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Friday, March 1, 2013

Oscar's Golden Girls

It was most fitting at last Sunday's Oscars that music was put front and centre in the ceremony. Film and music exist in such symbiosis that most of our iconic movie memories are tied to a particular theme or song. For diva fans, the show was an absolute dream. Jennifer Hudson showed why she won an Oscar for her role in Dreamgirls, by reprising And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going, while Barbra Streisand gave a moving tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, singing his Oscar winning theme for The Way We Were. There were musical numbers from Chicago and Les Miserables. We even got a surprise rendition of Goldfinger by the ultimate Bond diva Dame Shirley Bassey, proving that at 76 she has lost none of her power. Then her heir apparent Adele delivered a perfectly tense rendition of Skyfall shortly before collecting her first Oscar for Best Original Song.


In a good year the awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Soundtrack might merit a passing reference in Oscar write-ups, but Adele currently rules music and she seemed to get more coverage than Daniel Day-Lewis and Jennifer Lawrence combined. Adele is not the first female artist to win that coveted award, although as it is given to the songwriters and not the performers, it is a select crowd. Here are my favourites of the other female artists that have a little shiny man in their lives.

Irene Cara - Flashdance... What A Feeling - 1983


Irene Cara had already been the performer of an Oscar winning song with Fame in 1980, but she got to hold the trophy when her iconic theme to the movie Flashdance conquered all three years later. Irene came to prominence with her role as Coco in the movie Fame, but she passed on continuing on the spin-off TV series, choosing instead to focus on her music career. Initially Irene was reluctant to team up with the legendary disco producer Giorgio Moroder to work on Flashdance, fearing she would be compared with Giorgio's main collaborator, Donna Summer. Luckily she took the risk and together with lyricist Keith Forsey they created one of the truly great movie theme songs. Irene's vocal on the track is fantastic, from the tentative, gentle opening, right through to the blistering dance anthem the song becomes, she shows the great range of her voice. Sadly this was to be the peak of Irene's career, as battles with her record label led to an under-promoted follow-up album and a prolonged absence from music. I have a major soft spot for Irene, so we'll leave it there for now, as I will be covering her career more fully in a future blog.

Barbra Streisand - Evergreen (Love Theme From "A Star Is Born") - 1976


Like Irene, Barbra had performed an Oscar winning song, The Way We Were, before writing one of her own. For her remake of the Judy Garland classic movie A Star Is Born, Barbra wrote the melody for a song, which lyricist Paul Williams then found just the right words to fit. Evergreen went on to become one of Barbra's biggest hit singles, as well as helping the film's soundtrack album to shift almost 15 million copies.

Carly Simon - Let The River Run - 1988



I know, I've already written about this one in my blog on Carly's many great songs for movies, Nobody Does It Better, but no rundown of my favourite Oscar winning songs would be complete without this theme from the movie Working Girl. This song is among Carly's crowning achievements, it absolutely works as a movie theme, but it also transcends that role and has, for many of her fans (myself included), become an almost spiritual piece. The lyrics pull off the difficult trick in pop of being true poetry while also accessible for the casual listener. The production is superb, the crashing drums, the soaring choir, it is a masterclass in creating an anthem. Carly revisited the song on her 2009 album of self-covers, Never Been Gone, creating a sparser, acoustic version, which is well worth a listen. That the song works both as a stripped back poem and a movie power ballad is a mark of the quality of Carly's songwriting.

Annie Lennox - Into The West - 2003


Annie has ventured into movie music a few times, probably most memorably when she and Dave produced the entire score for the movie version of George Orwell's 1984, released that very year. My personal favourite was her Love Song For A Vampire, written for Francis Ford Coppola's take on Bram Stoker's Dracula. However, it was her co-writing and performing of this achingly beautiful theme from The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King that caught Oscar's attention. Annie gives a suitably haunting vocal on this gentle track, that builds slowly to a gorgeous, swelling chorus. It provided a fitting end note to one of cinema's most epic film series.


So as you can see, Adele has indeed joined an elite group. While they may not be the most high profile awards, the Oscars given for Best Original Song and Best Original Soundtrack are an important recognition of the role music plays in bringing movies to life. And finally a Bond song won!


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