' ' Cinema Romantico: 1986 Oscar Best Original Song: Revisited

Thursday, March 09, 2023

1986 Oscar Best Original Song: Revisited

Lady Gaga was nominated along with BloodPop for Best Original Song at the upcoming Academy Awards for composing “Top Gun: Maverick’s” love theme leitmotif “Hold My Hand,” though I can only assume they are destined to lose to M. M. Keeravani and Chandrabose’s “Naatu Naatu” from the Telugu epic “RRR.” Objectively, that’s hard to argue against, even for me, devoted Little Monster, though the devoted Little Monster in me will be heartbroken when she loses. But hey, she’s got already got her singing Oscar, it’s the acting Oscar that comes next. (Cinema Romantico continues to have no comment regarding “Joker: Folie à Deux.”) I don’t really want to talk about this year’s Best Song category anyway. No, I want to talk about the Best Song category the last time we had a “Top Gun” movie, in 1986, when “Take My Breath Away” took home the Academy Award. Since we occasionally revisit the Best Original Song category, we thought this might be a good time to time travel back to 1986, when college basketball still didn’t have a three-point line and the Cold War was winding down, never to be fought again. What we found was an absolute stacked imaginary category.

1986 Best Original Song Oscar Nominees & Winner (in bold):

An American Tail An American Tail “Somewhere Out There” James Horner & Barry Mann (music);
Cynthia Weil (lyrics) 
The Karate Kid Part II “Glory of Love” Peter Cetera & David Foster (music); Cetera & Diane Nini (lyrics) 
Little Shop of Horrors “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” Alan Menken (music); Howard Ashman (lyrics) 
That's Life! “Life in a Looking Glass” Henry Mancini (music); Leslie Bricusse (lyrics) 
Top Gun “Take My Breath Away” Giorgio Moroder (music); Tom Whitlock (lyrics)

Of course, we are required to remember right up front that Best Original Song is strictly limited to Original Songs, in whatever byzantine way the Academy defines originality, eliminating old pop hits used in movies which should be a category unto itself but, as always, do not get me started. That means Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” from “Blue Velvet” and, best of all, Smokey Robinson’s “The Tracks of My Tears” from “Platoon” are verboten here. (Add The Feelies version of David Bowie’s “Fame” in “Something Wild,” dealer’s choice from the “Stand By Me” soundtrack, and The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” in “Top Gun” and, once again, holy cow, what a category. Alas.)

Peter Cetera was almost the Oscar winner you’ve been dreaming of.

As far as the retroactive make-believe 1986 Best Original Song category, right off the bat, obviously, “Glory of Love” isn’t going anywhere. Nobody needed “The Karate Kid Part II,” but “The Karate Kid Part II” needed to exist for us to have “Glory of Love.” That’s a fair tradeoff.

“Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” doesn’t really deserve to get bounced either, I grant you, but in this revised category, I’m the sole judge and juror, understand. And this slot goes to, what else, “I Hate You,” the punk song from “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” helping to establish the time-traveling film’s mid-80s mise-en-scène, written and recorded by associate producer Kirk Thatcher in a DIY-appropriate 24-hour period. “’Cause I hate you! / And I berate you!”

Ok. So. That leaves us with three more to consider. That “American Tail” garbage gets the heave-ho, and look, respect to Mancini and Bricusse who did some fine work over the years, but this was 1986, son, savvy, and that one needs to hit the highway. What takes their place? Well, if everyone likes to talk about Steven Spielberg’s 1993, hey, what about John Hughes’s 1986?

First, “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark from the soundtrack for “Pretty in Pink,” which Hughes wrote, is a no-brainer. It’s insulting, in fact, insulting to 9-year-old Nick who didn’t even watch the 59th Academy Awards because they aired opposite the 1987 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Game between Indiana and Syracuse (the Oscars were still on Mondays back then) that “If You Leave” wasn’t nominated. No wonder I wasn’t watching!

But wait! What about the movie Hughes wrote and directed, released on June 11th, “Ferris Buller’s Day Off?” Because if everyone thinks about that soundtrack in terms of already released pop songs, like “Twist and Shout” and “Oh Yeah,” there was also the obscure Flowerpot Men’s “Beat City,” which my research seemed to suggest was recorded specifically for the movie, making it eligible. Because those guitar chords as Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron roar away from Shermer High toward downtown Chicago sonically encapsulate the brewing joy of a day off so impeccably, that even now, all these years later, when I leave my home on some morning in May here in Chicago when the sky is blue and it’s warm but, crucially, not hot, I swear I hear those chords as I walk to the train and think “How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?”

I can’t nominate both (for reasons we’ll get to presently) so which one do I choose?! “If You Leave” might be the one I’d most want to hear on the radio, but “Beat City” works best in the movie. The latter gets the nod.


That brings us right along to “Fire with Fire.” No, no, the 1986 romantic drama starring Virginia Madsen and Craig Sheffer was not nominated for anything, for real, make-believe, or otherwise, but does exist as something like the art world’s version of Sam Bowie being drafted one pick ahead of Michael Jordan. Because if “Fire with Fire” passed on a particular sonic creation by film composer Patrick Leonard, he took it to a different 1986 movie, “At Close Range,” and that eerie, unforgettable score fueling one of the great title sequences in movie history (see above) became the chassis for the greatest Madonna ballad, “Live to Tell,” which would surely win our retroactive faux Oscar if not for...

Ok. So. Back to “Take My Breath Away,” performed by Berlin and written by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock, which retains its nomination. Right? Wrong! Don’t misunderstand, I love “Take My Breath Away,” just as I have loved Moroder and Whitlock’s Danger Zone (performed by Kenny Loggins), but I have always loved the duo’s “Lead Me On” (performed by Teena Marie) just a little more. “Take My Breath Away” swoons, “Danger Zone” swaggers, and “Lead Me On” does both, winning our Not Real Retroactive 1986 Best Original Song. Teena Marie was an unknown legend in her time.

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