Soundtrack Saturday Special Edition! Best Original Song, 1994
Hello again, everyone! Welcome to week three of revisiting past Best Original Song nominees! I hope you had as much fun reading last week’s post about the 1985 nominees as I did writing it. What a crazy year for Best Original Song, right?
This week, I’ve decided to move on to the ’90s and discuss what I call a “downer” year. I call it that because when you look at the nominees for most of the major categories, they’re, for the most part, pretty heavy, serious films. Not that most Oscar nominees don’t tend to lean toward the serious, but this seemed to be a year in which that was especially prevalent.
The 66th Academy Awards were full of firsts. They featured the first African-American host, saw Steven Spielberg win his first Oscar for Best Director and the Best Picture tropy went to a black and white film for the first time since 1933. It also was a year of momentous seconds: Anna Paquin became the second youngest to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and Jane Campion became the second woman in history to be nominated for Best Director.
The 66th Academy Awards
Date of telecast: March 21, 1994
Host: Whoopi Goldberg
(Per Academy rules, all nominated films were released between January 1 and December 31, 1993, in Los Angeles County, California.)
Best Picture: Schindler’s List
Best Actor: Tom Hanks, Philadelphia
Best Actress: Holly Hunter, The Piano
Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive
Best Supporting Actress: Anna Paquin, The Piano
Best Director: Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List
Who could forget Tom Hanks’s heartfelt acceptance speech, which inspired the 1997 film In & Out?
Now, let’s take a look at our category.
The Oscar went to…
“Streets of Philadelphia” (performed by Bruce Springsteen; music and lyrics by Bruce Springsteen) from Philadelphia.
“Philadelphia” (performed by Neil Young; music and lyrics by Neil Young) from Philadelphia.
“Again” (performed by Janet Jackson; music and lyrics by Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis) from Poetic Justice.
“The Day I Fall in Love” (performed by Dolly Parton and James Ingram; music and lyrics by Carol Bayer Sager, James Ingram and Clif Magness) from Beethoven’s 2nd.
“A Wink and a Smile” (performed by Harry Connick, Jr.; music by Marc Shaiman; lyrics by Ramsey McLean) from Sleepless in Seattle.
This was a year of pretty solid nominees, wouldn’t you say? I actually like four out of five (I’m pretty sure you can guess which one I hate, but you’ll find out for sure in a minute) and I agree with the choice of winner. I’m going to guess that a good portion of my colleagues, and folks who read this site, do, too, because, in case you’re new, Springsteen is one of Popdose’s unofficial mascots.
“Streets of Philadelphia” was a huge critical and commercial success for Springsteen. It not only won an Academy Award, but also a Golden Globe and four Grammys. It peaked at number nine in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and did even better in Europe, topping the charts in Austria, France and Germany and making it to number two in the UK.
Written at the request of Philadelphia‘s director, Jonathan Demme, “Streets of Philadelphia” was the first song Springsteen had composed and performed specifically for a film (the first song he’d written for a film, “(Just Around the Corner to the) Light of Day” was performed by the fictional band the Barbusters in the 1987 film Light of Day). He would go on to write two more songs for films: “Dead Man Walkin'” from Dead Man Walking, for which he was nominated for another Oscar in 1996, and “The Wrestler” from the film of the same name, for which he won a Golden Globe in 2009.
Here’s Bruce performing the song during the ’94 Oscar telecast.
A second song from Philadelphia was nominated, that being the title song written and performed by a whippersnapper named Neil Young. As much as I love Bruce’s song, I would’ve been equally happy if Young had won the Oscar, for his song is heartbreakingly gorgeous. According to my research, Young was asked by Demme to compose for Philadelphia a song similar to “Southern Man,” which he’d originally used to cut the title sequence of the movie. However, once Young turned in his composition, which shared the title of the film, Demme decided instead to use it at the end of the film and called upon Springsteen to compose something for the opening. Demme asked Young to change the melody a little, making it a little darker and less “pretty” than the original version (I understand that original version is quite the rarity in the Young universe).
Young’s performance of the song during the Academy Awards ceremony was understated and beautiful (though, that bolo tie is neither):
Somehow, I completely forgot that Janet Jackson had been nominated for an Academy Award. I really love this song and quite enjoyed the film from which it came, Poetic Justice. Interestingly enough, the song was featured at the end of the film, but was not included on the official soundtrack album, instead being released on Jackson’s fifth studio album, janet. Cowritten by Jackson and her frequent collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, “Again” became her seventh number one hit and was also nominated for a Golden Globe.
Here’s Janet peforming the song during the Oscars telecast in a classy white suit inexplicably surrounded by a cage of candles:
I’ve said before that Best Original Song is one category in which films that would never get nominated for an Oscar otherwise get recognized. In 1994, Beethoven’s 2nd was one of those movies. And the song for which it was nominated, “The Day I Fall in Love,” is, if you haven’t already guessed, the one I hate. This song seriously makes me want to vomit. I can’t even get past the two-minute mark listening to it — the guitar solo that kicks in at 1:45 is where the gag reflex kicks in. I love Dolly Parton, but I do not approve of her appearance here. The music is terrible, the lyrics are worse. Not only was it was nominated for an Academy Award, but also a Golden Globe and a Grammy Award for Best Song from a Motion Picture. Why? Surely there had to have been a better song from a better movie released in 1993 that was more worthy of an Oscar nomination than this dreck. Actually, I know there definitely were better songs. Here’s one of them:
And now for our last nominee, which will give me the opportunity to admit that I’m a closet Sleepless in Seattle fan. I can’t help it. While its nowhere near as good as, say, When Harry Met Sally, I think it’s a charming, harmless romantic comedy that I somehow always get sucked into watching when it’s on cable. And I find “A Wink and a Smile,” which actually sounds like a song that should’ve been in When Harry Met Sally, to be a charming, lovely little song. It’s exactly the kind of thing that the Academy loves and had it not been up against powerhouses like the two songs from Philadelphia, it might have had a better chance at winning. Let’s just all be happy that the song performed by Celine Dion on the soundtrack was a cover and therefore not eligible for nomination.
So, what do you think? Did the Boss deserve to take home the Oscar, or should some brotherly love been bestowed by the Academy on Neil Young? What other songs should’ve been nominated instead of that bullshit from Beethoven’s 2nd? What facts did I miss that you Springsteen fanboys want to share? Tell me in the comments!
Next week will be the last week of this year’s run of Soundtrack Saturday Best Original Song special edition posts and as you might’ve guessed, we’ll be taking a look at a year from the oughts.