Oscar Flashback: Best Original Songs of the mid-to-late 1990s, including ‘Colors of the Wind,’ ‘My Heart Will Go On’

This article marks Part 22 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 1995 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Dead Man Walkin’” from “Dead Man Walking”
“Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” from “Don Juan DeMarco”
“Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas”
“Moonlight” from “Sabrina”
“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from “Toy Story”

Won: “Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas”

Should’ve won: “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” from “Don Juan DeMarco”

With 1995 and losses in both Best Original Song and Best Original Score for “Toy Story,” composer Randy Newman found himself 0-for-8 at the Oscars. “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” is a real charmer that instantly brings to mind images of a fantastic film – it was perhaps his most deserving nomination at this point. Breezy as it is, however, it is not quite the picture’s strongest song, that being the energetic “Strange Things.”

As for the rest of the line-up in 1995, it’s an all-around average affair. There’s no truly rotten song among the bunch but nothing stands out in any significant way either. Couldn’t voters have nominated at least one or two tracks off the sublime “Waiting to Exhale” soundtrack, which featured terrific Babyface-produced tunes from the likes of Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Brandy?

The winner, “Colors of the Wind,” is reasonably enjoyable, performed nicely by Broadway’s great Judy Kuhn (and later covered to great success by Vanessa Williams) but it doesn’t have any of the magic or emotional weight of the great Howard Ashman Disney tunes (instead it’s Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz here).

Bruce Springsteen‘s “Dead Man Walkin'” is an appropriate fit for the Tim Robbins film but it’s a rough listen on its own terms, as dreary as it is haunting and without any real hook. Likewise, Sting‘s “Moonlight,” composed by Oscar mainstays John Williams and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, is a pleasant and agreeable but entirely fleeting listen.

Ultimately, Bryan Adams‘ “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” packs the most punch. It’s hardly on the level of say, “Over the Rainbow” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” but at least it’s a fun, catchy listen, in a cheesy 1990s pop-rock sort of way, which is more than can be said about the other nominees.

The 1996 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“You Must Love Me” from “Evita”
“I Finally Found Someone” from “The Mirror Has Two Faces”
“For the First Time” from “One Fine Day”
“That Thing You Do” from “That Thing You Do”
“Because You Loved Me” from “Up Close and Personal”

Won: “You Must Love Me” from “Evita”

Should’ve won: “That Thing You Do” from “That Thing You Do”

Best Original Song in 1996 is a decidedly vanilla showdown, with tunes performed by Madonna, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Loggins and the cast of “That Thing You Do.” That isn’t to say this line-up is a rotten one but there aren’t many surprises in store.

Four of the nominees, including the winner, are almost interchangeable – the non-“That Thing You Do” tracks. They’re all agreeable, nicely performed adult contemporary, including the “Evita” track, which rings more of soft rock than it does an epic ballad like “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”

Madonna (on “You Must Love Me”), Dion (“Because You Loved Me”), Streisand (“I’ve Finally Found Someone”) and Loggins (“For the First Time”) are all in commendable form here but it’s tough to rank one above the other, as none of them really pops in any significant way. Perhaps the Streisand tune, which paired her with Bryan Adams and was composed by the great Marvin Hamlisch, comes out slightly on top. No doubt, voters wanted to use this as an opportunity to get Andrew Lloyd Webber, then still the hottest name on Broadway, his Oscar, even if “You Must Love Me” wasn’t all that remarkable.

The best nominee here, by a healthy margin, is the title track to “That Thing You Do,” Tom Hanks’ forgotten but awfully charming directorial debut. Composed by Adam Schlesinger, later of Fountains of Wayne fame, it’s an irresistible throwback to 1960s pop-rock, all but impossible to dislike.

Egregiously snubbed of a nomination? R. Kelly’s Grammy winning “I Believe I Can Fly” from “Space Jam.”

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The 1997 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Journey to the Past” from “Anastasia”
“How Do I Live” from “Con-Air”
“Miss Misery” from “Good Will Hunting”
“Go the Distance” from “Hercules”
“My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic”

Won: “My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic”

Should’ve won: “Miss Misery” from “Good Will Hunting”

Among the 11 victories for “Titanic” on Oscar night was Best Original Song, where “My Heart Will Go On,” performed by Celine Dion at her peak in popularity and composed by James Horner and Will Jennings, sailed to triumph. The record, which sold more than 15 million copies worldwide and topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks, is the epitome of 1990s adult contemporary, a song that was all but impossible to avoid over the final years of the decade and which still garners heavy airplay on soft rock radio to this day.

In reviewing this category, one can’t help but think back to the prior year of Best Original Song, 1996, in that there’s a similarity among the nominees that makes it tough to really rank one above the other.

