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.
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.