The Oscar stage has been graced by many an extraordinary performance in honoring tunes nominated in the category of Best Song. From Barbra Streisand‘s exquisite rendition of “Evergreen (Love Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’)” at the 1976 telecast to Lady Gaga‘s powerful performance of “‘Til It Happens to You” (from “The Hunting Ground”) at last year’s ceremony, there have been countless musical appearances that captivated viewers. (See our top 10 Best Song Performances ever.)
The ceremony has, however, also seen its fair share of Best Song missteps. While no performance has quite matched the sheer horror of Eileen Bowman (dressed as Snow White) and Rob Lowe teaming for an eyebrow-raising cover of “Proud Mary” during the opening segment of the 1989 Oscars, there have been several underwhelming turns that came awfully close. Let’s hope none of this year’s performers fall as flat on their faces as these 10 jaw-droppingly bad Best Song Oscar performances.
1. “Against All Odds” from “Against All Odds” (1984)
Performer: Ann Reinking
God bless Ann Reinking. She’s a true treasure of the stage and screen, having dazzled audiences in musical motion pictures like “All That Jazz” (1979) and “Annie” (1982) and stage productions, including the much-celebrated 1996 revival of “Chicago.” Reinking could not have been more wrong, however, to fill the shoes of English pop-rock artist Phil Collins at the 1984 Oscar ceremony, where she performed Collins’ Best Song-nominated “Against All Odds” from the eponymous film. Reinking’s lip-syncing of the tune could not have been more obvious but it was the performer’s bizarre dance routine that really left viewers puzzled. Collins himself went on to call Reinking’s performance “awful” and expressed relief he wasn’t the one up on stage.
2. “In the Deep” from “Crash” (2005)
Performer: Kathleen York
Paul Haggis‘ “Crash” proved the toast of the 2005 Oscars, scoring one of the all-time great shockers over front-runner “Brokeback Mountain” in the top category of Best Picture. Even the film’s most ardent fans, however, must have been at least a tad perplexed by the evening’s performance of Best Song nominee “In the Deep.” A dreary, heavy-handed tune, the Kathleen York song itself was ultimately overshadowed by the decision to perform it in front of a burning vehicle, surrounded by what appeared to be zombies. York’s Oscar hopes also went up in flames, as “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” (from “Hustle & Flow”) took home the Best Song trophy.
3. “That Thing You Do!” from “That Thing You Do!” (1996)
Performers: The Wonders
Composer Adam Schlesinger‘s “That Thing You Do,” from the eponymous directorial debut of Tom Hanks, is an irresistible charmer of a song, a delightful throwback to ’60s pop-rock, nearly impossible to dislike. Like all too many Best Song nominees, however, its production on Oscar night was, to put it mildly, a trainwreck. Choreographed like “American Bandstand” on acid, the spastic, headache-inducing staging managed to suck all of the life out of a terrific song and drain ’60s nostalgia out of the souls of every Baby Boomer in the audience stuck watching the mess.
4. “Footloose” from “Footloose” (1984)
Performer: Debbie Allen
Kenny Loggins‘ “Footloose” is a flat-out fantastic piece of ’80s pop-rock, whole-heartedly appropriate for the iconic Kevin Bacon film. This was, alas, that infamous 1984 Oscar ceremony, so not long after audience members were treated to the terror of Ann Reinking’s “Against All Odds,” they also had to suffer through the horror of Debbie Allen’s inexplicable cover of the Loggins tune. Sporting a blinding-red jumpsuit and surrounded by an ensemble that looked straight out of a Richard Simmons workout video, this “Footloose” captured ’80s camp at its absolute worst.
5. “Coming Home” from “Country Strong” (2010)
Performer: Gwyneth Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow may have an Oscar and a number of fine performances under her belt but she couldn’t have been more ill-at-ease in the role of a washed-up country singer in the critically panned “Country Strong.” Paltrow’s performance on Oscar night proved a snooze, though most of the blame should probably be directed at the nominated song itself, “Coming Home,” a lackluster tune that any real country diva would reject in a heartbeat.
