Soundtrack Saturday Special Edition! Best Original Song, 1985

Welcome back for week two of discussing Best Original Song Oscar nominees! I hope you all enjoyed last week’s discussion of the nominees from the 46th Academy Awards.

This week, I decided to choose a year that I almost covered last year and that has a wealth of instantly recognizable songs. The songs vying for the coveted prize at the 57th Academy Awards, presented in 1985, were one of the most radio-friendly, hit-laden groups of nominees in the past 30 years. Every single nominee here spent multiple weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

As often happens, this was also another year in which two songs from the same film were nominated, that film being Footloose. You also have a nominated song that was entrenched in scandal, one that made an appearance on possibly my favorite episode of The Cosby Show and a song with a performer who got the shaft from the Academy when it came to performing his nominated song.

Before we delve into each our category, let’s take a quick look at the awards show that year.

The 57th Academy Awards
Date of telecast: March 25, 1985
Host: Jack Lemmon

(Per Academy rules, all nominated films were released between January 1 and December 31, 1984, in Los Angeles County, California.)

Best Picture: Amadeus
Best Actor: F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus
Best Actress: Sally Field, Places in the Heart
Best Supporting Actor: Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields
Best Supporting Actress: Peggy Ashcroft, A Passage to India
Best Director: Milos Forman, Amadeus

This was the year in which Sally Field gave an acceptance speech that spawned a meme still heard today:


And in our category …

The Oscar went to:

“I Just Called to Say I Love You” (performed by Stevie Wonder; music and lyrics by Stevie Wonder) from The Woman in Red.

Other nominees:

“Ghostbusters” (performed by Ray Parker, Jr.; music and lyrics by Ray Parker, Jr.) from Ghostbusters.

“Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” (performed by Phil Collins; music and lyrics by Phil Collins) from Against All Odds.

“Footloose” (performed by Kenny Loggins; music by Kenny Loggins; lyrics by Dean Pitchford) from Footloose.

“Let’s Hear It For the Boy” (performed by Deniece Williams; music by Tom Snow; lyrics by Dean Pitchford) from Footloose.

So, the winning song. First of all, it was a huge hit for Wonder — not only did it win the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, it also sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks and was his only UK number one hit. It also topped the U.S. R&B and Adult Contemporary charts. Basically, you could not go anywhere in the mid-1980s and not hear this song.

But do we actually like it? Is it good? I think it’s a perfectly fine ballad — very radio friendly, capable of being enjoyed by all walks of life, perfect for a movie — and the robot backing vocals that kick in around the 3:30 mark make me smile. But it is by no means Wonder’s best — not even close. I love you, Stevie, but I think I might agree with ol’ Barry on this one:

Though it won the Oscar for The Woman in Red, when I hear “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” I don’t think of the film from which it came. I think of sad karaoke performances. I think of boring wedding receptions. I think of commercials for long distance providers. And, most of all, I think of one of my favorite episodes of The Cosby Show:

So, was it really deserving of this award? Was it really better than all the other nominees? I’m not so sure. I kind of think that had Prince’s “When Doves Cry” been nominated, it would have kicked ass and taken names in this category. But we’ll talk about Prince later.

Actually, “I Just Called to Say I Love You” almost didn’t remain the winner. See, Wonder had actually started composing the song several years before he contributed it to The Woman in Red soundtrack. And there’s this little rule that says that the song must be specifically written for the film in which it appears in order to be eligible. I’m not sure of the specifics of how the Academy came to the decision to let Wonder keep the Oscar, but they did and that’s that. Oh, also, Wonder got sued over this song. Songwriters Lee Garrett and Lloyd Chiate sued him for copywright infringement, claiming that Wonder’s song was too similar to their song, “I Just Called to Say.” The suit was later pulled because it was decided that the two songs were similar in title only.

