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

This article marks Part 8 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 Academy Awards winners.

The 1960 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“The Green Leaves of Summer” from “The Alamo”
“The Facts of Life” from “The Facts of Life”
“The Second Time Around” from “High Time”
“Never on Sunday” from “Never on Sunday”
“Faraway Part of Town” from “Pepe”

Won: “Never on Sunday” from “Never on Sunday”

Should’ve won: “The Green Leaves of Summer” from “The Alamo”

1960 Best Original Song is a mostly enjoyable affair and remarkable in at least one regard – it produced the first winner to hail from a foreign language film, the Melina Mercouri vehicle “Never on Sunday,” which also garnered a boatload of other nominations that year, including for its leading lady and director, Jules Dassin.

One can’t begrudge voters too much for going with “Never on Sunday” here – Mercouri’s delivery of it is engaging and very sexy – but subsequent covers of the tune suggest the song itself isn’t much to write home about, instead a piece significantly lifted by Mercouri’s dazzling performance.

Instead, this category is a bit of a barn burner, not between “Never on Sunday” and another nominee, but rather “The Green Leaves of Summer,” the theme from John Wayne‘s “The Alamo,” and “Faraway Part of Town,” which is featured in the dreadful comedy “Pepe,” yet very much notable as a late Judy Garland effort – and a fascinating one at that.

“The Alamo” really isn’t among the greatest Wayne vehicles but the music, from Dimitri Tiomkin, who also did “High Noon” (1952), is fantastic and “The Green Leaves of Summer” is full of rich atmosphere. It was also later used to terrific effect in the opening sequence of Quentin Tarantino‘s “Inglorious Basterds” (2009). As for the Garland track, it’s a terrific discovery, a fine song in its own right, lifted to even greater heights by her incredible vocal performance. Still, it’s tough to fully embrace this song for the win, given Garland doesn’t even appear in “Pepe” – the tune merely plays in the background during one scene, featuring future Oscar winner Shirley Jones. Since “The Green Leaves of Summer” is such an integral part of its film and “Faraway Part of Town,” while plenty interesting, is basically a throwaway in its picture, the former gets the edge.

“The Facts of Life,” from the enjoyable Bob Hope-Lucille Ball vehicle, is a fun, peppy little tune, utilized to nice effect in the picture’s clever opening title sequence. It isn’t quite in the same league as the other two nominees, though. Finally, there’s “The Second Time Around,” a Bing Crosby number from Blake Edwards‘ comedy “High Time,” and while it’s been covered quite memorably a number of times since the original, including by Rosemary Clooney and Barbra Streisand, the Crosby version is curiously flat.

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The 1961 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Bachelor in Paradise” from “Bachelor in Paradise”
“Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
“Love Theme from El Cid (The Falcon and the Dove)” from “El Cid”
“Pocketful of Miracles” from “Pocketful of Miracles”
“Town Without Pity” from “Town Without Pity”

Won and should’ve won: “Moon River,” Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

“Town Without Pity,” which was actually the first-ever Golden Globe winner for Best Original Song, is basically the greatest Elvis Presley song that Elvis never recorded – it’s a sultry, passionate, expertly produced and performed record that scored heaps of jukebox airtime back in the day. Producer Phil Spector, who hired Pitney to write “He’s a Rebel” the following year, was understandably enamored with the track.

In most years, “Town Without Pity” would be a no-brainer for the win. Alas, this is the year of “Moon River,” number four on the American Film Institute list of “100 Years…100 Songs.” Composer Henry Mancini is an unimpeachable genius and Audrey Hepburn‘s delivery of the tune couldn’t be lovelier. It’s a moving, restrained, immensely listenable piece.

After the terrific “Town Without Pity” and “Moon River,” it’s a pretty significant gap in quality to the remaining nominees.

“Bachelor in Paradise” (also composed by Mancini) and “Pocketful of Miracles,” like the pictures they’ve featured in, are admirably peppy but awfully slight and not too memorable. “The Falcon and the Dove,” the love theme from the overblown Charlton Heston-Sophia Loren epic “El Cid,” is a bit of a curiosity – composer Miklós Rózsa‘s score to the film is actually quite splendid, yet the picture’s original song, performed by Billy Storm, is just as overbaked as most of the film itself. Not sure what happened there.

What a shame these three tunes were recognized, yet “101 Dalmations”’ marvelous “Cruella De Vil” and “Blue Hawaii”’s lovely “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which is right up there with “Town Without Pity” as one of the best Billboard hits of this era, were given the cold shoulder.

The 1962 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Days of Wine and Roses” from “Days of Wine and Roses”
“Follow Me” from “Mutiny on the Bounty”
“Tender Is the Night” from “Tender Is the Night”
“Second Chance” from “Two for the Seesaw”
“Walk on the Wild Side” from “Walk on the Wild Side”

Won: “Days of Wine and Roses” from “Days of Wine and Roses”

Should’ve won: “Walk on the Wild Side” from “Walk on the Wild Side”

Now this is a terrific category. Year after year in reviewing these categories, there is almost always at least one dud in Best Original Song. That simply isn’t the case with 1962, the year “Days of Wine and Roses,” the moving and subtle Henry Mancini piece from the startling Jack Lemmon-Lee Remick picture, took home the trophy.

