Previously: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983
"I Just Called to Say I Love You" -- The Woman in Red [Music and lyrics: Stevie Wonder] WINNER
Joe: You know, Stevie Wonder gets a lot of crap for throwing away so much of his well-earned music industry cred in order to cash in by penning one of the limpest movie themes of all time. And for good damn reason. What a load this song is, Stevie. You might've been able to get away with something like this in a weaker year, but not when there's a whole Footloose soundtrack worth of classic '80s tunes.
Mark: 1984 is the only year in which every Oscar nominee for Best Song was also a #1 hit. That's one of my favorite pop culture tidbits, and it underlines the intimate connection between pop music and the movies in the 80s. (You could make the same observation about pop music and TV today and about pop music and Broadway in the 40s through the 60s. Here's hoping that "pop music and e-readers" will be the hot new synergy in 2020!)
Since I love the symmetry of Oscar nominees/#1 hits, I'm tempted to excuse the appearance of "I Just Called to Say I Love You" on this ballot. Yes, this song is bootycakes, and yes, it's awfulness is even more apparent on my Stevie Wonder greatest hits album, where it oozes like a syrupy stain next to "Superstition" and "My Cherie Amour." But it needed to be nominated, right? There were no other #1 hits from movies that year, right?
Wrong! 1984 was the year of Purple Rain, people. Purple. Fucking. Rain. While the film was the third and final winner in the bizarre "song score" category, the Academy decided that none of its songs individually merited attention. And sure, it's possible that some of the soundtrack's hits weren't written expressly for the film, but Prince did write "When Doves Cry" just for the movie, and that song did hit #1. If they'd gone with "Doves" instead of "Called," the Academy could've kept its 5-for-5 ratio and avoided embarrassing crap.
"Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" -- Against All Odds [Music and lyrics: Phil Collins]
Joe: The era of American Idol has done a lot of things to the culture, many of them bad, but the very worst just might be how it's beaten down a song like "Against All Odds" and made it seem hollow and cheesy and soulless. It doesn't help that Phil Collins ran his own career into the hollow, hollow ground. But this is a great song, down to its bones; a desperate cry to be heard by a lover who's moved on.
Mark: I agree with Joe on all counts. I don't know much about the movie Against All Odds, but I don't see how it could be better than this song.
"Footloose" -- Footloose [Music and lyrics: Kenny Loggins and Dean Pitchford]
Joe: Kenny Loggins probably deserves a space next to Jennifer Warnes and Irene Cara on the Mount Rushmore of '80s movie soundtracks, and "Footloose" is likely his greatest accomplishment. The funny thing is that there was no real dance style associated with the '80s; the only specific dance that comes to mind with a movie like "Footloose" is a kind of weird teenage abandon, with a lot of jumping and kicking and swinging of arms. Really, we were all about two notches away from doing the Elaine Dance as a nation, with Kenny Loggins as our pied piper.
Mark: Joe, those kids didn't have specific dance steps because dancing was forbidden in their town! Forbidden! Can you imagine a darker hell?
Ahem. Obviously, no town could resist a groove as bouncy as the one that Loggins delivers here.
"Let's Hear It for the Boy" -- Footloose [Music and lyrics: Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford]
Joe: Look, I'm not going to take issue with any nominations tossed at the Footloose soundtrack. But I'm thinking about the songs that went un-nominated -- songs like Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero" or the superb and underrated power ballad "Almost Paradise." Maybe there were eligibility issues with those? I hope so, because all do respect to Deniece Williams, but I can't support this song over those.
Mark: I've sat with Joe's comments about this song for many days. I've taken deep breaths. I've sulked. I've assumed he was kidding, or maybe just being mean. But now I've accepted that he means what he says. "Let's Hear It for the Boy" is our 95 Theses, nailed the chapel door. Will we survive this schism? WILL WE?
Because seriously, this song is the hottest of hot hits. I love it as much as liberty. As much as justice. The groove? Flawless. The melody? Unforgettable. Deniece Williams' vocal, including those ridiculous high notes at the end? Amazing. The lyrics, declaring love for a boy who may not be perfect, but who's perfect for her? Charming. Yes, those other Footloose songs are fantastic, but they're just footmen next to the queen.
Fun fact: I clearly remember roller skating to this song in 1984, wearing brown skates with orange wheels at Roller Coaster Skate World. I remember feeling awesome as I rocked that move where you crouch down and put your hands in front of you, but you keep skating at top speed. Like a badass.
"Ghostbusters" -- Ghostbusters [Music and lyrics: Ray Parker Jr.]
Joe: This isn't some kind of great song. I'm not even sure it's a song at all. It's kind of just people yelling "Ghostbusters!" when prompted. [Though I cannot recommend enough that you watch the video for an all-star cast of call-and-responders. Danny DeVito! Carly Simon! PETER FALK!] But it's also probably in the top 10% of most identifiable movie theme songs ever, and you try getting it out of your head now.
Mark: Bonus points go to Parker for adding this audacious revelation to his lyrics: "Let me tell you somethin'... bustin' makes me feel good!" He's not just bustin' to keep the city safe. He's bustin' because it makes him feel good. He's a loose cannon!
Joe: What a fantastic lineup. Something for everybody, truly. I think "Against All Odds" is the best pure song, but if you're asking me what song best serves the movie it's nominated for, I have to kick off my Sunday shoes and call Kenny Loggins up to the podium.
Mark: Even without "When Doves Cry," this may be the best ballot in the category's history. In a field of strong choices, however, my top honor goes to "Let's Hear It For the Boy." What it does it does so well, it makes me want to yell.