This article marks Part 10 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 1965 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:
“The Ballad of Cat Ballou” from “Cat Ballou”
“The Sweetheart Tree” from “The Great Race”
“The Shadow of Your Smile” from “The Sandpiper”
“I Will Wait for You” from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”
“What’s New, Pussycat” from “What’s New, Pussycat”
Won: “The Shadow of Your Smile” from “The Sandpiper”
Should’ve won: “The Ballad of Cat Ballou” from “Cat Ballou”
On February 15, 1965, at the mere age of 45, Nat King Cole, unimpeachably one of the all-time great vocalists and jazz pianists, died of lung cancer. Cole tunes were nominated on three occasions at the Oscars – in 1950 (for the winning “Mona Lisa”); in 1953 (for “My Flaming Heart”); and finally posthumously, in 1965, for Cat Ballou’s “The Ballad of Cat Ballou.”
“The Ballad of Cat Ballou” is not quite in the same league as the other two Cole songs – it’s a giddy, enjoyable tune for sure, but a tad slight and not the greatest showcase for Cole’s legendary voice – but nonetheless, on account of some truly lackluster competition, it easily stands out here.
In fact, the winner in 1965, “The Shadow of Your Smile,” from the atrocious Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton yarn “The Sandpiper,” is the worst Oscar winner in this category thus far. The track was later covered to slightly better effect by a wide array of artists, including Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and, most notably, Tony Bennett, whose version won the Song of the Year Grammy in 1966. The film’s version, however, is a real snooze – it’s tough to even pay attention to the lyrics, as the vocals and production are so uninspired.
Henry Mancini‘s “The Sweetheart Tree,” performed by Natalie Wood in Blake Edwards’ “The Great Race,” features some reliably moving Mancini instrumentals but is otherwise fleeting and forgettable stuff. Johnny Mathis later did a cover that was a bit more interesting. As for “What’s New, Pussycat,” the first (and far from last) Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune to make an appearance in Best Original Song, it’s not among the best of the Bacharach-David catalogue.
The runner-up here would have to be “I Will Wait for You,” from the truly glorious “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” though it’s more on account of Michel Legrand‘s lovely music than the rather so-so vocals.
In terms of tunes that were snubbed this year, James Bond theme “Thunderball,” which not quite among the most memorable tunes from the franchise, would have been a worthy nominee.
The 1966 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:
“Alfie” from “Alfie”
“A Time for Love” from “An American Dream”
“Born Free” from “Born Free”
“Georgy Girl” from “Georgy Girl”
“My Wishing Doll” from “Hawaii”
Won: “Born Free” from “Born Free”
Should’ve won: “Alfie” from “Alfie”
Dionne Warwick‘s 1967 rendition of “Alfie” is a sublime record. Warwick had such a sterling way with Burt Bacharach and Hal David – she so beautifully captured the spirit of their music and lyrics, and “Alfie” found the duo very much operating at the top of their game.
Alas, Warwick’s was not the original “Alfie,” included in the 1966 Michael Caine film – that honor went to Cilla Black, in the United Kingdom release, and Cher, on the United States side. Neither Black nor Cher quite capture the magic Warwick did the following year – Black’s vocal is something of an acquired taste and Cher sounds quite splendid, but the production on her version, conducted by then-husband Sonny Bono, is a loud and distracting Phil Spector imitation that ultimately overwhelms her fine vocal. The Warwick cover has a romantic nuance that is sorely missing in the previous versions.
With that said, even taking into account those quibbles, “Alfie” is the clear winner here. The Bacharach/David music and lyrics can’t be beat and it’s a rather unremarkable year otherwise.
John Barry and Don Black, the team behind several fine James Bond themes, prevailed here for “Born Free,” from the picture of the same name. The tune wants to be a soaring, inspirational experience, and with a boffo vocal performance by Matt Monro, it comes reasonably close, but ultimately is more cheesy than anything else. Still, there have been far worse winners here.
The Seekers‘ “Georgy Girl,” from the eponymous film that put Lynn Redgrave on the map as leading lady material, is modestly enjoyable. Less notable are “My Wishing Doll,” performed by Julie Andrews for a hot second in George Roy Hill‘s overblown “Hawaii,” and “A Time for Love,” performed by Jackie Ward (dubbing for Janet Leigh) in the massive box office and critical disaster “An American Dream” – the latter is the epitome of elevator music.
