' ' Cinema Romantico: 1993 Oscar Best Original Song: Revisited

Thursday, March 07, 2024

1993 Oscar Best Original Song: Revisited

Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt’s “I’m Just Ken” and Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell’s “What Was I Made For” from “Barbie” marked the 18th time two tunes from the same movie were nominated for the Best Original Song Academy Award, the most recent being “La La Land” in 2016, the first being “Fame” in 1980. The tenth came 30 years ago when both Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” and Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” from Jonathan Demme’s Best Picture winner of the same city’s name earned nods. Bruce won the Oscar, and though revisiting this category given my being a widely known Springsteen devotee would seem pointless, well, hey, don’t forget, I’m mad at Bruce, our 1-percent blue collar hero whose obscene ticket prices are just a reflection of the market, man, so what if you have to sell your house up in Fairview to be able to afford to go see him. Maybe he won’t win our retroactive category! You never know! TBD.

1993 Best Original Song Oscar Nominees & Winner (in bold):

“Again” from “Poetic Justice” – Music and Lyrics by Janet Jackson and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis
“The Day I Fall in Love” from “Beethoven’s 2nd” – Music and Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, James Ingram, and Clif Magness 
“Philadelphia” from “Philadelphia” – Music and Lyrics by Neil Young 
“Streets of Philadelphia” from “Philadelphia” – Music and Lyrics by Bruce Springsteen
“A Wink and a Smile” from “Sleepless in Seattle” – Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Ramsey McLean

We are required to remember right up front that this category, as the name implies, 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 “I’ve Got You, Babe” by Sonny & Cher in “Groundhog Day,” as evocative a deployment of pop music in cinema as you will ever get, is verboten, as is a personal favorite, “I Ain’t Got Nobody” by Louis Prima in Mad Dog and Glory.” Add “Blue Moon Revisited (A Song For Elvis)” by Cowboy Junkies in “Untamed Heart,” “Slow Ride” by Foghat in “Dazed and Confused,” and “Saturday Night” by The Bay City Rollers in “So I Married an Axe Murderer” and, once again, my God, what a category. Alas. 

It’s true that the “Sleepless in Seattle” soundtrack was ubiquitous in 1993, going all the way to the top of the Billboard chart, but do you what soundtrack went to #17 on the Billboard chart that same year? “Judgement Night,” that’s what, a forgettable movie I think I might have watched at someone’s birthday party but with a soundtrack that featured hip-hop and rock artists collaborating and that was destined to appeal much more to a rap-obsessed central Iowa teen. So, “A Wink and a Smile” gets the heave-ho, and though a lot of other “Judgement Night” soundtrack fans might disagree, remember, I’m the sole judge and jury in this category revisitation, and “Missing Link” by Del tha Funky Homosapien and Dinosaur Jr. gets the nod by a mile.

I am tempted, really tempted, to nominate a deep cut in the form of “Don’t Waste My Time” by Lisa Taylor from “The Meteor Man” soundtrack in place of “Again”...but then I listened to “Again,” well, again, and I can’t do Janet like that. That song is still dope. It stays. 

Delbert McClinton’s “Weatherman” sort of sounds like something the quirky singer-songwriter might have come up with on his own, but no, it was recorded specifically for “Groundhog Day,” and as such, gives “Philadelphia” the boot, no disrespect to Neil Young. 

As it turns out, 1993 was a heck of a year for material appearing on soundtracks that didn’t qualify for Best Song because of the Academy’s aforementioned byzantine rules, chief among them Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” That song won three Grammys but was ineligible at the Oscars. But there was also Boy George’s “The Crying Game,” which was a cover and therefore ineligible too, and even “Soul to Squeeze,” from “The Coneheads,” which I owned on cassingle, even though I never saw the movie, my second favorite Red Hot Chili Peppers track after “I Could Have Lied,” but recorded for the band’s celebrated fifth record “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” not the movie, and disqualified. 

As best I can tell, however, and I really did dig into it as much as I could without emailing director Jon Turtletaub, “Rise Above It” from the “Cool Runnings” soundtrack, credited to a band called Lock Stock & Barrell that I could not find much about, and featuring MC PC and Howard Chen, was an original specifically for the beloved (by me) movie about the Jamaican bobsledding team. (I remain available, free of charge, to write the essay for its Criterion edition.) And because the American version of the “Cool Runnings” soundtrack was egregiously released sans “Rise Above It,” and because this was 1993 and before the advent of every single song in the history of the world being a digital click away, and because “Rise Above It” was never going to appear on Q-102 in Des Moines so I could tape it to a mix, I was forced to record it by literally holding my boombox up to the television speaker during the montage featuring the song as it played on my rented VHS. I really did this! And unless we get a last-minute note before the faux restaging of the ceremony, we are including it over the elevator dross of “The Day I Fall in Love.” In fact, you know what, I have loved “Rise Above It” and “Cool Runnings” so much, for so long, that...

I was almost going to do it, I swear I was, but I can’t just because I’m mad at Bruce. I’ve written variations of this before, but in eschewing director Jonathan Demme’s request for a rock song to essentially write a hymn instead, Springsteen transformed the opening credits of “Philadelphia” into nothing less than a preamble of America itself. I watch it now, and I still get goosebumps. What’s more, in rewriting history, I don’t wish to erase Burce’s Oscar speech, “Back to the Future”-style. Have you seen that Oscar speech? Eloquent, thankful, and to the point. “The Line” is a model of the story song, and that is the model of an Oscar speech. “You do your best work and you hope that it pulls out the best in your audience and some piece of it spills over into the real world and into people's everyday lives, and it takes the edge off of fear and allows us to recognize each other through our veil of differences. I always thought that was one of the things popular art was supposed to be about, along with the merchandising and all the other stuff.” 

[Wipes away a tear.] Dammit, it’s almost enough to make me think I’m not mad at him anymore. 

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