Greatest Un-Hits: Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” (1988)
We’re deep into (Give Adele and that silent dog movie all of the) award(s) season, so this week I’m looking at an inadequately performing song that won a lot of major awards from the self-congratulatory entertainment industry. Boomers lionized their icons in the ‘80s, and they loved few as much as dominant ‘70s singer-songwriter Carly Simon. She’s like your mom’s version of Adele! Which means Nicolette Larson, then, is your mom’s version of Lana Del Rey. But I digress.
By 1988 Simon was far removed from hits like “Nobody Does it Better,” “Mockingbird,” and “Warren Beatty is a Dick.” Her last platinum album had been 1978’s Boys in the Trees, and her sole hit since 1980 was “Coming Around Again,” a #18 hit from the soundtrack to Heartburn. So it looked for Simon that if she wanted to stay relevant, she’d have to make movie songs, hanging around all day with Stephen Bishop and Kenny Loggins. She was then hired to write and perform the central and closing song for the 1988 Melanie Griffith movie Working Girl. The song was “Let the River Run.”
This should have been a huge comeback hit for Janice the Muppet Simon, especially after it won the Oscar for Best Original Song. And the Golden Globe for a movie song. And the Grammy for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television (now called Best Song Written for Visual Media). That’s little-known award trifecta has only been repeated twice by a non-Disney animate movie: Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” from Philadelphia and Annie Lennox’s “Into the West” from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Also acting in favor of the song was that every other Best Song Oscar winner in the ‘80s had become a smash hit: “Fame” from Fame (#4, 1980), “The Best That You Can Do” from Arthur (#1, 1981), “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman (#1, 1982), “Flashdance…What a Feeling” from Flashdance (#1, 1983), “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from The Woman in Red (#1, 1984), “Say You Say Me” from White Nights (1985), “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun (#1, 1986), and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing (#1, 1987).
Simon’s “Let the River Run,” sputtered out at #49 on the Hot 100. Also nominated for the Best Song award at the Oscars that year: Phil Collin’s “Two Hearts” from Buster, a #1 hit, which would have kept that streak alive, but I am not advocating that we should give awards to or encourage Phil Collins in any way. “Let the River Run” is an interesting if weird song, playing on tribal rhythms, poetry, and an almost meditative mantra. It’s not the usual Carly Simon fare, and heavy stuff for a comedy about a promiscuous secretary.