As for the snubbed this year, an instrumental version of “Strangers in the Night,” later performed to immense success by Frank Sinatra, was actually first showcased in the obscure James Garner comedy “A Man Could Get Killed,” winning the Golden Globe that year for Best Original Song. It’s very nice but surely not as memorable without the Sinatra vocal.
The 1967 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:
“The Eyes of Love” from “Banning”
“The Look of Love” from “Casino Royale”
“Talk to the Animals” from “Doctor Dolittle”
“The Bare Necessities” from “The Jungle Book”
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”
Won: “Talk to the Animals” from “Doctor Dolittle”
Should’ve won: “The Look of Love” from “Casino Royale”
Earning a slew of Oscar nominations in 1967 was the lifeless “Doctor Dolittle,” which picked up the Best Original Song prize on the big night. Composed by the usually terrific Leslie Bricusse, it hardly matches the brilliant work he would later do on “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) and “Victor/Victoria” (1982). Much like fellow winners “Gigi” and “Call Me Irresponsible,” it’s a tune more spoken than sung by the leading man, except “Gigi” was at least featured in a sumptuously photographed scene and “Call Me Irresponsible” had some nice lyrics that were just dampened by Jackie Gleason‘s lame delivery. This is a lackluster song, showcased in a grating film and performed completely unremarkably.
All the more frustrating is the winner’s competition this year was actually, for the most part, quite terrific.
“The Look of Love,” yet another Burt Bacharach-Hal David triumph (after “Alfie” the year prior), is performed dazzlingly by the incomparable Dusty Springfield. And “The Bare Necessities” is of course among the most iconic tunes of the entire Disney catalogue. The fight for this prize clearly should have been an all-out barn burner between these two.
The other two nominees here are just decent. “The Eyes of Love,” from Robert Wagner‘s oddball golf drama “Banning,” marks one of Quincy Jones‘ first Oscar nominations (he was nominated twice this year, also for “In Cold Blood” in Best Original Score), but, by Jones standards at least, is surprisingly by-the-numbers stuff, sounding like something Frank Sinatra may have rejected. “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” from the eponymous Julie Andrews picture, is a curiously low-energy piece from the usually terrific Sammy Cahn-Jimmy Van Heusen team. It was later adapted to much greater success on Broadway, headlined by Sutton Foster.
Egregiously snubbed this year, in spite of an Oscar nomination for John Williams‘ fine score for the film, was “(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls,” a gorgeous ballad for Dionne Warwick, composed by the great André Previn. Also ignored, albeit not quite on the same level as that tune, was Nancy Sinatra‘s “You Only Live Twice,” from eponymous James Bond film, which, while perhaps not quite up there with the likes of “Goldfinger” or “Nobody Does It Better,” most certainly would have been a deserving Oscar nominee this year.
The 1968 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
“For Love of Ivy” from “For Love of Ivy”
“Funny Girl” from “Funny Girl”
“Star!” from “Star! ”
“The Windmills of Your Mind” from “The Thomas Crown Affair”
Won and should’ve won: “The Windmills of Your Mind” from “The Thomas Crown Affair”
Voters deserve a standing ovation for awarding Mel Brooks the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1968 for his brilliant “The Producers.” Just as fabulous was the Best Supporting Actor nomination for star Gene Wilder.
What would’ve made 1968 all the more fantastic, however, was if Brooks’ spectacularly funny “Springtime for Hitler” managed to pop up in Best Original Song. If “Blame Canada” from “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” (1999) could later garner Oscar love, why not “Springtime for Hitler”? Oh well. What we’re ultimately left with in 1968 Best Original Song is a bit of a mixed bag, with a terrific winner and some rather unremarkable competition.
The winner, “The Windmills of Your Mind,” from the marvelous Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway vehicle “The Thomas Crown Affair,” is a top-notch pick, beautifully composed by Michel Legrand, Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman and delivered in an idiosyncratic vocal performance by Noel Harrison. The tune has a bit more edge to it than the average James Bond theme, for instance, and it’s lyrically far more interesting. Notable covers included Dusty Springfield and Barbra Streisand.
