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

This article marks Part 4 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 1946 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“You Keep Coming Back Like a Song” from “Blue Skies”
“Ole Buttermilk Sky” from “Canyon Passage”
“All Through the Day” from “Centennial Summer”
“I Can’t Begin to Tell You” from “The Dolly Sisters”
“On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from “The Harvey Girls”

Won and should’ve won: “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from “The Harvey Girls”

1946 marks a very obscure and awfully modest year in Best Original Song. There’s not really a rotten apple in the bunch, but there’s also nothing to get terribly head over heels about.

Bing Crosby‘s “You Keep Coming Back Like a Song” is listenable enough, but hardly in the same tier as the likes of “White Christmas” or “Pennies from Heaven.” “All Through the Day,” from Otto Preminger‘s musical “Centennial Summer,” is pleasantly performed by James Melton but not a particularly interesting tune itself.

Getting a bit warmer, “Ole Buttermilk Sky” is a fun, toe-tapping piece of fluff, performed nicely by Hoagy Carmichael. And Betty Grable delivers a stunning vocal turn on “I Can’t Begin to Tell You,” even though the song itself kind of sounds like a second-rate “You’ll Never Know” wannabe.

Ultimately, voters got this one right – the delightful “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” is the strongest in a ho-hum bunch. It’s hardly among the best Judy Garland songs but still a plenty enjoyable sing-a-long that’s about as satisfying as “The Trolley Song.”

The 1947 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Pass That Peace Pipe” from “Good News”
“You Do” from “Mother Wore Tights”
“I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” from “The Perils of Pauline”
“Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South”
“A Gal in Calico” from “The Time, the Place and the Girl”

Won: “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South”

Should’ve won: “Pass That Peace Pipe” from “Good News”

Best Original Song this year is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.

That is, because the prize in 1947 was taken home by “Song of the South,” the Disney picture deemed so racist, insensitive and just downright wrong that it has never seen the light of day on DVD or even VHS domestically.

With that said, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is a breezy, enjoyable number, when performed by the wonderful James Baskett. Later in the song, however, it is performed by a group of children, who hardly sell the tune as well as Baskett. Ultimately, it’s an awfully modest number that needs a first-rate vocalist like Baskett to make it worthwhile.

Beyond the winner, “A Gal in Calico” is a pleasant swing number but not terribly memorable in any way. “You Do” is nicely staged in the Betty Grable musical “Mother Wore Tights,” and Dan Dailey gives a nice, energetic performance, but it’s not a tune that stands so well on its own terms, beyond the choreography. And Betty Hutton is warm and moving as she sings “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” in “The Perils of Pauline,” but the song is just too short to leave much of an impact.

The best of the bunch is “Pass That Peace Pipe” from the woefully underrated MGM musical “Good News.” The tune’s performer, Joan McCracken, isn’t the most gifted vocalist, but her performance is so committed, enthusiastic and fun that technical vocal prowess here doesn’t much matter. She’s a delight, the song is a lot of fun and the choreography in its scene is quite terrific.

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The 1948 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“For Every Man, There’s a Woman” from “Casbah”
“Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface”
“It’s Magic” from “Romance on the High Seas”
“This Is the Moment” from “That Lady in Ermine”
“The Woody Woodpecker Song” from “Wet Blanket Policy”

Won: “Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface”

Should’ve won: “It’s Magic” from “Romance on the High Seas”

What a supreme pleasure it is listening to the legendary Doris Day, in her film debut in Michael Curtiz‘s underrated musical “Romance on the High Seas,” singing “It’s Magic,” yet another beautiful composition from the team of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. The song and its scene are glorious Technicolor magic. It was inevitable that Day was about to become an incredible big screen star.

Alas, “It’s Magic,” while indeed a tremendous breakthrough for Day, did not win Best Original Song in 1948. Instead, the prize went to “Buttons and Bows,” an amusing but awfully slight Bob Hope tune from his comedy western “The Paleface.” It’s a bit of a curious win, especially considering the competition.

Another nominee, “This Is the Moment,” is really terrific too – a lush, romantic duet for Betty Grable and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. “For Every Man, There’s a Woman” is nicely performed by Tony Martin in Universal Studios’ flop musical “Casbah,” but too short to leave much of an impact. “The Woody Woodpecker Song” is the clear weak link here, essentially just a recycling of the classic Woody Woodpecker laugh, complimented by some cheesy lyrics and vocals that leave the final product sounding like bad sitcom theme song.

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The 1949 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Through a Long, Sleepless Night” from “Come to the Stable”
“It’s a Great Feeling” from “It’s a Great Feeling”
“My Foolish Heart” from “My Foolish Heart”
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from “Neptune’s Daughter”
“Lavender Blue” from “So Dear to My Heart”

Won and should’ve won: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from “Neptune’s Daughter”

‘Pleasant’ is the word that most comes to mind when describing the picks for Best Original Song in 1949 – it’s an all-around agreeable, appealing set of songs, though nothing quite veers into movie music greatness.

The selection to be most excited about is the winner – the classic and iconic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which here is performed charmingly by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban, as well as Betty Garrett and Red Skelton. The tune was later covered by the likes of Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer and Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, among others, eventually becoming a go-to during the holiday season. It also marks the sole Oscar for composer Frank Loesser.

“It’s a Great Feeling” marks another Doris Day-Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn collaboration and it’s a fun, breezy track, but not quite as powerful as “It’s Magic.” “Lavender Blue” is another nice selection, performed warmly by Oscar winner Burl Ives, but it’s ultimately too short to leave that significant an impression.

The remaining two nominees are a tad weaker. “Come to the Stable” is a terrific and enjoyable motion picture, but does anyone really remember this song from it, “Through a Long, Sleepless Night”? It’s listenable, performed by Hugh Marlowe, but ultimately forgettable. As for “My Foolish Heart,” the orchestrations are very nice but it’s basically as maudlin and sappy as the Susan Hayward film it’s featured in.

Onward to the 1950s!

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. “You’ll Never Know” from “Hello, Frisco, Hello” (1943)
4. “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from “The Harvey Girls” (1946)
5. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949)
6. “White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn” (1942)
7. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940)
8. “Thanks for the Memory” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938)
9. “Lullaby of Broadway” from “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935)
10. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South” (1947)
11. “It Might As Well Be Spring” from “State Fair” (1945)
12. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from “Lady Be Good” (1941)
13. “Swinging on a Star” from “Going My Way” (1944)
14. “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (1937)
15. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” (1934)
16. “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’

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