Pete Townshend celebrates his 72nd today. The legendary guitarist and songwriter began performing while still in secondary school in London, along with a friend by the name of John Entwistle. In the early sixties the two joined a band then known as The Detours led by a guitarist named Roger Daltrey. After a couple of further lineup changes, they had become a quartet, with Daltrey as lead vocalist, Entwistle on bass, a drummer named Keith Moon, and Townshend assuming the lead guitar role. They also had a new name—The Who.
In addition to playing lead guitar (he developed a distinctive “windmill” style for The Who’s stage shows), Townshend developed into a songwriter of considerable talents. By 1965 The Who had their first major successes in the UK, with their album My Generation and its title song. Two years later came their biggest hit in the US.
Starting in 1934, the Academy Awards began nominating and awarding songs that were written specifically for a movie released in the year being honored. Due to a series of ever-changing and unwieldy rules directing how songs have been able to receive a nomination for this category, the number of nominees has varied wildly over the years. For example, there were fourteen nominated songs for 1945 when the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “It Might as Well be Spring” won, but only two for 2011 when “Man or Muppet” took home the prize. Voting patterns have changed over the years, too. For a while, the Oscar-winning song was almost always a well-known top40 hit. During my high school years this meant little golden men for pop recordings like “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” and “Take My Breath Away.” The category was just another opportunity for all-important cross-promotion.
In recent years, however, the Academy voters seem to have made an effort to introduce some previously obscure music through their nominated songs. I’m of two minds about this. While I love the idea of trying to find the best songs available and absolutely believe that those songs might very well be relatively obscure, I’m also not sure if that necessarily does the job of representing the year in film long into the future. Absolute classics like “Over the Rainbow,” “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “White Christmas,” “Mona Lisa,” “Moon River,” and “A Whole New World” best represent the ideal Oscar-winning song in that they are not just great, but also beloved. Can you remember the melody and lyrics to recent winners like “Things Have Changed,” “We Belong Together,” or “Al Otro lad del Rio?”
Will this year’s winner be memorable? My first instinct is to say “no way.” Have a look and listen after the break and see what you think.
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