Speaking of Streisand, 1968 of course marked the year she took the big screen by storm with her Oscar-winning turn as Fanny Brice in William Wyler‘s “Funny Girl.” The picture is full of terrific showtunes, including “People,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “My Man.” As has been the case with so many stage-to-screen adaptations, an original song was composed specifically for the picture and, as is usually (if not always) the case, it doesn’t quite stack up to the rest of the catalogue. “Funny Girl,” while performed splendidly by Streisand, just isn’t terribly memorable otherwise.
Likewise, “For Love of Ivy,” composed by Quincy Jones for the Sidney Poitier film, is nicely performed by the great Jazz pianist and vocalist Shirley Horn but too fleeting to leave a real impact. Julie Andrews is in the mix too, for “Star!” and her nominated track is just as grating and overblown as the film itself. Dick Van Dyke rounds out the line-up with the title track from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and it’s at least more fun than his former “Mary Poppins” co-star’s selection but still, it’s no “Windmills of Your Mind.” Or “Springtime for Hitler,” of course.
The 1969 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
“What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” from “The Happy Ending”
“Jean” from “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”
“Come Saturday Morning” from “The Sterile Cuckoo”
“True Grit” from “True Grit”
Won: “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
Should’ve won: “Come Saturday Morning” from “The Sterile Cuckoo”
1969, the year of unlikely Best Picture Oscar winner “Midnight Cowboy” (and no, Harry Nilsson‘s terrific “Everybody’s Talkin'” was not eligible for consideration in Best Original Song), marks quite a strong year in the Best Original Song.
Let’s start with the winning track, the “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” tune that finally gave Burt Bacharach and Hal David their Oscars. Performed by B.J. Thomas, the song was a smash Billboard hit, later clocking in at number 23 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Songs” list, and for good reason – it’s immensely catchy, with typically brilliant Bacharach-David music and lyrics, and Thomas’ vocal is wonderful too. It’s a tough song to knock in any way.
The best song of the five, however, is “Come Saturday Morning,” the remarkable collaboration between composers Dory Previn and Fred Karlin and the underrated folk rock group The Sandpipers, for the film “The Sterlile Cuckoo,” an idiosyncratic coming-of-age story that marked Liza Minnelli‘s first leading lady vehicle. The tune is drenched in late-1960s nostalgia – it might well be the most 1960s-sounding song that’s ever been nominated in this category – and has a warm, dreamy quality that puts it right up there with the best of acts like The Beatles and The Byrds.
Also memorable is Glen Campbell‘s “True Grit,” from the eponymous John Wayne film, for which the latter scored his Oscar. As western themes go, it’s not quite in the same league as say, the title song from “High Noon,” but it is enjoyable and one of the more memorable parts of the picture it’s featured in. “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life,” from the Jean Simmons film “The Happy Ending,” is a very nice piece too, from the team of Michel Legrand, Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman. A few years later, Barbra Streisand did a cover, as the B-side to “The Way We Were,” that was pitch-perfect.
The final nominee, “Jean,” from Maggie Smith‘s Oscar-winning vehicle “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” is the pretty clear weak link here, a rather dreary theme to an otherwise wonderful film. Replace this song with “We Have All the Time in the World,” the underrated Louis Armstrong-performed theme to “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “and you’d have a marvelous line-up here from top to bottom.
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. “Secret Love” from “Calamity Jane” (1953)
13. “White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn” (1942)
14. “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)
15. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940)
16. “Thanks for the Memory” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938)
17. “Lullaby of Broadway” from “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935)
18. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South” (1947)
19. “Days of Wine and Roses” from “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962)
20. “All the Way” from “The Joker Is Wild” (1957)
21. “It Might As Well Be Spring” from “State Fair” (1945)
22. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from “Lady Be Good” (1941)
23. “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” from “Here Comes the Groom” (1951)
24. “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” from “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” (1955)
25. “Born Free” from “Born Free” (1966)
26. “Never on Sunday” from “Never on Sunday” (1960)
27. “Three Coins in the Fountain” from “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954)
28. “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins” (1964)
29. “Call Me Irresponsible” from “Papa’s Delicate Condition” (1963)
30. “Swinging on a Star” from “Going My Way” (1944)
31. “Gigi” from “Gigi” (1958)
32. “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (1937)
33. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” (1934)
34. “Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface” (1948)
35. “Talk to the Animals” from “Doctor Dolittle” (1967)
36. “The Shadow of Your Smile” from “The Sandpiper” (1965)