6. “For Your Eyes Only” from “For Your Eyes Only” (1981)
Performer: Sheena Easton
’80s pop diva Sheena Easton, talented as she is, probably never had a prayer of selling “For Your Eyes Only,” the most cornball of James Bond film themes, on Oscar night. Making the job all the more difficult for the Grammy-winner was the number’s staging, with dancing ninjas flying across the stage and laser beams shooting every which way in the theater. Viewers who weren’t so keen on Sam Smith’s Best Song victory for “Writing’s on the Wall” (from “Spectre”) last year may want to revisit the Easton catastrophe before quite declaring Smith’s turn the worst of Bond performances.
7. “Strange Are the Ways of Love” from “The Stepmother” (1972)
Performer: Diahann Carroll
How can one not adore Diahann Carroll? She was a supreme delight with her groundbreaking, Emmy-nominated work on TV’s “Julia”; wowed audiences with stage turns in the likes of “No Strings” (for which she won a Tony Award) and “Sunset Boulevard”; and garnered a well-deserved Oscar nomination for a rare big screen appearance in “Claudine” (1974). Carroll’s immense talent made it all the more unfortunate to see her saddled with the impossible task of selling one of the all-time worst tunes to grace Best Song at the Oscars – “Strange Are the Ways of Love,” from a charmless, deservedly forgotten exploitation film about a woman blackmailed into seducing her stepson. No other moment could possibly have been more of an embarrassment in Carroll’s otherwise-illustrious career.
8. “Under the Sea”/”Kiss the Girl” from “The Little Mermaid” (1989)
Performer: Geoffrey Holder
In 1991, Debbie Allen proved a pleasant surprise in her fine staging as choreographer of “Beauty and the Beast” numbers recognized in Best Song. Two years earlier, however, under the direction of Paula Abdul, Disney’s nominees were not so lucky. “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” both from “The Little Mermaid,” may have been sensational songs from that incomparable composing duo of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, but you may not have known that from the hideous scene that graced the stage at the 1989 Oscar ceremony. While the great Tony-winner Geoffrey Holder was just fine vocally in his performance of the two tunes, his contributions were ultimately overshadowed by haphazard choreography and the ugliest of costumes. The magic of the Disney film was nowhere to be found, unless the sight of tap-dancing scuba divers flailing around the stage was your thing.
9. “Ghostbusters” from “Ghostbusters” (1984)
Performer: Ray Parker, Jr.
The 1984 Oscar ceremony sure was something special when it came to the butchering of fantastic pop songs. In the case of “Ghostbusters,” at least, the nominee’s original artist, Ray Parker, Jr., had the opportunity to perform the track on the telecast. This made it all the more puzzling, however, why the rendition of the song still proved such a colossal mishap. Parker sounded just fine but was stuck performing the track in a horrifying orange jumpsuit, on a truck elevated above the stage. Below him were ghost dancers that looked like nothing out of the Ivan Reitman film and stand-ins for the film’s actors who hardly resembled the likes of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd or Harold Ramis. Top that off with a random cameo by Dom DeLuise as Dracula and you had just about the most bizarre sight possible.
10. “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” from “Little Shop of Horrors” (1986)
Performer: Levi Stubbs
The first Oscar nomination for Ashman and Menken in Best Song came three years prior to “The Little Mermaid,” for their one original tune to the screen adaptation of “Little Shop of Horrors.” It was, to be fair, always going to be a tall order to make “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” work on the Oscar stage – it is, after all, a song performed in the picture by Audrey II, a gigantic, human-devouring plant. For the Oscar performance, producers opted to have the voice of Audrey II – the great Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops – sing the tune in front of a gargantuan puppet of the plant, which mouthed the along to the song in the background. The result was a messy one, though not at the fault of Stubbs, who, sporting a bright pink blazer, seemed to be having the time of his life onstage. It was more so the random troupe of dancers, chaotically gyrating in between Stubbs and Audrey II, that raised eyebrows.
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