Stevie Wonder wasn’t the only nominee to face a copyright infringement lawsuit — Ray Parker, Jr. also had that distinct pleasure for his song, “Ghostbusters.”  Another chart topper — it was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks and peaked at #2 on the UK Singles Chart — “Ghostbusters” was another song you just could not escape in ’84 and ’85. The film of the same name from which it came (see what I did there?) was a huge success, remaining #1 at the box office for almost two months (it was finally overtaken by Purple Rain — again, we’ll get to Prince). And if you were an avid MTV viewer, you probably saw the song’s (random) celebrity-filled video at least once an hour.

So why did Mr. Parker, Jr. get sued for copyright infringement? Well, Huey Lewis wasn’t too fond of how similarly sounding the guitar riffs in “Ghostbusters” were to those in his song, “I Want a New Drug,” which was a big hit in early ’84. So, he took Parker to court and said, “Write your own damned song!” (OK, he probably didn’t say that in court, but I bet you he screamed it at the TV any time he saw that video).

Unfortunately, we were not blessed with the joy of a trial in this matter, as the two parties settled out of court (I imagine the trial would’ve ended with a song-off). Details of that settlement were supposed to be kept on the DL, but Lewis had to go an open his big trap on Behind the Music in 2001, so Parker sued him for breach of confidentiality. I have no idea if they’ve ever settled that dispute — the Internets claim the lawsuit is “ongoing.”

But the really interesting part of this whole “your song is too much like my song” brouhaha is the fact that both songs seem to rip off M’s “Pop Musik.” Listen to all three back-to-back and tell me that something fishy isn’t going on here.

Huey Lewis & the News – I Want a New Drug
M – Pop Musik

Fun fact: Not only had Mr. Lewis at one point been asked to record a theme song for Ghostbusters, but so had Lindsey Buckingham. Can you imagine what that song would’ve sounded like? My first rock star crush allegedly turned down the offer, stating that didn’t want to be known only as a soundtrack artist. Oooh, burn on Kenny Loggins. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)

Let’s talk about Phil Collins. Last year, when I wrote about the 2000 Best Original Song nominees, I gave him, and his winning song, some shit. And I probably should for “Against All Odds,” too, but I actually kind of like it. Even though it’s sappy, sentimental balladry at its best, I still dig it. I can’t help it — I kind of love ’80s Phil Collins. And of this group of nominees, I think this song should’ve won. Yeah, I said it.

When I was doing my extensive research about this song on Wikipedia, I read that it was originally called “How Can You Just Sit There?” as in “How can you just sit there and let me write a song with a shitty title like How Can You Just Sit There?” Another song that was actually written several years before the film for which it was nominated (it came from the Face Value sessions), “Agains All Odds” also won Collins a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. It was another chart-topping Oscar-nominated song, staying at #1 on the Hot 100 for three weeks (what’s up with the three-week limit on these movie songs being #1?). And guess what it replaced at the top of the chart? “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins.

Now, here’s where this story gets fun. Collins was the only nominee who wasn’t invited to sing his song on stage during the ceremony.Not only that, but he had to sit in the damned audience and watch Ann Reinking perform it. WHAT THE FUCK? I mean, that’s just cruel. Does anyone know why he got the shaft? He must have really pissed someone off to not only not get asked to perform but to have to sit through someone else singing his song. Poor Phil.

Here he is performing it at Live Aid later that year. Just pretend he’s wearing a tux and that the stage looks all glittery.

Though Kenny Loggins has been dubbed the “King of the Movie Soundtrack,” this is the only time he was nominated for an Oscar. I know it’s hard to believe that “I’m Alright” and “Danger Zone” went unrecognized by the Academy, but they did. “Footloose” was a big hit for Loggins, spending — guess how long — three weeks at #1 on the Hot 100. You’d think that Loggins would’ve been nominated for a Grammy for this particular song, but no. The Footloose soundtrack was nominated for Best Album of Instrumental Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special (and lost to Purple Rain, which we’re almost ready to talk about), but Loggins got the shaft on a solo nomination. Poor Kenny .

