Greetings, everyone! I’m popping in briefly from my extended sudden-parenthood-in-quarantine hiatus to say hello, pause the latest Fiona Apple album (which is somehow even better than its astronomical hype), and throw together a quick Best Original Song post for this month’s year, 1972. Apologies if these aren’t the most perceptive analyses I’ve offered yet, but, ya know… life.
I’ve already more than said my piece about unlikely two-time Oscar winners Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha, often maligned as the worst winners of all time, which they are emphatically not. Much like their 1976 song we discussed earlier, “The Morning After” from the disaster flic The Poseidon Adventure is a casual piece of music with a simple and clear mandate: provide some background filler that even the movie itself isn’t particularly interested in (note how half the scene involves other characters talking over it), and if it happens to foreshadow something or other, well sure. It’s a tossed-off song in a goofy scene that even the characters make fun of,1 but I’ll give it this: it’s more harmonically interesting than much of its competition this month. The verses open on the tonic key and then refuse to return, winding up with a really striking ♭VII (!!!)—V7 that sets us up for the next verse. The song never actually comes to rest in its original tonic key: for the final verse, the whole piece kicks up a half-step and concludes in the new tonic. Neat.
Of course, the song’s pop-culture footprint had little to do with its appearance in the film, where Renee Armand provides the singing voice for Carol Lynley’s character, and everything to do with the hit song the studio had on its hands when the track was covered by Maureen McGovern later that year. Speaking of unlikely number-one hits, let’s look at what may be the best-known song from the group, a bizarre love song from a boy to his rat, which I’m sure we can all relate to.
Walter Scharf and Don Black’s Golden Globe-winning, doomed romantic theme song to the animal-horror sequel Ben, already a sentence that sounds too good to be true, got an extra boost from its fourteen-year-old vocalist, a young whippersnapper named Michael Jackson, landing his first of very many number-one singles. Most of “Ben” is, befitting its theme, gentle and uncomplicated (and even mildly menacing, those strings!), though there’s a nice chromatic descending bass line in the back half of the verses that, while not the most original gesture, lends some welcome complexity to the line. The song is precariously perched between sickly-sweet and possibly horrifying, which sounds about right for the context.
Continuing on this line of musical simplicity, we have Maurice Jarre’s “Marmalade, Molasses & Honey” from The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, a song that sounds like it’d reach its apex form in a state fair calliope. Andy Williams’ exceedingly Andy Williams performance does nothing to soften the song’s already sticky goofiness, leaving a song that feels more like an overdone novelty tune than it probably ought to be. Just the right tone for a movie whitewashing/romanticizing a notoriously racist lawman.2
Next, in a “thriller set among moped-riding millionaires on the Italian coast” kind of vibe, we have “Strange Are the Ways of Love,” from The Stepmother, which is, alas not about moped-riding millionaires, but it is at least a thriller of sorts. Ten-time nominee Sammy Fain (with his most frequently collaborator, 16-time nominee Paul Francis Webster) delivers two versions of the theme song for the opening and closing credits. They’re both fine. I forget they exist almost as soon as the clip ends. I wish I had more to say.
Could be worse, though. The final nominee is something called “Come Follow Me, Follow Me” from The Little Ark, and I haven’t stopped laughing since I put it on. Enjoy!
What else could have been nominated?
Let’s start with the more unconventional choices. True, Isaac Hayes’ Shaft had just won for Best Song, but that wasn’t a mistake the Academy was going to make again: not a single black songwriter was nominated for the remainder of the decade. And while 1972 may not have been the strongest year for blaxploitation films overall, it was a monster of a year for blaxploitation soundtracks, with classics from Curtis Mayfield (Superfly), Marvin Gaye (Trouble Man), and Bobby Womack (Across 110th Street). Just a legendary year for the genre by any measure.
On the far other side of the coolness spectrum, the great comic composer Peter Schickele and folk chanteuse Joan Baez are a combination nobody asked for (but that they persistently pursued), and while I don’t particularly like their two tracks in Silent Running, they sound much more competent than some of the actual nominees that year.
But then there’s the obvious the big one: “Mein Herr.”3 How in the world was this overlooked? Were they afraid of giving too many Oscars to Cabaret? Were they too dumbfounded by what may be the best musical number ever filmed to realize there was a pretty good song there, too? Did the Academy consider it too derivative of “Don’t Tell Mama,” the song it replaced in the original musical? (True, they do share some music, but as we’ve seen, the Academy is notoriously wobbly on its own rules.) Anyway, this is the best musical number ever filmed and the song is pretty good too:
- The best part of “The Morning After” is that the band in question is supposedly taking that song to a jazz festival. Good luck with that!
- Bless whoever wrote the Wikipedia page on The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean for delivering the shadiest of shade: “Paul Newman thought that Bruno [the bear] stole every scene in which they appeared together, an opinion shared by some reviewers.”
- Eartha Kitt’s version of “Mein Herr” deserves its own award. If the era hadn’t treated Kitt so badly, god only knows what all-time classics she could have given us.
Next month: A newly expanded category gives us nine nominees and still most of them are bad. Whee!