Top 10 Best Original Song Academy Award Nominees (1930’s, 40’s, 50’s)
There have been many incredible songs that have won the Best Original Song Academy Award. There have also been many fantastic songs that got nominations for the award. They end up taking home the prize but they became acclaimed classics anyway.
The Best Original Song Academy Award has been awarded since 1934 at the 7th Academy Awards. Best Original Song is a songwriter’s award, for their specific composition for the film. The performer of the tune is not awarded. The Award eligibility has changed throughout the decades. Before 1941, any song that appeared in a Motion Picture could get a nomination. But now, it has to be a specific original composition that artists record for the film. The motion picture must use the song or be the very first music playeing in the end credits of the film.
For this list, I took critical acclaim, commercial success and cultural influence of the songs into account. This list consists of the Best Original Song Academy Award nominated songs from the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Stay tuned for future lists on the next decades to come.
*Please recognize these films and songs are of their respective eras and may include negative outdated cultural depictions.
10. I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1936) – Born to Dance – Cole Porter (Music & Lyrics)
Virginia Bruce performed “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in the 1936 musical film Born to Dance, The popular Cole Porter served as the song’s composer. Porter wrote countless memorable standards and this Best Original Song nominated tune is certainly one of his best. Initially performed as a slower jazz ballad, in the mid-1940’s Frank Sinatra gave the tune a big band makeover with an arrangement by Nelson Riddle. Sinatra’s version was highly popular and became a signature song of his. Due to its’ popularity, Sinatra recorded and released the song a variety of times, in the fifties and sixties and even the nineties.
Sinatra’s duet version with Bono of U2 made it on his “Duets” album. And their duet reached number four on the U.K charts in 1993, introducing the standard to a new generation. “I’ve Got You Under my Skin” also nad a souccessful cover by the popular group The Four Seasons in 1966. And their Pop version also became a hit, reaching number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also found success with a hip-hop reinterpretation by Neneh Cherry, on the 1990 AIDS benefit album “Red Hot + Blue”.
9. Baby Mine (1942) – Dumbo – Frank Churchill (Music) Ned Washington (Lyrics)
In the animated classic Dumbo, Dumbo’s mother (Betty Noyes) performs this emotional lullaby. This is while someone locks her she away in a circus wagon and can only cradle her baby Dumbo with her trunk. It is a heartbreaking sequence, and “Baby Mine” certainly adds to the overall emotional resonance of the scene. The tune definitely resonated with audiences and members of the Academy as it was nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. “Baby Mine” was written by Frank Churchill and Ned Washington. The tune found success with recorded versions by Jane Froman, Glenn Miller and Les Brown.
Years later, the song had a re-emergence when Bette Midler covered “Baby Mine” for the 1988 film Beaches soundtrack. Bonnie Raitt also covered the song that same year. Allison Krauss got a nomination for a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. And she earned it for her 1996 country rendition of “Baby Mine”. The tune also made it on various Disney compilation albums through the years. “Baby Mine” was also featured in the recent AMC television show Halt and Catch Fire and 2019 Netflix film, I am Mother. In the 2019 live-action version of Dumbo, Sharon Rooney and Arcade Fire recorded a version. And the trailer used singer Aurora’s version of the song.
8. They Can’t Take That Away From Me (1937)- Shall We Dance- George Gershwin (Music) Ira Gershwin (Lyrics)
Written by the famous Gershwin songwriting duo, “You Can’t Take that Away From Me” has become a beloved jazz standard. The tune was first introduced in the 1937 film “Shall We Dance”, by Fred Astaire performing the tune to his co-star Ginger Rogers. “You Can’t Take that Away from Me” is a sweet nostalgic love song, with wonderfully sentimental lyrics. “You Can’t Take That Away from Me” also lyrically references the popular song “The Song is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On)” by Irving Berlin.
The tune became a huge hit with audiences and critics alike. And it got a nomination for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. Since Fred Astaire’s recording, countless artists covered the tune. Some of those artists include Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett and Diana Krall, Gloria Estefan, and Van Morrison. “You Can’t Take That Away” has also featured in films like Rain Man in 1988 and Mr. Holland’s Opus in 1995. And more recently, it featured in the 2017 film soundtrack for Fifty Shades Darker.
