1989 Best Original Song - A Love Letter to Howard Ashman

WON AND SHOULD'VE WON: "Under the Sea," The Little Mermaid

I believe the late Howard Ashman is, quite simply, one of the greatest and most influential lyricists of all-time.

Ashman, who initially left an immense impression not on the big screen but on stage from the late-'70s, through the mid-'80s, with colorful, idiosyncratic efforts like God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Smile and Little Shop of Horrors, did not make his presence known in the world of film until just a few mere years prior to his tragic death from AIDS complications in 1991.

But what an impact he did leave in those final years.

After assisting on the soundtrack for Disney's modest 1988 release Oliver & Company, Ashman partnered with the comparably spectacular Alan Menken to score The Little Mermaid, which (some folks forget) marked quite a comeback for Walt Disney Pictures, a studio then yearning for a big, fat hit after a lengthy dry spell.

Following their smashing success on The Little Mermaid, Ashman and Menken would go on to score Beauty and the Beast, the first animated film to garner an Oscar nomination in Best Picture. That film would also triumph for the duo in Best Original Song, though Ashman's victory was a posthumous one, having died two weeks prior to the ceremony. Ashman's final nomination would actually come another year later, for his work on Aladdin's "Friend Like Me."

The impact Ashman's contributions had on the revival of Disney studios and on future composers cannot be understated. Songs he composed - the likes of "Under the Sea," "Be Our Guest" and "Beauty and the Beast" - are not only some of the most iconic and popular of the Disney catalogue but among the most beloved film songs ever.

But it's really Ashman's sweeter, more subtle work that's always gotten to me.

I think of Little Shop's "Somewhere That's Green," with those heartrending lyrics about inner beauty and dreams of a picture-perfect life out of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, performed to the heavens by Ellen Greene. I also think of The Little Mermaid's glorious "Part of Your World," which, even though it somehow wasn't Oscar-nominated here, I consider the greatest of all Disney songs. Performed by the brilliant Jodi Benson, it's actually quite reminiscent of "Somewhere That's Green," a dreamy ballad that's equal parts hopeful and somber and all-around breathtaking.

We are so blessed to have lived in a world where Howard Ashman made music.

Now, as for 1989 Best Original Song, it's pretty much a slam dunk for "Under the Sea," which, while no "Part of Your World," is still a bouncy, exuberant delight, whole-heartedly worthy of victory. The other Little Mermaid nominee, "Kiss the Girl," is a nice one too, but hardly leaves the same level of impression. I'm also mildly fond of Chances Are's "After All," the agreeably corny Cher-Peter Cetera duet from the underrated Cybill Shepherd-Robert Downey, Jr. dramedy.

The remaining two nominees are so dull and unremarkable they're not really worth discussing, even though "I Love to See You Smile" was composed by Randy Newman and "The Girl Who Used to Be Me" marked another Hamlisch-Bergman-Bergman effort. All of these typically fine artists were completely asleep at the wheel here.

Why couldn't the Academy have dumped Newman and the old The Way We Were team for a couple of Prince tunes off the kinky Batman soundtrack?

The Oscar-winners ranked (thus far)...

  1. "Over the Rainbow," The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  2. "The Way You Look Tonight," Swing Time (1936)
  3. "High Hopes," A Hole in the Head (1959)
  4. "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)," The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
  5. "Mona Lisa," Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
  6. "Baby, It's Cold Outside," Neptune's Daughter (1949)
  7. "(I've Had) the Time of My Life," Dirty Dancing (1987)
  8. "The Windmills of Your Mind," The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
  9. "The Way We Were," The Way We Were (1973)
  10. "Let the River Run," Working Girl (1988)
  11. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
  12. "Under the Sea," The Little Mermaid (1989)
  13. "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, On My Darlin')," High Noon (1952)
  14. "I'm Easy," Nashville (1975)
  15. "You'll Never Know," Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
  16. "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," The Harvey Girls (1946)
  17. "Fame," Fame (1980)
  18. "Theme from Shaft," Shaft (1971)
  19. "Secret Love," Calamity Jane (1953)
  20. "White Christmas," Holiday Inn (1942)
  21. "Moon River," Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
  22. "Take My Breath Away," Top Gun (1986)
  23. "When You Wish Upon a Star," Pinocchio (1940)
  24. "Thanks for the Memory," The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
  25. "Lullaby of Broadway," Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
  26. "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," Song of the South (1947)
  27. "Flashdance...What a Feeling," Flashdance (1983)
  28. "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," Arthur (1981)
  29. "Last Dance," Thank God It's Friday (1978)
  30. "Days of Wine and Roses," Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
  31. "For All We Know," Lovers and Other Strangers (1970)
  32. "All the Way," The Joker Is Wild (1957)
  33. "It Might As Well Be Spring," State Fair (1945)
  34. "The Last Time I Saw Paris," Lady Be Good (1941)
  35. "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," Here Comes the Groom (1951)
  36. "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)
  37. "It Goes Like It Goes," Norma Rae (1979)
  38. "Born Free," Born Free (1966)
  39. "Never on Sunday," Never on Sunday (1960)
  40. "I Just Called to Say I Love You," The Woman in Red (1984)
  41. "Up Where We Belong," An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
  42. "Three Coins in the Fountain," Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)
  43. "Chim Chim Cher-ee," Mary Poppins (1964)
  44. "Call Me Irresponsible," Papa's Delicate Condition (1963)
  45. "Evergreen (Theme from A Star Is Born)," A Star Is Born (1976)
  46. "Swinging on a Star," Going My Way (1944)
  47. "You Light Up My Life," You Light Up My Life (1977)
  48. "Gigi," Gigi (1958)
  49. "The Continental," The Gay Divorcee (1934)
  50. "Sweet Leilani," Waikiki Wedding (1937)
  51. "Buttons and Bows," The Paleface (1948)
  52. "Talk to the Animals," Doctor Dolittle (1967)
  53. "The Shadow of Your Smile," The Sandpiper (1965)
  54. "Say You, Say Me," White Nights (1985)
  55. "The Morning After," The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
  56. "We May Never Love Like This Again," The Towering Inferno (1974)