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

This article marks Part 11 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 1970 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Whistling Away the Dark” from “Darling Lili”
“For All We Know” from “Lovers and Other Strangers”
“‘Til Love Touches Your Life” from “Madron”
“Pieces of Dreams” from “Pieces of Dreams”
“Thank You Very Much” from “Scrooge”

Won: “For All We Know” from “Lovers and Other Strangers”

Should’ve won: “Whistling Away the Dark” from “Darling Lili”

1970, the year voters embraced monumental pictures including “Patton” and “MASH” and far lesser efforts like “Airport” and “Love Story,” marked a comparably mixed bag in Best Original Song, sporting a truly grand Julie Andrews tune and respectable winner in “For All We Know,” but also a couple of real snoozes.

“For All We Know,” which later proved a big hit for The Carpenters, was originally performed by Larry Meredith in the amusing “Lovers and Other Strangers.” A collaboration between composer Fred Karlin and Robb Royer and Jimmy Griffin, the latter two members of the soft rock band Bread, it is, much like most of The Carpenters’ output, a pleasant, warm song, albeit a bit fleeting at under two minutes in length.

The best of the line-up is Henry Mancini‘s “Whistling Away the Dark,” from the notorious Blake Edwards musical flop “Darling Lili,” the picture which served as an inspiration for Edwards’ hilarious “S.O.B.” (1981). The film may have proven a catastrophe at the box office but it does feature a remarkable performance from its leading lady and Andrews just about blows the roof off the joint in this number.

From there, the category gets a whole lot less remarkable, although “‘Til Love Touches Your Life,” from the obscure Leslie Caron picture “Madron,” does feature some pretty nifty instrumental work – it is, however, also a bit overlong and not very notable lyrically or vocally.

“Pieces of Dreams,” another Michel Legrand-Alan Bergman-Marilyn Bergman collaboration, is powerfully performed by Shirley Bassey for the dreadful Lauren Hutton drama but certainly not among the composers’ finest hours. The final nominee, Leslie Bricusse‘s “Thank You Very Much,” from the Albert Finney-headlined “Scrooge,” is enthusiastically performed in the picture but doesn’t work at all on its own terms, without the imagery of the choreography. It’s also, much like the film itself, just kind of drab.

Robbed in a big way of a nomination this year (and more memorable than even the Andrews track) – Johnny Mandel‘s unforgettable theme to “MASH,” “Suicide Is Painless.”

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The 1971 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“The Age of Not Believing” from “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”
“Bless the Beasts and Children” from “Bless the Beasts and Children”
“Life Is What You Make It” from “Kotch”
“Theme from ‘Shaft” from “Shaft”
“All His Children” from “Sometimes a Great Notion”

Won and should’ve won: “Theme from ‘Shaft” from “Shaft”

Mel Stuart‘s Gene Wilder musical classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” has sure stood the test of time. The art direction, Wilder’s marvelously mad performance, the perfection of the ensemble all-around, the spectacularly quotable dialogue – all irresistible.

Of course, one of the best parts of “Willy Wonka” is its score, a bravura collaboration between Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley that features greats like “The Candy Man” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket.” Even better is “Pure Imagination,” a tremendously moving and timeless piece, delivered to perfection by Wilder. The instrumentals on it are so wonderful, too.

Alas, “Willy Wonka” would not surface in Best Original Song at the 1971 Oscars, nor would Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds Are Forever” from the eponymous James Bond film.

These snubs are particularly inexplicable when the Oscar nominees are considered.

Among the year’s actual honorees, Isaac Hayes‘ “Theme from ‘Shaft” is a richly deserved winner, a terrific record that’s instantly recognizable from the opening few seconds. Its inspiration on the soul and funk to emerge over the coming decade cannot be understated – indeed, it’s perhaps one of the all-time most influential pieces to win this trophy. No bones about it, Hayes deserved to triumph in a cakewalk.

As for the competition, it’s more unremarkable than truly dreadful.

The Carpenters’ “Bless the Beasts and Children” is warmly performed by Karen Carpenter and “All His Children” is a very listenable country tune, composed by Henry Mancini, Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman and performed by the great Charley Pride. But neither quite pops in the same way “Theme from Shaft” so intensely does. Likewise, Angela Lansbury is typically fabulous but her “The Age of Not Believing” just isn’t a very memorable showcase.