7. That’s Amore (1953)- The Caddy- Harry Warren (Music) Jack Brooks (Lyrics)
“When the moon hits your eye like a big Pizza Pie, that’s amore!”. “That’s Amore” was first introduced to audiences in the 1935 comedy film, “The Caddy” starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Martin performs the song in the film and is joined by Lewis and some of the characters in the scene who also sing along to the fun and catchy tune. Written specifically with crafting a hit for Martin in mind by Harry Warren and Jack Brooks, “That’s Amore” did indeed become a huge hit and a signature song for Martin. Martin’s recording of the tune peaked at number two on the Billboard Charts and garnered a nomination for Best Original Song. The tune was also featured as the opening title song in the popular hit 1987 romantic comedy film, “Moonstruck”. It’s an incredibly charming ode to love, life and a romanticized version of early fifties Italy.
6. The Trolley Song (1944) – Meet Me in St. Louis – Ralph Blane & Hugh Martin (Music & Lyrics)
“The Trolley Song” was made famous by Judy Garland when she performed the tune in the 1944 film, “Meet Me in St. Louis”. The song was written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin and scored them a Best Original Song Academy Award nomination. The complex musical arrangement by Conrad Salinger is fantastic and certainly adds to the joy that the love song conveys. Garland’s version of the tune reached number four on Billboard’s “Best Sellers” charts, as did a version by the Vaughn Monroe Orchestra.
The musical group, The Pied Pipers, ended up recording a version and their version actually charted highest peaking at number two. “The Trolley Song” has been referenced in various television shows, most notably The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live. There have also been numerous cover versions by Dave Brubeck Quartet and Herb Alpert. More recently Cecile McLoren Salvant covered the tune on her GRAMMY award winning album in 2015. “The Trolley Song” ranked at number twenty-six on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 top songs of American Cinema of the 20th Century. “The Trolley Song” is certain to lift your spirits.
5. Love Letters- Love Letters – (1945) Victor Young (Music) Edward Heyman (Lyrics)
“Love Letters” first appeared as an instrumental without lyrics in the 1945 film of the same name. The first recorded version with lyrics was performed by Dick Haymes in 1945. The sincere romantic ballad was written by Victor Young and Edward Heyman and was nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. The tune had a re-emergence when it was released in 1961 by Ketty Lester. Lester’s version is considered the definitive version, it hit number five on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 2 on the R&B chart.
Lester’’s version also reached number four on the U.K Singles Charts. Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment of the Arts complied a list of the Songs of the Century. And the Ketty Lester version of “Love Letters” ranked at number 176. Lester’s version of “Love Letters” also appeared in the cult classic 1986 David Lynch film, “Blue Velvet”. Elvis Presley also had success with his cover version of the tune in 1966 as did Alison Moyet in 1987. “Love Letters” is a tune that certainly goes straight to your heart.
4. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (1941) – Hughie Prince (Music) Don Raye (Lyrics) – Buck Privates
Performed by the Andrews Sisters in the Abott & Costello comedy film, “Buck Privates” and written by Hughie Prince and Don Raye, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is a classic.
It was based on an earlier hit also written by Prince and Raye called “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar”. The tune got a nomination for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. And while it did not win, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” went on to become a hugely popular The song became a huge hit for the Andrews Sisters hitting number six on the U.S Pop Singles Chart in 1941. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” was also a very popular American tune during the Second World War. The song gained a whole new audience in 1972 when Bette Midler scored a hit with her own version of the tune. Midler’s version of the tune hit number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number one on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
In the 1990’s, En Vogue gave an update of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by rewording the lyric into “Boogie Woogie Hip-Hop Boy”. There have been countless cover versions, and numerous performances of the song in tributes to Military troops.
various television shows and films have referenced or appeared in “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. Some of those shows and films are A Different World, The Simpsons, Outlander and Pitch Perfect 2. The song ranked at number six on the Songs of the Century list compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment of the Arts.
3. Cheek To Cheek (1935) – Top Hat – Irving Berlin (Music & Lyrics)
Fred Astaire sings “Cheek to Cheek” to his co-star Ginger Rogers while they dance in the 1935 film “Top Hat”. It was nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards for the tune being featured in the film. Written by the legendary composer, Irving Berlin, “Cheek to Cheek”, is a beloved classic. “Cheek to Cheek” is an up-tempo, feel-good tune about dancing cheek to cheek next to the one you love. Fred Astaire’s recorded version of the tune spent five weeks at number one on the 1935 Your Hit Parade Chart and ended up being the number one song of 1935. The Leo Reisman Orchestra recorded the tune with Fred Astaire.
