Oscar Flashback: ‘New York, New York,’ ‘Saturday Night Fever’ snubbed in 1977 Best Original Song race

This article marks Part 14 of the Gold Derby series analyzing 84 years of Best Original Song at the Oscars. Join us as we look back at the timeless tunes recognized in this category, the results of each race and the overall rankings of the winners.

The 1977 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Candle on the Water” from “Pete’s Dragon”
“Someone’s Waiting for You” from “The Rescuers”
“The Slipper and the Rose Waltz (He Danced with Me/She Danced with Me)” from “The Slipper and the Rose”
“Nobody Does It Better” from “The Spy Who Loved Me”
“You Light Up My Life” from “You Light Up My Life”

Won: “You Light Up My Life” from “You Light Up My Life”

Should’ve won: “Nobody Does It Better” from “The Spy Who Loved Me”

1977 is a tough year to take very seriously in Best Original Song, and not just because of the winner – the sleepy, corny “You Light Up My Life.” This was the dumbfounding occasion in which voters inexplicably ignored both the legendary “Theme from New York, New York,” from Martin Scorsese’s eponymous film, and entire Bee Gees soundtrack from “Saturday Night Fever.”

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“Theme from New York, New York,” later ranked #31 on the American Film Institute’s list of “100 Years…100 Songs,” marks some of the finest, most iconic work composers Fred Ebb and John Kander (and performer Liza Minnelli, for that matter) have ever done. The tune, later covered to even greater success by Frank Sinatra, was likely hurt by the weak box office and critical reception to the picture at the time. By now, however, many have come around to seeing “New York, New York” as one of Scorsese’s more underrated efforts, unfairly maligned at a time when audiences and much of the industry balked at idiosyncratic efforts by some of the most groundbreaking directors of the 1970s. And the song has certainly more than stood the test of time.

As for “Saturday Night Fever,” one could have easily filled the entire Best Original Song category exclusively with songs from the film – “How Deep Is Your Love”; “If I Can’t Have You”; “More Than a Woman”; “Night Fever”; and of course “Stayin’ Alive” were all richly deserving of recognition here.

The Golden Globes had the smarts to nominate “Theme from New York, New York” and “How Deep Is Your Love” at their ceremony this year, though both fell to “You Light Up My Life.”

“You Light Up My Life” isn’t quite as stinky as some other winners in this category but it’s still pretty turgid stuff. This original version was actually performed by Kasey Cisyk, not Debby Boone (whose cover would go on to win the Record of the Year Grammy), and her pleasant performance keeps the tune reasonably listenable. It’s also not quite the worst nominee in this category – that honor goes to the waltz from “The Slipper and the Rose,” the deservedly forgotten live action take on “Cinderella” starring Richard Chamberlain.

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Two nominees from middling Disney pictures – “Candle on the Water” from “Pete’s Dragon” (performed by the great Helen Reddy) and “Someone’s Waiting for You” from “The Rescuers” – are more affecting, nuanced examples of 1970s adult contemporary than “You Light Up My Life,” which is bombastic in its efforts to tug at the heartstrings.

The nominee that clearly should have prevailed here, however, is the best James Bond song of all, Carly Simon‘s riveting “Nobody Does It Better,” from the strongest Roger Moore entry in the series, “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Composed by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, this is about as good as soft rock gets. It was understandably a big, fat Billboard hit at the time and holds up infinitely better than something like “You Light Up My Life.”

The Oscar winners ranked (thus far):

1. “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
2. “The Way You Look Tonight” from “Swing Time” (1936)
3. “High Hopes” from “A Hole in the Head” (1959)
4. “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” from “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956)
5. “Mona Lisa” from “Captain, Carey, U.S.A.” (1950)
6. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949)
7. “The Windmills of Your Mind” from “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968)
8. “The Way We Were” from “The Way We Were” (1973)
9. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)
10. “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’)” from “High Noon” (1952)
11. “I’m Easy” from “Nashville” (1975)
12. “You’ll Never Know” from “Hello, Frisco, Hello” (1943)
13. “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from “The Harvey Girls” (1946)
14. “Theme from ‘Shaft’” from “Shaft” (1971)
15. “Secret Love” from “Calamity Jane” (1953)
16. “White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn” (1942)
17. “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)
18. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940)
19. “Thanks for the Memory” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938)
20. “Lullaby of Broadway” from “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935)
21. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South” (1947)
22. “Days of Wine and Roses” from “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962)
23. “For All We Know” from “Lovers and Other Strangers” (1970)
24. “All the Way” from “The Joker Is Wild” (1957)
25. “It Might As Well Be Spring” from “State Fair” (1945)
26. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from “Lady Be Good” (1941)
27. “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” from “Here Comes the Groom” (1951)
28. “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” from “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” (1955)
29. “Born Free” from “Born Free” (1966)
30. “Never on Sunday” from “Never on Sunday” (1960)
31. “Three Coins in the Fountain” from “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954)
32. “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins” (1964)
33. “Call Me Irresponsible” from “Papa’s Delicate Condition” (1963)
34. “Evergreen (Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’)” from “A Star Is Born” (1976)
35. “Swinging on a Star” from “Going My Way” (1944)
36. “You Light Up My Life” from “You Light Up My Life” (1977)
37. “Gigi” from “Gigi” (1958)
38. “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (1937)
39. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” (1934)
40. “Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface” (1948)
41. “Talk to the Animals” from “Doctor Dolittle” (1967)
42. “The Shadow of Your Smile” from “The Sandpiper” (1965)
43. “The Morning After” from “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972)
44. “We May Never Love Like This Again” from “The Towering Inferno” (1974)

SEE Best Original Songs of the 1930s, including ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ‘The Way You Look Tonight’

SEE ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ is first Disney winner in Best Original Song

SEE Best Original Songs of the early 1940s, including ‘White Christmas’ and ‘You’ll Never Know’

SEE Best Original Songs of the late 1940s, including ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ and ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’

SEE Best Original Songs of the early 1950s, including ‘Mona Lisa,’ ‘High Noon’

SEE Judy Garland classic from ‘A Star is Born’ loses Best Original Song to Frank Sinatra standard

SEE Best Original Songs of the late 1950s, including ‘All the Way,’ ‘High Hopes’

SEE Best Original Songs of the early 1960s, including ‘Moon River,’ ‘Days of Wine and Roses’

SEE Best Original Songs of the late 1960s, including ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’

SEE Best Original Songs of the early 1970s, including ‘Theme from ‘Shaft,’ ‘The Morning After’

SEE ‘Live and Let Die’ no match for ‘The Way We Were’ in Best Original Song

SEE Best Original Songs of the mid-1970s, including ‘I’m Easy,’ ‘Evergreen’

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