Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Oscars of the '80s: The Best Original Song Project (1986)

A co-production celebrating the movies' pop-music dominance in the 1980s, with The Critical Condition.

Previously: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985


"Take My Breath Away" -- Top Gun [Music: Giorgio Moroder; Lyrics: Tom Whitlock] WINNER

Joe: I cannot -- and have no desire to -- defend Top Gun as a movie. As a cash machine, sure. As a star-making vehicle, as a harbinger of summer-blockbusters to come, as a source of two-plus decades worth of homoerotic-volleyball jokes, absolutely. But not as a movie. But Berlin's gorgeously moaning love ballad? That I will defend all day. I'm sure it didn't start exactly here, but the era of movie soundtracks existing almost independently from the films they belong to certainly got a boost in '86.

Mark: Did you see that episode of RuPaul's Drag Race where the guest judge was Berlin's lead singer, Terri Nunn, and the queens had to pretend they knew who she was? It was hilariously awkward, but who can blame them? If it weren't for this song, Berlin would only be known as a German city with a troubled past, and even still, more of the credit goes to composer-producer Giorgio Moroder than to Berlin themselves. This song is so good---and was so destined for heavy promotion from the Top Gun/Columbia Records team---that any halfway decent act could've scored a hit with it. Berlin was just lucky to get the gig.

And speaking of: This song was initially offered to The Motels, a group that had two top-ten hits in the early 1980s, unlike Berlin, who only scored with this song. Yet does anyone who wasn't paying attention in 1982 even know who The Motels are? No. Because they didn't record a spectacular ballad and then reap decades of fame by association.

"Somewhere Out There" -- An American Tail [Music: James Horner; Lyrics: Cynthia Weil]

Joe: Okay ... I really can't talk about this objectively. An American Tail was the first movie my family ever owned on VHS, and my siblings and I watched it constantly. I'd have nominated "There Are No Cats in America" too, if I could have. I could probably remember about 80% of the dialogue from the movie if I watched it today, and I know this because it was on HBO last week when I was flipping through the cable grid, and I totally watched it all over again. And I'll just say this: any song that can work just as well as a wistful love ballad to a lover you haven't yet met as it does when sung by one estranged sibling to another has to have something going for it. Plus, this was from Linda Ronstadt's "duets with black people" era, which I remember fondly.

Mark: Like Joe, I cannot approach this song or this movie with objectivity. As a kid, I loved them both. In fact, I remember my friend John and I singing this song in a Feivel voice for weeks on end... until my mom finally snapped and told us we were never allowed to sing or speak that way again. To this day,I still threaten to "go Feivel" on her.

I second Joe's kudos---here's to Linda's "black people" phase!---and I will add that Cynthia Weil cooked up a brilliant lyric with "even though I know how very far apart we are, it helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star." That's a deceptively simple line that uses very specific imagery to conjure palpable longing. Top marks.

"Glory of Love" -- The Karate Kid, Part II [Music: Peter Cetera and David Foster; Lyrics: Peter Cetera and Diane Nini]

Joe: I'm not asking for the same immunity for this song as I did for "Somewhere Out There." I know this song is one big ol' cheeseball covered in slivered almonds just waiting for a Wheat Thin cracker. Well, America, I am that wheat thin. I just really enjoy Peter Cetera's voice, okay? Yes, this song mostly sounds like all of Cetera's other sappy love ballads, and the musicality of the tune is laughable, even by '80s standards. But the chorus? Where we're living forever because we did it all for the glory of love? That's the stuff, 1980s.

Mark: I somehow missed this hit. Listening to it now, I don't recognize it at all, despite having clear memories of other Cetera-fronted smashes like "Next Time I Fall" and Chicago's "You're The Inspiration." And so... without the mitigating power of nostalgia, all I hear is a snooze-nugget dipped in boringsauce. Songs like this are the hardest part of easy listening.

"Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" -- Little Shop of Horrors [Music: Alan Menken; Lyrics: Howard Ashman]

Joe: I'm of two minds when it comes to stage-to-screen adaptations that just add a new song which is then Oscar-eligible. 1) Sometimes the songs are pretty good, as is the case with "Mean Green Mother," so I don't mind so much, but 2) they almost never surpass the greatness of the original songs, and thus I end up watching the Oscar ceremony and wishing they'd just throw the rule book away for one year so I could watch "Somewhere That's Green" or "Suddenly Seymour" get performed and win much-deserved awards.

Mark: God, I love this movie. Joe's right that in a perfect world, "Suddenly Seymour" would have been eligible, but this is a pretty great substitute. Levi Stubbs (of The Four Tops) provides the plant's singing voice, and he adds some hair-curling soul to the toe-tapping fun.

"Life in a Looking Glass" -- That's Life! [Music: Henry Mancini; Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse]

Joe: The final Oscar nomination for Henry Mancini, for a Blake Edwards movie starring Julie Andrews and Jack Lemmon. I hope nobody back in 1986/87 acted surprised when this got nominated. As sung by Tony Bennett, the song is a perfectly lovely favorite of one of your grandparents, if not both. That's not a bad thing, but it really makes it stick out in a category full of pop hits and/or soul numbers about murderous alien plant life.

