With a staggering 91 original songs eligible for consideration at this year’s Oscars, plenty of talented composers are destined to be overlooked by the music branch. They will join an illustrious group that has been snubbed, often egregiously so, over the 83-year history of the Best Original Song Oscar.
In honor of the songwriters who richly deserved recognition, yet woke up with coal on Oscar nominations morning, let’s take a look back at 10 tunes that were most inexplicably not nominated for Best Original Song.
If you disagree with the rankings or if we’ve overlooked your favorite tune that was spurned, be sure to sound off in the comments.
1. “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971)
Composer Leslie Bricusse was no stranger to Best Original Song going into the 1971 Oscar race. The year before, he had been nominated for “Thank You Very Much” from “Scrooge” (1970) and prior to that, had claimed victory for “Talk to the Animals” from “Doctor Dolittle” (1967).
In 1971, Bricusse teamed with two juggernauts of music — eight-time Oscar-nominated composer Walter Scharf and three-time Tony-nominated tunesmith Anthony Newley — to compose tracks for the musical fantasy “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The trio lost Best Original Song Score to John Williams (“Fiddler on the Roof”). Bricusse and Newley were snubbed in Best Original Song for their dazzling “Pure Imagination,” performed to perfection in the picture by Gene Wilder. It’s a piece of true movie music magic, immensely moving and, much like the film in which it’s featured, fascinating and eccentric too. Bricusse would go on to garner four more Oscar nominations in his career, winning for Best Adapted Score alongside Henry Mancini for “Victor/Victoria” (1982), but never crafting another composition quite as exquisite and special as “Pure Imagination.”
2. “Theme from ‘New York, New York'” from “New York, New York” (1977)
By 1977 and the release of Martin Scorsese‘s ambitious “New York, New York,” Broadway composers John Kander and Fred Ebb had won two two Tonys for “Cabaret” (1966) and contended for three more tuners — “The Happy Time” (1968); “Zorba” (1968); and “Chicago” (1976). While they were beloved by Broadway, they struggled to win over the motion picture academy. Their original compositions for the 1972 film adaptation of “Cabaret” – “Mein Herr” and “Money, Money” – were ignored in Best Original Song, despite the picture winning eight prizes on Oscar night. The duo scored their first Oscar bids for “How Lucky Can You Get” from “Funny Lady” (1975), losing that prize to Keith Carradine‘s “I’m Easy” from “Nashville.”
Their title track for “New York, New York” was performed in a tour-de-force turn by Oscar-winner Liza Minnelli (“Cabaret”) but the film was a flop and ignored by the academy. This timeless piece would go on to be covered to enormous success by Frank Sinatra in 1979 and, since the summer of 1980, has been played over the loudspeakers at the end of every New York Yankees home game. In 2004, the American Film Institute ranked “Theme from ‘New York, New York'” number 31 on its list of “100 Years…100 Songs.” In 2002, Kander and Ebb earned their second Oscar nominations, for “I Move On” from “Chicago” losing to Eminem‘s “Lose Yourself” from “8 Mile.” But the film version of their musical did win Best Picture.
3. “A Hard Day’s Night” from “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964)
In 1964, at the height of “British Invasion,” The Beatles, who had already taken radio by storm over the prior two years, barnstormed American movie theaters with their funny and innovative film debut, “A Hard Day’s Night.” The picture was critically acclaimed and a box office smash and, from July through October of that year, its soundtrack topped the U.S. Billboard 200. At the 1964 Oscars, the film garnered nominations for Alun Owen in Best Original Screenplay and legendary Beatles producer George Martin in Best Scoring of a Motion Picture. Stunningly, however, “A Hard Day’s Night” did not make an appearance in Best Original Song, where composers John Lennon and Paul McCartney would have been recognized for their contributions. Among the classic records produced for the film were “If I Fell”; “Can’t Buy Me Love”; “And I Love Her”; and, of course, the iconic title track, which Rolling Stone in 2004 ranked number 154 on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all-time. “A Hard Day’s Night” also marked The Beatles’ first of eight competitive victories at the Grammy Awards, picking up the prize in Best Performance By a Vocal Group.
4. “How Deep Is Your Love” from “Saturday Night Fever” (1977)
The soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever,” the film which instantly made superstars out of leading man John Travolta and pop music group the Bee Gees, dominated the airwaves, topping the album charts for 24 consecutive weeks and taking home five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. Among those Grammy victories was a win in Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group for the gorgeous ballad “How Deep Is Your Love.” One of the loveliest love songs of the decade, the tune held the number one slot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for three straight weeks and, in 2004, was ranked 375th greatest song of all-time by Rolling Stone. “How Deep Is Your Love” was not a nominee in 1977 Best Original Song at the Oscars. In fact, the entire soundtrack, which sported half a dozen original tunes, was ignored, even as Travolta garnered his first Oscar nomination in Best Actor. As the Bee Gees sat on the sidelines, alongside Kander and Ebb for “New York, New York,” composer Joe Brooks‘ “You Light Up My Life,” from the film of the same name, claimed victory in the category.
