Thursday, June 30, 2011

Oscars of the '80s: The Best Original Song Project (1990)

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

Previously: 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989


"Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" -- Dick Tracy [Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim]

Joe: When I proposed this idea to Mark, I pretty quickly realized that I was going to have to stretch the boundaries of our '80s mission statement to include 1990, because there's no way I was going to stop ONE YEAR SHORT of Madonna finally having her moment of Oscar glory. We've talked in previous posts about glaring Madonna snubs, from "Crazy for You" to "Live to Tell" to "Into the Groove." Whether she'd won over the Academy voters through attrition or whether Sondheim's involvement lent her respectability is a matter for debate, I suppose. The latter seems more credible, particularly considering the next time a Madonna song brushed by Oscar, it was with another Broadway legend, Andrew Lloyd Webber, at the reins. (Yes, theater queens, I just drew an equivalency between Sondheim and ALW; stop fanning yourselves with your Playbills.) ANYWAY! It's lesser Sondheim, but it's still pretty tuneful, it doesn't tax Madonna's vocal range too much, and it helped inspire the album that gave us "Vogue," so who's complaining?

Mark: I can't prove it, but I'm convinced that if Madonna had written this song, it wouldn't have gotten nominated. There's always been a bias against her in Academy circles, whether among the Grammy folk (who didn't giver her serious attention until Ray of Light) or the Oscar crowd, who overlooked all the songs Joe mentioned and spent the 90s ignoring sparkling soundtrack cuts like "I'll Remember" and "Beautiful Stranger."

But that's beside the point, since "Sooner or Later" obviously did get nominated. I would've chosen "More," which features dazzling lyrics and a zippy tune, but this song is stunning. The rhyme scheme changes about 40 times, but the thinking in the lyrics is so clear that you barely notice the craft. Instead of clever assonance, you can focus on the story of a confident woman who always gets her man.

"Promise Me You'll Remember" -- The Godfather Part III [Music: Carmine Coppola; Lyrics: John Bettis]

Joe: Because you know what movie needed a jazzy love theme from the likes of Harry Connick, Jr.? The Godfather, Part III. And yes, I realize the modernity of a Connick song isn't strictly out of place with Part III taking place in contemporary times, but it still feels like a cheap attempt to cash in on the "cool" cache of the Godfather brand. That said, I'm pretty predisposed against anything Harry Connick Jr. does anyway, so maybe I'm not an objective judge here.

Mark: I'm not a Harry Connick hater -- he stirred some of my earliest yearnings when he appeared in a tank top in Little Man Tate -- and I'm also not opposed to Lite Jazz. But come on: This song is a dentist's office. It's a fancy supermarket. It is not a piece of music that demands attention or merits a major award. Again, just listen to "More" from Dick Tracy and explain to me how that got passed over for this. Family-legacy nostalgia for Carmine Coppola be damned.

"Somewhere in My Memory" -- Home Alone [Music: John Williams; Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse]

Joe: Holy shit, this music had lyrics to it?? John Williams, you tricky bastard. Always looking for ways to parlay single Oscar nominations into doubles. As you may know, Home Alone carved a place for itself in my pre-adolescent heart long before I discovered that -- as a serious-minded film enthusiast -- I was supposed to hate it, so the music certainly does bring back fond memories. But as a standalone song, the children's-choir thing isn't making it happen.

Mark: Let us never speak ill of Home Alone, as that movie has burrowed so deeply into my brain that whenever a little kid is irritating me in a restaurant, I think, "Look what you did you little JERK!" But yeah, Joe's right: This song is boring. As it happens, this was also the first Oscar-cast I watched from start to finish. and even at 12 years old, I knew that "Somewhere in My Memory" was a weak link.

"I'm Checkin' Out" -- Postcards from the Edge [Music and lyrics: Shel Silverstein]

Joe: I'm sorry, I can't look at the title of this song without being immediately reminded of the Simpsons parody of a gaudy Broadway musical, "Checkin' In!" Luckily, I have YouTube here to remind me what a great movie-ending song this was, or at least what a rousing spin Meryl Streep puts on it. I like Reba McEntire as much as the next non-Southerner, but what a pity Streep wasn't there to sing it herself (nor for her Best Actress nomination -- what the hell?). Watching Meryl do what she does here, and in A Prairie Home Companion, it seems obvious what kind of musicals she should be doing onscreen, and what she shouldn't.

Mark: Though he's mostly remembered for Where The Sidewalk Ends and The Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein also wrote a lot of great songs, including "A Boy Named Sue" and this high-stepping ditty that Meryl Streep just nails. Joe's right: It's amazing how great she sounds here and how, um, less great she sounds in that other, terrible movie that shall remain nameless.

"Blaze of Glory" -- Young Guns II [Music and lyrics: Jon Bon Jovi]

Joe: I suppose I can't be surprised that Bon Jovi's reputation has taken a nose dive in the last 15 years or so, given the milquetoast makeover the band -- and Jon Bon Jovi in particular -- has undergone. No, they didn't have very far to go, and lord knows they'll always be hated by the metalheads, but I have to stick up for a band that was this much of a hitmaker. And "Blaze of Glory" is bombastic fun in all the best Bon Jovi ways. There was absolutely no reason to make a Young Guns II, but for this song alone, I'm glad they did.