Mark: How interesting! This year brought the final nomination for both Mancini and Giorgio Moroder, and they both brought a definitive sound to the Oscars (and pop music) for many years. And I've got to say: Even though he was decades into his career by this point, Mancini was not phoning it in with "Life in a Looking Glass." It's a lovely example of that elegant-and-wistful sound he so famously perfected.

Final Assessment

Joe: This may be a year that's more tailored to me personally than most, but I love this field. One truly towering pop hit that defined its movie, two guilty pleasures, and Audrey II hollering out for all to hear. If I were making decisions, I'd have dropped "Life" for Kenny Loggins's "Danger Zone" from Top Gun (Danger zone!), or the Eric Clapton song from The Color of Money. (Or, um, "Dance Magic Dance" from Labyrinth.) And I DEFINITELY would have found a way to bend the rules to nominate something from Pretty in Pink. But as it stands, I approve of this field AND its chosen winner.

Mark: Yet another strong lineup, though I'd axe "Glory of Love" for "Danger Zone" or, as Joe brilliantly suggests, "Dance Magic Dance." As for the winner: While I have permanent love for "Somewhere Out There" and all things Audrey II, and while I certainly have respect "Life in a Looking Glass," I cannot deny the power balladry of "Take My Breath Away."


Jeff Hansen said...

Ah, Mancini. The mascot's best friend.

(Also, I can't believe Danger Zone didn't get nominated. Lana. Lana. Lana!

Danger Zone...)

Joe Reid said...

Thank you for reminding me to link to that!

LCB said...

Aw, man, I have to defend Berlin, at least a little bit. I will always have a soft spot for "Masquerade" and its absurd, low-budget video.

Also, my mother taught aerobics in the 80s and used this song for many years.

Couch Baron said...

I will stick up for Berlin a bit as well, since I do like "The Metro." We spoke of wintertime in France! But after reading the article I can't help but wish The Motels had taken the gig.

hebby said...

I don't have the same association with An American Tail that a lot of people do -when I was a kid, the only two cartoon movies we had on video were Watership Down* and the animated Animal Farm- but I love Somewhere Out There purely for this scene in Community.

*Which I recently rewatched on Youtube and my flatmate was traumatised by.

par3182 said...

i might have liked 'take my breath away' if martha davis had sung it.


my vote goes to 'mean green mother' and feivel is a guilty pleasure. hate the rest

Michael said...

Berlin also had a Bonnie-and-Clyde style video for "No More Words" that was in heavy rotation on MTV in the early 80s.


I cannot stand idly by while you impugn the name of the great new wave band BERLIN.

the metro
now it's my turn


Mark Blankenship said...

Well, for what it's worth, I'm not saying Berlin is untalented or that Terri Nunn isn't a cool rocklady.

I'm just saying that if it weren't for "Take My Breath Away," Berlin would be remembered by many fewer people than they are today. Talented or not, they owe their fame and their longevity to that song. And they were lucky---lucky, I tells ya!---to get that gig, since it's no doubt kept them performing for an extra 20 years.

Chaz said...

OK, I'll dissent. A really boring year with a really boring, nearly tuneless winner. And some really overly sweet ballads, despite the facts that I love Ronstadt and Bennett, and even as a non-grandparent, like a lot of Mancini--this one ain't prime.
Plus a fun novelty from Little Shop.
All in all, none too scintillating.

JA said...

Thank you Mark for introducing me to the phrase "to 'Go Feivel' on someone" - I must work it into my permanent lexicon from here on out!

Michael said...

On the Berlin bandwagon (such a thing exists, and I am on it), I would have to recommend at least listening to "Sex (I'm a...)". It's like Animotion's "Obsession," but creepier.

All right, so that entices no one but me.

NicksFlickPicks said...

You sort of hafta believe that "Somewhere Out There" is one of those "Because You Loved Me" situations where, all the way from writing to recording to releasing, the folks behind the movie must have thought, "Well, at least we're getting one Oscar." And then, punk'd! I cannot decide between Feivel and Maverick and so I won't.

Why does Cetera always sing with so much reverb? Or whatever that is that makes him sound so.... steel-encased?

Eric said...

I defend Berlin as well. "Take My Breath Away" is one of the best movie songs of the 80's and deserved the win. I never really liked the Little Shop song, although I would have loved to nominate "Suddenly Seymour," but it was ineligible because the movie was made years after the musical...
I would have nominated a song from Labyrinth, but not "Dance Magic." I would have chosen "As the World Falls Down," a beautiful song used in the movie during a wonderful masquerade scene...
"Danger Zone" was used well in Top Gun...but I like Madonna's "Live to Tell" (from At Close Range) better.

My list:
1) "Take My Breath Away"
2) "Somewhere Out There"
3) "Glory of Love"
4) "As the World Falls Down"
5) "Live to Tell"

homeslaughter said...

I never thought I would agree with someone who said Kenny Logins was robbed, but you are right. Can an Oscars of the 80's recap be complete without the Debbie Allen dance montage for each year?

Eric said...

Changed my mind about "Danger Zone." I actually like it slightly better than "Live to Tell"

So my list:
1) Take My Breath Away
2) Somewhere Out There
3) Glory of Love
4) As the World Falls Down
5) Danger Zone