On this week’s Monday Mixtape, Marco Cartolano indulges in awards season and picks some of his favorite Oscar winners for Best Song. You can listen to this mixtape on Spotify here.
[“Moon River”-Audrey Hepburn]
Hello everybody and welcome to Monday Mixtape. I’m Marco Cartolano and it’s time to talk about the Oscars. No, you didn’t click on the wrong podcast. The Academy Awards have a category called Best Original Song. In honor of awards season, I decided to choose some of my favorite winners. Recently, Disney has had a stranglehold on the category and a lot of the older ballads aren’t my cup of tea. And while this mixtape also sorely lacks any Prince songs from Purple Rain, which won for something called Best Original Song Score, some of the actual winners are real gems. You just heard Audrey Hepburn’s rendition of “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A ballad dedicated to the desire for adventure and a more magical life, “Moon River” was written by Johnny Mercer and includes nods to his southern upbringing in the nature imagery. Hepburns’ acoustic rendition has that clear-eyed sense of longing that has made it a standard. Its acoustic instrumentation is subtly complimented by Henry Mancini’s orchestration and the backing vocals. It’s aged better than the film’s ill-advised yellowface. Also, Frank Ocean just released an awesome cover, check that out too if you haven’t.
[Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)-Christopher Cross]Academy voters tended to prefer softer rock music. It’s no surprise that the Ramones weren’t even nominated for “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” which they should have been. So a lot of the time, picking favorite winners comes down to which soft rock tracks have the best melodies. And “Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)” from the film Arthuris easy listening at its sweetest. Christopher Cross sings a song about love and confusion that fits the film’s story of a spoiled millionaire realizing that he’s in love with a working class woman. The chorus is filled with lines that stick with you like “Between the Moon and New York City.” The saxophone and piano give the song a loungey feel. It’s a catchy song that gives love a classy, but slightly inebriated, polish.
[“Take My Breath Away”-Berlin]
Top Gun is remembered as more of a camp classic than a legitimately good film, and its songs are part of its charm. “Danger Zone” may be the most ‘80s song of all time, but the song that took the golden trophy is a more intimate track. “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin, who are actually from LA, features disco-legend Giorgio Moroder’s synth-heavy production. The production creates a dream-like atmosphere for vocalist Terri Nunn to passionately sing about the effect of romance. It’s a romance filled with emotion and secrecy that borders on fantasy. It almost makes you yearn for Tom Cruise’s Maverick, until you remember some of the wacky Scientology stuff Cruise believes in.
[“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”-Three 6 Mafia]
Now for the furthest thing from romance imaginable. Rap tracks have only won Best Original Song three times. I don’t need to recommend “Lose Yourself,” you’ve probably heard that a hundred times already, and “Glory” by Common and John Legend from Selma feels less like a rap track than an awards song with rapping on it. “Hard Out Here for a Pimp” by Three 6 Mafia makes no such concessions. It has that dirty south production that Three 6 Mafia is known for and the verses describe the struggles of a pimp in a violent part of town. The pretty chorus also gave it pop appeal. In the movie Hustle and Flow Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson performed the track in character, but they let the rap group perform the song at the Oscars. That was the closest the Oscars ever got to getting crunk. It gets bonus points for beating the song from Crash, because that song was almost as bad as Crash.
[“Falling Slowly”-Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova]
This track was so beloved that the Academy let it break the rules to be a nominee. Usually, a song cannot get nominated if it originally appears on an album because the Oscars are run by morons. However, they gave “Falling Slowly” from Once a pass because it was written for the movie, which took a long time to get made. Really, it was because this was everybody’s favorite pick. Irish singer-songwriters Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova wrote the song and performed it in the film which they also starred in. The song details the film’s central relationship, which starts from infatuation, but becomes damaged with time. It’s a folk ballad that could be played by the starving artists in the actual film. However, there’s hope at the end that they can make the relationship work. Unfortunately, the songwriters, who were an actual couple when they wrote the song, broke up in real life. I’ve never seen Once but I heard that it would wreck me and I can see why from this song.
[“Muppet or Man”-Jason Segel and Peter Linz]
This is the closest I’m getting to putting a Disney song on this mixtape. I’m bitter that they have dominated the category for so long by adhering to a strict formula. Also, I was once at the point where I would’ve rather watched Cars 2 than listened to “Let It Go” for the thousandth time. Thankfully, Disney ruthlessly bought out more creative properties and they made some good tunes. The Muppet’s “Man Or Muppet” by Jason Segel and Peter Linz only had to face one other contender in a song from that Rio movie. Yeah, I forgot Rio existed too. But, “Man or Muppet” holds up as a clever power ballad with the trademark Muppets wit. It’s the big “I am” song of the movie where Jason Segel and his muppet pal are at a crossroads about their identities. They feel that they’re in between humanity and the wackiness of the Muppets. Ultimately they realize that they can accept who they are. It has lines like “If I'm a muppet, well i’m a very manly muppet” and “I reflect on my reflection.” The cartoonish backing vocals give it that extra zaniness.
[“Theme from Shaft”-Isaac Hayes]
Aw yeah. We’re closing this mixtape right with the funkiest winner in Academy history. “Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes has funk’s distorted guitar, drums and bass. It adds some cinematic horns and strings to make it more soundtrack-friendly. When the vocal part begins, Hayes sings a smooth ode to one of coolest detectives in cinema history. Shaft remains a classic in the blaxploitation genre of films, which had predominantly African American casts. Hayes’ score is a key part to its endurance. Now if only Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" also won an award, that song also rules.
And that’s all for Monday Mixtape. This week’s playlist will be available on Spotify at mondaymixtape. Make sure to subscribe to Monday Mixtape on Apple Podcasts so you get a notification every time we post a new episode. Keep on the lookout for the Best Song category in this year’s Oscars and get ready to watch Sufjan Stevens and Mary J. Blige probably lose to another Disney song. Until next time, this has been Marco Cartolano for NBN Audio.