Way Back 2021

March 15, 2021 - Oscar Nominees Feature Archaic-Chic Song Faves, Grammys Stage Memorial Tributes

Filmdom's awards season rolls on about two months behind its usual schedule with the long-awaited announcement of Oscar's nominations for 2020's best movies. Some of the films not mentioned in previous posts include two Best Picture contenders that feature vintage recordings heard mainly in the background. Director Chloe Zhao's Nomadland, the frontrunner for top honors at the late-April ceremony, depicts Frances McDormand's main character Fern as a fan of oldies, including Nat "King" Cole's 1954 hit "Answer Me, My Love," Kitty Wells' 1952 country smash "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" and "Tequila," The Champs' chart topper from '58.

The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin's Best Pic entry set during and in the aftermath of the 1968 Democratic convention, features a little-known song by Jon and Robin, "Truly, Truly True." the 1963 hit "Just One Look" by Doris Troy and a version of "Eve of Destruction" by the song's composer, P.F. Sloan. A few other nominated films have hand-picked mid-century hits: Pieces of a Woman gives us The Four Aces' top ten tune from 1953, "Stranger in Paradise," while special effects showcase Love and Monsters spins three all-time standards: "You Really Got Me" by The Kinks, "Only the Lonely" by Roy Orbison and Ben E. King's twice-top-ten "Stand By Me."

Just hours before the Academy Award announcement early Monday, the Grammy Awards were broadcast on CBS. The only references to music history were limited to the show's "In Memoriam" segment, a well-presented tribute to some (but not all) of music's notable figures who passed during the previous 14 months. Bruno Mars performed rousing renditions of "Long Tall Sally" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" in honor of Little Richard, while Lionel Richie paid his respects in song to Kenny Rogers and Brandi Carlile similarly performed a tribute to John Prine.

March 10, 2021 - So Many Oldies in Current Pop Culture...So Little Time

Let's start things off with The United States vs. Billie Holiday, wherein Andra Day delivers the closest interpretation yet of the sound and overall essence of the great diva through several of Lady Day's best-known hits, a role that scored her the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama. One 1956 recording by Ray Charles, "Hallelujah I Love Her So," found its way into one of the movie's nightclub scenes. Many other current films (in theaters, on satellite or streaming) feature hits dating back a half-century-plus, including "Sunday Will Never Be the Same" by Spanky and Our Gang from crime thriller I Care a Lot with Rosamund Pike, the Globes' winning Actress in a Musical or Comedy (thinking out loud here: shouldn't the categories have been reversed on these two films?).

The Little Things, starring serial-killer-chaser Denzel Washington, features smasheroonies by the splendid trio of Etta James ("At Last"), Mary Wells ("My Guy") and Little Peggy March ("I Will Follow Him"). On the Rocks gives us Bill Murray, alcohol, Rashida Jones, New York City and a couple of first-rate jazz recordings, "In Orbit" by Clark Terry with Thelonious Monk from '58 and Chet Baker's "I Get Along Without You Very Well" from the trumpeter's first time cracking the mic on the 1956 LP Chet Baker Sings, in addition to a wild card choice, 1959's "Nessuno" (that's "nobody" if your Italian is rusty), an early entry in the career of still-going-strong singing star Mina. The Midnight Sky (not George Clooney's or Felicity Jones's first sci-fi starring roles!) goes against the grain with Neil Diamond's 1969 megahit "Sweet Caroline." Another Round (more alcohol!) makes use of The Meters' '69 hit "Cissy Strut" on a mosty-classical soundtrack.

Documentary Life in a Day 2020 (a sequel to the original 2010 Life in a Day), filmed completely by global contributors this past July 25, has a random 53-year-old song in one segment: "Quano Quando Quando" ("when" in Italian) by Engelbert Humperdinck. A TV ad for Traeger Grills depicts a large group of people following a runaway barbecue grill to the sound of a '66 hit that may have a similar effect on rats: "The Pied Piper" by Crispian St. Peters. A much smaller group of motorcycle shop employees sing along to The Foundations' million seller "Build Me Up Buttercup" in a commercial for Geico insurance.

February 14, 2021 - Time for More "Puppy Love" and Another Classic Hair Hit

Staying healthy with the High Priestess: Nina Simone is now a spokesperson for One-A-Day vitamins through the use of her 1968 recording of "Ain't Got No; I Got Life" (from the Broadway musical Hair) on a current commercial. Pooch Perfect, ABC-TV's dog-grooming reality show starring Rebel Wilson (of the Pitch Perfect movie series) has a promo running for its second season featuring what must be the most obvious song choice: Paul Anka's 1960 hit "Puppy Love." The Valentine's Day premiere of American Idol's 19th season featured many of the usual classic oldies sung by auditioning hopefuls, in addition to one original heard in the background of a father-daughter segment: "My Daddy Knows Best" by Motown's first hitmaking girl group, The Marvelettes.

January 25, 2021 - Vintage Jazz Instrumentals Come on Strong in Early-'21 Award-Bait Films

So far in 2021 the hottest movie music that's not from the last half-century comes in the form of instrumentals - mostly in the jazz realm - no need for lyrics or vocals! Pixar's Soul, starring Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, addresses the New York music scene before and after death. Bass specialist Charles Mingus's "II B.S." hasn't lost its powerful punch 57 years after release; Bob Dylan's frequently-ballyhooed "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (his first top 40 hit) still thrills after nearly the same number of clock-ticks between then and now.

Director Regina King's One Night in Miami, gaining immediate buzz after its premiere on Amazon Prime, paints a fascinating portrait of the time Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Jim Brown all crossed paths; the film has many Cooke songs performed by actor Leslie Odom Jr. along with some later Latin jazz tracks. Three early-'60s originals come from the archives of Sam Cooke's Derby and Sar labels: "Greazee," an early-career instro jam by organist Billy Preston, as well as vocal ballads by Johnnie Morisette ("Always on My Mind") and Sam's brother L.C. Cook ("Put Me Down Easy").

The Forty-Year-Old Version, written and directed by and starring Radha Blank, features dozens of compelling selections old and new. Two moody jazz classics stand out: 1964's "Cristo Redentor" by trumpeter Donald Byrd and "Love and Peace" by Quincy Jones from 1969. One TV commercial is worthy of mention: Percy Faith's massive 1960 hit (Theme from) A Summer Place" played all through the cold-weather holiday season on a spot for the Nissan Rogue, while Percy's Christmas recordings popped out of radios left and right. So the question was, "Will this spot still be playing after the New Year?" The answer: Yes! It's still going!


Tequila Just One Look You Really Got Me Good Golly, Miss Molly My Guy I Will Follow Him Sophisticated Cissy Puppy Love (Theme from) A Summer Place