Like Phil Collins, he got to perform his song at Live Aid, too:

The Footloose soundtrack was full of hit songs, six of which landed in the Top 40. Besides the title track, two others were top 10 hits — “Almost Paradise,” a duet between Ann Wilson of Heart and Mike Reno of Loverboy, and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” performed by Deniece Williams, which is also our final nominee. I really don’t have much to say about this song other than it is adorable and fun and my friends and I used to love dancing around to it at slumber parties as children. Of all the nominees, I feel like this one maybe shouldn’t have made it into the group. It’s a great pop song, but I’m not so sure it’s Oscar-worthy. Whatever — it didn’t win anyway.

Finally, it’s time to address Prince and Purple Rain. For obvious reasons, I will likely never write a Soundtrack Saturday column about this movie (unless you all are OK with no MP3s, in which case GAME FUCKING ON!). So, here’s my chance to show this clip of Prince accepting his Oscar wearing a sparkly hoodie. He won for Best Original Song Score, a category that the Academy did away with after 1985, because who the fuck else are you going to nominate for this after Prince wins?

So, that’s 1985. What say you about this super duper hit-filled year? Did the Academy make the right decision by calling Stevie Wonder to tell him they loved him? Or should they have given the award to Phill Collins, even though the odds were against him? Tell me what you think in the comments.

Next week, I will make the dudes here happy by discussing a year in which the man many of them worship (I mean it — I really think some of them have an altar dedicated to him) won an Oscar.

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  • http://www.popdose.com Michael Parr

    A note on the Huey Lewis vs. Ray Parker, Jr. debacle: Ivan Reitman actually initially approached Huey and the boys to write the theme song, which they turned down, hence the lawsuit.

  • Anonymous

    If I’m not mistaken, I believe the presenters at the Academy Awards stated “Phil Collins can’t be with us tonight, so performing his song…” and then the cameras cut to Collins sitting in the audience.

  • http://robertcashill.blogspot.com BobCashill

    That was an odd snub…and poor Reinking, obviously nervous and ill-prepared, really massacred it. I think it hurt her film and TV career.

    While the song endures I don’t think anyone was thinking of THE WOMAN IN RED a few months after its release; certainly one of the more undistinguished movies to win an Oscar for anything.

    Great post.

  • http://www.theseconddisc.com Mike Duquette

    If I recall correctly, Phil’s eyebrow was extraordinarily raised during said close-up.

  • http://www.popdose.com Ted

    I agree with Barry in that, “I Just Called to Say I Love You” is sentimental tacky crap. I like my sentimental tacky crap from an artist who specializes in it, and that’s why I think Phil Collins should have won.

  • JonCummings

    In Oscar-land, the fact that Prince was such a shoo-in for “song score” meant he wasn’t gonna win BOS. Stevie, I’m guessing, won because he’s Stevie, not because “I Just Called” is anything more than a tacky, Casio-charged, horrible-quality turd of a song. Phil should have gotten the trophy, which would have freed the Academy to give the 2000 Oscar to “Blame Canada” (standing in for the true BOS of that year, “Uncle Fucka” — or perhaps “Kyle’s Mom Is a Big Fat Bitch,” I can’t decide). “Bigger, Longer & Uncut” = best film musical of the last 20 years.

  • Anonymous

    I’m so glad so many people agree with me that Phil Collins should’ve won this.

  • http://www.chimesfreedom.com Chimesfreedom

    I wonder how long it has been since there have been five songs nominated that were as popular as these songs. Man, I’ve heard these songs so many times, although that does not mean they are that great, but they were popular.

    I agree that Phil Collins probably should have won too. One interesting point where you note that the song was written prior to the movie. But I recently watched Against All Odds and listened a little to the director’s commentary (for something writing for my blog). At the end, when the Phil Collins song plays, the director talked about how he sent the movie draft to Collins and he then wrote the song and how it fit perfectly with the final scene. I suppose it is still consistent with the story that he may have written another version of the song earlier and then fixed the song and lyrics to more closely match the movie. Thanks for the interesting post!