I find it alarming how music has taken a complete backseat at the Academy Awards.
Apart from the orchestra that plays classic film themes, the five best original song nominees that pop up during the course of the four-hour plus ceremony and a meagre representation of the original scores, music is virtually absent at the Academy awards.
The category for best original song was instituted from the 7th Academy awards onwards, way back in 1934. And throughout the ‘40s, music played a huge part, with the category going up to 14 nominees in 1945.
But from 1946 onwards, a cap was put on just five nominees to the category, and it has stayed that way since. In fact, in recent times, because of the lack of original songs in films, sometimes two or more songs are nominated in the same category from the same film.
2007 had three songs from Enchanted, 2008 had two from Slumdog Millionaire and 2009 had two from The Princess and the Frog. Similarly, 1991 had three from Beauty and The Beast, 1992 had two from The Bodyguard and 1994 had another three from The Lion King.
But in my opinion, it was the ‘70s and the ‘80s that saw the golden era of the original songs that still resonate in our memory today, even though we have forgotten that those songs won Oscar awards. Allow me to enumerate a few.
Lets start with the ‘70s. 1971 saw Isaac Hayes get one for his ‘Theme from shaft’, one of the coolest themes ever written for a film.
Ballads like ‘The morning after’ from 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure, sung by Maureen McGovern, the title track from 1973’s ‘The way we were’ by Barbara Streisand made ballads fashionable.
1974-77 saw winning songs like ‘We may never love like this again’ by Maureen McGovern (again) (The Towering Inferno), ‘I’m easy’ by Keith Carradine (Nashville), Barbara Streisand again with ‘Evergreen’ (A Star is Born) and Debby Boone’s title song ‘You light up my life’.
1978 and ‘80 saw disco take over with Donna Summer and Irene Cara respectively for their songs ‘Last dance’ (Thank God It’s Friday) and Fame (Fame).
The ‘80s were the most fun, starting off with Christopher Cross’ ‘Arthur’s theme (Best that you can do)’ from Arthur (1981), Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes’ ‘Up where we belong’ from An Officer And A Gentleman (1982), the glorious ‘What a feeling’ by Irene Cara from Flashdance (1983), Stevie Wonders’ ‘I just called to say I love you’ from The Woman In Red (1984), Lionel Richie’s ‘Say you, say me’ from White Nights (1985), Berlin’s ‘Take my breath away’ from Top Gun (1986), Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ ‘(I’ve had) the time of my life’ from Dirty Dancing (1987), Carly Simon’s ‘Let the river run’ from Working Girl (1988), Samuel E Wright’s ‘Under the sea’ from The Little Mermaid (1989) and the decade closed with Madonna’s ‘Sooner or later’ from Dick Tracy (1990).
For both those decades, the academy awards ceremonies consistently had performances by all artists nominated through the evening, a trend that began to decline in the nineties.
The nineties were dominated by animated features with films like Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Prince of Egypt (1998) and Tarzan (1999). Meanwhile, legends like Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Celine Dion (yeah, well…) and Bob Dylan popped in midway to pick up Oscars for Philadelphia (1993), Evita (1996), Titanic (1997) and The Wonder Boys (2000) respectively.
Bringing us to the end, the 21st century’s first decade of films had a mix of animation (Monsters Inc, 2001), epic (The Return of The King, 2003), rap (8 Mile, 2002; Hustle and Flow, 2005), documentary (An Inconvenient Truth, 2006) foreign (The Motorcycle Diaries, 2004; Slumdog Millionaire, 2008) and independent (Once, 2007; Crazy Heart, 2009) taking the Oscar. Most of these you may have already forgotten a long time ago.
And closing the discussion, I began with how music performances have become virtually extinct within the Academy Awards. Hopefully, the new decade will bring back the songs to the movies and we shall once again sing all together... if I may say so.