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

This article marks Part 7 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 1955 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Something’s Gotta Give” from “Daddy Long Legs”
“Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” from “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing”
“I’ll Never Stop Loving You” from “Love Me or Leave Me”
“(Love Is) The Tender Trap” from “The Tender Trap”
“Unchained Melody” from “Unchained”

Won: “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” from “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing”

Should’ve won: “Something’s Gotta Give” from “Daddy Long Legs”

“Unchained Melody,” that timeless Righteous Brothers classic that’s been put to memorable use for decades across film and television, actually originated as an Oscar-nominated song in 1955. It’s briefly featured in the most unlikely of films, a prison melodrama aptly titled “Unchained,” in which it’s performed quite soulfully, albeit fleetingly by Al Hibbler.

“Unchained Melody” is a prime case of how critical the production of a record can be to its success – as produced by Phil Spector in 1965 for the Righteous Brothers, with his incomparable Wall of Sound method of instrumental layering, it’s a sweeping, enchanting piece of music, one that filled wedding ballrooms and school gymnasiums on prom night for decades to come. Bobby Hatfield‘s gorgeous vocal on the track doesn’t hurt, either.

As showcased in “Unchained,” however, it just doesn’t pack the same punch. Hibbler’s vocal is nice, but not quite as powerful as Hatfield’s, and the production is sparse, if almost non-existent, so we pay more attention to Hy Zaret‘s lyrics, only to discover it really is that Spector production that’s made “Unchained Melody” such an irresistible classic.

As for the rest of the category, it’s not half-bad. There really isn’t a rotten or even just somewhat underwhelming apple in the bunch.

Frank Sinatra‘s “(Love Is) The Tender Trap,” from “The Tender Trap,” opposite Debbie Reynolds, is a real charmer and underrated tune from his catalogue. Also nice is Doris Day‘s “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” from “Love Me or Leave Me.” The winning song, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” is actually the weakest nominee of the five, but it still has some nice instrumentals and kind of works if you’re in the mood for agreeable 1950s romantic cheese.

It’s a tough call but the best of the five is ultimately “Something’s Gotta Give,” from one of Fred Astaire‘s later efforts, “Daddy Long Legs,” which paired the 55-year-old Astaire opposite a 24-year-old Leslie Caron. The tune itself is a lot of fun, plenty listenable without a visual, but it’s made all the more fantastic by the wonderful choreography of the sequence it’s featured in. Astaire looks light on his feet as ever.

The 1956 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Friendly Persuasion” from “Friendly Persuasion”
“True Love” from “High Society”
“Julie” from “Julie”
“Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” from “The Man Who Knew Too Much”
“Written on the Wind” from “Written on the Wind”

Won and should’ve won: “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” from “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

“Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera),” performed memorably by Doris Day, is really one of the all-time great winners in this category, perhaps a contender for the top 10 when all is said and done. Sure, it’s a rather short track but Day’s exquisite vocal sells it from the get-go and it’s catchy as can be. That it’s featured in a terrific picture certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Less, unfortunately, can be said for “Julie,” also performed by Day this year – her vocal is very nice on this one too but it’s not a terribly memorable song and the background vocals are more eerie than anything.

The other three nominees fall somewhere in the middle of the two Day nominees, though closer to “Julie” in quality.

“Written on the Wind” is not among the more memorable parts of the sublime Douglas Sirk film it’s featured in, though it is enjoyably corny in that same fashion as “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.” “Friendly Persuasion” is also a terrific picture but its sappy Pat Boone title song? Not very note-worthy. Cole Porter‘s “True Love” from “High Society,” performed by Bing Crosby with a modest assist from Grace Kelly, is a little more agreeable, if mostly devoid of energy or enthusiasm. Really, nothing comes remotely close to the winning song this year.

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The 1957 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“An Affair to Remember” from “An Affair to Remember”
“April Love” from “April Love”
“All the Way” from “The Joker Is Wild”
“Tammy” from “Tammy and the Bachelor”
“Wild Is the Wind” from Wild Is the Wind”

Won: “All the Way” from “The Joker Is Wild”

Should’ve won: “Tammy” from “Tammy and the Bachelor”

While the 1957 Oscars found voters otherwise pitting against one another the hard-nosed likes of “The Bridge on the River Kwai”; “12 Angry Men”; and “Witness for the Prosecution” for top prizes, 1957 Best Original Song could not be a more lovey-dovey affair.

Here is a line-up stacked with love ballads, performed by the iconic likes of Frank Sinatra (on the winning “All the Way”); Debbie Reynolds (“Tammy”); Johnny Mathis (“Wild Is the Wind”), Vic Damone (“An Affair to Remember”) and Pat Boone (“April Love”). It’s not difficult to picture this famous quintet taking an act on the road back in the day.

When it comes to romantic cheese like this, the kind that sends molasses running down your ear lobes upon listening, there can be the nostalgic and enjoyable and there can also be the intolerably sweet. In this particular category, though, all five tunes fall somewhere in the middle, none especially unforgettable and none so saccharin they send the blood sugar rising.

