Soundtracking is a regular column that appears on looking at the music featured in the biggest new releases both in theatre and on home video. Shane McNeil looks at the Academy’s best decisions in the 80-year history of the Best Song category.

Originally published on – February 20, 2015.

It’s been 80 years since the Academy handed out the first ever Oscar for Best Original Song and those eight decades have provided the widest possible array of winning numbers.

Six years following the all-silent first Oscar ceremony, musicians were given their chance to win Oscars of their very own. The in-between years saw the roar of The Jazz Singer open the floodgates to the movie musical, culminating in the set-pieces typified by the inaugural Best Song winner, “The Continental” from the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire vehicle The Gay Divorcee.

However, as the years rolled on different musical styles took their turn providing Oscar’s top tune as well as some songs that emerged from the unlikeliest of films to capture the imagination.

Here is a list of the top 10 Best Song recipients in Oscar history. Please note that these are not necessarily the best stand-alone songs, but a collection of great cinematic moments and the musical trends that have come to define one of Oscar’s most unique categories.


10. “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” (The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956)


This song has floated in the ether of popular culture for decades since making its appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s mid-fifties remake of his own 1930s film. What makes it so memorable isn’t just its ubiquitous and singable melody – or its resurrection into popular consciousness via Ned Flanders – but the fact that such a huge song plays a central role in one of the Master of Suspense’s most stylish films.


9. “Lose Yourself” (8 Mile, 2002)

It will be a comical footnote in history to learn that Eminem’s victory in 2002 was something of a surprise. Very few believed the Academy had a taste for rewarding the divisive emcee and he was up against U2 at their flag-waving peak. However, history will also note that the Academy did the right thing in giving its first ever Oscar to a hip hop artist and for a song that essentially tells the entire story of the film it represents.


8. “Moon River” (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961)

What’s not to like about this moment in cinematic history? The song brings back Audrey Hepburn at her most stylish, just looking for love on the streets of New York. And then the end … with the cat? What’s not to like? Okay, maybe Mickey Rooney. But still, a classic.



7. “Flashdance … What a Feeling” (Flashdance, 1983)

The mid-80s were a wonderland for the Best Song category. Smash hit after smash hit came up yearly vying for the film industry’s top prize. Things came to a head in 1984 when all five nominees were Billboard Number Ones. Unfortunately, that year ended with a regrettable choice, looking back on it. So here’s the still-enjoyable theme from Flashdance, which won the previous year.


6. “Skyfall” (Skyfall, 2012)

It’s pretty much insane that it took a full half-Century for the theme song to a James Bond movie to take home this award. Things finally clicked with Adele’s contribution for Skyfall, putting a star singer-songwriter at the peak of her popularity behind one of the sleekest Bond films in ages. Her victory doesn’t justify the snubbing of “Live and Let Die” or “Nobody Does it Better,” but it does salve the wound some.


5. “Under the Sea” (The Little Mermaid, 1989)

The Disney Animation Studios musical catalogue is so deep that really any of the eight songs (excluding Pixar) to win the Oscar could have occupied this spot. Debating which is the greatest has been done, so instead here is the song that kicked off a run that saw the studio take the category five times in seven years.


4. “White Christmas” (Holiday Inn, 1942)

Despite the fact that this number is better remembered for a later cinematic incarnation, it’s still worth noting that it’s both the best-selling single of all-time and happens to also be an Oscar winner. An Irving Berlin classic sung by Bing Crosby, the song was the centerpiece of 1942’s Holiday Inn. Then, of course, a dozen years later it would provide the beating yuletide heart for White Christmas.



3. “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” (Dirty Dancing, 1987)

Forget all the terrible weddings that this song has come to represent over the last couple decades. This song encapsulates everything that audiences want this award to be about. The song provides the defining moment from a wildly popular film that had an equally popular soundtrack. The Academy’s rules can be strict, but luckily this song happened to fit the bill and walked away with the statuette.


2. “Theme from ‘Shaft’” (Shaft, 1971)

The early 70s saw a fundamental shift in how movies were made. Following in the footsteps of late ‘60s films like Bonnie and Clyde a darker, more violent aesthetic found its way into Hollywood. The mood of the films changed and with it – the mood of the music. Isaac Hayes’ theme song from Shaft perfectly encapsulated the seedier, more dangerous side Hollywood was turning towards and for the first time, the award had soul.


1. “Over the Rainbow” (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)

It seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it? That said, the Oscars aren’t historically known for making the right choices on the right occasions and – were it not for the musical categories of Best Song and Best Song – The Wizard of Oz would have walked home from the 12th Academy Awards without a single statue. “Over the Rainbow” is the beating heart of one of the greatest films of all-time and marks a contribution to the story that is unique to the film. To this date it may be more easily associated with the Land of Oz than any of author L. Frank Baum’s contributions.