Covering the Oscars

Tomorrow, the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony will take place in Hollywood. This annual shindig is a huge marketing tool for the film industry and is a chance for members of the Academy to tell each other how great they all are. In the US, the large number of independent and low-budget films that have been nominated for Best Picture over the last few years has also led to a drop in TV viewers (and advertising revenue). I would argue that a deterioration in the quality of films coming out of Hollywood over the last few years may be the actual reason for this decline in audience numbers. I was shocked that Crash and Slumdog Millionaire were recent Oscar winners for Best Picture because I felt that both of these films were turkies. In an effort to get more people watching, the organisers have doubled the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten. In order to fit clips from these extra titles into the show, something had to give. This year, the major casualties arising from this change will be the nominees for Best Original Song. The usual live performance will be replaced clips from the film from over which the song will appear. This year, Randy Newman will attempt to add to his solitary Oscar from 2001 as he is nominated twice. Perhaps he’s glad that he won’t have to perform as well

The Oscar for Best Original Song was introduced at the 1934 awards. Since 1941, only original songs that first appear in a film released that year are eligible. Technically, Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (pictured above performing at the 2008 ceremony) should not have been nominated as it predated its appearance in Once. However, some committee got together and gave the song the thumbs-up as they felt that it was part of the genesis and development of the film. I have to agree with the Academy on this one. Not only was it the best of the nominated songs but, more importantly, the song was an integral part of the film’s narrative. Essentially, the only time that lyrics are important in a film is when they relate to the overall story or even to its characterisation. The most obvious film genre that fits this description is the musical where the songs actually do move the story forward. However, the musical is not so common as a genre nowadays and, as recent efforts such as Moulin Rouge and Mamma Mia prove, the songs used are not always original ones. I’ve chosen over twenty songs that have received Oscar nominations for Best Original song. Some of these songs have been integral to the movie in which they first appeared while some would not be missed. Nevertheless, many of them have become popular in their own right and have been covered by the great and the good over the years

The 1970 winner from Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969) was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It was fourth time lucky for the two songwriters as they had been unsuccessful from 1965-67 with What’s New Pussycat?, Alfie and The Look of Love. Bacharach was victorious again a decade later when he co-wrote the music for the 1981 winner, Arthur’s Theme, from Arthur (1981). This version is by Japanese band Shonen Knife

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (BJ Thomas cover) – Shonen Knife

Isaac Hayes’ 1971 winner from Shaft has continued to turn up in films and TV shows over the years, including extended appearances in Alan Parker’s The Commitments and Father Ted. This version from The Wedding Present was one a a dozen covers that they released as b-sides to twelve monthly singles in 1992

Theme From Shaft (Isaac Hayes cover) – The Wedding Present

Carly Simon’s 1977 nominee from The Spy Who Loved Me was written by Marvin Hamlisch (music) with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. It was the first Bond theme not to share the same title as the film even tough the phrase is included in its lyric. It was one of eight occasions that Hamlisch had been up for the award. His only win his first attempt for the title track of The Way We Were in 1973. This was Sager’s first nomination and she made it back a further five times. Her only victory was as co-writer of the music for Arthur’s Theme. Only two other Bond themes have received nominations: Live and Let Die and For Your Eyes Only

Nobody Does It Better (Carly Simon cover) – Radiohead

Eminem’s 2002 winner from 8 Mile is given the cover treatment by a band called The Script

Lose Yourself (Eminem cover) – The Script

Against All Odds was a 1984 nomination from the film of the same name. The three other nominees to lose out that year were the main theme from Ghostbuters and two songs from Footloose, Let’s Hear It For the Boy and the title track. All four lost out to Stevie Wonder’s appalling I Just Called to Say I Love You. Collins would go on to have two subsequent nominations, winning in 1999 for You’ll Be in My Heart from Tarzan. The Postal Service’s wonderful version is from the soundtrack of a film called Wicker Park

Against All Odds (Phil Collins cover) – The Postal Service

Let’s Hear It for the Boy was one of two nominees from Footloose and was written by Tom Snow and Dean Pitchord. Both it and the title track were number ones in the US in 1984. The whole soundtrack was covered in a stripped-down form by Doveman