Mark: Fun fact! This song is credited solely to Jon Bon Jovi, not the band Bon Jovi, and it's the title track to his first solo album, which also doubled as the "song score" for Young Guns II. (And you thought Glee invented corporate synergy!) But all that brand positioning aside, "Blaze of Glory" still rocks in the friendliest way. Since I've never had use for authentic metal, this is exactly the kind of melodic rock that I prefer.

Final Assessment

Joe: The presence of "Blaze of Glory" keeps the streak of hits in the Best Song race alive, but the sprit of '80s pop dominance is already lost here, in favor of retro-period sounds and John Williams nomination-padding. And while, sure, there were other, better songs that could have made the cut -- Roxette's ineligible "It Must've Been Love" from Pretty Woman; something from Cry-Baby; probably not "Turtle Power" from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, though -- you could sense the volume of great original movie songs drying up. Still, I can think of three songs who would make for worthy winners, so it's not all bad. At the risk of earning the ire of Madonna fans (who are kind of defensive? or haven't you heard?), I think I'm casting my vote with "I'm Checkin' Out."

Mark: Well, look... I'm a huge Madonna fan, and I don't feel defensive at all for declaring "Sooner or Later" the rightful winner in this category. It's Sondheim, people, and even if it's not as brilliant as "Every Day a Little Death," it's still a glorious piece of songwriting whose sultry swagger and subtle craft just dwarf the other nominees. I mean, I really like "Blaze of Glory" and "I'm Checkin' Out," but they're just tasty snacks next to a delicious meal.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Thank you Mark for mentioning more, and thank you Joe for drawing the parallel with Madonna, Sondheim and ALW even if I hate Webber. I sort of agree that had Madonna penned this it won't have been nominated, but it's a clear winner for me and I have massive love for DICK TRACY. Yup, it leaves me breathless (well, Madonna more so, but whatever).

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

PS. "It Must Have Been Love" would give the winner a run for its money from me. I was a 90s child, my mother played Roxette all through my childhood.

Joslynm said...

"Sooner or Later" just edges out "More" for me, I think purely from a pleasing-vocal stance, but while I love both of them, "What Can You Lose" is maybe one of my favorite songs of all time. Mandy Patinkin just slays me. He's a staple on my Drunk N' Crying Playlist, and this song gets me every time.

Eric said...

The only two I really liked from the nominated songs were the winner and "Somewhere in My Memory." The Godfather song isn't memorable at all, and "I'm Checking Out" isn't either, and I've heard both songs a few times..."Blaze of Glory" is a pretty good songs, but not one of my favorites from 1990

I really wish "It Must Have Been Love" was eligible...Why wasn't the gorgeous "What Can You Lose?" from Dick Tracy not nominated? It was actually better than "More" and just as good as "Sooner or Later."

"Wild Women Do" and "King of Wishful Thinking" from Pretty Woman were both eligible, with the latter (albeit a short snippet in the film) being a great song on its own!

And what about "Show Me Heaven" from the so-so Days of Thunder?

Sorry, but I think "Somewhere in My Memory" is a beautiful song, and I love the children's choir in it...the song and its movie are both nostalgic to me...

My top 5:
1) Somewhere in My Memory
2) Sooner or Later
3) What Can You Lose?
4) Show Me Heaven
5) King of Wishful Thinking

NicksFlickPicks said...

The 1990 Oscars were the first ones I taped, so I have seen them a million times. I might actually know the broadcast word for word. So much misspent time in my youth. Or not misspent. Whatever.

I like this roster a lot, which is part of why it took me till, like, '94 to realize how much I don't like the category. I'd have a tough time between "Sooner or Later" and "I'm Checkin' Out," but I'm really glad the Dick Tracy song won because it gave Madonna something to glow about after looking so miserable all night with Michael Jackson as her date. (Girl, I love you, but you did that to yourself.)

I can't get with "Somewhere in My Memory" at all, especially since it's fused in my mind to its grisly twin nominee from the following year, "When You're Alone" from Hook.

Was hoping the House Party soundtrack would yield some buried treasure of a non-nominee, but that track listing looks bleak. No such luck.

Loved this series, fellas! I promise you we'll remember, and I'm glad you went out with a blaze of glory, but it had to end sooner or later.

Chaz said...

I LOVE "I'm Checkin' Out"! And I love Meryl's performance of it. And I love that movie--which didn't get the recognition it deserved, even if it was a modest hit.

But who could deny Mr. Sondheim an Oscar? Maybe two other songs from Tracy were better than "Sooner or Later, but he got his due recognition. As I recall, Madonna's performance of the song in the Oscars show was actually endearing. I am not particularly a fan of hers, never was, but I give respect where due. :-)

Why do Bon Jovi songs have to be so catchy? And why do I feel guilty over succumbing to the catchiness?

Jon Foerster said...

Joe and Mark, this has been a wonderful series to follow. I understand why you picked this decade, but I really wish you guys would continue with the 90's since that's when I started watching the Oscars AND realized I was a baby gay.

John T said...

I agree with Joe. I know the Nineties weren't the pop rock heaven, but I would love to see your take on the Nineties. And, I mean, they did hand over trophies to another Madonna song, Elton John, Phil Collins, Whitney and the Boss.