Take “My Heart Will Go On.” It’s a nice, glossy, well-produced, expertly performed ballad, if a tad generic and more than just a tad oversaturated. The exact same can be said for “How Do I Live,” which too was a massive Billboard smash, setting a new record for most weeks (69) on the Billboard Hot 100. (Note it was the LeAnn Rimes cover, not the Trisha Yearwood original featured in the film, that set this record.) Composed by Oscar mainstay (though never winner) Diane Warren, it’s a lovely, completely agreeable piece of country-soft rock, albeit nothing terribly exciting.

Likewise, both “Journey to the Past” and “Go the Distance” are enjoyable pieces but they’re decidedly second-tier when it comes to music from animated features. We’re not talking “Under the Sea” and “Beauty and the Beast” quality here.

Ultimately, the only song of the five that stands out in any meaningful way here is the late Elliott Smith‘s “Miss Misery.” Despite its prominence on the airwaves through the 1990s and beyond, voters just never gravitated to this sort of alternative rock, with Smith one of the few exceptions. Lyrically and vocally, it’s a very impressive record and is undoubtedly bolder and more compelling than its run-of-the-mill competition.

In terms of the snubbed in 1997, it’s too bad k.d. Lang‘s marvelous “Surrender,” from “Tomorrow Never Dies,” was overlooked.

The 1998 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” from “Armageddon”
“That’ll Do” from “Babe: Pig in the City”
“A Soft Place to Fall” from “The Horse Whisperer”
“When You Believe” from “The Prince of Egypt”
“The Prayer” from “Quest for Camelot”

Won: “When You Believe” from “The Prince of Egypt”

Should’ve won: “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” from “Armageddon”

Over the years, voters have infamously ignored a number of iconic soundtracks in the category of Best Original Song, most egregiously “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) and “Purple Rain” (1984). Albeit not as legendary as those two, another incredible soundtrack passed over was “City of Angels,” the Meg Ryan-Nicolas Cage vehicle which, while not exactly the greatest film, sported some truly fantastic tunes.

Most of the “City of Angels” songs were previously released and hence ineligible for consideration – for instance, U2‘s “If God Will Send His Angels” and Sarah McLachlan‘s immensely successful “Angel” – but two, the best two records on the soundtrack, were directly written for the picture.

Alanis Morissette‘s captivating “Uninvited” is handily the most powerful post-“Jagged Little Pill” work she’s done. The Goo Goo Dolls‘ “Iris” is even better, a hypnotic piece of alternative rock that not only finds the group at the very top of their game but is arguably one of the strongest records of the entire decade. “Iris” garnered Grammy nominations in both Song and Record of the Year and was ranked number 39 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest pop songs of all-time.

Another terrific tune (from another not-so-terrific film) snubbed here – Aaliyah‘s “Are You That Somebody,” from the “Dr. Dolittle” soundtrack.

Leave it to voters to pass over those three songs in favor of what is perhaps the sleepiest Best Original Song line-up of the 1990s.

The winner here, “When You Believe,” sounds fantastic on paper – Oscar-winning composer Stephen Schwartz teaming with those incomparable divas Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey – yet somehow, even with Houston and Carey tearing it up vocally, is an underwhelming dud. Lyrically, it’s about as compelling as a Hallmark card. Same thing goes for “The Prayer,” which, despite being performed by Celine Dion, is like Nyquil to the ears.

Randy Newman’s “That’ll Do” is nicely orchestrated and performed by Peter Gabriel, but not really among Newman’s best. It’s no “If I Had Words,” which was so pitch-perfect and moving in the first “Babe” (1995) picture. This feels like a tune Newman put together at the 11-o’-clock hour to get the film into Best Original Song consideration.

The only two notable songs from this line-up are Aerosmith‘s rollicking, sweeping “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” and Allison Moorer‘s lovely “A Soft Place to Fall.” The Aerosmith track carries the usual Diane Warren baggage in corniness but, with the dense production, which actually rings a bit of the “City of Angels” music, it’s unusually unnoticeable. The Moorer song is lyrically more interesting but produced and performed so low-key that it borders on the drowsy.

The 1999 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Save Me” from “Magnolia”
“Music of My Heart” from “Music of the Heart”
“Blame Canada” from “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut”
“You’ll Be in My Heart” from “Tarzan”
“When She Loved Me” from “Toy Story 2”

Won: “You’ll Be in My Heart” from “Tarzan”

Should’ve won: “Blame Canada” from “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut”

In 1999, after three unsuccessful appearances in Best Original Song, Phil Collins at last took home an Oscar, for “You’ll Be in My Heart,” a record that is emblematic of not only the artist’s move into adult contemporary fare but also Disney’s dwindling quality in original music for the screen. It’s not a downright bad song but an awfully corny one, decently orchestrated but otherwise not the least bit compelling.

