It’s been two years since the last installment of the Soundtrack Saturday special Best Original Song series and I have to say that I’ve missed writing this column. I had absolutely planned on continuing the series last year, but when the 2012 nominees were announced and I saw how inexplicably pathetic the Best Original Song category was (only TWO nominees and NO performances at the ceremony!), I thought, “why bother?”
Well, the Academy has changed its nomination rules for this category and we’re back to the normal five (and there will be performances at this year’s ceremony because Adele), so I decided it would be a good time to resurrect this column. (And just an FYI: these special editions aren’t the last you’ll see of Soundtrack Saturday this year — it will be back on the reg in March.)
As you may remember, awards season is my favorite time of the year. Movies are my equivalent of football and the Oscars are my Super Bowl. And as in years past, I’ve done my best to see as many nominated films as possible (and not just Oscar-nominated, either). I’ve done very, very well this year, though I have chosen to skip a few becuase I have no desire whatsoever to see them (*cough* Les Mis *cough*). If you’re curious about which 2012 films were my favorites, here is my list.
Alright, let’s get down to business. For this year’s Best Original Song series, I decided to explore four years in the 1980s that I haven’t written about previously (see 1985 and 1988). I hadn’t initially intended to stick to the ’80s, but I couldn’t fight the draw of the decade in which I think the movie soundtrack was at its peak (read: look for a lot of ’80s movies to be covered in the regular column this year). Of course this means that next year, I’m going to have to look elsewhere because I don’t find the nominees from the remaining ’80s years very compelling.
As a reminder, this category, technically called “Best Music, Original Song,” was introduced at the seventh annual Academy Awards in 1935 and is presented to the writer(s) of a song specifically written for a film. Unless the song’s performer(s) contributed to the music, lyrics, or both, he/she/they don’t receive an Oscar 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.
Also, this series covers the year of the Academy Awards telecast, not the year of the films’ release. So you don’t need to get all snotty with me in the comments about semantics.
A quick recap of the 1982 ceremony:
The 54th Academy Awards
Date of telecast: March 29, 1982
Host: Johnny Carson
(Per Academy rules, all nominated films were released between January 1 and December 31, 1981, in Los Angeles County, California.)
Best Picture: Chariots of Fire
Best Actor: Henry Fonda, On Golden Pond
Best Actress: Katharine Hepburn, On Golden Pond
Best Supporting Actor: Sir John Gielgud, Arthur
Best Supporting Actress: Maureen Stapleton, Reds
Best Director: Warren Beatty, Reds
Some fun facts about the 1982 ceremony:
- Henry Fonda’s win as Best Actor was his only competitive Academy Award win in his entire career. The only other Best Actor Oscar nomination he received was for his performance in The Grapes of Wrath in 1941, which was a record gap between nominations. And at 76, he became the oldest Best Actor winner in Academy history.
- Katharine Hepburn won her fourth Best Actress Oscar, beating her own record for most Best Actress wins by any actress.
- This was the first time in Academy history that three different films were nominated for the “Top Five” categories: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress. Those three films were On Golden Pond, Atlantic City and Reds. With 12 nominations, Reds was thought to be a lock for the Best Picture win, but it was upset by Chariots of Fire.
- Best Make-Up made its debut as a category. The winner was Rick Baker for his work on An American Werewolf in London.
- This was the last year until the 2005 Academy Awards where all five Best Picture nominees were also up for Best Director.
- Reds was the last film to have nominations in all four acting categories until Silver Linings Playbook, which is up for a total of 8 Oscars this year.
- Liberace performed all the nominated music for Best Original Score. (!!!)
And now, a look at our category …
The Oscar went to:
“Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” (performed by Christopher Cross; music and lyrics by Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen) from Arthur.
“Endless Love” (performed by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie; music and lyrics by Lionel Richie) from Endless Love.
“One More Hour” (performed by Jennifer Warnes; music and lyrics by Randy Newman) from Ragtime.
“For Your Eyes Only” (performed by Sheena Easton; music by Bill Conti, lyrics by Mick Leeson) from For Your Eyes Only.
“The First Time It Happens” (performed by Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog and Frank Oz as Miss Piggy; music and lyrics by Joe Raposo) from The Great Muppet Caper.
This is a pretty Mellow Gold-esque batch of nominees, isn’t it? I think this is the first year I’ve written about a group of Oscar-nominated songs that could so easily make up an easy listening radio playlist. Not that it’s a bad thing — hell, most Oscar-nominated songs fall into the easy listening category. That’s about all the Academy can handle, if you think about it.