Even with the strengths of “Days of Wine and Roses” considered, the most impressive nominee here comes from the weakest picture – “Walk on the Wild Side,” an Elmer Bernstein-Mack David piece from the ludicrous, star-studded (as in, Jane Fonda, Anne Baxter and Barbara Stanwyck, among others) soap of the same name. It’s a real knockout, performed with considerable zest by the great R&B vocalist Brook Benton. Benton may be best-known for his duets opposite the equally great Dinah Washington but “Walk on the Wild Side” proves he was a force to be reckoned with on his own terms too.

“Tender Is the Night” and “Second Chance,” performed by Tony Bennett and Jackie Cain, respectively, are very powerful vocal showcases. In most years, songs like these and “Walk on the Wild Side” could easily have won.

The fifth nominee, “Follow Me,” from the middling Marlon Brando-led remake of “Mutiny on the Bounty,” is clearly dead last of this line-up but nonetheless a pretty fascinating track – it’s often cited as “Love Song from Mutiny on the Bounty,” yet sounds more unsettling than it does romantic.

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The 1963 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Charade” from “Charade”
“So Little Time” from “55 Days at Peking”
“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” from “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”
“More” from “Mondo Cane”
“Call Me Irresponsible” from “Papa’s Delicate Condition”

Won: “Call Me Irresponsible” from “Papa’s Delicate Condition”

Should’ve won: “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” from “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”

“Call Me Irresponsible,” composed by the same legendary Sammy Cahn-Jimmy Van Heusen team that also scored Oscars for “All the Way” and “High Hopes,” is an unimpeachably iconic tune, a piece that emerged a standard through fine covers by the likes of Judy Garland, Dinah Washington and, perhaps most notably, Frank Sinatra. There was a fascinating debate between Van Heusen and Cahn over just who exactly the song was originally written for – the former has said Garland, as a sort of parody of her diva reputation, while the latter claimed Fred Astaire, the initially cast leading man of the picture “Papa’s Delicate Condition.”

Regardless of whether it was meant for Garland or Astaire, the latter was ultimately unable to star in “Papa’s Delicate Condition” on account of contractual issues, leaving the debut of “Call Me Irresponsible” to be performed by, of all people, Jackie Gleason.

In a turn that makes the lifeless likes of Marlon Brando in “Guys and Dolls” (1955) and Clint Eastwood in “Paint Your Wagon” (1969) sound like Crosby and Astaire, Gleason drunkenly sleepwalks his way through the song. The unpleasant experience suggests the strengths we’ve seen in “Call Me Irresponsible” might well stem less from the Cahn-Van Heusen tune itself and more from the amazing performers who’ve tackled it since Gleason’s original.

Unfortunately, the rest of 1963 Best Original Song isn’t remarkably better.

The team of Dimitri Tiomkin and Paul Francis Webster have impressed with past appearances in this category but they did have one nominated clunker (“Strange Are the Ways of Love” in 1959) and sadly, their song this year, the maudlin “So Little Time” from the Charlton Heston-Ava Gardner bomb “55 Days at Peking,” is also underwhelming.

“More” and “Charade” are fine, if rather unremarkable instrumental tracks. “Charade” does have a nice Bernard Herrmann-like vibe to it, though it’s hardly top-tier Henry Mancini.

Ultimately, there’s only one fun nominee – the charmingly goofy title theme to the comparably charmingly goofy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” It has a peppy Broadway showtune quality to it, with music and lyrics that no doubt inspired future musical comedies like “The Producers” (2001) and “Spamalot” (2005). Is it among the most well-performed or composed, interesting or unforgettable tunes to have been nominated for Best Original Song? Not exactly. But at least it gets the toes tapping.

On a final note, what a shame Judy Garland’s “I Could Go on Singing” from that eponymous film – the final Garland tune that would’ve been eligible in Best Original Song, prior to her death in 1969 – wasn’t recognized here. It’s an infinitely more stirring song (written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, the same team from “Over the Rainbow”) than all of the nominees this year.

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. “You’ll Never Know” from “Hello, Frisco, Hello” (1943)
7. “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from “The Harvey Girls” (1946)
8. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949)
9. “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’)” from “High Noon” (1952)
10. “Secret Love” from “Calamity Jane” (1953)
11. “White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn” (1942)
12. “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)
13. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940)
14. “Thanks for the Memory” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938)
15. “Lullaby of Broadway” from “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935)
16. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South” (1947)
17. “Days of Wine and Roses” from “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962)
18. “All the Way” from “The Joker Is Wild” (1957)
19. “It Might As Well Be Spring” from “State Fair” (1945)
20. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from “Lady Be Good” (1941)
21. “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” from “Here Comes the Groom” (1951)
22. “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” from “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” (1955)
23. “Never on Sunday” from “Never on Sunday” (1960)
24. “Three Coins in the Fountain” from “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954)
25. “Call Me Irresponsible” from “Papa’s Delicate Condition” (1963)
26. “Swinging on a Star” from “Going My Way” (1944)
27. “Gigi” from “Gigi” (1958)
28. “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (1937)
29. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” (1934)
30. “Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface” (1948)

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’

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