Friday, June 24, 2011

Oscars of the '80s: The Best Original Song Project (1988)

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

Previously: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987


"Let the River Run" -- Working Girl [Music and lyrics: Carly Simon]

Joe: If ever you need evidence that timing and enthusiasm can be everything when it comes to Oscar success, look no further than Working Girl, a mediocre (though fantastically watchable, don't get me wrong) movie that nonetheless captured the zeitgeist and made it all the way to a BEST PICTURE nomination AND a Best Actress nod for Melanie Griffith. Melanie Griffith! No small feat, that. I'd like to say that "Let the River Run" would have made its way to the ballot even without the rising tide of Aquanet that Working Girl's Best Picture nomination provided, but the truth is, the movie empowers the song just as much as the song empowers the movie. That triumphant crescendo just before the final chorus IS the sound of Tess McGill finally making it to her own office. And weirdly, ever since 9/11, that pan back across the New York City skyline into the credits, the Twin Towers suddenly coming into view, has adopted a significance no one could have intended. Bottom line: this is one of my very favorite pop songs from the '80s, and I'm glad Carly Simon took the Oscar for it.

Mark: I may be a busted, broken-hearted bastard, but I don't like this song. To my ear, Simon's voice sounds strained, especially in those unfortunate high notes, and that keeps her from attaining the grandeur the rest of the track is so clearly striving for. I'd say that it was the Aquanet tide that raised this song to glory, and I said in the 1987 recap, if "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" had been on this year's ballot, it totally would've won. Or should've. Or whatever. The point is: I will NOT let the river run, if said running means flowing into my earholes.

"Calling You" -- Bagdad Café [Music and lyrics: Bob Telson]

Joe: If the field of only three nominees didn't already tip you off as to the shallowness of the field in 1988, the nomination for a laid-back atmospheric tune from an independent German film, set in the Mojave desert, starring CCH Pounder and Jack Palance could give you another clue. The song, as performed by Jevetta Steele, does a great job of setting you down right in front of the titular desert cafe, but I can't pretend it doesn't get repetitive and even tedious. I should say that I know this song much, much, MUCH better as sung by Celine Dion as background music for this most incredible of So You Think You Can Dance performances, so my rose-colored glasses are firmly in place.

Mark: I'll agree that this song is about two minutes too long, given how little actually happens in it, but it's a lovely, haunting ballad that just sounds like yearning, you know? My research for this write-up also turned up a version by Jeff Buckley that replaces Jevetta Stone's restrained ache with wailing desperation, and that makes me like the song even more. (Though Buckley's version also goes on a bit.)

And now I must provide you with fun facts. First, the movie's title refers to Bagdad, California, and it is not, as I originally thought, a willful misspelling of "Baghdad." Second, I clearly remember being in my grandmother's house and seeing an episode of the 1990 sitcom that was based on this movie. It starred Whoopi Goldberg (improbably taking the TV scraps of a film role created by CCH Pounder) and Jean Stapleton and lasted less than a season. I'd say it's remarkable that I happened to see this show, but I watched a lot of TV back then. It's more remarkable that I have childhood memories of being in the sun.

"Two Hearts" -- Buster [Music: Lamont Dozier; Lyrics: Phil Collins]

Joe: I've actually defended Phil Collins twice before in these examinations, but I won't be making it three-for-three. I've never seen Buster, but given that he was never given a vanity project like this again, my guess is that it wasn't very good. And while "Two Hearts" isn't exactly a terrible song, it's pretty clearly a consolation nomination for the fact that the Academy couldn't nominate the inescapable "Groovy Kind of Love" from the same soundtrack.

Mark: Good God. Really? Now I'm in the position of defending Phil Collins? Okay: Like "Groovy Kind of Love," this song was a deserving #1 hit in the U.S. Just like Billy Joel with "The Longest Time," Collins successfully cops a 60s Motown vibe and invites us to dancedancedance without a care in the world. And dammit, I'm accepting the invitation. Collins may have gone crazy and spent the last ten years churning out sappy crap, but for a while, he was a tuneful treat. Cool? No. Sexy? No. Worthy of his own film? Despite never seeing Buster, I'm still saying no. But the man gave us some fine ear candy.

Final Assessment:

Joe: A mere three nominees. Could there really have been such a dearth of nominatable songs in 1988? Nothing worth nominating from the animated Oliver and Company? I guess there but for the grace of ... something (ineligibility?) went a nomination for "Kokomo" from Cocktail. You couldn't get away from that song in '88. Also, I'm sorry, but whatever your eligibility rules are, you know they're wrongheaded when you're not able to nominate "Wind Beneath My Wings" from Beaches. Love or hate that song (or that movie), it was the clearest example of a song defining a movie in all of 1988.