Let’s Hear It For The Boy (Deniece Williams cover) – Doveman

Bob Dylan’s first nomination ended in a win for Things Have Changed from Wonder Boys (2000). To my knowledge, the only other original film music provided by Dylan would have been for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). Strangely, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door failed to receive a nomination that year

Things Have Changed (Bob Dylan cover) – String Swing

Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen both received their first nominations in 1993 for Philadelphia, with The Boss winning out. Springsteen received another nomination two years later for Dead Man Walking

Streets of Philadelphia (Bruce Springsteen cover) – Bettye LaVette

Philadelphia (Neil Young cover) – Remote Islands

Over the years, a number of songs from Disney movies have made it onto the shortlist of nominations. This 1967 nominee from The Jungle Book was written by Terry Gilkyson, the father of singer Eliza Gilkyson. It was defeated by Talk to the Animals from Doctor Doolittle

Bare Necessities (Jungle Book cover) – Michelle Shocked

This 1980 winner from the Nine to Five film was written and performed by Dolly Parton, who also had her first starring role in the picture. Parton received another nomination 25 years later for Travelin’ Thru from Transamerica

9 to 5 (Dolly Parton cover) – Alison Krauss

This 1936 nominee from Born to Dance was the first of four unsuccessful nominations written by Cole Porter. The song later became associated with Frank Sinatra

I’ve Got You Under My Skin (cover) – Peggy Lee

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy was a 1941 nominee from the Abbot and Costello breakthrough film, Buck Privates. The song was written by Prince and Raye and performed in the film by the Andrews Sisters

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (Andrews Sisters cover) – The Puppini Sisters

The 1953 winner from Calamity Jane was written by Fain and Webster and performed by Doris Day in the film. Sinéad O’Connor’s version appears on her Am I Not Your Girl? album

Secret Love (Doris Day cover) – Sinead O’Connor

This 1937 nomination from Shall We Dance was written by George and Ira Gershwin. George had died by the time the ceremony came around. Ira went on to gain two more unsuccessful nominations

They Can’t Take That Away From Me (Fred Astaire cover) – Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

This 1957 nominee from the film of the same name was written by Dmitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington. One of eight nominations in this category for Tiomkin, he won at his first attempt for High Noon in 1952. He also won Best Score for High Noon and for The Old Man and the Sea. Washington received a further ten nominations and also won at his first attempt for When You Wish Upon a Star from Pinnochio (1940)

Wild Is The Wind (Johnny Mathis cover) – Cat Power

The 1970 winner from Lovers and Other Strangers was written by Fred Karli, Robb Royer and Jimmy Griffin and was popularised by The Carpenters

For All We Know (Larry Meredith cover) – Bettie Serveert

The 1968 winner from The Thomas Crown Affair was written by Michel Legrand, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. It was sung by Noel Harrison, whose father had sang the previous year’s winner

Windmills of Your Mind (Noel Harrison cover) – Rigmor Gustafsson

This 1979 nominee from The Muppet Movie was written by Williams and Ascher. Kermit the Frog’s version made it to number 25 on the Billboard charts that year. Here’s a version from Willie Nelson who received an Oscar nomination in 1980 for On the Road Again

The Rainbow Connection (Kermit the Frog cover) – Willie Nelson

The 1939 winner from the Wizard of Oz was written by Harold Arlen and EY Harburg and has become one of the more enduring winners. It would be Arlen’s only win, though he received eight more nominations. Harburg was also an unsuccessful nominee on two more occasions

Over The Rainbow (Judy Garland cover) – John Martyn

The 1961 winner from Breakfast at Tiffany’s was written by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini. Mercer received his first nomination in 1938 and he eventually garnered 18 nominations with a total of four victories. It was the first of Mancini’s nominations. His only other victory came the following year when he teamed up with Mercer again for the title song from Days of Wine and Roses

Moon River (Audrey Hepburn cover) – Dr John

The 1949 winner from Neptune’s Daughter was written by Frank Loesser. It was his fourth of five nominations and his only win

Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Frank Loesser cover) – Suzy Bogguss & Delbert McClinton

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4 thoughts on “Covering the Oscars

  1. Yeah, I knew you were pulling my leg. I don’t even know that song and I had to google it to see if it actually existed

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