Thursday, September 4, 2014

Reviewing the Oscar nominated songs of the last 35 years, 1980

So I watched Muppets Most Wanted the other night. I'm a fan of the Muppets, of their pastiche of old school vaudeville cum slapstick (unless that's redundant) balanced with whatever random sight gag they can blend into a bit. My personal goal is to be Statler or Waldorff providing running commentary on the world (and I'd like to think I've accomplished a little bit of that with my blog), so girl you know I loves me some Muppets.

The songs in MMW were pretty generic and then I remembered that "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets earned an Oscar and, if I recall correctly, it was one of the worst fucking songs to win an Oscar ever, ever.

But was it, really? I've been an Oscars enthusiast for 30+ years, surely I could take a trip back through my time as an Oscar watcher and come up with a definitive rating of each nominated song and rank the best movie songs of my adolescent and adult lifetime.  I decided to start with the 1980 Oscars which represent 1979 movies--this would range from me at 12 years old up until now when I'm 36 (I'm efficient about aging).

I decided to rate songs on a 0 to 10 scale listening to each song, preferably in the context of its presentation in the movie, although that wasn't always a possibility. I was listening for the quality of the song writing, the evocation of mood, whether the song propels or informs the story, and whether or not the song fits the movie. Often I'd find myself bumping a score by a couple of points if I just fucking love the song, but not as often as I expected. In fact Survivor and Kenny Loggins benefit greatly from my adult objectivity.

I'm going to write in smallish batches to keep myself going and not get super bored. There might be an overall ranking at the end, check back often to find out!

And feel free to liberally use the comments to agree with me (or be wrong)!

From the 1980 Oscars the nominees were:
  • "It Goes Like It Goes" from Norma Rae (David Shire, music; Norman Gimbel, lyrics) - winner
  • "The Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie (Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, music and lyrics)
  • "Song from 10 (It's Easy to Say)" from 10 (Henry Mancini, music; Robert Wells, lyrics)
  • "Theme from Ice Castles (Through the Eyes of Love)" from Ice Castles (Marvin Hamlisch, music; Carole Bayer Sager, lyrics)
  • "Theme from The Promise (I'll Never Say Goodbye)" from The Promise (David Shire, music; Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, lyrics)
Some of you might notice the absence of "The Rose" from The Rose, a song that became a signature for Bette Midler and won the Golden Globe that year. Here's the thing, "The Rose" wasn't written for The Rose and had been performed by the songwriter for a couple of years before the movie was filmed. The lack of a nomination always seemed like an injustice until I found that small detail. As she did with "Wind Beneath My Wings" Midler propelled an established piece to iconic movie music.

Also missing, but not really, is "The Main Event" from the Barbra Streisand/Ryan O'Neal film of the same name; and 3 songs from Starting Over.  These are songs I adore because they're performed awfully by Candice Bergen as part of the new life she creates for herself when divorcing Burt Reynolds. These songs haunt Reynolds through the movie: subtle and hysterical. The movie is filled with charm  and is a nice companion piece to Jill Clayburgh's It's My Turn.

What you can't see from the way I posted the nominees is who performs the song as presented in the movie. Back across the river, a former coworker of mine, upon hearing the song from An Officer and a Gentleman, called Jennifer Warnes a one-hit wonder. I corrected her that Warnes was a two-hit wonder with the Dirty Dancing song another #1 hit. I knew that sold her short when I said it but couldn't recall the solo song she released in the 70s (there were 2: "Right Time of the Night" went to #1 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart in 1977 and in 1979 she hit both the pop and country charts with "I Know a Heartache When I See One"). She deserves a little more respect (even if I dislike the 2 duets she's best known for).

Also notable here is the vocal stylings of Miss Melissa Manchester. Two of the nominees were sung by her (in the versions used in the respective movies). Her talents take a backseat to late 70s icons like Streisand, Midler, Summer and Linda Ronstadt, but she's pretty fucking amazing.  

Despite making it a punchline to a few jokes, I'd never heard the song from Norma Rae nor the non-punchline track from The Promise. I listened to all 5, read a little about each and here are my ratings"

"It Goes Like It Goes"
Bless the child of the workin' man she knows too soon who she is
And bless the hands of a workin' man he knows his soul is his
I wrote down "7 or 8" which means I expected it to be a 7 and really liked it. I'm officially giving it an 8 and will say it feels authentic, like a song that is inspired by the labor movement, not a song that sounds like it was inspired by the labor movement. [8]

"The Rainbow Connection"
Have you been half asleep?
And have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name
I can't imagine a better contemporary song from a movie. It's relatable to kids and adults, it works to propel the story and its just fucking wonderful. [10]

"Song from 10 (It's Easy to Say)"
You'll lose your mind
And then you'll find
It's easy to say I love you
I think 10 is secretly the story of Henry Mancini's midlife crisis. I think many of Blake Edwards's movies from the late 60s through the 70s are about Mancini. That's not particularly relevant here but it's an idea that came to me when I re-watched 10 over Thanksgiving last year (it holds up really well and it Bo Derek didn't have those corn rows it would be esteemed so much more than it is). The song is dogged by relatively simple lyrics and its downbeat nature superimposed on a genius slapstick comedy. I know this signals the character's acceptance of his (pretty fucking awesome) life, his maturity, but they could have done that with, I don't know some cleverness or subtlety. [6]

"Theme from Ice Castles (Through the Eyes of Love)"
Please, don't let this feeling end
It might not come again and I want to remember
OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG! This song, 1980 marching band season, holy shit. It felt like it was EVERYWHERE. As big a concert piece as you can imagine. I've never seen Ice Castles but a 1979 movie about a blind figure skater and Robbie Benson, or possibly a blind Robbie Benson and a figure skater, how much more 1979 can you get (answer: add Kristy McNichol). Fun fact: my real estate agent is the now-retired Kristy McNichol! This song is sappy and it owns every drop of sap. Melissa sings the shit out of it, too. Maybe one day I'll see the movie (but I doubt it). [9]

"Theme from The Promise (I'll Never Say 'Goodbye')"
I'm not afraid to say I love you
And I promise you I'll never say goodbye
It's big but meandering. The movie sounds like a mess but has an impossibly young Stephen Collins in a Love Story-esque rich guy/poor girl tear jerker, so contextually it works. And Melissa Manchester sings the shit out of it, only less so than on the blind ice skater movie. [7]

Oh, and don't read anything in to the fact that no 2 songs have the same score. That's just a fluke for this and you'll see I use the bottom part of the scale very soon. I would do it now but damn I wrote a lot for a single year so I'm stopping for tonight. Share your feedback in the comments section!

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