Soundtrack Saturday Special Edition! Best Original Song, 1981

Written by Film, Soundtrack Saturday

It’s awards season, which means it’s time for Kelly Stitzel to pay tribute to some Oscar-approved soundtrack songs. This week: 1981!

I love awards season. It’s my version of the playoffs in sports. The first big game is the Golden Globes, and the Super Bowl or World Series or whatever the fuck other big championship-game analogy you want to come up with is the Academy Awards.

I take awards season very seriously. I see as many nominated films as I can. I keep track of all the winners at the different awards ceremonies and use that information to hone my Oscar predictions, because I often participate in Oscar pools. Some involve money, some don’t.

I get into heated discussions with fellow film buffs about the nominees and our projections for the winners. And I make a special dinner for Oscar night, complete with a bottle of champagne. As my friend Stacey would say, “This is not a game.” OK, maybe it is, but it’s a far more entertaining game for me than any sport.

In honor of my favorite time of year, I decided to do a special series of Soundtrack Saturday posts centered on one of my favorite — and one of the most frustrating — Oscar categories: Best Original Song.

Introduced at the seventh annual Academy Awards in 1935, the category, which is technically “Best Music, Original Song,” is presented to the songwriters of a tune written specifically for a film. Unless a song’s performer(s) contributed to the music, lyrics, or both, he/she/they don’t receive an Oscar statue if the song wins. Nominees are determined by members of the academy who are songwriters and composers, with the winner chosen by the entire academy membership. (For a more in-depth history of the category, visit ye ole Wikipedia.)

The Best Original Song category is one that, particularly in the past 20 years or so, has featured multiple songs from the same movie. Coincidentally, the year I’ve chosen to write about — or, rather, the year my Twitter followers and Facebook friends chose for me to write about — is the first year that happened.

When I came up with the idea to do these themed posts, I couldn’t decide on which year to write about, so, like I said, I let the people choose for me. Well, to be fair, they didn’t really know what they were choosing — I simply threw out a bunch of years and asked my Twitter and Facebook friends to pick one, and 1981 was the overwhelming winner (1985 came in a very close second, so it just might show up in the weeks ahead).

Before you get all persnickety about the semantics of the year I’ve chosen, let me state that I know some sources will say I’ve actually chosen to write about the 1980 Academy Awards, but I’m going by IMDB’s so-called definition of the year. (Look, if you want to get technical, I’m really just writing about the Best Original Song nominees from the 53rd annual Academy Awards.)

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, some stats:

The 53rd Academy Awards
Date of telecast: Tuesday, March 31, 1981 (postponed by one day because of the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on March 30)
Host: Johnny Carson

(Per Academy rules, all nominated films were released between January 1 and December 31, 1980, in Los Angeles County, California.)

Best Picture: Ordinary People
Best Actor: Robert De Niro, Raging Bull
Best Actress: Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner’s Daughter
Best Supporting Actor: Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People
Best Supporting Actress: Mary Steenburgen, Melvin and Howard
Best Director: Robert Redford, Ordinary People

Now, on to our category …

The Oscar went to:
Irene Cara – Fame (music by Michael Gore; lyrics by Leslie Gore), from Fame

Other nominees:
Irene Cara – Out Here on My Own (music by Michael Gore; lyrics by Leslie Gore), from Fame;
Dolly Parton – 9 to 5 (music and lyrics by Dolly Parton), from 9 to 5;
Willie Nelson – On the Road Again (music and lyrics by Willie Nelson), from Honeysuckle Rose;
Randy Crawford – People Alone (Love Theme From The Competition) (music by Lalo Schifrin; lyrics by Will Jennings), from The Competition

Bonus tracks:
Michael Gore – Fame [Instrumental]
Michael Gore – Out Here on My Own [Instrumental]

I’m not going to give you a synopsis for each film. Watch the trailers instead.

Fame:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/51g-cS7nYUY" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]

9 to 5:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/YV7W9vWVCtw" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]

Honeysuckle Rose:


The Competition (this isn’t the trailer, but it should give you a good idea of what the film’s about):

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/Vq35DIt9Y_4" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]

An interesting crop of nominees that year, huh? Three of the four nominated films are about musicians or aspiring musicians. Two of them feature country-music stars in their first leading roles — Parton and Nelson — who were also the only nominees to write their own music and lyrics and perform their films’ nominated songs. Also, two of the films, The Competition and Honeysuckle Rose, star Amy Irving.

I’ve only seen two of the four nominated films, Fame and 9 to 5, and I adore them both. (For the record, I choose not to acknowledge last year’s remake of Fame.) Honeysuckle Rose and The Competition both seem like movies I would enjoy, so I’ll definitely add them to my list of films to see, but the latter isn’t on DVD, so it’ll have to wait.

I find it interesting that a film about concert pianists has a “love theme” that’s just a run-of-the-mill, early-’80s piano ballad. Randy Crawford’s voice is lovely, but really, anyone could’ve sung this. Quite frankly it’s boring, and not worthy of an Academy Award nomination. Had Loretta Lynn written an original song for Coal Miner’s Daughter, I think it very easily would have taken “People Alone” out of the running.

As for the other nominees, all four are outstanding. As much as I love “Fame” and think it deserved to win Best Original Song, how great would it have been if Dolly or Willie had won? I can only imagine what they would’ve come up with for their acceptance speeches.

What do you think? Was this the right batch of Best Original Song nominees for 1980? If not, which five original songs would you have nominated? Comment away!

I hope you enjoyed the first Best Original Song special edition of Soundtrack Saturday. Come back next week to find out which year I choose to explore next!

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