AFI: 100 Movie Songs – Part 3

I have no pleasure in any man who despises music. It is no invention of ours: it is a gift of God. – Martin Luther

Continuing the saga of the American Film Institute (AFI)’s list of 100 Greatest Movie Songs, here are Nos. 49 through 26.

OS = Oscar status, n/n: not nominated, n/e: not eligible, n/o: nomination only.

49. Make ‘Em Laugh SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN 1952 PERFORMER Donald O’ Connor MUSIC/LYRICS Nacio Herb Brown/Arthur Freed – ‘Now you could study Shakespeare and be quite elite/ And you can charm the critics and have nothin’ to eat/ Just slip on a banana peel/ The world’s at your feet/ Make ’em laugh!’ Brown & Freed’s joyous ode to being a funnyman is best remembered for two reasons. One, force-of-nature Donald O’Connor’s eye-popping acrobatic dance routine that featured his much imitated specialty running-up-the-wall trick (remember The Full Monty?). Two, the fact that the song was a boldfaced note-for-note copy of Cole Porter’s ‘Be a Clown’ from the 1949 Gene Kelly-Judy Garland flop The Pirate. Porter didn’t seem to mind though; Freed had given him a much needed break at MGM after two consecutive Broadway disasters. As they say, you scratch my back and I won’t sue you for stealing my tune. OS: n/n

48. Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera) THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH 1956 PERFORMER Doris Day MUSIC/LYRICS Ray Evans, Jay Livingston – Button-nosed, perpetually perky Doris Day has been both revered (“You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day” – Wham!) and derided (“I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin” – Oscar Levant) for her sunny, wholesome, girl-next-door persona. But it is nigh-impossible to deny the charm and power of her easy-breezy, plummy vocals as evidenced in this towering hit from Hitchcock’s timeless thriller. Day herself had deemed the number a non-starter, one that would likely “never be heard of again”, preferring instead the film’s genteel ballad ‘We’ll Love Again’. Well, not only did ‘Que Sera Sera’ become a monster smash, it is till today considered Day’s signature tune. OS: w

47. Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah SONG OF THE SOUTH 1947 PERFORMER James Baskett MUSIC/LYRICS Allie Wrubel/Ray Gilbert – Based on the Uncle Remus cycle of stories by Joel Chandler Harris, Song of the South is a much loved but controversial film to this day, primarily because of its supposedly ‘insensitive’ portrayal of African-Americans in the American South. At the time of its release, some black leaders decried its depiction of “an idyllic master-slave relationship” (even though the film was set after the American Civil War). Though it has since been reevaluated and given a clean bill of health, the film is yet to be released on any home viewing format. But that hasn’t stopped its most well-known song from achieving popularity among every successive generation. Baskett, as the kindly Uncle Remus, employs his breezy bass to extol the virtues of what is a regular, wonderful ol’ day that makes one just happy to be alive. OS: w

46. Don’t Rain On My Parade FUNNY GIRL 1968 PERFORMER Barbra Streisand MUSIC/LYRICS Jule Styne/ Bob Merrill – Is Babs the greatest female vocalist in popular music history? That might be debatable, but certainly the musical landscape of America would be far poorer without her quirky, magical presence. As would cinema, as evidenced by her remarkable debut turn as entertainer Fanny Brice that won her the Best Actress Oscar in a tie with veteran Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter. At once funny and poignant, Streisand totally nails the part and also gets to belt out some pretty strong show tunes. Among those, this one, where Fanny defiantly strikes out on her own to go after true love, leaving career glory behind, is a definite highlight. ‘Get ready for me, love/ ‘Cause I’m a comer/ I simply gotta march/ My heart’s a drummer/ Nobody, no, nobody/ Is gonna rain on my parade!’ OS: n/e

45. That’s Entertainment THE BAND WAGON 1953 PERFORMERS Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant MUSIC/LYRICS Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz – There’s a good reason why MGM titled its series of nostalgia films featuring clips from its golden age after this classic. Along with ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ and ‘Hooray for Hollywood’, the song has become an anthem for Hollywood and showbiz in general. None of the four performers is a great singer but it hardly matters; it’s the heart and soul they put into it that counts. And there’s probably no other song that explains our love for celluloid quite like this: ‘It might be a fight like you see on the screen/ A swain getting slain for the love of a queen/ Some great Shakespearean scene/ Where a ghost and a prince meet/ And everyone ends in mincemeat/ That’s entertainment!’ OS: n/n

44. Wind Beneath My Wings BEACHES 1988 PERFORMER Bette Midler MUSIC/LYRICS Larry Henley, Jeff Silbar – ‘Friends come and go but there’s always one you’re stuck with for life’ was the tagline for this unashamed tearjerker starring Barbara Hershey and The Divine Miss M as childhood friends who overcome a lifetime of guilt and regret only for the former to be struck down by Movie Star Disease, at which point the latter dishes out this ultimate schmaltzy tribute: “Did you ever know that you’re my hero/ And everything I’d like to be/ I can fly higher than an eagle/ But you are the wind beneath my wings.” It won the Grammy for Song of the Year and, more tellingly, is the most played song at British funerals. OS: n/e

43. The Way You Look Tonight SWING TIME 1936 PERFORMER Fred Astaire MUSIC/LYRICS Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields – Lyricist Fields professed that upon first hearing the melody of this Kern ditty, she was moved to tears. That’s no faint praise but it is certainly merited. ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ is quite possibly one of the most achingly, unabashedly romantic tunes ever composed for a film, and Fields’ words are the icing on the cake. About capturing a fleeting moment of rapture that can last a lifetime, the song has the ability to slay even the most evasive of love’s prey: ‘Some day, when I’m awfully low/ When the world is cold/ I will feel a glow just thinking of you…/ And the way you look tonight.” Swoonworthy! OS: w

42. Luck Be A Lady GUYS AND DOLLS 1955 PERFORMERS Marlon Brando, Ensemble
MUSIC/LYRICS Frank Loesser – One of the greatest actors ever to grace the silver screen, could Brando also be a singing star? In what was surely one of the strangest bits of casting ever done for a movie musical, the thesp was picked to play petty criminal and professional gambler Sky Masterson over such more obvious choices as Gene Kelly. But the gambit paid off. Brando may not be the greatest of musical talents, but, much like Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, employs his considerable dramatic skills to infuse his numbers with wit and verve. This song, set just before a make-or-break crap game, is also Masterson’s last chance for saving
his relationship with the girl of his dreams. A pop culture staple, the song was parodied in The Simpsons’ episode ‘Mayored to the Mob’ as ‘Luke Be A Jedi’. OS: n/e

41. New York, New York ON THE TOWN 1949 PERFORMERS Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin MUSIC/LYRICS Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden, Adolph Green – Not to be confused with the other 1970s song with the same title, this number from the wonderful 1949 musical about three American sailors on shore leave for one day, is just as catchy. ‘New York New York/ It’s a wonderful town/ The Bronx is up/ And the Battery’s down’ – a much deserved tribute to the city that never sleeps. It also had the distinction of being one of the first film songs to be shot entirely on location, with the Rockefeller Centre and the Empire State Building making much heralded appearances. At the latter location, acrophobic actor/comedian Jules Munshin can be seen clutching nervously at his two co-stars throughout the sequence. OS: n/e

40. Fight the Power DO THE RIGHT THING 1989 PERFORMER Public Enemy MUSIC/LYRICS Carlton Ridenhour, Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, Keith Shocklee – Spike Lee’s incendiary tale of bigotry and racial conflict in a multi-ethnic neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York, packs a powerful punch even almost two decades after its release, and was unjustly left out in the cold at the 1989 Oscars. The film’s bumping, thumping, kickass theme song was provided by seminal hip-hop group Public Enemy, and appears as an aural motif throughout the film, blasted by silent prophet Radio Raheem on his gigantic ghetto blaster. OS: n/n

