' ' Cinema Romantico: 1990 Best Original Song: Revisited

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

1990 Best Original Song: Revisited

It’s been a quarter-century since I graduated high school but every year about this time, an old familiar feeling settles over me, like a person who has been struck by lightning feeling the hairs on the back of his/her neck stand up when a thunderstorm draws near. That feeling is one of dread, the kind I would get on the last day before the first day of school. Indeed, the last couple weeks, as friends splattered Mark Zuckerberg’s Yelling-at-Clouds app with pictures of their kids going back to school, all I felt was anxiety. I used to smile in those photos, too, but those smiles were lies, masking my gloom. And this year, since Labor Day seems ready to coincide with my return to the office after 16 months away on account of Pandemic caution, I am feeling that old back to school-ish foreboding bubbling back up. As it will, this awful sensation flashed me back to those terrible dog days of August in the late 80s and early 90s and how I’d cope with music. Going into my sophomore year of high school, I curled up with The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Soul to Squeeze”, isolating Flea’s bass in my ears, letting its groove carry me away; going into my junior year, not believing I still had two more years of this shit, I channeled my fear and fury with Public Enemy’s “Give It Up”; going into seventh grade I was listening non-stop, like a lot of people that summer, to Jon Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory”, fancifully imagining my last day of summer vacation as a last stand. 

When all those old feelings came up again last week, I found Jon Bon Jovi’s “Young Guns II” soundtrack streaming and exercised some nostalgia, returning to the summer of 1990 in my headphones. Honestly, I only listened to about three-and-a-half songs and then gave up. Turns out some music from our youth doesn’t hold up. What it mostly did was send me down a rabbit hole of movie songs from 1990, since “Blaze of Glory”, as I had forgotten, was nominated for Best Original Song at the 63rd Academy Awards, losing to Madonna’s “Sooner or Later” from “Dick Tracy.” Their competitors: “I’m Checking Out” from “Postcards from the Edge”, “Promise Me You’ll Remember” from “The Godfather Part III”, and “Somewhere in My Memory” from “Home Alone.”

Of course, we must remember right up front that Best Original Song is strictly limited to, well, Original Songs. You can’t include old pop hits, which should be a whole new Oscar category unto itself, so vital has it become to the medium, but do not get me started. That eliminates Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” from “Pump Up the Volume” and Nicolas Cage singing “Love Me Tender” In David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” (which, woah, imagine that Oscar performance), never mind arguably the greatest use of pop music in cinematic history – “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals from “Goodfellas.” Add, say, “Come Go With Me” by The Dell Vikings from “Joe Versus the Volcano” and “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers from “Ghost” and, gawd, what a category. Alas.

If we are redoing the actual 1990 Best Original Song category, you gotta substitute that “Godfather III” and “Home Alone” schlock straight away for Gang Starr’s “Jazz Thing” from “Mo’ Better Blues” and “Don’t Look At Me” by Melissa Etheridge from “Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael.” I mean, I know Wilson Phillips topped the Billboard Hot 100 come 1990’s end, but seriously. I sort of like “I’m Checking Out”, because Meryl Streep herself is singing it in the movie, but I’m going to substitute that one for “Last Note of Freedom” by David Coverdale for the “Days of Thunder” soundtrack because I’m inspired by Whitesnake augmented by Yanni-ish synthesizers. (Is inspired the right word?) No disrespect to Madonna but I’m ditching “Sooner or Later” for Brenda Lee’s “You’re in the Doghouse Now” from the same film. And I’m not disrespecting Madonna because do you know what song is on Madonna’s “I’m Breathless”, an album of Music From and Inspired By “Dick Tracy”?

Now “Vogue” was not technically from “Dick Tracy” or inspired by it. It was, in fact, intended as the B-side for the last single off Madge’s “Like a Prayer” album. Realizing, however, that “Vogue” was so good it needed to be its own single, the song was instead shoehorned onto “I’m Breathless.” And as “one of pop culture’s most prominent advocates for gay rights”, to quote Jon Blistein in Rolling Stone, Madonna brought voguing of the underground ballroom scene into the mainstream. “Whether that was Madonna's true intent,” Blistein continued “it’s hard to think of a more shrewd move than using a Disney movie as a Trojan horse for a song like ‘Vogue.’” 

That it wasn’t nominated for the Oscar was because it wasn’t eligible, not written for the film, or some such. Whatever. Like Ed Lee blowing off those arcane, asinine game show rules on Top Chef to offer a vote on behalf of Dawn Burrell anyway after she had failed to qualify for some meaningless violation of some meaningless edict, my vote for best 1990 Original Song goes to “Vogue”.

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