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 411mania » Music » Columns

The 8 Ball 03.01.14: Top 8 Oscar Musical Performances
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 03.01.2014

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!

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Top 8 Oscar Musical Performances

Welcome to the 411 Music 8 Ball, folks! As you may well know, the Oscars are this Sunday. There will be lots of glitz and glamour...as well as a lot of musical performances. The Best Original Song nominees are always performed and I'm quite looking forward to all of them, not to mention P!nk and Bette Midler's performances. This week we're going to look at the best Oscar musical performance of years past.

Caveat: For this list, I didn't consider the opening numbers or random humorous interludes, only the performances for Best Original Song nominees. Other than that, it was open season.

Just Missing The Cut

Bjork - "I've Seen It All" (2001)
Robin Williams - "Blame Canada" (2000)
Bon Jovi - "Blaze of Glory" (1991)
Adele - "Skyfall" (2013)
Paige O'Hara, Richard White and Jerry Orbach - "Belle" and "Be Our Guest" (1992)

#8: U2 - "The Hands That Built America" (2003)

First up on our list is one of this year's nominees in their previous nomination. The Irish rock group earned their first nod for "The Hands That Built America" from Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York and while it didn't win--having the unfortunate circumstance of being up against Eminem's "Lose Yourself"--it was easily the best performance at the awards that year as Eminem didn't take the stage for his rap song. After Colin Farrell gave the song an appropriate introduction about how it honored Irish immigrants who came to the US, Bono and company took the stage and delivering a chill-inducing rendition of the song. For added resonance, the performance included historical footage of immigrants in the background. It's perhaps U2's best awards performance to date really made for a great Oscar musical moment.

#7: Glen Hansard and Markéta Iglová - "Falling Slowly" (2008)

This is one of my absolute favorite Best Song winners, period. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's performances as the lead characters of Once were fantastic, but it was the musical performances that really made them stand out and "Falling Slowly" was nominated for Best Original Song. That gave the two, who were singers and songwriters before they were cast in the film, a chance to perform on the Oscar stage. What works so well here is the performance's simplicity. It isn't given an elaborate arrangement, there is no choreography...there's nothing except Hansard and his guitar, and Irglová and her piano. It's nothing but the music, pure and simple, and that really allows it to stand out. This song, and particularly this performance, is one of those rare numbers that drives me to a truly emotional reaction every time that I hear it. It may not be the most famous of Oscar performances, but it's certainly one of the best.

#6: Madonna - "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" (1991)

At this point, Madonna has performance twice at the Oscars and it's not really a shocking thing. In 1991, that wasn't so much the case. Exhibit A: Billy Crystal's quip before the Material Girl's performance that this was "the NC-17 portion of our really big show." Madonna delivered a brilliantly captivating performance of "Sooner or Later" from Dick Tracy in a Marilyn Monroe-esque number, vamping her way through the performance exactly as Breathless Mahoney (her character in the film) might have done. But it's not just about the style and attitude; this is one of those knockout vocal deliveries by Madonna, the kind that showed exactly why she deserves to be one of the most famous pop singers in history. The song, written by Stephen Sondheim, was perfectly matched to the movie and to Madonna and she truly made the most out of her first time on the Oscar stage.

#5: Elliott Smith - "Miss Misery" (1998)

Elliott Smith's "Miss Misery" is more or less a footnote in Oscar history as "the song that got crushed by Celine Dion." 1998 was Titanic's year and Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" was the most obvious Best Original Song win since--well, since "You Must Love Me" from Evita the year before. But I'll be frank; I can't stand that treacly, ridiculously over-the-top song and while Dion knocked it out of the part at the 69th Oscars, the song makes me grind my teeth and I couldn't rightly include it on my list. Smith's performance, on the other hand, is clearly the better performance because of its stripped-down nature, choosing to lure listeners in emotionally rather than bludgeon them with emoting. Smith took the stage and delivered the Good Will Hunting song in fantastic form...ironic, since he only performed because he was told that another artist would sing it if he turned it down. It's a wonderful performance and the song doesn't get enough credit for being a great one.

#4: Michael Jackson - "Ben" (1973)

A lot of people forget that Michael Jackson's first solo #1 hit was this bizarre song, which is from a horror film about a young boy and his affection for his pet rat. It's not exactly the first topic that comes to mind for a gentle love song. But that's exactly what we have here, and damn if it isn't an amazing performance. Jackson was fourteen years old when he recorded this song for the Ben soundtrack and it's not at all outside the realm of sanity to suggest that its #1 status and critical acclaim (including its Oscar nomination) helped spur him toward the unparalleled solo success that he would have in his career. Jackson performed this song at the 1973 Academy Awards and people instantly stood up and took notice at how he was able to stand tall even without the Jackson 5 behind him. The performance is absolutely fantastic and Jackson displayed an amazing range...particularly for someone in their mid-teens when one's voice begins to change and there isn't AutoTune to fix any such problems. It's an amazing performance and perhaps the first true standout one in Jackson's solo career.

#3: Three 6 Mafia - "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" (2006)

This song was an absolute first for the Oscars. Eminem had previously won an Oscar for "Lose Yourself," but this was the first time a nominated hip-hop song was performed at the show and I would venture to say that the Academy wasn't quite ready for what this Southern rap group was going to deliver. The silliness of this performance is that the Academy made them change "bitches" to "witches," but the fact that it was nominated at all was a victory for the genre. The group delivered an energetic, fired-up rendition of the Hustle & Flow song and then returned to take the stage when the award beat out Crash's "In The Deep" (one of the worst Oscar performances of all time, by the way) and Transamerica's "Travelin' Thru" for the Oscar. The whole set-up was the opposite of the stripped-down style that many of the songs on this list had, but it's what made sense for this one and it was spectacular.

#2: Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson & Anika Noni Rose - Dreamgirls Medley (2007)

It was almost an entirely foregone conclusion that Dreamgirls would be taking home the Best Original Song award at the 79th Academy Awards...which is what made it all the more surprising when Melissa Etheridge's "I Need to Wake Up" from An Inconvenient Truth was the winner. But in terms of who won "Performance of the Night" it was a runaway win for these three from the Bill Condon-directed musical adaptation. Beyonce was already a bonafide musical star before Dreamgirls, while Jennifer Hudson was the American Idol elimination who had a shot at showing the reality singing competition up. Both singer/actresses' stars rose considerably with their work and Anika Noni Rose was fantastic as well. When they took the stage at the Oscars it was a true moment in Oscar history. The vocal deliveries were off the charts and it was so good that Beyonce would try to replicate the magic in many performances of "Listen" after. She never quite got this close though.

#1: Bruce Springsteen - "Streets Of Philadelphia" (1994)

As I've said before, "Streets of Philadelphia" is my favorite (and, I believe, the best) Best Original Song winner of all-time. And it received a performance appropriately befitting its poignancy. It's a moody, weary song and the stage lighting befit that, not to mention of course Springsteen's vocal work. I've always felt that Springsteen has one of the best weary tones in rock music and this incredibly powerful song is one of the best examples of that. Like many of the songs on this list it was stripped down to its core, which allowed the artist and his music to shine the brightest. It's a show-stopping moment and truly the best of all Oscar performances.


Before we depart, it's time to look at this week's Music Video A-Go-Go. You've seen the best Oscar performances above, so here's one of the all-time worst: Rob Lowe and Snow White (aka Eileen Bowman) delivering some kind of bizarre inanity at the 61st Academy Awards. Enjoy, if you can:

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.


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