39. Days of Wine and Roses DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES 1963 PERFORMER Chorus
MUSIC/LYRICS Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer – The title song from the Jack Lemmon/ Lee Remick downer of a film about married alcoholics, is no doubt a sweetly melancholic tune, but pales somewhat in comparison to some of Mancini’s other works, notably Moon River. Or perhaps it’s just that the version later recorded by lyricist Mercer is just so much more affecting that the film’s rather orchestral chorus version. The title itself is taken
from the poem ‘Vitae Summa Brevis’ by the English writer Ernest Dowson, which reads:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream

OS: w

38. Theme from Shaft SHAFT 1971 PERFORMERS Isaac Hayes, Chorus MUSIC/LYRICS Isaac Hayes – ‘They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother- SHUT YOUR MOUTH!’ Hayes’ instant soul n’ funk classic is so iconic a tune that it was used unchanged for the film’s remake in 2000. The song’s opening sixteenth-note hi-hat ride pattern and its distinctive use of the wah-wah effect in its guitar riff marked it out as belonging to a definitively ‘modern’ age in music, quite apart from the show tune heavy scores of movies past. Amazingly, Hayes was the first African-American to win a Best Song Oscar, or indeed any Oscar in a non-acting category. OS: w

37. Swinging on a Star GOING MY WAY 1944 PERFORMER Bing Crosby MUSIC/LYRICS James Van Heusen/Johnny Burke – Legend has it that one night when Van Heusen and Crosby were at the latter’s place discussing songs for the under-production Going My Way, one of the crooner’s children began complaining about how he didn’t want to go to school the next day. Dër Bingle turned to his son and said to him, “If you don’t go to school, you might grow up to be a mule. Do you wanna do that?” Lo and behold the song was born, with Crosby as Father O’ Malley teaching a bunch of kids why it’s a good idea to go to school. ‘His back is brawny but his brain is weak/ He’s just plain stupid with a stubborn streak/ And by the way, if you hate to go to school/ You may grow up to be a mule/ Or would you like to swing on a star?/ Carry moonbeams home in a jar?/ And be better off than you are.’ Forget parha likha Punjab, a good translation of this song is what is needed to get the literacy drive to make some headway. OS: w

36. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious MARY POPPINS 1964 PERFORMERS Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Ensemble MUSIC/LYRICS Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman – Super- ‘above,’ cali- ‘beauty,’ fragilistic- ‘delicate,’ expiali- ‘to atone,’ and docious- ‘educable,’; the sum of these parts signify roughly ‘atoning for extreme and delicate beauty while still being highly educable’, according to linguist Richard Lederer, which would seem to describe quite adequately the title character of the children’s favourite. The song describes how using the word, encompassing all those rather redundant superlatives – most absolutely stunningly fantastic – is a miraculous way to talk oneself out of difficult situations and even a way to change one’s mood. ‘So when the cat has got your tongue/ there’s no need for dismay/ just summon up this word/ and then you’ve got a lot to say/ but better use it carefully/ or it may change your life/ one night I said it to me girl/ and now me girl’s my wife!/ She’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!’ OS: n/n

35. America WEST SIDE STORY 1961 PERFORMERS Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Ensemble MUSIC/LYRICS Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim – West Side Story was a departure from the run-of-the-mill Broadway musical in more ways than one. It addressed issues of juvenile delinquency, urban gang warfare, bigotry and, perhaps most importantly, it dared to question the notion of the American Dream at a time when it was most un-chic to do so. And it did so with razor-sharp wit. Chakiris and Moreno, both Oscar winners for their roles as Puerto Rican immigrants at odds over their perceived pros and cons of being outsiders in America, burn up the screen with their funny, sexy and rambunctious performance of the song, hitting volleys back and forth: ‘Lots of new housing with more space/ Lots of doors slamming in our face/ I’ll get a terrace apartment/ Better get rid of your accent/ Here you are free and you have pride/ Long as you stay on your own side/ Free to be anything you choose/ Free to wait tables and shine shoes.’ OS: n/e

34. Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off SHALL WE DANCE 1937 PERFORMERS Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers MUSIC/LYRICS George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin – Ever feel like you and your partner just ain’t speaking the same lingo? Well then this is the song for you. Yet again the Gershwin’s create a superbly witty musical conversation that sets up an adversarial situation only to counter it with one heck of a romantic reversal. So if you like potato and I like potahto, you like tomato and I like tomahto, and it seems as if the best thing to do is to call the whole thing off, ‘But oh! If we call the whole thing off/ Then we must part/ And oh! If we ever part/ Then that might break my heart/ So, if you like pajamas and I like pajahmas/ I’ll wear pajamas and give up pajahmas/ For we know we need each other/ So we better call the calling off off.’ OS: n/n

33. Aquarius HAIR 1979 PERFORMERS Ren Woods, Ensemble MUSIC/LYRICS Galt MacDermot/Gerome Ragni, James Rado – ‘Harmony and understanding/ Sympathy and trust abounding/ No more falsehoods or derisions/ Golden living dreams of visions/ Mystic crystal revelation/ And the mind’s true liberation.’ Ramblings of a post-doctoral nerd’s first brush with marijuana? Close, but no, it’s actually the big hit from the classic counter-culture musical Hair. The song was a hippie anthem to the dawning of the age of Aquarius – signifying love, light and humanity – presumed to be round the corner at 20th Century’s end. Clearly they were smoking something: astronomically, the age of Aquarius won’t begin until around the year 2600. OS: n/e

32. I Got Rhythm AN AMERICAN IN PARIS 1951 PERFORMER Gene Kelly MUSIC/LYRICS George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin – There has been much interest in the technicalities of the song, what with its syncopated phrasing and ‘Rhythm changes’ chord progression that is the hallmark of many a jazz standard. But there is a much less mundane reason why Kelly’s version is arguably the best and most popular: the utterly sublime picturisation wherein the hoofer par excellence teaches a bunch of French kids a bit of English while tap dancing to Gershwin’s joyful tune. Many far superior singers have also tackled the song, but for its sheer exuberance, Kelly’s inimitable whiskey tenor just can’t be beat. OS: n/e

31. Theme from New York, New York NEW YORK, NEW YORK 1977 PERFORMER Liza Minnelli MUSIC/LYRICS John Kander/Fred Ebb – Martin Scorsese’s ode to MGM’s Technicolor musicals of the 1940s was a notorious flop at the box-office, so it is somewhat ironic that its title tune has ended up becoming the Big Apple’s theme song, being played at all Yankee home games, whether they win or lose. It was however not Minnelli’s version from the film but Frank Sinatra’s cover two years later, that became a phenomenally popular hit. Ol’ Blue Eyes even changed some of the lyrics around to suit his style, much to lyricist Ebb’s chagrin. But whether you prefer Sinatra’s brassy rendition, or Minnelli’s more soulful one, any which way the song is a certified gem, those opening semi-staccato piano notes instantly recognizable to any fan of the American songbook. OS: n/n

30. Stormy Weather STORMY WEATHER 1943 PERFORMER Lena Horne MUSIC/LYRICS Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler – It is really quite criminal that a performer like Ms. Horne, she of the supreme silky vocals and delicate beauty, was ghettoised by Hollywood into all-black musicals like this and never allowed to become the mainstream film star that she seemed born to be. Even so, the singer immortalised herself with her trademark bluesy rendition of this Arlen-Koehler standard that expertly uses the weather imagery of the title as a metaphor for the melancholy feelings of Horne’s character in the film. She sings: ‘Dont know why there’s no sun up in the sky/ Stormy weather/ Since my man and I ain’t together/ Keeps rainin’ all the time’. Since the song has almost become a byword for disappointment, is it any wonder that the American radio program Marketplace uses it as background music when the major stock market indices are down for the day? OS: n/e