Our winner is probably the most Mellow Gold of the bunch, its co-writer and performer, Christopher Cross, being the king (or at least, the prince) of soft rock. Co-written by Cross, Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager and Liza Minnelli’s ex-husband, Peter Allen, “Arthur’s Theme” was a fairly big hit after its release in August 1981, eventually knocking fellow nominee “Endless Love” off the top of both the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
Around my house, the song was known as “The Moon and New York City,” and it turns out I’m not the only one who called it that — when Bette Midler presented the Best Original Song award at the Oscars ceremony, she referred to “Arthur’s Theme” as “That Song About the Moon and New York City.” Incidentally, that line,”When you get caught between the moon and New York City” is taken from an unreleased song that Allen and Bayer Sager had previously written together.
Though “Endless Love” was constantly getting bested by “Arthur’s Theme,” the song was actually a bigger overall success than any of its fellow nominees. It was the second biggest-selling single of 1981 in the U.S. (the first was “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes) and it spent NINE WEEKS at the top of the Hot 100, six weeks at #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and three atop the Adult Contemporary chart. It was the biggest-selling single of Diana Ross’s career and her 18th career #1 single (that includes her work with the Supremes). In addition to its Oscar nomination, it also won the American Music Award for Best Pop/Rock Single. Strangely, it wasn’t nominated for a single Grammy award.
Ragtime marked Randy Newman’s first foray into scoring films and his nomination for “One More Hour” was his first Best Original Song Oscar nomination. But, of course, it wasn’t his last — he would go on to be the Susan Lucci of this category, netting 9 nominations before finally winning in 2002. His Ragtime score also garnered him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score, a category he’s since been nominated in 8 times, but never won.
Until I started writing this piece, I’d never heard “One More Hour.” (I’ve also never seen Ragtime, which surprises me because it’s a Miloš Forman joint and I love his work.) This is an understated, absolutely gorgeous song that perfectly captures the sound and feel of the turn-of-the-century time period in which the film takes place. Jennifer Warnes’s voice is beautiful, so it surprises me that she isn’t the one who performed the song at the ceremony that year. Guess who did? John Schneider. Yes, THAT John Schneider. What the hell? I tried to find a clip of his performance, but came up empty. If you saw and remember it, please tell us what it was like. I’m imagining that it wasn’t that great.
Our next nominee, “For Your Eyes Only,” is probably my favorite of the bunch and the one with the most interesting backstory. Blondie had written and recorded a song with the same title and had submitted it for consideration as the next Bond theme song. However, the film’s producers preferred the Conti/Leeson-composed “For Your Eyes Only,” but asked Blondie to perform that song. They declined, instead putting their version of “For Your Eyes Only” on their 1982 album The Hunter. So, we came thisclose to being able to call Blondie an Oscar-nominated band. (If you ask me, they should’ve been nominated for “Call Me” from American Gigolo (1980), but we’re not talking about that year.)
Conti, who also composed the film’s score, had originally written the song with Donna Summer or Dusty Springfield in mind because he thought they embodied the “Bond style.” But the film’s studio, United Artists, thought Scottish singer Sheena Easton, who had recently landed a #1 hit in the States with “Morning Train,” was a better fit. Though Conti was unimpressed with Easton’s debut album, he decided to work with her after meeting her in person.
The song was originally written to have the “for your eyes only” line at the end of the song, as lyricist Leeson thought that was the only way the song could conclude. But the line was moved to the front of the song after Conti met with the film’s credit sequence artist, who complained about having to synch the reveal of the title with where the line fell in the song. And speaking of the opening credit sequence, Easton is the only performer of a Bond theme to be seen performing in the opening credits and Roger Moore, who portrayed Bond at the time, said she was sexier than any of the Bond girls.
“For Your Eyes Only” reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #8 on the UK Singles Chart and remains one of Easton’s biggest hits. It is the third theme from a James Bond film to be nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar; the first two were “Live and Let Die” from Live and Let Die (1973), performed by Paul McCartney & Wings, and “Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), performed by Carly Simon. Incidentally, one of this year’s nominees, the Adele-performed “Skyfall,” is the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Academy Award since “For Your Eyes Only.”
Our final nominee, “The First Time It Happens” is the only one that wasn’t performed at the Oscars ceremony that year, which is strange because it’s probably the only song of the bunch that sounds like a song written to be performed at the Oscars. I’m guessing that they couldn’t figure out away to stage a performance with a bunch of Muppets back then and they couldn’t bring themselves to let humans perform it, which is a damn shame. I don’t have much to say about this song other than it is perfectly lovely and had it been from a Disney movie and released in the late ’80s or early ’90s, it surely would’ve won the Academy Award.
Well, that wraps up our look at the 1982 Best Original Song nominees. What do you think? Was “Arthur’s Theme” the best that the Academy could do? Should they have had endless love for Lionel Richie? Should their eyes only have been for Bill Conti and Mark Leeson? Let me know in the comments!
See you back next week when we revisit the nominees from another of the Reagan years.