What makes the Collins victory all the more frustrating is the competition this year was downright dynamite, a collection of familiar faces (Diane Warren and Randy Newman) and refreshingly idiosyncratic ones (Aimee Mann and Trey Parker).

“When She Loved Me” is yet more proof Newman songs are better-off without the composer also serving as vocalist. It’s a beautifully nuanced piece, performed by the always enchanting Sarah McLachlan, so much more affecting than Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” which was nominated for the first “Toy Story” (1995). “Music of the Heart” isn’t one of the greatest Meryl Streep vehicles, not by any stretch, but one can’t help but like Warren’s original song for the film, performed by NSYNC and Gloria Estefan.

“Magnolia” wouldn’t be “Magnolia” without Mann’s incredible soundtrack. “Save Me” is a fantastic tune. Even more satisfying is “Blame Canada,” composed by Parker and the always delightful Marc Shaiman. Parker and Shaiman (and Matt Stone on other tracks) did such a fabulous job not only crafting side-splittingly funny songs but also paying loving homage to other great movie musicals.

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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. “Streets of Philadelphia” from “Philadelphia” (1993)
5. “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” from “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956)
6. “Mona Lisa” from “Captain, Carey, U.S.A.” (1950)
7. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949)
8. “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” from “Dirty Dancing” (1987)
9. “The Windmills of Your Mind” from “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968)
10. “The Way We Were” from “The Way We Were” (1973)
11. “Let the River Run” from “Working Girl” (1988)
12. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)
13. “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid” (1989)
14. “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’)” from “High Noon” (1952)
15. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from “The Lion King” (1994)
16. “Beauty and the Beast” from “Beauty and the Beast” (1991)
17. “I’m Easy” from “Nashville” (1975)
18. “You’ll Never Know” from “Hello, Frisco, Hello” (1943)
19. “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from “The Harvey Girls” (1946)
20. “Fame” from “Fame” (1980)
21. “Theme from ‘Shaft’” from “Shaft” (1971)
22. “Secret Love” from “Calamity Jane” (1953)
23. “White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn” (1942)
24. “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)
25. “Take My Breath Away” from “Top Gun” (1986)
26. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940)
27. “Thanks for the Memory” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938)
28. “Lullaby of Broadway” from “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935)
29. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South” (1947)
30. “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin” (1992)
31. “My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic” (1997)
32. “Flashdance…What a Feeling” from “Flashdance” (1983)
33. “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” from “Arthur” (1981)
34. “Last Dance” from “Thank God It’s Friday” (1978)
35. “Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas” (1995)
36. “You Must Love Me” from “Evita” (1996)
37. “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)” from “Dick Tracy” (1990)
38. “Days of Wine and Roses” from “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962)
39. “For All We Know” from “Lovers and Other Strangers” (1970)
40. “All the Way” from “The Joker Is Wild” (1957)
41. “It Might As Well Be Spring” from “State Fair” (1945)
42. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from “Lady Be Good” (1941)
43. “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” from “Here Comes the Groom” (1951)
44. “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” from “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” (1955)
45. “It Goes Like It Goes” from “Norma Rae” (1979)
46. “Born Free” from “Born Free” (1966)
47. “Never on Sunday” from “Never on Sunday” (1960)
48. “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from “The Woman in Red” (1984)
49. “Up Where We Belong” from “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982)
50. “Three Coins in the Fountain” from “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954)
51. “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins” (1964)
52. “Call Me Irresponsible” from “Papa’s Delicate Condition” (1963)
53. “Evergreen (Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’)” from “A Star Is Born” (1976)
54. “Swinging on a Star” from “Going My Way” (1944)
55. “You’ll Be in My Heart” from “Tarzan” (1999)
56. “You Light Up My Life” from “You Light Up My Life” (1977)
57. “Gigi” from “Gigi” (1958)
58. “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (1937)
59. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” (1934)
60. “Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface” (1948)
61. “Talk to the Animals” from “Doctor Dolittle” (1967)
62. “The Shadow of Your Smile” from “The Sandpiper” (1965)
63. “When You Believe” from “The Prince of Egypt” (1998)
64. “Say You, Say Me” from “White Nights” (1985)
65. “The Morning After” from “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972)
66. “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’

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

SEE ‘Footloose,’ ‘Ghostbusters’ no match for Stevie Wonder in Best Original Song

SEE Best Original Songs of the mid-to-late 1980s, including ‘Take My Breath Away,’ ‘Let the River Run’

SEE With ‘The Little Mermaid,’ Disney begins its domination in Best Original Song

SEEBest Original Songs of the early 1990s, including ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘A Whole New World’

SEE ‘The Lion King’ roars in Best Original Song

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