Song? What Song?

I did break away from the computer on Sunday night to watch some of the Academy Awards ceremony… and one part of the awards absolutely appalled and floored me, and that was the award for the best original song.

It could be that I was so negatively astonished because I’ve always been under the impression that songs were supposed to have more than a dozen words, rather than the same ten repeated endlessly. Or it could be that I believe that they’re supposed to have melodies longer than a commercial jingle, and that those melodies should be better than those of a commercial jingle.

Of the three “nominees,” I don’t think any single one had a phrase longer than about four bars [maybe six?], before repeating. All had simplistic and droning repetitive rhythms, as well as equally simplistic lyrics. All three “songs” were the song-writer’s equivalent of classical music minimalism crossed with repetitive rhythm… and people claim opera is boring? Compared to what I heard on Sunday night, I’m not so certain I’d rather not sit through all sixteen hours of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle than spend fifteen minutes listening to such so-called songs… and supposedly these were the “best” of 2008?

In this light, one of the most ironic aspects of the ceremony was the music number performed by Hugh Jackman and a hundred or so others that proclaimed that “the musical is back.” Oh… virtually all the lyrics were from older musicals, cannibalized or perhaps zombie-ized, for the production. No… it appears that musicals may be resurrected by Hollywood, but they’re not being created or born because no one seems able or willing to write songs that are actually songs… or, if they can, those who produce the movies seem unwilling to include anything that’s actually an original song.

Now, I’ve seen a number of very good new movies over the past year, with a number of good songs as part of the soundtracks, or even performed. BUT…none of those songs were new or original. Where are the modern equivalents of Love is a Many Splendored Thing, White Christmas, Over the Rainbow, Moon River, You Light Up My Life, The Way We Were, The Windmills of Your Mind, or The Shadow of Your Smile? Even the losers of past years — such as Nobody Does it Better, On the Road Again, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Our Love Affair, That Old Black Magic — are far better than recent winners.

Just what happened to actual song-writers? The ones who knew what melody and lyrics were and who could move listeners without the aid of gyrating dancers and near-lethal percussion?