The RIAA inducted Astaire’s original recording of “Cheek to Cheek” into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 2000. “Cheek to Cheek” also ranked at number fifteen on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 top songs of American Cinema of the 20th Century. A jazz standard, numerous artists covered “Cheek to Cheek”. Those artists include Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Frank Sinatra, and Rod Stewart. In 2014, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga introduced the tune to a whole new generation through the release of their number one, GRAMMY award winning album called “Cheek to Cheek”. The album features their wonderful duet version of the tune. “Cheek to Cheek” continues to charm audiences to this day.
2. The Man That Got Away (1954) – A Star is Born- Harold Arlen (Music) Ira Gershwin (Lyrics)
Judy Garland performed the powerful torch song “The Man that Got Away” in the 1954 film A Star is Born. Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin wrote the song was for Garland by renown. They they got a nomination for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. Much like “Over the Rainbow”, “The Man that Got Away” became a signature song of Garland’s. In the film, director George Cukor impressively filmed Garland’s performance in one continuous shot. It is a stunning sequence and the centerpiece scene of the film. Garland’s acting and vocal performance is truly a masterclass.
“The Man that Got Away” ranked at number eleven on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 top songs of American Cinema of the 20th Century. Although Garland’s version is the definitive, it has been covered by numerous artists through the years including Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Audra Macdonald, Cher, Shirley Bassey, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley, Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth and Billy Porter. In 2019, DJ Eric Krupper created a dance version with Garland’s vocal that reached the top ten on the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart. “The Man that Got Away” is a superb gem.
1. Unchained Melody (1955)- Unchained- Alex North (Music) Hy Zaret (Lyrics)
The 1955 prison film Unchained first introduced the timeless classic, “Unchained Melody”. Serving as the film’s theme song, it got a nomination for the Best Original Song Academy Award. Alex North composed “Unchained Melody” with lyrics from Hy Zaret. An abbreviated version of the tune was first performed in the film by Todd Duncan. Since its introduction in 1955, “Unchained Melody” has become a standard and over 670 recorded versions of the tune. Artists like The Platters, Elvis Presley, Perry Como recorded the song, and more contemporary acts like U2, Sarah MacLachlan and Susan Boyle haver done the same. It is a yearning love ballad, with universal appeal.
In 1955, Les Baxter’s version with his Chorus and Orchestra hit number one on the Billboard Chart in the United States while simultaneously two other versions by Al Hibbler and Roy Hamilton charted within the top ten. Hibbler and Johnson’s versions of the tune also hit number one on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart. Also, Jimmy Young, Hibbler, Les Baxter and Liberace all had versions of “Unchained Melody” that appeared in the top twenty of the UK chart during the same time period, a record that the song still holds to this day. Ten years after the song’s original release, in 1965 the Righteous Brothers released their version of the song and it became a huge hit reaching number one on the U.K Singles Chart and number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The Righteous Brothers version is widely considered the definitive version of the tune. The popularity of “Unchained Melody” resurfaced in 1990 because of its’ use in the popular romantic drama film, “Ghost”. Due to the immense popularity of its’ use in “Ghost”, the Righteous Brothers 1965 reissue version reached number one on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Chart. The Righteous Brothers also released a 1990 re-recorded version of the song. In 1990, the re-issue topped the charts in the U.K. and went on to become the U.K’s top selling single of 1990. The tune also hit number one in Australia, Austria, Ireland, Netherlands and New Zealand. It is the only song to top the singles charts in the U.K. on five separate occasions with four different artists.
“Unchained Melody” ranked at number twenty-seven on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 top songs of American Cinema of the 20th Century. The tune also ranked at number 138 on the Songs of the Century list. The GRAMMY Hall of Fame included the 1965 Righteous Brothers version of “Unchained Melody”. The Songwriters Hall of Fame honoured “Unchained Melody” with a Towering Song Award. That body gives awards to songs that “has influenced the culture in a unique way over many years”.