "The First Time it Happens" from The Great Muppet Caper.
Snubbed: Stephen Sondheim's "Goodbye for Now", performed by Hubert Laws and Cheryl Lynn for Best Picture nominee Reds, was overlooked. Perhaps the most surprising omission, given the Academy's love for Disney, was "Best of Friends", written by Stan Fidel and Richard Johnson and performed by Pearl Bailey for The Fox and the Hound.
55th Annual Academy Awards – 1982 (Held 11 April 1983 in Los Angeles)
Winner: "Up Where We Belong" from An Officer and a Gentleman - performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
Music by Jack Nitzsche and Buffy Sainte-Marie, Lyrics by Will Jennings
Should have won: The stirring duet by Cocker and Warnes deserved to win -- when one thinks of a big epic movie theme ballad, "Up Where We Belong" is right at the top of that list. Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes really nail their performances, and it became a classic. That said, "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor from Rocky III, one of the most iconic movie themes of the ‘80s, was certainly worthy of strong consideration. Other nominees were "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" from Best Friends, and two songs co-written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman: "It Might Be You" from Tootsie and "If We Were in Love" from Yes, Georgio.
Snubbed: The most obvious exclusion was Jackson Browne's Top 10 hit "Somebody's Baby", from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Perhaps the Academy voters couldn't get past the film's crude humor to fairly consider the song. David Bowie's darkly intense "Cat People (Putting out Fire)" from Cat People and Sting's obsessive "I Burn for You" from Brimstone & Treacle were long-shots for sure, but both are fantastic. The collaboration between Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle for Francis Ford Coppola's One From the Heart was also ignored.
56th Annual Academy Awards – 1983 (Held 9 April 1984 in Los Angeles)
Winner: "Flashdance... What a Feeling" from Flashdance - performed by Irene Cara
Music and Lyric by Giorgio Moroder, Keith Forsey and Irene Cara
Should have won: Irene Cara's pop/dance anthem was the correct pick, and her second lead vocal on a Best Original Song Oscar-winner following "Fame." "Flashdance… What a Feeling" beat out "Maniac" by Michael Sembello from the same film, and two songs from Barbra Streisand's Yentl: "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" and "The Way He Makes Me Feel". Also nominated was "Over You" from Tender Mercies.
Snubbed: Olivia Newton-John's Top 5 hit "Twist of Fate" from the abysmal Two of a Kind was overlooked, as was another Irene Cara/Giorgio Moroder collaboration on "The Dream" from DC Cab, and Joe Jackson's "Memphis" from Mike's Murder. The Streets of Fire soundtrack included the smash hit "I Can Dream About You" by Dan Hartman, but Oscar showed no love. "Holiday Road", a beaming novelty hit for Lindsey Buckingham from National Lampoon's Vacation, was also skipped. Rita Coolidge's lovely take on a James Bond theme, "All Time High", didn't make the cut.
57th Annual Academy Awards – 1984 (Held 25 March 1985 in Los Angeles)
Winner: "I Just Called to Say I Love You" from The Woman In Red - performed by Stevie Wonder
Music and Lyric by Stevie Wonder
Should have won: Wonder's lovely but syrupy ballad won over a much better and more emotionally intense performance: Phil Collins' "Against All Odds" from the film of the same name. "Against All Odds" is much stronger overall and should have won. Also nominated were serious contenders from Footloose: the title song by Kenny Loggins and another number one single, "Let's Hear It For the Boy" by Deniece Williams. Rounding out a strong list was Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters."
Snubbed: Prince & The Revolution's "Purple Rain" was somehow consigned to the "Best Original Song Score" category, which it won (beating The Muppets Take Manhattan and Songwriter by Kris Kristofferson). This was the last Academy Award show to feature this category. Evidently it qualified because there was a series of songs written by one artist for the film. Strange. Had it simply been nominated in the Best Song category, "Purple Rain" would have been the easy choice for winner. Also passed by was Eurythmics' haunting "Julia" from 1984, Philip Oakey (of the Human League) and Giorgio Moroder's electronic anthem "Together in Electric Dreams" from Electric Dreams (which also featured two lovely ballads by Culture Club). Also failing to earn a nomination were Rick Springfield's "Love Somebody" from Hard to Hold, Paul McCartney's Top 10 hit "No More Lonely Nights" from Give My Regards to Broad Street, and two big country hits by Dolly Parton from Rhinestone -- "God Won't Get You" and "Tennessee Homesick Blues." John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band's hit "On the Dark Side" from Eddie and the Cruisers was another omission, as was Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On" from Beverly Hills Cop.