The Power of an Original Song

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head

How many of you had “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” pop into your head just by looking at this picture?

For me, one of the most exciting Academy Award categories is Best Original Song.  The union of film and music can be a truly magical thing.  Few things can take an already great movie and make it even better than adding the right song at just the right moment.  If done right, an outstanding original song can be one of the best assets a movie can have.

In many cases, songs written for movies go on to become hits in their own rights.  Remember how you couldn’t go anywhere in 1997 without hearing “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic?  In a few cases, songs written for movies have transcended “hit” status and gone on to become some of the most popular songs ever written.  If it weren’t for The Wizard  of Oz and Buck Privates, we wouldn’t have the songs “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.”

Sometimes a song becomes more fondly remembered than the movie it was written for.  Thank God It’s Friday is hardly a celebrated film, but its song “Last Dance” won a Best Original Song Oscar and became a classic disco hit.

But most importantly, the right original song can become a symbol for a movie.  After all, what would a James Bond movie be without a great theme song like “Nobody Does it Better” or “Live and Let Die?”  In just a few minutes, a song can evoke the mood of a scene, sum up the tone of the movie, or represent a character’s attitude.

Some of the best original movie songs don’t even need a few minutes to accomplish those things — they become so strongly associated with their movies that listeners can make the connection in a matter of seconds.  Allow me to demonstrate.  I’ve compiled clips from 20 of my favorite Best Original Song winners and nominees, each under twenty seconds long, and they get progressively shorter until the last clip is just one word.  But if you’ve seen the movies these songs were written for, even the shortest clips will be enough to bring an image from the movie to mind.

A few bars of “Moon River” is all it takes to conjure up the image of Audrey Hepburn standing in front of Tiffany’s with her black dress and pastry.  Seven seconds of “I Will Wait For You” brought me back to Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo’s poignant farewell at a train station in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  The entire essence of Pinocchio can be summed up with just the words, “When you wish upon a star.”  I didn’t even need Bing Crosby or Judy Garland to finish their lines to be reminded of Holiday Inn or The Wizard of Oz.  That is just how potent the right combination of music and film can be.

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon

Thanks to Outspoken and Freckled, Paula’s Cinema Club, and Once Upon a Screen for once again hosting the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon! Be sure to pay them a visit and check out some of the other contributions!

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12 comments

  1. LOVED your audio montage, Angela! Great variety. I knew the songs and their corresponding films but I must admit I was taken back by Ghostbusters- I forgot that was nominated for Best Original Song! But the fact that we all still know that song verbatim shows that it was perfect to nominate. As I was singing along out loud, your point about the magical relationship between film and song and its ability to paint a visual memory cue was vividly proven SO true! Great post~ thanks for joining our blogathon!

    1. When you get into the Best Original Songs from the 80s, it’s really amazing how many of them are also some of the most popular songs of the decade. Maniac, Flashdance…What a Feeling, Eye of the Tiger, Footloose, Take My Breath Away, (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, Ghostbusters, they were all nominated in that category. I knew all of those were songs from movies, but I didn’t realize they had all been Oscar nominated as well until I wrote this post.

      Thank you for hosting the blogathon again this year! And for giving me an excuse to write a post that includes Doris Day, Eminem, Paul McCartney, and Donna Summer, haha.

  2. Thank you so much for this, this happens to be my Birthday month, and this was a great present to get. You have such great taste, please do not forget I Will Always Love You.

    1. Happy birthday! I hope it’s a wonderful one!

      I Will Always Love You is definitely one of the all-time greatest movie songs, but unfortunately I had to leave it out of this post is because it wasn’t originally written for The Bodyguard. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing more posts about some of my favorite movie songs (both original and non-original) and scores, so perhaps I Will Always Love You will make an appearance in a future post 🙂

  3. I love your audio montage! And I couldn’t agree more – music is so important and too often overlooked. Memories are so easily attached to songs (although that word seems to diminish their power), and there are just so many great recordings by phenomenal performers.

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