There have been many incredible songs that have won the Best Original Song Academy Award. In fact, this Academy Award has been awarded since 1934 at the 7th Academy Awards. The Best Original Song Oscar is a songwriters award for their specific composition for the film. The performer of the tune does not get an award. Unless, of course, they contributed in some way to the music or lyrical composition.
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 recorded for the film. The song must be used in the motion picture or be the very first song played in the end credits of the film.
For this list, critical acclaim, commercial success and cultural influence of the winning songs was taken into account. This list consists of Best Original Song Academy Award winners from the 1960’s and 70’s. The 60’s and 70’s Best Original Song winners feature an eclectic mix of disco, jazz, folk and funk and plenty of sentimental love ballads.
*Please recognize these films and songs are of their respective eras and may include negative outdated cultural depictions.
10. The Shadow of Your Smile – The Sandpiper (1965)
Johnny Mandel (Music), Paul Francis Webster (lyrics)
A sincere and romantic jazz ballad, Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster wrote “The Shadow of Your Smile”. The 1965 film The Sandpiper introduced that the tune audiences through American jazz trumpeter Jack Shelton’s trumpet solo version. Mandel would later arrange and conduct the tune for a Tony Bennett version which became quite well known. “The Shadow of Your Smile” ended up winning the Best Original Song Academy Award and also the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. In 2004, it was included on the 100 Years…100 Songs list of the top songs of American Cinema and placed at number 77. Considered a jazz standard, it has been covered by numerous artists like Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand and Stevie Wonder.
9. The Windmills of Your Mind – The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Michel Legrand (Music), Alan & Marilyn Bergman (Lyrics)
Alan & Marilyn Bergman’s fantastic lyricism is on display, set to a beautifully composed music by Michel Legrand. The amazingly talented writers successfully collaborated to create a winning tune. This lyrically deep tune is sung in the film The Thomas Crown Affair by Noel Harrison. Viewers can hear Harrison’s version of “The Windmills of Your Mind” over the opening credits. We also hear it during a scene where Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) flies a Glider in the film. Harrison’s version of the tune became a top ten hit in the U.K.
Dusty Springfield’s version charted at number 3 on the Billboard Easy Listening Chart. Jose Feliciano also recorded a version and performed the tune on the Academy Award broadcast. For the 1999 film remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” Sting recorded a version. “The Windmills of Your Mind” ranked at number 57 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Songs list featuring the top songs in American Cinema.
8. Days of Wine and Roses – Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Henry Mancini (Music), Johnny Mercer (Lyrics)
A classic jazz standard written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. “The Days of Wine and Roses” also impressively won Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammy awards in 1962. The highest Billboard charting recordings were made by Billy Ecksteine in 1961 and Andy Williams in 1963. Numerous artists including Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett covered the tune. A gorgeous tune, “The Days of Wine and Roses” finished at number thirty-nine on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Songs of American Cinema.
7. Last Dance – Thank God It’s Friday (1978)
Paul Jabara (Music & Lyrics)
Performed by the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer, “Last Dance” was an incredible success. Giorgio Moroder and Bob Esty produced “last Dance” and Grammy-Award winning producer Stephen Short mixed it and also provides background vocals. That dream team ande the song a critical and commercial success. A somewhat unconventional disco song, as it begins as a ballad and then turns up the tempo into a huge disco dancefloor-filler, the variation on the form was certainly a worthy risk. The song won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and Best Original Song at the Golden Globes. The tune also won Best Rhythm & Blues Song for Jabara and the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for Summer.
“Last Dance” also won Summer two American Music Awards for Favorite Disco Single and Favorite Female Disco Artist. “Last Dance” hit number three on the Billboard chart in number five on the R&B charts, and was number one on Billboard’s Hot Disco Action Chart for six weeks, and was ranked as the number one Disco hit for 1978. Since 1978, various TV shows and films including Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and RuPaul’s Drag Race used the song. And plenty of artists have covered it like Ariana Grande, CeCe Peniston and Selena.
6. Theme from Shaft – Shaft (1971)
Music & Lyrics (Isaac Hayes)
The soulful and funky theme song from Shaft was a historic achievement for Isaac Hayes. Hayes became the very first Best Original Song Academy Award winner who wrote and also performed the winning song. He also became the first African American to win the Best Original Song trophy. The “Theme from Shaft” reached number number one on the Billboard Hot 100, number two on the Billboard Soul Singles chart and number six on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart. Also, with the use of the word “damn” in the tune, that made it the first number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart to include a curse word.
Some people also consider it to be trailblazing in its influence on disco, considering it one of the very first Disco songs. It was also ranked at number thirty-eight on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list. Due to its popularity, various television shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Simpsons, and The X-Files included the song in their episodes. Sesame Street even parodied the song. Many artists including Jay-Z and Young MC sampled the song. And a wide array of artists covered it including Sammy Davis Jr. and Cabaret Voltaire.
