The Day the Movie Music Died

People spent Tuesday dissecting the snubs and surprises of the Oscar nominations, but only a few seemed to notice just two songs were nominated for best original song.

You know when else that happened? Never. It was the first time only two original songs were nominated in a category that once was considered one of the most prestigious in both the movie and music industry. That leads to only one logical conclusion:

Popular movie music is dead. Officially.

This year there are two nominations for best original song, one from The Muppets and the other from the already-forgotten animated film Rio. Two freakin’ songs deemed worthy enough to compete for the best original movie song of the year. That gives them the chance to be mentioned in the same breath as classic movie tunes like Moon River, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, Streets of Philadelphia (yeah, that’s right, I got a Springsteen song in here, got a problem with that?) and Lose Yourself.

Movies and music still mix, they’re just not as essential as they were 25 years ago. It’s an age of the movie-music relationship we’re never getting back, and the Oscars made that clear Tuesday.

Here’s why it happened:

wanna tell me what this is all about?


It’s always been a little sketchy over what is deemed an “original” song. The intensely lousy 1995 movie Dangerous Minds gave us one of the best and most popular movie songs ever, Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise. Wanna know how popular it was? Weird Al made his parody version of the song the first single off one of his albums. Now that’s popular! It should have been a lock to win at the 1996 awards — but it didn’t get nominated because its now-famous, recognize-it-in-a-second beat was sampled from an old Stevie Wonder song. According to Oscar rules, that makes it not “original” and ineligible for the award. The Grammys didn’t give two craps, and showered the song with nominations and awards. At the 1996 Oscars, Colors of the Wind from Pocahontas won. You’re welcome, Vanessa Williams. How can you take that award seriously after such a travesty of movie music justice?

kenny loggins is out of work because of you people. shame on you.


Movie music was at its best in the 80s and early 90s, and it’s no coincidence this was also Music Televisions’s heyday of playing, you know, music. Movie studios and record companies deftly took advantage of this new opportunity to meld music and movies together. The songs became videos intertwined with scenes from the movie making something like Take My Breath Away (best original song winner) nothing more than a four-minute ad for Top Gun. Everyone won — the movie became more popular, the soundtrack sold more copies and MTV had a steady diet of movie trailers it could play and call them videos. Then MTV went and effed it all up by becoming Jersey Shore Central. With nowhere to get that kind of airplay, movie music suffered, and now it’s dead. Hope you’re happy, JWoww.

pretty sure this version of eric clapton wouldn't even cop to being on the back to the future soundtrack


Let’s not even bother going over the changes in the music industry yet again. Agreed? Agreed. Instead, we’ll just say that when Steve Jobs revolutionized the music industry, he inadvertently killed movie music. Making a soundtrack wasn’t profitable anymore for a record company. In 1985, if you wanted to hear Power of Love, you had to buy the whole Back to the Future soundtrack for $11.99 or whatever it was. In 2002, you didn’t have to buy the whole 8 Mile soundtrack to hear Lose Yourself. You just had to buy Lose Yourself for 99 cents. That’s an 88 percent loss of revenue, courtesy of my mad math skillz. Loss of revenue means record companies can’t pay for top-flight talent to make crappy, pre-written songs that will never get released. Those songs were only there in the first palce so a movie soundtrack — like Back to the Future — can advertise on its album cover that Eric Clapton has contributed a song. What they don’t tell you is that it’s the uber-crappy Heaven is One Step Away that makes you envision Clapton being tied to a chair at gun point singing ridiculous lines like, “I couldn’t find it … You couldn’t find it …


The 90s gave us the most creative, interesting, radical group of moviemakers we’ve ever seen. All of them had one quality in common — they were dorks who spent their teen years listening to music and watching movies when their friends were getting high and going to football games. People like Quentin Tarantino, Cameron Crowe and Paul Thomas Anderson also made their movies independently, for the most part, so they didn’t have some suit coming in their office and saying, “Hey Wes Anderson, we’re under contract with Ace of Base to make a couple songs for us, think you can squeeze one into Rushmore?” They took their cue from game-changers like Martin Scorsese and already had a solid idea of what music they wanted played in their scenes in their movies. So instead of paying top dollar for musical talent to write, produce and peform 12 songs for a soundtrack, they were just forking over the much cheaper licensing rights to old songs no one remembered or heard of, but worked perfectly in their movies. Can you imagine if someone told Noah Baumbach that he needed to shoehorn in a new Gavin DeGraw song to Squid and the Whale instead of the song he used?


How else can you explain it? The undisputed king and queen of cheesy movie music in the 80s and 90s had to go and get old on us and they stopped doing soundtracks. The next thing you know, bam, the movie music business dies. Madonna had one of the last really big, MTV-backed movie songs — Beautiful Stranger from the second Austin Powers — but poor Kenny never made it out of the 80s. Even though Nobody’s Fool was easily the best part of Caddyshack II. “Back to the shack … nothing suits me better than that.” Amen, Kenny. Amen.

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