The best of the bunch is Reynolds’ “Tammy,” from the warm and underrated “Tammy and the Bachelor.” The song itself isn’t all that spectacular – it’s only a so-so effort from Ray Evans-Jay Livingston team – but Reynolds’ delivery is so moving and pitch-perfect, and watching her sing the tune in that glorious Technicolor is some real movie magic.

Also solid is Sinatra’s “All the Way” and Mathis’ “Wild Is the Wind” but there’s no doubt both artists have done much better and more interesting work in their careers

A bit less successful are the remaining two tracks. “An Affair to Remember” has Damone’s warm vocal but not much of a hook otherwise. As for “April Love,” like everything else Boone ever laid his fingerprints on, it’s generic and undistinguished as can be. Elvis Presley‘s “Jailhouse Rock” certainly should have taken one of these two slots.

The 1958 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“A Certain Smile” from “A Certain Smile”
“Gigi” from “Gigi”
“Almost in Your Arms (Love Theme from ‘Houseboat’)” from “Houseboat”
“A Very Precious Love” from “Marjorie Morningstar”
“To Love and Be Loved” from “Some Came Running”

Won: “Gigi” from “Gigi”

Should’ve won: “A Certain Smile” from “A Certain Smile”

Vincente Minnelli’s “Gigi” sure was the toast of the 1958 Oscars, earning nine prizes, including Best Picture.

The film’s luck extended to Best Original Song, where the title tune, performed by Louis Jourdan, emerged triumphant. Like the rest of Gigi, “Gigi” is nice to look at – all of the scenery surrounding Jourdan in this scene is gorgeously shot – but the song on its own terms isn’t anything in the slightest to write home about.

Unfortunately, the rest of 1958 Best Original Song isn’t terribly noteworthy either.

This is pretty much a three-way jump ball among “A Certain Smile” (performed by Johnny Mathis); “Almost in Your Arms” (Sam Cooke); and “To Love and Be Loved” (Frank Sinatra) – three vocal legends, though none of the songs really quite pop. The Mathis track gets the slight edge over Sinatra’s – there is a nice aura of Technicolor romance to it, even if, like a lot of the Mathis discography, it borders on the overly sentimental. The Cooke track, while charming, is a little too short to leave much of an impact.

The remaining tune, “A Very Precious Love,” is performed by Gene Kelly in “Marjorie Morningstar,” yet doesn’t leave much of any impression at all. Doris Day later covered it to greater success but, to be fair, Day could sing a phone book and make it sound marvelous.

Note that with the exception of the “Gigi” team (Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner), all of this year’s composers were also nominees in 1957 Best Original Song.

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The 1959 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“The Best of Everything” from “The Best of Everything”
“The Five Pennies” from “The Five Pennies”
“The Hanging Tree” from “The Hanging Tree”
“High Hopes” from “A Hole in the Head”
“Strange Are the Ways of Love” from “The Young Land”

Won and should’ve won: “High Hopes” from “A Hole in the Head”

Over the first 25 years of Best Original Song, there were half a dozen nominees performed by the incomparable Frank Sinatra – 1958’s “To Love and Be Loved”; 1957’s Oscar-winning “All the Way”; 1955’s “(Love Is) The Tender Trap”; 1954’s “Three Coins in the Fountain”; 1945’s “I Fall in Love too Easily”; and 1944’s “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night.”

The irresistibly charming “High Hopes” finds Sinatra at his finest on the screen, performing alongside child actor Eddie Hodges in Frank Capra‘s immensely underrated “A Hole in the Head.” The tune, which was later selected by John F. Kennedy to serve as the theme to his successful 1960 presidential campaign, is such a joy to listen to, catchy as can be, particularly with the adorable Hodges in the mix (Sinatra of course later did a solo version too, which admittedly isn’t quite as fun).

As for the rest of the line-up, nothing comes close to the winner.

Johnny Mathis’ “The Best of Everything” and Marty Robbins‘ “The Hanging Tree” are both agreeable tracks but not the least bit memorable. Danny Kaye‘s “The Five Pennies” is a pleasant but very slight lullaby, written by wife and composer Sylvia Fine. The fifth nominee, “Strange Are the Ways of Love,” from the Patrick Wayne (John’s son) vehicle “The Young Land,” is simply wretched, even though it’s from the same brilliant team that produced the great theme from “High Noon.”

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. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940)
13. “Thanks for the Memory” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938)
14. “Lullaby of Broadway” from “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935)
15. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South” (1947)
16. “All the Way” from “The Joker Is Wild” (1957)
17. “It Might As Well Be Spring” from “State Fair” (1945)
18. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from “Lady Be Good” (1941)
19. “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” from “Here Comes the Groom” (1951)
20. “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” from “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” (1955)
21. “Three Coins in the Fountain” from “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954)
22. “Swinging on a Star” from “Going My Way” (1944)
23. “Gigi” from “Gigi” (1958)
24. “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (1937)
25. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” (1934)
26. “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’

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

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