And now, on to part 2 of our commemoration of the upcoming Academy Awards on February 24, with the Oscar Winning Best Original songs from previous decades, along with some colorful tidbits and side stories. This installment is the Oscar Winning Best Songs of the 1970s, along with some of the surrounding controversies. Take a load off, kick back, and enjoy!
The Early 70s
1970: “For All We Know” from the movie “Lovers and Other Strangers”, with music by Fred Karlin and lyrics by Robb Wilson (aka Robb Royer) and Arthur James ‘Jimmy’ Griffin. Both Royer and Griffin were founding members of the group, Bread. The song was originally performed for the film’s soundtrack by Larry Meredith, but the best known version was a cover by the Carpenters in 1971. When the song was nominated for an Academy Award, the Carpenters were not allowed to perform it at the ceremony since they hadn’t appeared in the film. At their request, the song was performed by British singer Petula Clark.
1971: “The Theme from Shaft” in the movie, “Shaft”, is the soul and funk-styled theme song written and recorded by Isaac Hayes in 1971. In a much later interview in 2000, Hayes revealed that he had only agreed to write and record the Shaft score after Shaft producer, Joel Freeman, promised him an audition for the lead role (which was taken by a then-unknown Richard Roundtree). He never got the chance to audition but kept his end of the deal anyway.
1972: “The Morning After” from the hit movie, “The Poseidon Adventure” was written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. The duo was originally asked to write the love theme for the movie in one night. The finished product was initially called ‘Why Must There Be a Morning After?’ but changes by the record label resulted in the song’s more optimistic lyric of “there’s got to be a morning after”. In the end titles of the film, it is called “The Song from The Poseidon Adventure”. In the film, the song was “performed” by ‘Nonnie’ played by actress Carol Lynley, but was actually a voice double, Renee Armand.
1973: “The Way We Were” which was sung in the mega-hit film of the same name, written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch, with composer and producer Hamlisch creating the final melody for the song. As the story goes, this initially was a problem between himself and the known-to-be-a-perfectionist singer, Barbra Streisand. She had initially asked Hamlisch to produce a composition in minor key, but he instead wrote it in major key due to his fear that the song’s lyrics were being revealed too quickly. They agreed, and the song was then sung with the switch.
1974: “We May Never Love Like This Again” found in the film “The Towering Inferno”, written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. This song was performed by Maureen McGovern both for the film score and, briefly, in the film itself with McGovern portraying a singer. Hollywood composer John Williams wrote the original music score for the film and interwove the tune of the song into the underscore of the movie. Interesting side note: “The Morning After” (her biggest hit) and the Oscar-nominated song “Wherever Love Takes Me” (from the 1974 disaster film “Gold”), along with this song led the media to dub McGovern “the Disaster Theme Queen”.
1975: “I’m Easy” from the film “Nashville”, written and performed by the movie’s star, Keith Carradine. The song was initially released as an acoustic guitar ballad, with a cello accompaniment. It was later re-recorded by Carradine at a slightly faster tempo with the addition of percussion, keyboards and synthesizer accompaniment for his upcoming album. The song is a ballad about a lover who is guileless and in awe of the object of his love. In the film, when Carradine, who plays Tom performs the song at the Exit/In (the club used in the movie, which was an actual club in Nashville), he dedicates it to “a special someone”. Several women in the audience, recent and future conquests, believe the song has been written for them.
1976: “Evergreen” is from the smash hit film “A Star Is Born”. The song was composed and performed by the film’s star, Barbra Streisand with lyrics by Paul Williams, and arranged by Ian Freebairn-Smith. In winning the Oscar, Streisand became the first woman to be so honored as a composer. The song’s opening couplet, “Love, soft as an easy chair; love, fresh as the morning air”, almost did not appear that way. Williams wrote the “morning air” line first, but allegedly told Streisand to “flip those two first lines, because it sounds better”.
The Late 70s
1977: “You Light Up My Life” in the movie of the same name, is a ballad written by Joseph “Joe” Brooks. The song was originally recorded by Kasey Cisyk for the soundtrack album to the 1977 film, and was lip synched in the film by its lead actress, Didi Conn. The best-known version of the song is a cover by Debby Boone, which held the #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for ten consecutive weeks in 1977, setting a new record for that time. Cisyk’s original soundtrack recording was included on the film’s soundtrack album, and later released as a single to bolster sales of the soundtrack album.
1978: “Last Dance” which was sung in the hit disco movie “Thank God It’s Friday”, written by Paul Jabara, sung by Donna Summer, and co-produced by Summer’s regular collaborators Giorgio Moroder and Bob Esty. The song became a critical and commercial success, winning the Academy and Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. It was often used as the last song of the night in many discotheques, and ostensibly, party DJs.
1979: “It Goes Like It Goes” from the movie “Norma Rae”, written by David Shire and Norman Gimbel. Jennifer Warnes sang the vocals for the Norma Rae soundtrack in 1979, but it was later made into a hit single by Dusty Springfield. Surprisingly, a cloud of eligibility confusion marred the selection process for 1979 Best Original Song. The category presumably would have been dominated by “The Rose” (from the Bette Midler film which won the Golden Globe for Original Song) however, the Academy deemed it ineligible for consideration. This song also beat out “The Rainbow Connection” from the Muppet Movie.
Some truly different, but very intriguing backstories there. Some of the winning songs were not the favorite choices by far. The Academy Awards however, has always been documented for choosing what they felt was the best song, and not necessarily the more popular commercial successes. It’s always interesting to find out those little tidbits that only seem to come out after the fact. Stay tuned for Part 3, coming up soon. Salutations!