5. You Light Up My Life – You Light Up My Life (1977)
Joseph Brooks (Music & Lyrics)
A ballad of epic proportions, “You Light Up My Life” became the best-selling single of the 1970’s. Performed in the film and on the soundtrack by Kasey Cisyk and lip-synced in the film by actress Didi Conn, “You Light Up My Life” really took off after Debby Boone recorded and released her version on her album of the same name. Boone’s version held number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for ten weeks, a new record at the time. It also charted at number one on the Adult Contemporary Billboard chart and hit number four on the Country Billboard chart. The tune also hit number one on Record World Magazine’s Top 100 Singles Chart for a record thirteen weeks.
After the success of Boone’s version, the songwriter Joseph Brooks won the Best Original Song Academy Award, Best Original Song at the Golden Globes, and a GRAMMY award for Song of the Year (tied with Evergreen). Boone’s version on her album with the same time, was the best-selling single of the 1970’s. On an all-time Billboard Hot 100 list, the tune ranked at number nine for its success on the chart. Whitney Houston, LeAnn Rimes, Irish band Westlife have recorded notable cover versions of the popular song. This song continues to light up listeners’ lives.
4. Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star is Born) – A Star is Born (1976)
Barbra Streisand (Music), Paul Williams (Lyrics)
“Evergreen” is a moving romantic ballad, with fantastic vocals by Barbra Streisand, who also composed the music for the tune. “Evergreen” features sentimental lyrics by Paul Williams and a wonderful arrangement by Ian Freebairn-Smith. For “Evergreen” Streisand became the first female music composer to win the Best Original Song Academy Award. The tune also won Best Original Song at the Golden Globe Awards.
A huge hit with audiences in the United Stated, the tune hit number one on the Hot 100 for three weeks. It also hit number one for six weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart. It was the forth biggest selling single of nineteen seventy-seven. “Evergreen” had impressive nomination for three categories at the Grammys for Record of the Year. And it won two Grammys for Song of the Year (tied with “You Light Up My Life”) and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. To audiences worldwide this song, “is ageless and evergreen”.
3. Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Burt Bacharach (music) Hal David (lyrics)
This Best Original Song winner is an uplifting and cheerful tune, written by songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and Hal David. After featuring in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the tune went to number one in various countries including the United States and Canada. It was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks and number one on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart for seven. It ended up at number four on the nineteen seventy Billboard Year End list, a huge hit song for that year. Since then, a wide array of talented artists like Dionne Warwick, Johnny Mathis and the Manic Street Preachers in the mid-nineties covered the song.
“Raindrops” has also been referenced and used in plenty of television and film, it actually is a featured song on the popular Forrest Gump soundtrack and Spider-Man 2 soundtrack. It was ranked at number twenty three on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Songs list and Billboard Magazine’s Top 50 Movie Songs of all-time, it ranked at number fifteen and eighty five on their Hot 100 songs of all-time. In 2014 “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame further cementing it as a beloved classic.
2. The Way We Were – The Way We Were (1973)
Marvin Hamlisch (Music) Alan & Marilyn Bergman (Lyrics)
The Best Original Song Academy Award Winning title-track of the film of the same name, is a melancholy, nostalgic love ballad. With stunning vocals by the one and only Barbra Streisand, who also stars in the film alongside Robert Redford, and gorgeous lyrics by the amazing lyric duo of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and music by the incomparable Marvin Hamlisch, it is truly an unforgettable song. “The Way We Were” was incredibly popular with audiences, and the tune topped the Billboard charts in the United States and Canada.
“Way” ended up being the number one song of 1974 on Billboard’s Year End chart in the United States. “The Way We Were” also impressively won Best Original Song at the Golden Globes in seventy-four and Song of the Year at the GRAMMY awards in 1975. The song also ranked at number two-hundred and ninety-eight on the Songs of the Century list that the National Endowment for the Arts and Recording Industry Association of America compiled. There are numerous cover version, but most notable is Gladys Knight & The Pips who released a hit cover of the tune that they mashed-up with “Try to Remember”.
1. “Moon River” – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Henry Mancini (Music), Johnny Mercer (Lyrics)
Wonderfully performed by Audrey Hepburn in the film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, this Best Original Song Academy Award Winner is a true gem. A touching, romantic tune, “Moon River” captured the hearts of listeners worldwide. “Moon River” also impressively won Record and Song of the Year at the nineteen sixty-two GRAMMY awards. Hepburn’s “Moon River” landed at number 4 on the list of the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Songs list. The song is so popular that it is now used to in a test of people’s memories of popular songs. Andy Williams, who performed the tune at the Academy Awards, used the the song as theme song for his television show, as he sang the first eight bars of the tune at the beginning of every episode.
Williams also names his autobiography “Moon River and Me” and named his production company after the song. “Moon River” songwriter Johnny Mercer’s grew up in small hometown near Savannah, Missouri. And that town renamed itself Moon River in honor of him and this song. Artists like Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan covered the song. An a capella version by Jacob Collier, won at the two thousand and twenty GRAMMY awards for Best Arrangement Instrumental or A Capella, truly showing that “Moon River” is a timeless classic that is continuing to move audiences to this day.