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by Eddie Sayago
The Academy Awards, which honors all the artists who create cinema--despite the recent kerfuffle cutting airtime from various technical categories--sometimes recognizes some of the greatest artists who ever lived. And sometimes they don't.
These seven songs, all nominated for Best Original Song, represent both the movies they were featured in and bring a spotlight to the musicians behind them:
Music and Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Alan Menkel
Performed by Levi Stubbs
Years before briefly being the go-to team for creating music for Disney films, Howard Ashman and Alan Menkel were tasked for the music for Little Shop of Horrors, a off-Broadway musical that premiered in 1982, slowly becoming a cult hit.
I can’t imagine anyone else delivering both the gruff and sass required in “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” than Levin Stubbs, especially with the lines “You better step aside/Better take a tip, boy/Want some good advice?/You better take it easy,/'Cause you're walkin' on thin ice.” (Stubbs is best known for being the lead singer of The Four Tops.)
Right after Little Shop of Horrors, the duo were invited to write music for The Little Mermaid, the film that launched Disney's Renaissance era. The music was a big factor in the success of the films the duo worked on, and would have continued beyond Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.
Ashman died in 1991 from complications of AIDS, a few months before the release of Beauty and the Beast, which is his most accessible work as a lyricist. His finest work is "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space," a gem that continues to be belted out on stages around the globe four decades later.
Lost To: “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun
Music and Lyrics by Adam Schelsinger
Performed by The Wonders
Tom Hanks was very busy in the 1990s, winning back-to-back Best Actor Oscars, playing an astronaut in one movie AND immediately sabotaging another astronaut in another movie (and becoming best friends for three more sequels), and raising a family with Rita Wilson.
Somehow, he had the time to write and direct a feature film. But more importantly the late, great Adam Schelsinger had the time to write music for a movie about a band becoming a one-hit wonder, something that would happen later to Schelsinger and his band, Fountains of Wayne.
“That Thing You Do!,” which is also the title of the movie, is performed by the “The Wonders,” a rock band made up of best friends who see the world and grow up very fast thanks to a hit song and a manager (portrayed by Tom Hanks) who is more than willing to stretch their 15 minutes of fame for as long as possible–until the next hot act comes along.
Schlesinger, who died in the early days of the COVID pandemic, was a master storyteller and knew it. Years later, “Stacy’s Mom” became the biggest song of his career, with the timeless story of a youth’s sexual awakening, a catchy pop song I’m sure the fictional Wonders would have loved to have created as a follow-up single.
Lost To: “You Must Love Me” from Evita
Music and Lyrics by Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman
Performed by the South Park Cast
The first Academy Awards of the new millennium looks weird. Going with a futuristic warehouse vibe, not to mention some of the folks nominated and winning gold shiny trophies, the look and feel of the awards is incredibly dated.
Best Picture winner American Beauty is a terrible film now that we are a whole generation away from it, and I’m sure Janie turned out to be far worse than her mom and dad, played by Annette Being (always an Oscars bridesmaid) and real-life creep [name redacted].
For a movie based on an animated TV show presented by a then-fledgling cable channel to be honored on cinema’s biggest night had to offend many old school film vets and worried the Oscars’ broadcaster, ABC.
Possibly the first time a song with the f-word was nominated (and definitely the first thing a sovereign country was insulted with the throwaway line “they’re not even a real country anyway”), the first (and so far only) theatrical feature starring the foul-mouth quartet of kids was produced and released only two years after the first episode of South Park debuted.
There was talk of not allowing the song to be performed, but they found a way thanks to another comedian: Robin Williams performed an edited version with a chorus of townsfolk gasping at the expletive word that rhymes with duck to great applause.
Lost To: “You’ll Be In My Heart”, from Tarzan
Music and Lyrics by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman
Performed by Peter Gabriel
With two of the three song nominees belonging to the cultural phenomenon Slumdog Millionaire, it was clear from the morning of the nominations announcement that they had this trophy in the bag.
Peter Gabriel’s most famous song from a movie was almost twenty years old when he composed this simple yet powerful ballad to accompany the best emotionally majestic film–and by far the best film–of 2008.
