Oscar Flashback: Best Original Songs of the early 1980s, including ‘Fame,’ ‘Flashdance…What a Feeling’

This article marks Part 16 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 1980 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“People Alone” from “The Competition”
“Fame” from “Fame”
“Out Here on My Own” from “Fame”
“On the Road Again” from “Honeysuckle Rose”
“9 to 5” from “9 to 5”

Won: “Fame” from “Fame”

Should’ve won: “9 to 5” from “9 to 5”

1980 marks a refreshingly sensational year for Best Original Song at the Oscars – and that’s even in spite of voters not recognizing the memorable likes of Blondie‘s “Call Me” (from “American Gigolo”); Kenny Loggins‘ “I’m Alright” (from “Caddyshack”); Olivia Newton-John‘s “Magic” (from “Xanadu”); and Neil Diamond‘s “America” (from “The Jazz Singer”).

What voters did offer us this year were five terrific songs, arguably marking the first time that every nominee was richly deserving of honor.

The winner here, “Fame”, is an irresistibly infectious toe-tapper, performed pitch-perfectly by leading lady Irene Cara, who also delivers a fine turn on the nominated “Out Here on My Own.” Both songs were composed by Michael Gore, who went on to score the Oscar-winning “Terms of Endearment “(1983). His sister Lesley Gore, the 1960s pop icon who’d scored a big Billboard hit with “It’s My Party,” was responsible for the lyrics on “Out Here on My Own.” Both “Fame” tracks are marvelous.

Even better is Dolly Parton‘s supremely delightful “9 to 5.” The remaining two nominees here are terrific too. Willie Nelson‘s “On the Road Again” is among the all-time great road trip tunes, a superb country-adult contemporary piece that found its artist operating at the very top of his game. “People Alone,” composed by Lalo Schifrin and performed by the wonderful R&B vocalist Randy Crawford, is also prime music, a fine piece featured in the unfairly forgotten Richard Dreyfuss vehicle “The Competition.”

The 1981 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” from “Arthur”
“Endless Love” from “Endless Love”
“For Your Eyes Only” from “For Your Eyes Only”
“The First Time It Happens” from “The Great Muppet Caper”
“One More Hour” from “Ragtime”

Won and should’ve won
: “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” from “Arthur”

The most memorable part of 1981 Best Original Song at the Oscars was not a particular nominee – this is, sadly, a mostly lackluster line-up – but rather the presentation of the award itself.

At the ceremony this year, Bette Midler was selected to present the trophy in original songwriting and what a marvelous move that turned out to be – she delivered a performance more remarkable than anything host Johnny Carson had to offer up. In prime form, bubbly and funny as ever, Midler won over her audience in an instant and garnered big laughs poking fun at each nominee, in particular at “Endless Love,” which she rightfully noted hailed from the “endless movie ‘Endless Love,’ written by the very rich Lionel Richie.”

If only today’s presenters had the sparkle and enthusiasm of the Divine Miss M’s in 1981.

As for the category itself, it’s unfortunately not a whole lot to write home about. Voters made the right call here, with “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” composed by the star-studded team of Burt Bacharach, Peter Allen, Carole Bayer Sager and Christopher Cross. It’s half a great song, with a marvelous opening verse – prime Bacharach – and a catchy chorus, but the second verse, focused on the Arthur character (portrayed by Oscar nominee Dudley Moore) is rather goofy and clumsily written.

Speaking of soft rock, “Endless Love” was also a nominee in 1981. Composed by Richie, the tune, performed by Richie and Diana Ross, was a smash hit at the time, breaking Billboard records, and it continues to stand to this day as one of the all-time most successful duets. While an unimpeachably pleasant listen, nicely performed by Richie and Ross, it isn’t a song that breaks any new ground whatsoever and actually runs out of steam by about the halfway mark. It’s also very much tainted by the middling film it’s featured in. Seems fitting that, after three months at number one, “Arthur’s Theme” was the tune to knock this from the top of the Billboard charts.

Another Billboard success recognized here was “For Your Eyes Only,” marking only the third time a James Bond film showed up in Best Original Song. Performed by Sheena Easton and composed by Bill Conti, it isn’t among the series’ more memorable themes but rather one of the cheesiest. The remaining two nominees, the overlong and curiously dull “The First Time It Happens” and Randy Newman‘s lethargic “One More Hour” aren’t any better.

Was anything egregiously snubbed in 1981? Not really, though it would’ve been a hoot to see “Hearts, Not Diamonds” (composed by Marvin Hamlisch and Tim Rice) from the Lauren Bacall slasher film “The Fan” show up.

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The 1982 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“How Do You Keep the Music Playing” from “Best Friends”
“Up Where We Belong” from “An Officer and a Gentleman”
“Eye of the Tiger” from “Rocky III”
“It Might Be You” from “Tootsie”
“If We Were in Love” from “Yes, Giorgio”

Won: “Up Where We Belong” from “An Officer and a Gentleman”

Should’ve won: “It Might Be You” from “Tootsie”

Among the categories “Tootsie” – a 10-time Oscar nominee that only mustered a single win, in Best Supporting Actress for Jessica Lange – came up short in was Best Original Song, where the picture’s lovely “It Might Be You,” performed by Stephen Bishop and composed by Dave Grusin and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, was shown the exit by “Up Where We Belong,” the number-one Billboard hit from “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

Performed by Joe Cocker and Oscar favorite Jennifer Warnes, “Up Where We Belong” is a listenable but sappy piece of adult contemporary, one of the lesser efforts of composer Jack Nitzsche, who did exciting, innovative work on records with the likes of Phil Spector and the Rolling Stones in the 1960s before moving his focus to film music in the 1970s and onward, where his output wasn’t quite as exceptional.

