An Alternate Oscar Music History: The Songs That Should Have Won

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Oscar glory often fades over time. You look back at certain wins and wonder: What were they thinking? And if you really wanna waste an afternoon on the Internet, you can look back and marvel at some of the songs that actually did get nominated for an Academy Award, like Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” or Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters.” Both have been made immortal in our collective nostalgia for the brash, neon-coated montage of the ’80s, but it’s still surreal to imagine them up there on the same table of envelopes as Sophie’s Choice and Amadeus.

So, really, how much esteem should we ascribe to the Oscars when it comes to music? What if we went back and made our own picks? Let’s review the winners for Academy Award for Original Song and rewrite history!

Side note: We predict this year that Selma’s “Glory” (Common/John Legend). edges out The Lego Movie’s “Everything Is Awesome” (Shawn Patterson).

And The Academy Award (Should’ve) Gone To…

Actual Winner: Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s “The Way We Were” (The Way We Were)
Our Pick: Marvin Hamlisch and Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” (The Spy Who Loved Me)
In hindsight, quite a few songs that won Oscars wind up to be overly sentimental yawn-fests. And sometimes the opening credits’ of certain James Bond movies wind up being better than the actual movie itself. Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better,” despite its woozy melody and that piano’s easy-listening haze, speaks for the beguiled lover who might be annoyed by some of their partners incorrigible quirks and yet, can’t help but always fall for them… Am I reading too deep? She’s got me all swooning over here. We’d also have given the nod to Paul and Linda McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” in 1977.

Actual Winner: Al Kasha/Joel Hirschhorn’s “We May Never Love Like This Again” (The Towering Inferno)
Our Pick: Frainkie Laine’s “Blazing Saddles” Theme (Blazing Saddles)
Yes, we aim to satisfy the nostalgic compartments of our hearts, harkening back to an endlessly quotable movie made famous for fart jokes and schnitzel euphemisms. Gross-out antics and irreverence aside, even the Academy can’t deny Brooks, and by extension, Laine’s exceptional talent (dare we say artistry) glowing charmingly underneath the debauchery. The song, just like Brooks’ script, is a pastiche of Western movie tropes, smorgasbording musical elements instead of visual references or clichéd lines.

Actual Winner: David Shire/Norman Gimbel’s “It Goes Like It Goes” (Norma Rae)
Our Pick: Paul Williams’ “Rainbow Connection” (The Muppet Movie)
This is Williams’ most iconic, perfectly winsome melody, and its words are encouraging without smacking of insipid Disney-song superficiality (despite the fact that Disney now owns the Muppets in question). The intonation seems to be not so much a cheery shot in the arm that you’ll find this connection, but more of a zen-like shrug and a winked smile, that, well, “someday…” we’ll find that connection.

Actual Winner: Steven Schwartz/Alan Mencken’s “Colors Of The Wind” (Pocahontas)
Our Pick: Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” (Toy Story)
I’m not gonna get into an elaborate debate over Disney movie songs, here. Newman’s is just clearly the better song. Who doesn’t get sentimental when they hear his low, nasally voice over the sauntering clarinets. Plus, every moment of Toy Story is better than the Disneyfied version of the story of Pocahontas.

Actual Winner: Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” (Titanic)
Our Pick: Elliott Smith’s “Miss Misery” (Good Will Hunting)
The actual winning song still haunts certain drug stores and dentist’s waiting rooms. It’s almost embarrassing when it comes on; some of us remembering our teenage selves crying over Jack Dawson or (chocked up cough) the old couple spooning on the bed (clears throat). C’mon. It’s total sap and devoid of profundity. Not that every song needs to be more, but we were pummeled by that song and that movie. It had it’s moment; it was king of the world. Now, let’s give the award to one of the most overlooked singer/songwriters of his generation, the late, great Elliott Smith, who showed us how to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve with purity and forthrightness…and then how he broke all our hearts with his beautiful music.

1999 Actual Winner: Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart” (Tarzan)
Our Pick: Aimee Mann’s “Save Me” (Magnolia)
We were tempted to go with Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s “Blame Canada,” here, particularly since they went on to lampoon Phil Collins on subsequent episodes of South Park. But Aimee Mann’s affecting minimalist ballad is the clear choice. Though Paul Thomas Anderson’s powerful film Magnolia is three hours long, it’s worth the falling frogs to see the smile on Melora Walter’s face as John C. Reilly’s ending monologue is covered over by the breathy vocals of Aimee Mann and the watery reverberation of the minimalist guitars, drums like a calming heartbeat, and harmonies like a deep, post-cry cleansing sigh.

Actual Winner: Kristen Anderson-Lopez/Robert Lopez for “Let It Go” (Frozen)
Our Pick: Karen O / Spike Jonze’ “The Moon Song” (Her)
If I hear “Let It Go” one more time, I may risk an aneurysm. The winning song took about 19 victory laps, so we’re going to take its statue away and give it to this touching, Nick Drake-ian lullaby that, despite its minimalism, masterfully sets the mood of stargazing lovers, plucking your heartstrings just enough to make them hurt before they coo you into a misty happiness.

This list, like all awards shows, has ran over its original allotted space. So we’ll wrap it up right here… Unless we got any takers for Bob Seger’s “Shakedown” from Beverly Hills Cop II? Anyone? I’d like to thank my agent and my mom. Happy Oscars, everyone.

Playlist with some bonus tracks from winners and nominees:

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