The final nominee, “Life Is What You Make It,” from the Walter Matthau vehicle “Kotch,” is a syrupy-sweet collaboration between Marvin Hamlisch and Johnny Mercer. Hamlisch would find greater luck two years later with a certain Barbra Streisand song.

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The 1972 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Ben” from “Ben”
“Marmalade, Molasses and Honey” from “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean”
“Come Follow, Follow Me” from “The Little Ark”
“The Morning After” from “The Poseidon Adventure”
“Strange Are the Ways of Love” from “The Stepmother”

Won: “The Morning After” from “The Poseidon Adventure”

Should’ve won: “Ben” from “Ben”

1972 marked a perfectly respectable year at the Oscars, for the most part. Five fantastic films, in fact, filled up Best Picture – “Cabaret”; “Deliverance”; “The Emigrants”; “The Godfather”; and “Sounder.” Add to that nominations for terrific pictures like “Sleuth”; “Lady Sings the Blues”; and “Travels with My Aunt, “and there was no shortage of great cinema on display.

This good fortune, however, did not extend to Best Original Song. In fact, 1972 marks what might well be the all-time worst line-up in the category, a shortlist chock-full of lackluster material that’s difficult to embrace in nearly any way.

The category’s victor, “The Morning After,” for sure is among the worst Best Original Song winners, if not ultimately the most abysmal. That isn’t to say “The Poseidon Adventure” isn’t an immensely entertaining romp but this tune sticks out like a sore thumb in the film. The Maureen McGovern version would go on to be a big Billboard hit.

The best of this year would have to be “Ben,” from the eponymous rat horror flick, which is gorgeously performed by a young Michael Jackson, though tough to take very seriously given…well, it’s featured in a movie about a rat. But that’s still a step-up from “The Morning After” and the comparably dreadful “Come Follow, Follow Me” and “Strange Are the Ways of Love.”

The fifth nominee, “Marmalade, Molasses and Honey,” has to be the worst thing Maurice Jarre, Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman ever received Oscar recognition for. Performed by Andy Williams, it is, however, a little more listenable than the three non-“Ben” nominees.

The real insanity of this year is voters had an obvious opportunity to reward terrific material in Best Original Song by nominating John Kander and Fred Ebb for their three original tunes in “Cabaret” – “Mein Herr”; “Money, Money”; and “Maybe This Time.” It is completely inexplicable how these well-regarded tunes were ignored, and yet dreck like “The Morning After” and “Strange Are the Ways of Love” showed up, particularly considering how much voters adored “Cabaret,” even giving Bob Fosse the upset over Francis Ford Coppola in Best Director.

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. “The Windmills of Your Mind” from “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968)
10. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)
11. “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’)” from “High Noon” (1952)
12. “Theme from ‘Shaft’” from “Shaft” (1971)
13. “Secret Love” from “Calamity Jane” (1953)
14. “White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn” (1942)
15. “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)
16. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940)
17. “Thanks for the Memory” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938)
18. “Lullaby of Broadway” from “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935)
19. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South” (1947)
20. “Days of Wine and Roses” from “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962)
21. “For All We Know” from “Lovers and Other Strangers” (1970)
22. “All the Way” from “The Joker Is Wild” (1957)
23. “It Might As Well Be Spring” from “State Fair” (1945)
24. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from “Lady Be Good” (1941)
25. “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” from “Here Comes the Groom” (1951)
26. “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” from “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” (1955)
27. “Born Free” from “Born Free” (1966)
28. “Never on Sunday” from “Never on Sunday” (1960)
29. “Three Coins in the Fountain” from “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954)
30. “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins” (1964)
31. “Call Me Irresponsible” from “Papa’s Delicate Condition” (1963)
32. “Swinging on a Star” from “Going My Way” (1944)
33. “Gigi” from “Gigi” (1958)
34. “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (1937)
35. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” (1934)
36. “Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface” (1948)
37. “Talk to the Animals” from “Doctor Dolittle” (1967)
38. “The Shadow of Your Smile” from “The Sandpiper” (1965)
39. “The Morning After” from “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972)

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’

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