Various Artists

Academy Award Winning Songs, Vol. 5 (1982-1993)

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Academy Award Winning Songs, Vol. 5 (1982-1993) is the fifth in a series of CDs which features every winner of the Best Song Oscar in chronological order. The disc begins with a particularly dismal period in the history of the Best Song category, during which the winner was always the biggest pop radio hit among the nominees. But it also spans the beginning of a renaissance in film music in the early '90s. Most of the songs on the first half of the album come from thoroughly forgettable movies like White Nights, The Woman in Red, and Flashdance. But the disc does make a perfectly decent "Retro '80s" compilation for those who remember fondly the synth-drenched adult contemporary hits like "I Just Called to Say I Love You," "Say You, Say Me," and "Up Where We Belong." This album cover reads like a Casey Casem playlist. Fortunately, film music hit rock bottom in 1988. During that entire year only 19 songs were written for movies, and the producer of the Academy Awards show refused to let the best song nominees be performed, saying he wasn't in the business of promoting MTV videos. The industry could only go up from there, and it experienced a rebirth of good songwriting in 1989, thanks mostly to a series of critically acclaimed animated musicals from Disney. Between '89 and '95, only two Best Song awards went to non-Disney compositions. Both were by songwriters who are universally listed among the best in their genres, Stephen Sondheim and Bruce Springsteen. As it happens, those songs are the only two on this CD that aren't performed either by their composer or by the original performer. Sondheim's clever "Sooner or Later," sung by Madonna in Dick Tracy, is given a barely adequate, low-budget rendition by cabaret star Karen Akers. Springsteen's smart, poignant "Streets of Philadelphia" gets much better treatment by veteran folkie Richie Havens. Havens' interpretation is a little less powerful than Springsteen's, but his inventive acoustic arrangement gives the song a wistful intimacy that is entirely appropriate.

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