Let’s face it: 1962 was a featherweight year for movie songs. Sure, a handful of hit musicals made a splash, most notably The Music Man (for which Ray Heindorf won Best Score – Adaptation or Treatment), but in terms of original tunes, we’re looking at some very slim pickings.
So slim, in fact, it’s tough to come up with a list of eligible songs that deserved to make the cut but didn’t. Arguably the best song to appear in a movie that year was “Return to Sender,” from the Elvis vehicle Girls! Girls! Girls!, but as that song wasn’t written for the film, it was out of the running. Same with “Baby Elephant Walk,” which Henry Mancini introduced in Hatari! but, as an instrumental, couldn’t be considered. (It was eligible for Best Original Score, however, but Mancini failed to get nominated in that category). The ineligibility that stings the most, however, is also the most memorable movie music of the year: Dr. No didn’t premiere in the U.S. until May 1963. Alas, both its songs and score got shut out of that year’s Oscars, too.
So what was eligible? Well, among the songs skipped over for the Best Song shortlist, the most surprising snub is the vocal theme from The Longest Day. It’s impossible to watch the movie without getting the tune stuck in your head for hours, although it’s remembered more for its instrumental version than the choral one, which may explain the omission. Then there’s “Being in Love,” the new song added to The Music Man; it’s a fine tune, but it pales in comparison to so many better (and ineligible) songs from the film.
Less worthy is “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy,” from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?; it’s an effective song in context with the film (and as an unintentional jab toward that year’s Gypsy, which opens with a very similar scene), but out of context, it’s rather cloying. We also have a handful of numbers written for the Pat Boone-starring State Fair remake, the less said about, the better. Finally, there’s The Road to Hong Kong, the last of the Hope/Crosby Road pictures; among its so-so songs is one solid tune: Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s “Let’s Not Be Sensible.”
Knowing the list of also-rans is teeny1 helps explain why the trophy went to a weak entry. The winner was “Days of Wine and Roses” (music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Johnny Mercer), from the film of the same name. This was the second win in a row for Mancini/Mercer, who also penned the Breakfast at Tiffany’s theme “Moon River.” The two songs, both soulless and saccharine examples of 1960s choral schmaltz pop, rank near the top of my list of least favorite Oscar winning tunes.
“Love Song From Mutiny on the Bounty (Follow Me)” (music by Bronislau Kaper, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster) is the most daring choice of the group, not a pop song but instead a South Pacific chant that fits well within the film but not so much on its own. It’s certainly not one that could be easily covered by any of the vocalists of its day; I’m having a tough time picturing Robert Goulet belting out this one, as he did, in medley form alongside the other nominees, on Oscar night.
You barely hear “Song From Two for the Seesaw (Second Chance)” (music by André Previn, lyrics by Dory Langdon) in its movie and hardly makes an impression when you do. Outside the film, however, it’s quite good indeed, especially as sung by Jackie Cain, who adds a certain smokiness to the number.
From the film of the same name, “Tender Is the Night” (music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster) is an decent pop standard but not much of a memorable one. I’m unable to find on YouTube the original version as it appears in the film, sung by an uncredited chorus; instead, here’s an improvement, a cover by a young Tony Bennett.
My favorite of the five is “Walk on the Wild Side” (music by Elmer Bernstein, lyrics by Mack David), from the movie of the same name. Blending jazz, R&B, and a pinch of gospel, the song has a sharp edge to it that definitely stands out in this batch. The only clip of Brook Benton singing the lead vocals (as he does over the end of the film) is rather rough, but you get a good idea.
To make up for such an iffy quintet, here are the sounds of the two Best Score winners. Maurice Jarre’s Lawrence of Arabia theme still holds as one of cinema’s finest musical works, while Ray Heindorf’s handling of Meredith Willson’s melodies makes for some mighty fine stuff.