The Academy Awards telecast will light up billions of screen this Sunday, which means billions of people will have to face off against one of the most dreaded of all show business traditions: Listening to all of the nominees for Best Original Song, each performed over the course of a single evening. Collectively, consuming these songs will only take up about 20 minutes of your life, but, given the glacial pacing of the in/famous awards show, it will feel like several hours.
The above statement – admittedly cynical – is not meant in any way to discount or dismiss the dozens of great songs to be nominated for – and to win – the Best Original Song Oscar, but savvy audiences perhaps understand the sentiment. The category is, for the most part, a stone cold drag. Academy voters seem particularly keen on recognizing and awarding the dishwater dullest, dreariest pabulum you have encountered on the pop charts. The nominated songs are rarely upbeat or clever or deep, so it’s a relief – rather than a triumph – when “Lose Yourself,” “That Thing You Do!,” “Everything is Awesome,” “Blame Canada,” or “Glory” is actually nominated or even wins.
The nominees this year are notably missing songs from Sing Street, the fun songs from Moana, and any of the hilarious tunes from the sinfully overlooked Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Instead we have the not-fun songs from La La Land, a song from a film few saw, and yet another bland Disney ballad. It’s hard to work up any enthusiasm for the category this year.
And while we all have our favorite Oscar-nominated songs from throughout the Awards’ history, we can all openly admit to one another that the Academy has nominated a lot of truly terrible songs for Best Original Song.
Here are some of the worst.
“You Light Up My Life” from You Light Up My Life
Few recall the 1977 film that this tune is from, but most people know the infamy of Debby Boone’s blockbuster cover. The song, ostensibly a love song, has no passion, a dull melody, and a weird antiseptic quality that has it listed often as one of the worst pop songs of all time. That it is also one of the biggest hits of all time (seriously) may be telling as to how bad pop music was in 1977.
“I Just Called to Say I Love You” from The Woman in Red
Stevie Wonder rattled off this little ditty in 1978, put it on a shelf, and would have perhaps have let it languish there, had he not been asked to write a theme song for the 1984 sex comedy The Woman in Red starring Gene Wilder. It’s likely he dusted it off merely to avoid having to start from scratch. Wonder has written some of the greatest soul songs ever recorded, but this is definitely on the low end of his spectrum.
“Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s
One of the most famous movie songs of the 1960s, this Mancini-penned lullaby is perhaps the ur example of elevator music in its purest form. Without a good hook, a downbeat, repetitive melody, and the lugubrious vocals of Audrey Hepburn, “Moon River” fades obnoxiously into the background of your mind where is sticks like tree sap. Maybe there’s a jazzier version of this song somewhere in the universe that redeems it, but a dull song in a dull film remains a dull thing.
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head” from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
A personal confession: Burt Bacharach is one of my least favorite people on planet Earth. Perry Como’s aggressively square “Magic Moments” notwithstanding, Bacharach’s catalogue always sets my teeth on edge with its its costant barrage of terrible, dead butterfly, putty-colored lurve ballads. “Raindrops” features hokey hayseed lyrics, goofy-ass vocals, and a melody that could only be survived ironically in a horror movie. I do not like it.
“Mule Train” from Singing Guns
Singing Guns is a practically lost film from 1950 that is only notable for its one Oscar nomination, this goofy cowboy song famously covered by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Modern audiences may have trouble jibing with the old-timey cowboy songs – they are certainly a dated form (Gene Autry doesn’t get too much radio play these days) – but I think any audience can hear how silly this particular song is with its “clippety clops” and the like.
“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Cinderella
Simultaneously celebrated for its artistry and deeply criticized for its dubious feminism, 1950’s Cinderella is one of the more famous films out of the Disney vault. And, yes, while we all love and can sing “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” one must ask: What the fuck do those lyrics mean? Did the Academy really nominate a song that is nothing but jibberish?
“Talk to the Animals” from Doctor Dolittle
Another silly-ass song from the 1960s, this one about learning to speak animal languages, is perhaps fun from a childish perspective, and it would certainly play well on stage to a young audience. But the version Shatnered by Rex Harrison only serves to highlight just how goofy and trifling the ditty is. This is one to whistle gently, not recognized with an Oscar.
“Arthur’s Theme (Best that You Can Do)” from Arthur
Did I mention I hate Burt Bacharach? I did. And you know how to make him worse? Hand a sing of his to the nasal-voiced Christopher Cross. Then just sit back, and watch the blandness rip a hole in the fabric of space time.
“Bless the Beasts and the Children” from Bless the Beasts & Children
Another largely forgotten film, 1971’s Bless the Beasts & Children is about a group outsider kids, all attending the same summer camp, who band together to save a pen full of bison. The tone of the film is actually somewhat edgy and rebellious (as kid-friendly films from the 1970s go), but the title song, performed by The Carpenters – and all the cloying balladeering therein – describes something much more uninteresting.
“Ben” from Ben
The 1972 song itself is fine enough, I suppose. Until you realize that it is supposed to underline a film about a giant rat that was, in itself, a sequel to a film about a guy who could command an army of killer rats.
“(Everything I Do) I Do it for You” from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was, to a generation of teenage girls, the most romantic thing imaginable, and the film was, if I recall, a staple of slumber parties everywhere. I imagine a lot of that came down to the use of this Oscar-nominated Bryan Adams song on the soundtrack. It was cute at the time, but then it became overplayed. Then hateful. It stays at hateful.
“My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic
Are you ready to go back to Titanic? It might be said that “My Heart Will Go On” was merely overplayed. It might also be said that it’s an overblown piece of musical melodrama that is still tough to get through.
“A Love Before Time” from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Given the stern majesty and careful, regal storytelling of Ang Lee’s tribute to wuxia films, the song that accompanied it seems all the more thudding and churlish. It’s pseudo-spiritual adult contemporary balladeering at its middle-est, and can almost serve as a way to bring down the quality of the film as a whole. The English-language version is way worse than the Mandarin version, but neither is very good.
“You’ll Be in My Heart,” “Colors of the Wind,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?,” “A Whole New World” from various Disney-produced animated musicals in the 1990s
The 1990s were a pretty glorious time for Disney’s animated musicals, and all the films from The Little Mermaid arguably through Tarzan had some pretty unassailable songs. But why were the Oscar nominees almost always the most boring songs from their respective films? The love ballads, the songs of “inspiration?” Even when the “fun” song was nominated (see: “Hakuna Matata,” “A Friend Like Me,” etc.), it always lost to the ballad. Like with this year’s Moana, it’s like the Academy listened to the entire soundtracks to all of these films, and found the one song that they remember the worst.
Top Photo: Paramount Pictures
Witney Seibold is a longtime contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.