Mark: Oliver and Company! "Why Should I Worry?" is an Oscar-worthy song if I've ever heard one, and considering that "Kokomo" was eligible (I checked), I'm shocked it wasn't included. I mean, if you're going to shower the Bergmans with nominations for their horrible music, then why not nominate a full slate of songs in 1988? But anyway: I'm not that excited by any of the songs that actually made the cut. I like "Calling You" and "Two Hearts" well enough, but I'll be fine if I never hear them again. It's with muted enthusiasm, then, that I give the prize to Collins, who at least gets me bouncing a little.


Whitney said...

Oliver and Company never gets any love. It was my brother's favorite movie that summer, and I have most of the soundtrack memorized. Not only should "Why Should I Worry" have been nominated, but my personal favorite "Perfect Isn't Easy (But It's Me)" as sung by Bette Midler, playing a French poodle (with climactic barking!). That would have been an Oscar telecast performance for the ages.

Stephanie Radcliffe said...

Working Girl was on TV last night and I had to watch the last 10 minutes (because how can you not?). When those power chords kick in at the end I thought immediately of this list. Totally deserved Oscar win, for me.

I'll ditto Whitney though: "Why Should I Worry" is a totally underrated song from an underrated movie.

RJ said...

Well, I guess I understand why they didn't perform the songs on that year's show.

Although I do believe Rob Lowe and Snow White sang on that year's show ...

DuchessKitty said...

Ahhh, "Let The River Run". The part of the song where Carly sings the line - ...come run with me now, the sky is the color of blue you've never even seen in the eyes of your lover... - gets me every time. I love this song.
I agree with Joe that it's forever tangled with Working Girl; the song is on one of the many Carly Simon albums I have but I never listen to it on its own.
But when the tv's on and I hear those strings, I can't not sit down and watch at least 15 minutes of that film.

InfoMofo said...

DIM SUM. That secretary was an 80s visionary. She was both a predecessor and a successor to Peggy Olson.

Let that river run, gurl.

Eric said...

"Let the River Run", to me, is the best oscar-winning song of the 80s, and the other two nominees from 1988 can't hold a candle to it.

I never really cared for "Two Hearts" or "Calling You" Cocktail, albeit a very subpar film, should have been at least nominated for "Kokomo," and I think "If We Hold on Together" from The Land Before Time should have been nominated as well...That would have given the Academy five nominated songs...They could have replaced at least one of the two losers with a song from Oliver and Company...

I also would have loved it if "Wind Beneath My Wings" was nominated, but it wasn't written for the movie. It was written almost a decade before for a country artist...

My top 3:
1) Let the River Run
2) Kokomo
3) If We Hold On Together

Joe Reid said...

Totally forgot about that song from The Land Before Time, but you're totally right, that very well could have been in the mix.

And I get the WHY of the Beaches inevitability, but I still feel like that's the poster child of why the rules are too rigid.

Joe Reid said...

Argh, "ineligibility." It SHOULD have been an inevitability.

NicksFlickPicks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NicksFlickPicks said...

So you're just going to be Those Gays and not mention the Streisand and LuPone versions of "Calling You"? What is happening.

"Calling You" probably gets my vote, because it suits the movie and registers a clear tone and yet, as all the differing versions make clear, there's still a lot you can do with it. Also-ran but still nominated sounds just right for "Two Hearts."

I don't like "Let the River Run" any more than Mark does, but I do enjoy watching the video. Are Melanie Griffith and Joan Cusack trying to be unrecognizable? They sure look fidgety standing next to Carly and wondering what their movie has to do with a new Jerusalem. But the best part, obviously, is Carly, trying really hard to land the Soccer Mom spot in America's Next Taylor Dayne. Let's give her a trophy for that.

Michael said...

I think a big part of the reason Phil Collins was successful in copping a Motown vibe with "Two Hearts" was because Lamont Dozier wrote the music. He was part of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting and production team responsible for much of the Motown sound in the 60s.

Chaz said...

I adore Carly Simon, and always felt that she never got her due as singer or songwriter, so I'm more than cool with her win here. (And was she nominated for "Coming Around Again" from Heartburn? No? Hmpf.) I've always found the occasional raggedness in her singing part of what makes her distinctive. Mark's mileage varies. :-)

"Calling You" is kinda haunting. "Two Hearts" is kinda pleasant.

jessica said...

'Calling You' reminds me a little of 'Kissing You' from Romeo + Juliet. I like this version better than the Celine Dion or Jeff Buckley versions.

And I like 'Let the River Run.'

Guy Lodge said...

I love me some Carly Simon, but I've always hated "Let the River Run" -- pompous, tune-deficient and, I've always thought, a very strange fit with an otherwise gossamer-textured film.

"Calling You" gets my vote without hesitation -- I used to be very fond of that film (a rewatch a few years ago proved my heart very wrong there), but I still LOVE the song. I agree with Mark that it captures the time-stalling qualities of longing to a T, which fits perfectly with the film's arid atnmospherics. And that vocal is just tingly. (And yes, Nick, Barbra still improves on it.) Perhaps not the most immediate song, but one of their most stylish choices of the decade.