Top Five Songs ... 02.27.2011
DFM Masthead Disenfranchised FM Cuckoo's Eleven Top Five Songs Armchair Producer Music MD Tin Cans Scratch Take Life and Times Input


Once the winning Super Bowl coach is doused with the traditional Gatorade bath, February pretty much stinks. The temperature consistently flirts with the minus sign, the beautiful snow which inspires us to sing of White Christmases leaves in its wake a bitter, gray snow which locks us into our parking spaces and leaves us yearning for warmth. And by warmth, I mean anything above 45 degrees for more than 15 minutes.

But the end of February marks another annual tradition: The Academy Awards. Please don't mistake me: The Oscars pale in comparison to the Holidays, the Super Bowl and March Madness, but February makes me desperate for anything entertaining. Watching Keanu Reeves search the vast abyss of his mind to understand jokes from the hosts hits the spot.

Everyone knows that The Academy Awards are first and foremost focused on film. But, lest we forget, each year an Oscar statuette is dedicated to honoring the Best Original Song. So what is it that make a song worthy of film praise? Is it the song that makes the movie, the movie that makes the song, or both?

The upside:downside ratio can be slim for songwriters. First, little can be done by the songwriter to make sure the movie does not flop. And unfortunately, there are many more flops than smash succues. Assuming that the plot is decent, it can inspire the songwriter into writing a masterpiece. Therein falls another trap: writing purely for the scope of the film can result in alienating the traditional fanbase. Put simply, it's a high wire act, where few reach the distinction of a song that is not only great but memorable for its role in a movie. Combine restrictions to ensure the confusing guidelines is used in a sufficient portion of the movie, as well as the "original" prerequisite, and the degree of difficulty increases yet again.

Before I outline my Top Five Songs Nominated for an Oscar, a few injustices need to be remedied. With that, let's begin with the Top Five Songs Which SHOULD Have Been Nominated for an Oscar:

NUMBER #5 - James Brown, "Living in America"
[from Rocky IV, 1985]

"When there's no destination that's too far / And somewhere on the way / you might find out who you are."

Carl Weathers in a rhinestone Uncle Sam costume, Dolph Lundgren with the cocked right arm. The unintentional comedy scale at an all-time high. James Brown taking a shot back at Eddie Murphy in the lyrics is icing on the cake. Because if I can change ... and YOU can change ... EVERYBODY can change.

NUMBER #4 - REM, "The Great Beyond"
[from Man on the Moon, 1999]

"I'm breaking through / I'm bending spoons / I'm keeping flowers in full bloom / I'm looking for answers from the great beyond"

REM released the now famous song "Man on the Moon" in tribute to Andy Kaufman in 1992. Seven years later, they recorded a song specifically for the movie by the same title and topic. Unfortunately, this song was not featured in the film long enough to be considered for Best Song.

NUMBER #3 - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Walls (No. 3)" [from She's the One, 1996]

"Sundowns are golden / then fade away / And if I never do nothin' / I'm coming back someday."

In the movie which launched the film career of Jennifer Aniston (Leprechaun never happened, understand?), Tom Petty penned not only this sone but the entire score and soundtrack.

NUMBER #2 - Eric Claption and Will Jennings, "Tears in Heaven" [from Rush, 1991]

"Time can bend you down / Time can bend your knees."

Another song snubbed due to insufficient use in the movie. Fortunately, Clapton recorded then released the Unplugged cd a year later, and the song received its due praise at the 1993 Grammys.

NUMBER #1 - Simon & Garfunkel, "Mrs. Robinson" [from The Graduate, 1968]

"Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes / Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes / It's a little secret, just the Robinsons' affair / Most of all, you've got to hide it from the kids."

Director Mike Nicols had become so obsessed with Simon & Garfunkel he persuaded producer Lawrence Turman to sign the duo to record three songs for the film. Ultimately, Simon shared a work-in-progress song about "Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio", to which Nichols replied after hearing it, "It's now about Mrs. Robinson, not Mrs. Roosevelt."

Onto the songs which were actually nominated for an Oscar. I love these songs because they give the listener/viewer a stronger bond to the film, yet also remain separated enough from the film to allow for a broader, less specific interpretation.

HONORABLE MENTION - Harry Mancini, "The Pink Panther Theme Song"
[from The Pink Panther, 1963]

Not ranked in the top five because it was technically nominated for Best Score, not Best Song. It was cooler than the Bond theme songs of its day, and remains a classic today. Katu, prepare the Silver Hornet ...

NUMBER #5 - Elliott Smith, "Miss Misery"
[from Good Will Hunting, 1996]

"I'll fake it through the day / With some help from Johnny Walker Red / Send poison rain down the drain / To put bad thoughts in my head."

An amazing song with lyrics forever tied to the lead character. What few understood at the time were the red flags the lyrics raised for Smith himself. A tortured talent gone far too soon. Seemingly, every musician in the room knew Smith was robbed of the Oscar, as Madonna commented sarcastically "What a shocker!" after reading Celine Dion's name aloud.

NUMBER #4 - Paul and Linda McCartney, "Live and Let Die"
[from Live and Let Die, 1973]

"What does it matter to you? / When you've got a job to do, you've got to do it well / You've got to give the other fella Hell."

Finally, a James Bond theme song that was actually good! On a side note, McCartney still kills this song live. I saw both Paul McCartney and Guns 'n Roses v2.0 live in 2002. Hands down, Paul McCartney 1, Axl 0.

NUMBER #3 - Bruce Springsteen, "Streets of Philadelphia" [from Philadelphia, 1993]

"I saw a reflection in a window / I didn't know my own face / Oh brother, are you gonna leave me wastin' away."

Neil Young's "Philadelphia" could easily have made the list as well, but it was Springsteen's track which produced two visual ties for the listener: not only the film, but also the nondescript yet extremely compelling music video where Springsteen sang the song as he walked said streets in said city.

NUMBER #2 - Eminem, "Lose Yourself" [from 8 Mile, 2002]

"That's when it's back to the lab again, yo / This whole rhapsody / He better go capture this moment at hope it don't pass him."

At the height of criticism for his homophobic and misogynistic lyrics, Eminem ushered a new era into the Academy Awards as the first rap song to win Best Song. Although Mathers remained at home and the Oscar was accepted by co-writer Luis Resto, The Grammys gave us a feel for what the live performance would have sounded like.

NUMBER #1 - Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, "Falling Slowly" [from Once, 2007]

"Take this sinking boat and point it home / We've still got time / Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice / You'll make it now."

Nearly excluded from consideration due to the song being included on an album release prior to the film, this song doesn't just tie to the movie. It is the film. Remarkable harmonies and a delicate melody. Songwriting at its best.

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