Welcome back to another installment of Soundtrack Saturday’s Best Original Song series! I hope you enjoyed reading about the nominees from 1982 and 1983, especially since one of those nominees shows up this week in full force.
We only have two more weeks until the Oscars, so that means two more weeks of revisiting Best Original Song nominees from the 1980s. This week, I’ve chosen a year that pretty much every human on the planet thought was boring as fuck because hardly anyone watched the damn telecast. I mean, 38 million people watched it, which is pretty normal by today’s standards. But at the time, it was one of the lowest viewerships of an Oscars ceremony ever.
I don’t think the choice of hosts helped, either. I mean, I love all three of those people, and I applaud the balls it takes to ask King Spaz Robin Williams to host anything that isn’t a Comic Relief special, but putting those three together to host an awards show? Not a great idea.
Anyway, let’s get on with the (terribly rated) show!
A quick recap of the 1986 ceremony:
The 58th Academy Awards
Date of telecast: March 24, 1986
Hosts: Alan Alda, Jane Fonda, Robin Williams
(Per Academy rules, all nominated films were released between January 1 and December 31, 1985, in Los Angeles County, California.)
Best Picture: Out of Africa
Best Actor: William Hurt, Kiss of the Spider Woman
Best Actress: Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful
Best Supporting Actor: Don Ameche, Cocoon
Best Supporting Actress: Anjelica Huston, Prizzi’s Honor
Best Director: Sydney Pollack, Out of Africa
Fun facts time!
- Out of Africa was nominated for 11 awards and won 7. The Color Purple was also nominated for 11 awards, but won none, tying The Turning Point for the most Oscar nominations without any wins.
- It may be hard to believe, but Sydney Pollack actually beat Akira Kurosawa for Best Director. Kurosawa was up for Ran, which was up for neither Best Picture or Best Foreign Language film, interestingly enough.
- The Best Original Song presentation brought a little Singin’ in the Rain reunion with presenters Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.
This was also the year Cher wore this ensemble, which is probably the most memorable thing about the whole ceremony:
And now, a look at our category …
The Oscar went to:
“Say You, Say Me” (performed by Lionel Richie; music and lyrics by Lionel Richie) from White Nights.
“Power of Love” (performed by Huey Lewis & the News; music by Chris Hayes and Johnny Colla, lyrics by Huey Lewis) from Back to the Future.
“Surprise, Surprise” (performed by Gregg Burge; music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban) from A Chorus Line.
“Separate Lives” (performed by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin; music and lyrics by Stephen Bishop) from White Nights.
“Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister)” (performed by Tata Vega; music by Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton, lyrics by Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton and Lionel Richie) from The Color Purple.
This was the year of Lionel Richie. After previously being nominated at the 54th Academy Awards for “Endless Love,” Richie scored not one, but two, nominations at the 58th, winning for “Say You, Say Me,” which would turn out to be one of his most popular ballads — it reached #1 on not only the Billboard Hot 100, but also the R&B singles chart and the Adult Contemporary chart (this was his ninth time topping that particular chart).
If you look for “Say You, Say Me” on the White Nights soundtrack album, you won’t find it. See, Motown was not really keen on the idea of Richie’s first single since “Penny Lover,” from the hit Can’t Slow Down album, to be on another label. Eventually, it popped up on 1986’s Dancing on the Ceiling.
We’ve now come to the point where we talk about the fact that a song by Huey Lewis & the News was nominated for an Academy Award. Now, I know some people who write for (and read) this site do not enjoy Mr. Lewis and his News. I am not one of those people; I, like Patrick Bateman, am a fan. And if one of their songs was ever going to get nominated for an Oscar, it would be this one. “The Power of Love,” like the film from which it came, was one of the biggest hits of 1985 and gave the News their first #1 hit on the Hot 100. It also topped the Top Rock Tracks chart, hit #6 on the AC chart and reached #22 on the Dance Club Play chart (Speaking of dancing, here’s the 12″ mix of the song.)
“The Power of Love” is one of those soundtrack songs that became kind of a motif for the film. It appears multiple times in the movie: first, as Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) skateboards to school. Then, Marty and his band play it for a Battle of the Bands auditions, at which Lewis himself is playing a judge who tells Marty’s group that they’re “just too darn loud.” It’s played again later in the film when Marty returns to his neighborhood. Even if it didn’t win the Oscar, it definitely wins for Best Use of a Song in a Motion Picture from this crop of nominees.
“Surprise, Surprise” comes from the very controversial, and poorly received, film version of the beloved Broadway musical A Chorus Line. For the film, composers Hamlisch and Kleban returned to pen new songs and rework a few from the stage version. One such new song was “Surprise, Surprise,” which replaced the montage from the stage version that included “Hello 12, Hello 13, Hello Love” and “Gimme the Ball,” although one verse of the former is heard in the film. I know a lot of fans of the musical were disappointed with the change, but I really like this song and think the scene in which it appears is one of the most exciting of the whole film. Did it deserve an Oscar nomination? Well, I’m not so sure about that.
Our next nominee comes from the same film as our winner. “Separate Lives” was written by Stephen Bishop, but was recorded as a duet by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin. It was also a big hit, reaching #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and AC charts. In my opinion, this is actually the better of the two nominated songs from White Nights and probably should’ve beat “Say You, Say Me.” But, I was not an Academy voter in the ’80s, so what the hell do I know?
Interestingly, at the Oscars ceremony, “Separate Lives” was not performed by Collins and Martin, but by songwriter Bishop. Poor Phil Collins just couldn’t get a break performing nominated songs he worked on at the Oscars ceremony: the previous year, Ann Reinking performed “Against All Odds” while Collins looked on from the audience. At least this time, Collins didn’t write the song he didn’t get to perform.
As for the last nominee, which is the second song in the group for which Lionel Richie has writing credits, I honestly don’t know much about it. Its performer, Tata Vega, provided the singing voice for the character Shug Avery, portayed by actress Margaret Avery, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Color Purple. I can see why it was nominated, as it’s a great song (I mean, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton and Lionel Richie are a pretty powerhouse trio of songwriters), but it kind of sticks out like a sore thumb amongst a group of nominees that were chart-topping radio hits. The Academy likes what it likes, I guess.
What do you think about the 1986 nominees? Did “Say You, Say Me” deserve to win? Or were the Academy voters and the public leading separate lives? Did The Color Purple not winning give you Miss Celie’s Blues? Do you wish the Academy had felt the power of love for Huey Lewis? Let me know in the comments!
Next week brings our look at 1980s Best Original Song nominees to a close. Try not to be too sad.