5. “You Only Live Twice” from “You Only Live Twice” (1967)
Adele and Sam Smith may have recently picked up Oscars for their James Bond theme songs “Skyfall” from “Skyfall” (2012) and “Writing’s on the Wall” from “Spectre” (2015), respectively, but there was a time when the academy ignored the franchise repeatedly. Indeed, the first 007 flick to garner a nomination in the category was “1973’s “Live and Let Die” for the title track written and performed by Paul and Linda McCartney. After that breakthrough, “Nobody Does It Better” from “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) and “For Your Eyes Only” from the 1981 film of the same name reaped bids. No tune from the Sean Connery era ever contended with the most outrageous snub being “You Only Live Twice.” Composed by John Barry, who the year prior scored Best Original Song and Best Original Score Oscars for “Born Free” (1966), the tune is packed with glorious violins and French horns and is particularly recognizable for its opening bars. With lyrics by Bricusse and a dazzling vocal turn from Nancy Sinatra, it is prime 007 music.
6. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” from “Blue Hawaii” (1961)
Elvis Presley may be the undisputed “King of Rock and Roll” but, despite headlining more than 30 motion pictures in which he sung at least one original tune, no Presley-performed track ever contended at the Oscar. The most head-scratching snub was the lack of recognition for the enchanting “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” composed for Presley’s 1961 release “Blue Hawaii.” The song topped the Billboard charts for six weeks in 1962 and was later covered to great success by the British reggae group UB40 in 1993. The Presley original, however, remains the best, one of the artist’s sweetest and most subtle efforts, with lyrics by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George Davis Weiss.
7. “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid” (1989)
The soundtrack to Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” was hardly neglected at the 1989 Oscars. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who’d previously been nominated in Best Original Song for “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” from “Little Shop of Horrors” (1986), garnered two nominations in the category, for “Kiss the Girl” and, that year’s winner, the delightful ensemble piece “Under the Sea.” Both were richly deserving – Menken took home the Best Original Score prize to boot – but perhaps even more worthy of recognition was another tune from the film, the marvelous “Part of Your World.” Stunningly performed in the film by Jodi Benson, the piece has the sound of a classic Broadway ballad and is a particularly strong showcase of Ashman’s songwriting abilities. Ashman would go on to garner four additional Best Original Song nominations in his career, including one more win. He died from AIDS-related complications in 1991. Since “The Little Mermaid,” Menken has received 15 Oscar nominations, including half a dozen wins.
8. “(Theme from) ‘Valley of the Dolls'” from “Valley of the Dolls” (1967)
In the 1950s and 1960s, composer Andre Previn was the toast of the Oscars, garnering 11 nominations by 1967, including four victories in Best Scoring of a Motion Picture: “Gigi” (1958); “Porgy and Bess” (1960); “Irma la Douce” (1963); and “My Fair Lady” (1964). Alongside wife Dory, Previn garnered two Best Original Song nominations, for “Faraway Part of Town” from “Pepe” (1960) and “Second Chance” from “Two for the Seesaw” (1962). In 1967, the Previns, with the brilliant duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David serving as producers, collaborated on one of their finest efforts – “(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls’,” composed for the film adaptation of the titillating Jacqueline Susann novel. Gorgeously sung by Dionne Warwick, after intended performer Judy Garland was fired from the film, it’s a stirring pop ballad that easily transcends what most tend to label a misfire of a motion picture. Despite all of the recognition the Previns had previously received at the Oscars, they were not nominated for their “Valley of the Dolls” contribution. The film did, however, garner a nod in Best Original Score – the very first nomination for composer John Williams.
9. “Crazy for You” from “Vision Quest” (1985)
Despite seven Grammy Awards and seven Golden Globe nominations under her belt — including two Globe wins, one for acting in “Evita” (1996) and one for composing the original song “Masterpiece” for “W.E.” (2011) — Madonna has never received an Oscar nomination for acting or composing. She has been eligible for such memorable pop tunes as “Into the Groove” from “Desperately Seeking Susan” (1985); “Live to Tell” from “At Close Range” (1986); “I’ll Remember” from “With Honors” (1994); and “Beautiful Stranger” from “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” (1999). The Madonna tune most robbed of Oscar recognition, however, was “Crazy for You,” from the Matthew Modine–Linda Fiorentino coming-of-age romance “Vision Quest.” This sweet and soulful song that finds its artist in atypically vulnerable-sounding form earned Madonna her first Grammy nomination (in Best Female Pop Vocal Performance). The track was composed by two heavyweights of the music industry – John Bettis (of The Carpenters’ “Top of the World” and later Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time”) and Jon Lind (of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” and later Vanessa Williams‘ “Save the Best for Last”).
10. “Stay (I Missed You)” from “Reality Bites” (1994)
When folk-rock songwriter Lisa Loeb submitted, with the support of her neighbor Ethan Hawke, a new composition titled “Stay (I Missed You)” for inclusion on the soundtrack of Ben Stiller‘s directorial debut “Reality Bites,” she was not even signed to a record label. Stiller, however, had no hesitation about prominently featuring the tune in his film. Loeb, backed by her band Nine Stories, slowly climbed the Billboard Hot 100 chart over the summer of 1994, eventually topping the list for three consecutive weeks. This established Loeb, who was also Grammy-nominated for the song (in Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group), as the first artist to ever score a number-one Hot 100 hit without the backing of a record label. One of its decade’s most endearing songs, “Stay (I Missed You”) is coffee shop pop-rock at its finest.
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