WON AND SHOULD'VE WON: "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," Arthur
The most memorable part of 1981 Best Original Song at the Oscars was not a particular nominee - this is, I'm afraid, 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 '81.
As for the category itself, it's unfortunately not a whole lot to write home about. I do think the Academy 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) has always struck me as rather goofy and clumsily written. It's mold on what's otherwise a pretty good piece of soft rock.
Speaking of soft rock, "Endless Love," from the eponymous Razzie-winning piece of garbage, was also a nominee in '81. Composed by (the indeed very rich) Lionel 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 I think it actually runs out of steam by about the halfway mark. It's also, let's be honest, very much tainted by the film. 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 Bond flick showed up in Best Original Song. Performed by Sheena Easton and composed by Rocky's 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" (from the somewhat forgotten The Great Muppet Caper) and Randy Newman's lethargic "One More Hour" (from ho-hum Oscar bait Ragtime) aren't any better.
Was anything egregiously snubbed in '81? 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 flick The Fan show up.
The Oscar-winners ranked (thus far)...
- "Over the Rainbow," The Wizard of Oz (1939)
- "The Way You Look Tonight," Swing Time (1936)
- "High Hopes," A Hole in the Head (1959)
- "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)," The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
- "Mona Lisa," Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
- "Baby, It's Cold Outside," Neptune's Daughter (1949)
- "The Windmills of Your Mind," The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
- "The Way We Were," The Way We Were (1973)
- "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
- "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, On My Darlin')," High Noon (1952)
- "I'm Easy," Nashville (1975)
- "You'll Never Know," Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
- "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," The Harvey Girls (1946)
- "Fame," Fame (1980)
- "Theme from Shaft," Shaft (1971)
- "Secret Love," Calamity Jane (1953)
- "White Christmas," Holiday Inn (1942)
- "Moon River," Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
- "When You Wish Upon a Star," Pinocchio (1940)
- "Thanks for the Memory," The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
- "Lullaby of Broadway," Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
- "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," Song of the South (1947)
- "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," Arthur (1981)
- "Last Dance," Thank God It's Friday (1978)
- "Days of Wine and Roses," Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
- "For All We Know," Lovers and Other Strangers (1970)
- "All the Way," The Joker Is Wild (1957)
- "It Might As Well Be Spring," State Fair (1945)
- "The Last Time I Saw Paris," Lady Be Good (1941)
- "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," Here Comes the Groom (1951)
- "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)
- "It Goes Like It Goes," Norma Rae (1979)
- "Born Free," Born Free (1966)
- "Never on Sunday," Never on Sunday (1960)
- "Three Coins in the Fountain," Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)
- "Chim Chim Cher-ee," Mary Poppins (1964)
- "Call Me Irresponsible," Papa's Delicate Condition (1963)
- "Evergreen (Theme from A Star Is Born)," A Star Is Born (1976)
- "Swinging on a Star," Going My Way (1944)
- "You Light Up My Life," You Light Up My Life (1977)
- "Gigi," Gigi (1958)
- "The Continental," The Gay Divorcee (1934)
- "Sweet Leilani," Waikiki Wedding (1937)
- "Buttons and Bows," The Paleface (1948)
- "Talk to the Animals," Doctor Dolittle (1967)
- "The Shadow of Your Smile," The Sandpiper (1965)
- "The Morning After," The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
- "We May Never Love Like This Again," The Towering Inferno (1974)