The 60s (part 1 of 4 parts)

We thought it would be fun to commemorate the upcoming Academy Awards, which are being televised on February 24th. Let’s take a look back at the Oscar Winning Best Original songs from previous decades, along with some of the cool stories behind them. Our first installment is all the great songs from the 1960s. Sit back and enjoy!

Early 60’s

1960:  “Never on Sunday” from the film of the same title. Composed by Manos Hadjidakis, and sung in the film by Melina Mercouri. The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, a first for a foreign-language picture, and was originally written in Greek. In addition to being nominated for the Best Original Song honors, Mercouri was also nominated for Best Actress honors, but unfortunately, did not win.  
(An interesting side note from the Editor:  Ms. Mercouri was given at state funeral in Greece after she passed away from lung cancer in 1994. Not only had she been a well-regarded actress in Europe as well as the U.S. but had been an activist against the Greek Junta’s coup d’état takeover of Greece in the late 60’s and later served twice as the country’s Minister of Culture.)  

1961: “Moon River” is from the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” This highly romantic song was composed by Henry Mancini, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and sung in the film by its star, Audrey Hepburn. After its “Best Original Song” honors at the Oscars, it became the theme song for Andy Williams, who first recorded it in 1962 (and performed it at the Academy Awards ceremony that year). The song has since been covered by numerous artists. As Robert Wright wrote in The Atlantic Monthly, “This is a love sung to wanderlust. Or a romantic song in which the romantic partner is the idea of romance.”

1962: Days of Wine and Roses” plays in the film of the same title. Composed by Henry Mancini, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and sung by numerous artists over the years. The most well-known versions were by Andy Williams in 1963, and Perry Como, also in 1963.

The phrase “days of wine and roses” is originally from the poem “Vitae Summa Brevis” by the English writer Ernest Dowson.

1963: Call Me Irresponsible” was performed for the film “Papa’s Delicate Condition.” Composed by Jimmy Van Heusen, with lyrics by Sammy Cahn.  The song was originally thought to have been written for Judy Garland, however Sammy Cahn said during an interview in 1988 that the song was initially written for Fred Astaire to sing in the film “Papa’s Delicate Condition” in which Astaire was supposed to star in. Due to other contractual obligations, the role later went to Jackie Gleason, who initially introduced the song.

Mid 60’s

1964: “Chim Chim Cheree” is from the film “Mary Poppins.” Written and composed by Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman and sung in the film by Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews. The song was inspired by one of the drawings of a chimney sweep created by Mary Poppins’ screenwriter, Don DaGradi. When asked about the drawing by the Sherman Brothers, DaGradi explained “the ancient British folklore attributed to ‘sweeps’ and how shaking hands with one could bring a person good luck”, inspiring them to write this as Bert’s theme song.

1965: “The Shadow of Your Smile” made it big in the film “The Sandpiper,” AKA “Love Theme from The Sandpiper”. The music was written by Johnny Mandel, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.  The song was introduced in the 1965 film The Sandpiper. Initially, this was written as a trumpet solo for Jack Sheldon in the film and became a minor hit for Tony Bennett. The song was introduced during the height of the Bossa Nova wave of the mid-60s, a time which popularized the Brazilian musical influence. “The Shadow of Your Smile” subsequently became one of the most frequently recorded songs of the decade.

1966:  “Born Free” is from the film of the same name, music by John Barry, and lyrics by Don Black and was originally recorded by Matt Monro. Lyricist Don Black managed British singer Monro at the time, and he and Barry asked him to record the song for the film’s soundtrack. Monro’s interpretation appeared over the closing credits in a shortened version recorded especially for the film, which enabled it to qualify for the Academy Award. The song was subsequently recorded by hit makers such as Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, and Roger Williams, among others.

Late 60’s

1967:  “Talk To The Animals” comes from the hit film “Doctor Doolittle,” written and composed by British composer Leslie Bricusse. The song was performed in the film by star, Rex Harrison. It was widely rumored that the song was not generally well appreciated, and in some cases, was actually disliked by those who were working on the film during the time of its production. However, it was fondly remembered enough to be included in the 1988 Eddie Murphy version of the same movie.

1968: “The Windmills of Your Mind” played in the film “The Thomas Crowne Affair” with music by French composer Michel Legrand, the French lyrics (under the title “Les Moulins de mon cœur”) written by Eddy Marnay, and the English lyrics written by Americans Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The song is heard initially sung by Noel Harrison during opening credits and later, during the film, in a scene in which the character Thomas Crown flies a glider at the airport in Salem, New Hampshire. The movie starred Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.

1969: “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” is found in the film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach. The song was sung by B. J. Thomas in the movie, and later recorded in seven takes, after Bacharach expressed dissatisfaction with the first six. In the film version of the song, Thomas had been recovering from laryngitis, which made his voice sound hoarser than in the 7-inch release. The song was a number one hit in multiple countries, including the U.S. and went on to top Billboard’s Hot 100 for four weeks making it the first number one American hit of the 70’s.

In Closing:

So many great songs, with such a rich tapestry of sometimes little-known information behind their making. I’m always totally fascinated by the stories behind the songs, aren’t you? We’ll explore more Oscar Award winning hits, next time from the 70s in our next installment. Until then, cheers!