Monday, November 2, 2009

Best Movie Songs

Here is my list of the best songs ever composed specifically for a movie. I’ll admit I’m a fan of ballads, so keep that in mind as you read this list (arranged in chronological order).

Over The Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Music by Harold Arlen, Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg

OK, this may be a no-brainer, but let’s face it, it’s not merely one of the greatest songs ever written for a film, but it’s arguably the most famous song of the 20th century. Need I say more? (Academy Award Winner)

It Might As Well Be Spring from State Fair (1945)
Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein ll

Few people realize that this great duo composed this song specifically for this film and not for a Broadway production. This is as unabashedly romantic as anything they ever wrote. A great opening line – “I’m as restless as a willow in a windstorm.” (Academy Award Winner)

The Green Leaves of Summer from The Alamo (1960)
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin, Lyrics by Ned Washington

Tiomkin was one of the critical forces in film music in Hollywood during the 1950s and early 1960s, winning a total of three Academy Awards. One of those was for his the song, Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’ which he co-wrote with Washington for 1952’s High Noon. I regard his bittersweet melody for The Alamo as a far superior work and one of the finest pieces of music he ever composed. The use of this song in the film is quite memorable, especially during the sequence when the women and children of the soldiers at the Alamo are moved out of the fort hours before the final battle. (Nominated for an Academy Award)

Dimitri Tiomkin

Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Music by Henry Mancini, Lyrics by Johnny Mercer

A deceptively simple melody accompanied by heartbreaking lyrics, this is one of the most instantly recognizable films songs ever composed. I’ve heard it in elevators in large U.S. cities as well as in restaurants and hotel lobbies in Europe. What amazing work Mancini and Mercer did during the 1960s; they followed this up with another classic work, The Days of Wine and Roses from the film of the same title the following year.
(Academy Award Winner)

The Shadow of Your Smile from The Sandpiper (1965)
Music by Johnny Mandel, Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster

A gorgeous romatic ballad for a trashy Liz Taylor/Richard Burton film, this is a timeless, haunting tune with wonderful imagery in the lyrics. I love the first stanza – “The shadow of your smile, when you are gone, will color all my dreams and light the dawn.” (Academy Award Winner)

The Look of Love from Casino Royale (1967)
Music by Burt Bacharach, Lyrics by Hal David

Bacharach and David may have composed bigger hits in terms of sales, but for me, this song is arguably their finest. A sultry melody and wonderful emotional lyrics (“And what my heart has heard/ well it takes my breath away.”) Nominated for an Academy Award, it somehow lost to Talk to the Animals from Doctor Dolittle, surely one of the Academy’s worst decisions.

The Windmills of Your Mind from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Music by Michel Legrand, Lyrics by Alan and Bergman

Legrand and the Bergmans teamed up to write some of Hollywood’s most romantic ballads, such as What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? (from 1969s The Happy Ending) and Pieces of Dreams (from the film of the same name in 1970). This is my favorite work of theirs not only for the dazzling melody, but the equally elaborate and complex lyrics (“Down a hollow to a cavern/where the sun has never shone.”). The song is heard above the title credits in a beautiful rendition by Noel Harrison and then later, it is reprised in a striking visual scene with the title character (Steve McQueen) effortlessly piloting a yellow glider above an endless green field. (Academy Award Winner)

Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair

Whistling Away the Dark from Darling Lili (1970)
Music by Henry Mancini, Lyrics by Johnny Mercer

Another gorgeous Mancini-Mercer collaboration and one of their most haunting, the lyrics speak of maintaning hope amidst turmoil (“So walk me back home, my darling/ tell me dreams really come true.”) The message is timeless. (Nominated for an Academy Award)

The Way We Were from The Way We Were (1973)
Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman

An incredibly popular song and deservedly so - you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the beauty of Hamlisch’s melody or words of the Bergmans (“Memories may be beautiful and yet/ what’s too painful to remember/ we simply choose to forget.”) Academy Award Winner

All That Love Went to Waste from A Touch of Class (1973)
Music by George Barrie, Lyrics by Sammy Cahn

Unlike recent years, 1973 was a great one for movie songs. The great Sammy Cahn who won a record four Oscars for Best Song (Three Coins in the Fountain, All The Way, High Hopes and Call Me Irresponsible) composed the lyrics to this song heard at the film’s conclusion, after the lead couple end their romantic rendezvous for good. Cahn’s lyrics (“If we only could have guessed /that it couldn’t stand the test/ we’d have played it off a jest/ and have been each other’s guest.”) combined with the moving theme of Barrie make this one of the most poignant movie songs about lost love. (Nominated for an Academy Award)

Nice to be Around from Cinderella Liberty (1973)
Music By John Williams, Lyrics by Paul Williams

I’m not sure that these two Williams ever worked on any other song, but what a song they wrote for this romantic drama about a sailor on midnight liberty (“cinderella liberty”) and the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold (played magnificently by Marsha Mason). This is a charming film – hardly great – but this tune is magnificently moving, as the lyrics are so touching (“Hello with affection from a sentimental fool/ to a little girl who’s broken every rule”). More proof of what a great year 1973 was for movie songs. (Nominated for an Academy Award)

It Goes Like It Goes from Norma Rae (1979)
Music by David Shire, Lyrics by Norman Gimbel

This powerful film about a woman who organizes a worker’s strike at her company needed an equally strong title tune. Boy, did Shire and Gimbel deliver! A lilting melody by Shire with magnificent orchestration and remarkably concise, to-the-heart lyrics:

Bless the child of the workin' man
She knows too soon who she is
And bless the hands of a workin' man
He knows his soul is his

There have been many socially relevant songs written for the movies over the past thirty years since this was composed, but not one can compare to the raw emotions and power of this heartbreaking composition! (Academy Award Winner)