Welcome to the second cycle of Best Song of the Year polls, covering 1944-1952, Book 2 of WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars. As always, the Academy’s choices often reflect a terrible need for some kind of hearing device. But now and then, they do show some appreciation other than tone-deafness.
Certainly the winner this year, James Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s “Swinging on a Star“ won from Going My Way, is a charming song, delivered with panache by Bing Crosby. Crosby had a huge hit with “Swinging on a Star,” and Going My Way (which snatched him an undeserved Oscar for Best Actor). I have always loved this song, but a few decades of nostalgic memory have masked what an awkward little morality tale it is, full of stern admonishments and the shaking finger of an adult who knows better than the child. Still and all, the rhythm, pep, and jingly happiness of the song carry it along nicely. While it’s not a perfect song, and few have covered it as a standard, Crosby’s version has rattled its happy way along in my memory for so long I can’t help but acknowledge its staying power.
The other official nominees were: Ary Barroso and Ned Washington’s “Rio de Janeiro” from Brazil; Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin’s “Long Ago and Far Away” from Cover Girl; Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “I’ll Walk Alone” from Follow the Boys; Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson’s “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” from Higher and Higher; Lew Pollack and Charles Newman’s “Silver Shadows and Golden Dreams” from Lady, Let’s Dance; Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin’s “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis; Harry Revel and Paul Webster’s “Remember Me to Carolina” from Minstrel Man; Walter Kent and Kim Gannon’s “Too Much in Love” from Song of the Open Road; James V. Monaco and Mack Gordon’s “I’m Making Believe” from Sweet and Lowdown; and Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s “Now I Know” from Up in Arms
For Brazil, “Rio de Janeiro” is the weakest tune of the movie, a badly worded ballad with the least flavor of Brazil in the movie, and what there is of it is derivative of the title song.
Cover Girl has an absolutely first-rate song nominated in “Long Ago and Far Away” by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin. The melody and lyric speaks of the ache of a love that has been lost, in a winsome, nostalgic desire that most of us have felt for the one who got away.
Here is the marvelous Jo Stafford singing the nominated song:
Follow the Boys is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vehicle nominated only for the song “I’ll Walk Alone,” sung by Dinah Shore. Other appearances include Jeanette MacDonald, W.C. Fields (doing his pool table bit), Orson Welles (doing his magic act with Marlene Dietrich), Sophie Tucker, Louis Jordan and others. “I’ll Walk Alone” remains a sad love ballad, speaking of the loss of the beloved, and the lack of desire to be anywhere but alone without the missing one.
Here’s Dinah Shore:
Higher and Higher brings us “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” – a minor song, at most. Sinatra does his best with it, but it doesn’t deserve the nomination for all the clichés (no sleep=no dream of you). They should have kept the original Rodgers and Hart songs instead.
Here’s Frank Sinatra:
As I’ve said in the score category, Lady, Let’s Dance only makes it into the Oscar lists through a one studio, one nomination policy the Academy would soon drop after the war. “Silver Shadows and Golden Dreams” is the very definition of mediocrity – go look it up in the dictionary and see if I’m not right. Didn’t find it there? Well, try finding a recording of it by any artist in the past seventy years – wait, there aren’t any!
Meet Me in St. Louis has a very good set of songs, including “The Trolley Song,” which was nominated, but they should have grabbed the nomination for the timeless “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and the naively romantic “The Boy Next Door.” “The Trolley Song” is a barn burner, but kind of dopey compared to the Christmas song, which has a sad undertone people usually miss (“We’ll have to muddle through somehow”). All three songs deserved a nomination.
Here’s Judy Garland!
Not only do I not want to “Remember Me to Carolina,” I don’t even want to discuss the movie Minstrel Man. I’ll say it if I have to, but I’m not happy about having to be this obvious: no nomination should have been given to this drivel.
Lord help us, here’s the clip:
Introduced by former child star Jackie Moran (Huck from the Selznick Tom Sawyer), “Too Much in Love” from Song of the Open Road is too much of a muchness, with little inventiveness to either lyric or music (the title of the movie is from a far superior Walt Whitman poem).
Sweet and Lowdown is a Benny Goodman vehicle, with wonderful tunes from the band. The movie has a piffle of a plot, but perhaps the most extensive visual record we have of Goodman’s band during WWII. The nominated song, “I’m Making Believe” is a bit predictable in its lyric, which plays on the familiar longing for the missing lover, with an ache and sweetness that work well. The music from Goodman supports those emotional tones beautifully, for a fine nomination.
Up in Arms displays Danny Kaye in his first full-length movie, alongside Dinah Shore, who sang the nominated “Now I Know” (with music by the great Harold Arlen). “Now I Know” isn’t the best of Arlen – the lyrics lack the wit of his best collaborators – but the song still has a certain charm and power lacking in most of the nominated songs this year.
Here’s Dinah Shore from the movie:
Perhaps because Roy Rogers was not seen as a singer of first-rate material, the Academy missed what may be the finest cowboy song of all time: Cole Porter and Bob Fletcher’s “Don’t Fence Me In,” introduced by the King of the Cowboys in Hollywood Canteen (Fletcher was a Montana poet and engineer who wrote the original poem, which Porter bought outright, and then revised; Porter wanted Fletcher included in the credits, but the song publishers refused. Fletcher had to sue to get his name included.) The Andrews Sisters also take a smack at it. Cole Porter sets aside his urban sophistication for the prairies without losing an ounce of his musical abilities or talent. Porter and Fletcher should have been nominated.
You can find more in WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars: 1944-1952: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PKK8MBY
And now, please vote!