The Academy Awards are about movies, so when the ceremony regularly gives musicians the short end of the trophy it isn't a news bulletin.
But hey, let's face it, a song written specifically for a movie has its rightful place among the nominees. But in sticking with tradition, the best original song category is a pathetic travesty — to such a degree that one of this year's three nominees, Peter Gabriel, whose Down to Earth (from Wall-E) is the odds-on favourite, announced via his website that he is cancelling his appearance on the show.
Gabriel was told by producers his performance would total 65 seconds and be part of a medley featuring the three nominated songs, two of which are from the same movie (Slumdog Millionaire).
For years, five songs have drawn nods in the best original song category. This year, for only the third time since 1988, just three songs are in competition — thus omitting Bruce Springsteen's exhaustingly emotional title track to The Wrestler, the year's best soundtrack song.
It's a mess, no doubt, but it's been that way at the Academy Awards for years. For evidence, here are 10 eligible songs, each a certified classic, that were overlooked come Oscar time.
- Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Bob Dylan. One of the seminal songs in Bob Dylan's catalogue was written specifically for the soundtrack to 1973's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, director Sam Peckinpah's controversial western. The tune was an immediate smash, and is now regarded as one of the definitive songs in rock 'n' roll history. What won the Oscar that year, you ask? Marvin Hamlisch's weepy title track to The Way We Were. Shame, shame, shame.
- You've Got to Hide Your Love Away, the Beatles. The soundtrack to Help! had no shortage of excellent material, half of which was written for the movie of the same name — You've Got to Hide Your Love Away included. The song is generally considered to be a John Lennon original, which you hear in both Lennon's desperate voice and fame-weary lyrics. Perhaps that's why the song didn't chart, or earn a very well-deserved Oscar nomination.
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy Garland. The original, written in 1944 by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane for Meet Me in St. Louis, is one of the most oft-covered songs of the Christmas season. But there's no beating the original, sung during the film by the immeasurable Judy Garland to her down-in-the dumps sister, toddler Margaret O'Brien. It's a decidedly non-merry scene.
- Jailhouse Rock, Elvis Presley. The title track to Elvis Presley's third film has entered the pantheon of rock 'n' roll. Pick your reasons why, because there's no shortage of evidence, from an explosive riff, howling hound-dog vocals, and expert yet simplistic lyrics courtesy of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. For 1957, it was a shocker, certainly not the type of stuff made for the Academy.
- Silver Bells, Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. When you talk Christmas classics, you're getting a lump of coal if you don't tip your hat to Silver Bells, a truly legendary seasonal song. Jay Livingston and Ray Evans are the authors, but the only names fans of a certain vintage remember are Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell, who sang the tune during 1951's The Lemon Drop Kid. Bing Crosby and Carol Richards were the first to press it to wax (a year later), but this version should have seen Oscar gold.
- Love Me Tender, Elvis Presley. With the movie of the same name already in the can, but not yet released, Elvis Presley sang Love Me Tender during an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. We should assume he captivated the audience with a masterful marketing tie-in: The following day, more than one million fans placed advance orders for a copy of the single. The Oscars still snubbed it.
- Stayin' Alive, Bee Gees. Disco was seen at first as a horrendous fad, so no one is blaming Academy voters for overlooking this club-tastic smash from 1977. My, how times have changed. The single will forever put feet in motion on the dance floor. It opens Saturday Night Fever with a smash.
- Purple Rain, Prince. The almighty Purple One won an Oscar for 1984's Purple Rain, but the honour was bestowed upon his original score, not individual songs from the film. Of the many that should have drawn mention in the original song category, it's hard to overlook the film's powerful title track, which adds emotional firepower to the finale.
- To Sir, with Love, Lulu. Worldwide hits from the 1960s don't come bigger than To Sir, with Love, the trademark song by Scottish pixie Lulu. It was written for the film of the same name by Don Black and Mark London, who certainly had a way with words. Lulu was no slouch herself, taking the song to No. 1— where it stayed for months.
- At Last, the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The version popularized by Etta James is a classic — no ifs, ands or buts. The Mack Gordon-Harry Warren original, however, was superb source material. And it didn't just appear in the musical Orchestra Wives; the melody of the tune, played by Glenn Miller and his orchestra, with vocals by Ray Eberle and Pat Friday (the ghost singer for star Lynn Bari), was a fixture throughout.