Speaking of soft rock, 1982 also features “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” (from the Burt Reynolds-Goldie Hawn dramedy “Best Friends”) and “If We Were in Love” (from the infamous Luciano Pavarotti misfire “Yes, Giorgio”), both also written by the Bergmans, with Michel Legrand composing on the former and John Williams on the latter. Neither is terribly noteworthy. The former proved a surprise standard over the years to come, with the legendary likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand all giving it a go.

The final nominee, “Eye of the Tiger,” marks the biggest Billboard hit of the five, and the only nominee you’d still frequently come across on the airwaves, unless you’re listening to 1980s Love Songs on Pandora. Performed by Survivor, it’s a smashingly successful and iconic rock record, perfectly fitting to the film, albeit not as uplifting as the “Gonna Fly Now” theme from the first “Rocky” (1976).

The 1983 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Flashdance…What a Feeling” from “Flashdance”
“Maniac” from “Flashdance”
“Over You” from “Tender Mercies”
“Papa, Can You Hear Me” from “Yentl”
“The Way He Makes Me Feel” from “Yentl”

Won: “Flashdance…What a Feeling” from “Flashdance”

Should’ve won: “The Way He Makes Me Feel” from “Yentl”

Now this is a tough one.

In 1983 Best Original Song, a category dominated by “Flashdance” and “Yentl,” a solid case could be made for four of the nominees. (The fifth, “Over You,” from the Oscar winning Robert Duvall vehicle “Tender Mercies,” is a sloppy piece of adult contemporary, performed by the usually great Betty Buckley yet sounding more like the Oscar-winning slop from Maureen McGovern in the early 1970s.)

“Flashdance” is not a great picture. It’s a supremely silly one, though it does work on at least two levels – as a star-making debut vehicle for the charming Jennifer Beals and as the bearer of a plenty memorable soundtrack.

“Flashdance…What a Feeling,” performed and written by the reliable Irene Cara, with a moving and iconic Giorgio Moroder production, is a record that begins as a slow, steady ballad for Cara before morphing into an irresistible dance number that recalls the best of 1980s pop. Also great is the other “Flashdance” nominee, “Maniac,” which, like the Cara-Moroder tune, is instantly recognizable from the get-go. “Maniac,” which marked a collaboration between writer-performer Michael Sembello and the legendary producer Phil Ramone, was inspired by the 1980 slasher cult classic of the same name.

Even better are the two nominees here from “Yentl,” Barbra Streisand‘s directorial debut, an impressive, arguably even exemplary piece of cinema, one of the last great, ambitious original musicals on the big screen.

What’s interesting is voters didn’t even nominate the best song from “Yentl,” the sublime finale “A Piece of Sky.” Instead, they went for the picture’s two most recognizable tunes, “Papa, Can You Hear Me” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel.” Both are stunningly performed by Streisand, with incredible music and lyrics from Michel Legrand and Alan & Marilyn Bergman – all four artists are operating at the tops of their game here. “The Way He Makes Me Feel” is slightly the more intriguing and affecting song, particularly within the context of the picture.

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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. “Fame” from “Fame” (1980)
15. “Theme from ‘Shaft’” from “Shaft” (1971)
16. “Secret Love” from “Calamity Jane” (1953)
17. “White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn” (1942)
18. “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)
19. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940)
20. “Thanks for the Memory” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938)
21. “Lullaby of Broadway” from “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935)
22. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South” (1947)
23. “Flashdance…What a Feeling” from “Flashdance” (1983)
24. “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” from “Arthur” (1981)
25. “Last Dance” from “Thank God It’s Friday” (1978)
26. “Days of Wine and Roses” from “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962)
27. “For All We Know” from “Lovers and Other Strangers” (1970)
28. “All the Way” from “The Joker Is Wild” (1957)
29. “It Might As Well Be Spring” from “State Fair” (1945)
30. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from “Lady Be Good” (1941)
31. “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” from “Here Comes the Groom” (1951)
32. “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” from “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” (1955)
33. “It Goes Like It Goes” from “Norma Rae” (1979)
34. “Born Free” from “Born Free” (1966)
35. “Never on Sunday” from “Never on Sunday” (1960)
36. “Up Where We Belong” from “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982)
37. “Three Coins in the Fountain” from “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954)
38. “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins” (1964)
39. “Call Me Irresponsible” from “Papa’s Delicate Condition” (1963)
40. “Evergreen (Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’)” from “A Star Is Born” (1976)
41. “Swinging on a Star” from “Going My Way” (1944)
42. “You Light Up My Life” from “You Light Up My Life” (1977)
43. “Gigi” from “Gigi” (1958)
44. “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (1937)
45. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” (1934)
46. “Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface” (1948)
47. “Talk to the Animals” from “Doctor Dolittle” (1967)
48. “The Shadow of Your Smile” from “The Sandpiper” (1965)
49. “The Morning After” from “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972)
50. “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’

SEE ‘New York, New York,’ ‘Saturday Night Fever’ snubbed in Best Original Song

SEE Best Original Songs of the late 1970s, including ‘Last Dance,’ ‘It Goes Like It Goes’

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