29. Born To Be Wild EASY RIDER 1969 PERFORMER Steppenwolf MUSIC/LYRICS Mars Bonfire – Canadian band Steppenwolf (named after Herman Hesse’s novel of the same name) ought to be eternally grateful to Dennis Hopper and co. Thanks to and along with the actor/director’s ultimate stoner road film, the band also automatically wrote themselves into the annals of popular culture with this classic that has come to denote all that is agreeable and desirable about biker chic. It’s hard to hear the song and not imagine Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda cruising into the desert on those Harleys. The start of the song’s second verse – ‘I like smoke and lightning/ heavy metal thunder’ – is said to have inspired the name of the then-emerging heavy metal genre, and is considered by many to be the first actual heavy metal song. Let’s just put it this way, if you’re an alterna-rock band and ‘Born To Be Wild’ is not in your repertoire, well then that’s a serious blow to your street cred. OS: n/e

28. Some Enchanted Evening SOUTH PACIFIC 1958 PERFORMER Rossano Brazzi (voiced by Giorgio Tozzi) MUSIC/LYRICS Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II – ‘Knock, knock!’ ‘Who’s there?’ ‘Sam and Janet.’ ‘Sam and Janet who?’ ‘♫Sam and Janet evening♫’ That’s how ingrained into the American cultural psyche this indeed enchanting song was at one time. Though the film version was nowhere near as acclaimed as the Broadway original, at least all the songs made it to celluloid intact, a rare occurrence in stage-to-screen translations. And honestly, who can resist the heavily accented sweet nothings of a Latin lover, even though the lover in question (Brazzi) was actually Italian? OS: n/e

27. Unchained Melody GHOST 1990 PERFORMER The Righteous Brothers MUSIC/LYRICS Alex North, Hy Zaret – Along with ‘Summertime’ and ‘Yesterday’, one of the most covered songs of all time, with artistes as varied as Barry Manilow, Jimmy Young, Roy Orbison, Harry Belafonte, and even Elvis performing it at various points in their careers. Gene ‘Be-bop-a-lula’ Vincent recorded the most unusual version, omitting the chorus and with a tremolo picking guitar part. But there is no doubt that it is the Righteous Brothers’ version, originally recorded in 1965 (and actually performed as a solo by Bobby Hatfield), which is the definitive one. With Hatfield’s soaring vocals leading the way against the backdrop of producer Phil Spector’s notorious ‘wall of sound’ orchestration, the song enjoyed tremendous chart success on its original release. But with its inclusion on the Ghost soundtrack in 1990, accompanying THAT much celebrated and sniggered-at love scene between Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, its popularity reached mythic proportions. Sales of pottery wheels in America soared. Needless to say though, not much actual pottery got made. OS: n/e

26. The Trolley Song MEET ME IN ST.LOUIS 1944 PERFORMER Judy Garland MUSIC/LYRICS Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane – It is a testament to the (ultimately tragic) star’s monumental talent that Garland is known by not one, not two, not three, but four signature songs, all of which appear on AFI’s list. One, the aching lament that is ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ (#76); two, the rousing ‘Get Happy’ (#61). The third one (also known as ‘Zing, Zing, Zing Went My Heartstrings’) is this positively infectious number from director (and sometime husband of Garland) Vincente Minnelli’s charming turn-of-the-century dramedy. An expression of the giddiness of first love from an innocent and far more romantic bygone era, the song was inspired by a children’s picture book which had a page with a picture of a trolley car, captioned ‘Clang! Clang! Clang! went the jolly little trolley.’ Contrary to the legend though, the song does not contain the sound of someone mistakenly calling out “Hi Judy!” Oh, and that fourth signature Garland tune? We’ll get to that later. OS: n/o

Coming up next time: Audrey Hepburn, Elvis, Simon & Garfunkel, Marilyn Monroe and more. Till then, enough said!

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