Taking advantage of European copyright law, which places in the public domain recordings that are more than 50 years old, this collection contains versions of the first 17 songs to win an Academy Award, mostly as they were heard in their respective films, cutting off in 1951 to stay within the law. An Oscar for best song was added in 1934, the first winner being Herb Magidson and Con Conrad's "The Continental" from The Gay Divorcée. In the film, the song was presented in a lengthy production number, complete with dialogue, and performed by several different people, most prominently Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The audio excerpt here, running more than seven and a half minutes, is incomplete (in the film, the number runs 17 minutes), illustrating the occasional difficulty of using actual soundtrack excerpts. Similarly, "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" from 1946's The Harvey Girls was the basis for a lengthy production number, and here it runs more than eight and a half minutes. The compilers gave up when it came to "Mona Lisa" from 1950's Captain Carey U.S.A., since the song is never performed in more than fragments in the film itself; they opted to borrow Nat King Cole's hit studio recording instead. The material includes the best efforts of such noted screen composers as Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Oscar Hammerstein II, E.Y. Harburg, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, and Harry Warren, and their work is sung by Bing Crosby, Alice Faye, Judy Garland, and Bob Hope, among others. There is a good cross section of pop styles, from novelties like "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" to love songs like "The Way You Look Tonight" and witty efforts like "Thanks for the Memory" and "Baby It's Cold Outside." The Oscar winners may not have been the best songs of their time, but they were close.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann