Introduced at the 7th annual Academy Awards in 1934, the category of Best Original Song has seen its share of high times and lean years. But for many people, it’s the song associated with a film that keeps the memory of the movie alive. Taking a look at all of the Academy Award-winning songs over the past 79 years, here are five of the best.
1969: “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
Music: Burt Bacharach
Lyrics: Hal David
It was an odd song choice for a modernistic “buddy Western,” but the quirky, nonsensical lyrics by David and memorable melody by Bacharach made for the perfect accompaniment to a scene chronicling Paul Newman’s first time mounting a new transportation device – the bicycle.
Additionally, the B.J. Thomas recording of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in January 1970 for four weeks, making it the very first No. 1 tune of the ’70s.
Other notable nominees from 1969: “Come Saturday Morning” from The Sterile Cuckoo (recorded by Liza Minelli), “Jean” from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (recorded by Oliver), “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” from The Happy Ending (recorded by multiple artists)
1971: “Theme from Shaft,” Shaft
Music and lyrics: Isaac Hayes
The usually stuffy Oscar voters were moving into new territory in 1971 when Isaac Hayes’ funk-styled theme song from “Shaft” picked up the trophy. Hayes also made history as the first African-American to pick up an Academy Award for a non-acting category. The song pushed the envelope in other ways as well, with Hayes calling John Shaft a “bad mother…” before being cut off by the background singers (one of which was Tony Orlando and Dawn member Telma Hopkins) with a sassy “shut yo mouth.”
A shorter, edited version of the theme was released on the Stax Records Enterprise imprint going on to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in November of 1971. The song found success on Billboard’s Easy Listening charts as well, climbing as high as #6.
Hayes eventually re-recorded the song for the 2000 Shaft remake starring Samuel L. Jackson.
Other notable nominees from 1971: “Bless the Beasts and Children” from Bless the Beasts and Children (recorded by The Carpenters)
1979: “It Goes Like It Goes,” Norma Rae
Music: David Shire
Lyrics: Norman Gimbel
Perhaps one of the lesser-known winners of the prize, “It Goes Like It Goes,” joined Norma Rae star Sally Field in taking home an Oscar in 1979. While there was much criticism of the song nabbing the award, particularly with other strong contenders that year, the plaintive ballad stands as strong today as it did in ’79, with Gimbel’s plaintive lyrics painting an image of the struggle of life. “Ain’t no miracle bein’ born, people doin’ it everyday. Ain’t no miracle growin’ up, people just grow that way,” he writes.
“It Goes Like It Goes” also marked the late ’70s debut of Jennifer Warnes as the queen of the soundtrack, with her duets “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing eventually earning Oscars in 1982 and 1987, respectively. Warnes had earlier scored a top 10 hit in 1977 with “Right Time of the Night.”
Shortly after its Oscar win, “It Goes Like It Goes” was covered and released as a single by Dusty Springfield.
Other notable nominees from 1979: “Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie (recorded by multiple artists) “Through the Eyes of Love” from Ice Castles (recorded by Melissa Manchester)
1994: “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” The Lion King
Music: Elton John
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Beginning with 1989’s “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid, Disney animated films were a dominating force in the Best Song categories throughout the ’90s, picking up a total of six Academy Awards within a 10-year period. Chief among those is “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King. In a strong competition with two other songs from the same film, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” gave Sir Elton John his first and only Oscar win in the Best Song category, and brought lyricist Tim Rice his second, after winning the award two years prior for “A Whole New World” from Aladdin.
Other notable nominees from 1994: “Circle of Life” from The Lion King “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King
2007: “Falling Slowly,” Once
Music and lyrics: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
The 2007 award winner for best song almost didn’t make it on to the ballot. Prior to its inclusion in the film, “Falling Slowly” had been recorded by Glen Hansard and his band The Frames, as well as by Hansard and Markéta Irglová on their self-titled debut as The Swell Season. Some felt that the previous recordings of the song disqualified it for consideration (Academy rules require that a song be written specifically for a film to qualify), but when it was pointed out that it was the lengthy process of getting the independent film made that forced the delay, it was included on the ballot and eventually won the award.
As with the film, much of the charm of the song lay within its simplicity. Once, along with the inclusion of “Falling Slowly,” eventually made its way to the Broadway stage, picking up the Tony for Best Musical in 2012.
Other notable nominees from 2007: “Happy Working Song” from Enchanted “So Close” from Enchanted (recorded by Jon McLaughlin)
And what about this year’s Academy Award-winning best song? Bets are on Adele, along with writing partner Paul Epworth, to pick up the bald beauty for “Skyfall” from the latest James Bond entry of the same name. If it does nab the award, it would make the first time a James Bond theme has won the Academy Award for Best Song. Bond themes have had three previous nominations, including “Live and Let Die,” “Nobody Does It Better” and “For Your Eyes Only,” but no wins.
– Brad Haynes, 1059 SUNNY FM Orlando