At the end of the day, WALL-E is a love story between two robots, created by humans who were no longer capable of such love to save their planet, going to desperate measures to connect and create their own world in the midst of the chaos surrounding them. The film, which won Best Animated Feature and should have won the big prize as well, is still relevant today as we continue to trash a delicate planet already on the brink of irreversible ruin.
“So we'll fight through the hurt/And we'll cry, and cry, and cry, and cry/Then we live and we learn/And we try, and try, and try, and try” Sometimes trying is the best option available, and it’s better than doing nothing.
Lost To: “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire
Music and Lyrics by Karen O and Spike Jonze
Performed by Karen O & Erza Koenig
At just over two minutes long, “The Moon Song” was the simplest part of the film Her, a complex and often complicated tale from Spike Jonze with elements of sci-fi, comedy, romance, and melodrama.
Karen O, best known for her big damn energy as the lead singer of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, accompanies the normally-timid persona of Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend) for a love duet about a man and his A.I. While the film was a critical and commercial success, there is something a bit uncomfortable about a man creating a female persona to be whatever he wants her to be.
Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johanssen) is intelligent yet knowing when to be ignorant, submissive, obedient, capable of changing on a whim, always ready to satisfy Theodore’s demands and desires. “The Moon Song” on its own is a beautiful piece of music. Sweet, simple, and delicate.
Lost To: “Let It Go” from Frozen
Music and Lyrics by Kendrick Lamaar, SZA, Sounwave, and Anthony Tiffith
Performed by Kendrick Lamaar and SZA
A futuristic looking kingdom deserved a futuristic opening song, a seductive pop-rap song that invited countless of movie goers to Wakanda, the home of our hero, T’challa (Chadwick Boseman) a.k.a. The Black Panther.
The music video for “All The Stars” is electric, showing a world where Black people are royalty without the baggage of the horrors they have and continue to experience. (Take note, the degrading experience of director Ryan Coogler and his attempts of withdrawing money FROM THIS OWN F—-ING BANK ACCOUNT. Black Panther made over a billion dollars at the box office and he literally could not access money he made from this without being—you know what, let’s breathe, and focus back to this song.)
“You can bring a bullet, bring a sword, bring a morgue, but you can’t bring the truth to me.” The song is personal. Lamar is fully aware of the limitations everyone, from fans to the media and fellow rappers and performers, has attempted to place on him ever since his debut dropped over a decade ago, both as an Artist and as a Black man in America.
He defied and exceeded all expectations, including winning the Pulitzer Prize and praise from America’s greatest storytellers such as Toni Morrison and Chuck D. “All The Stars” is a great introduction to both T’challa’s journey and the remarkable catalog that Lamar has created so far.
Lost To: “Shallow” from A Star Is Born
Music and Lyrics by Savan Kotecha, Max Grahn, and Rickard Göransson
Performed by My Marianne & Will Ferrell
One of the best songs to ever be nominated in this category. It’s also the only song from 2020’s nominees to actually be featured in the film and helps move the film’s silly yet sweet plot. Over the past twenty plus years, a song is often tackled onto the ending credits and gets away with being nominated and winning. If it’s not a Marvel movie, most folks are leaving as soon as the screen fades to black and the names start rolling.
“Husavik” is not the catchiest (“Jaja Ding Dong”) or most pop-friendly (“Volcano Man”) tune, but if this song were released in the 1990s it would have been a huge radio hit and won almost every trophy for best song. An emotional journey about finding yourself, sometimes a journey to the silliest place on Earth is what you need to realize that the best things in your life were at home.
All five songs were prerecorded and presented during the red carpet coverage of the 93rd Academy Awards. “Husavik” was performed on the harbor of the actual town, with a chorus of children and a fireworks display accompanying singer Molly Sanden (My Marianne). It’s a shame that it wasn’t part of the actual awards ceremony, and I worry what other changes will occur as the folks behind the Oscars continue to butcher the show apart for people who have and will never appreciate movies, especially a good song that fits perfectly with a good movie.
Lost To: “Fight For You” from Judas and the Black Messiah
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