Ryan’s Vintage Review: 2004’s AFI Top 100 Songs

Originally written on June 3, 2007! (yup, I reviewed the show 3 years after it came out and now post it 5 years after that

This is the most uninspiring category for the AFI Top 100 series of all. To narrow a movie down to a song is just…just…dumb. And here I thought “100 Heroes & Villains” and “100 Stars” were weak. Where’s the list of Top 100 Westerns or Top 100 War Films or Top 100 Sci-Fi Flicks or Top 100 Directors?

Typically, the only “drama” was in the first hour of the show when they threw a few curveballs. #1, #2, & #3 were so obvious, they should have started with those and worked their way up to #100 instead. Disclaimer: I fully acknowledge that film people voted for these and the rankings only happened the way they did because these particular 100 got the most votes. That’s how it works. To argue about placement is besides the point. So let’s do it anyway!

Too much Streisand on the list. Way too much Streisand. I know Hollywood and gays all over the world have a collective orgasm when she picks up a microphone, but she was over-represented. Probably a little too much Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli too. For that matter, West Side Story, The Sound Of Music, and musicals in general dominated more than they should have. Does no one realize that West Side Story is a suck-ass load with lame acting and ridiculousness at every turn?

Lots ‘n’ lots of Julie Andrews. That’s a good thing. A surprising amount of songs in Fred Astaire flicks. Also a good thing. And 3 of the classics from Singin’ In The Rain. One more good thing.

Good to see they paid tribute to statutory rape by voting “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” from Gigi into #56. Good for you, AFI enablers.

They named more than one movie to represent the song if multiple films used the same classic song (the Young Frankenstein counterpoint for “Puttin’ On The Ritz” was hilarious), so why didn’t Dolly Parton’s version of “I Will Always Love You” get mentioned right along with Whitney’s version? I’ll take Dolly’s pipes over Whitney’s any day. Apparently, the AFI wouldn’t.

Awesome to see “Stayin’ Alive” at #9 and “Gonna Fly Now” at #58. The Rocky theme should have finished much closer to #1, but at least it made it. Pleasant surprise to see some of my other favourite movie songs too—“Nobody Does It Better” at #67, “The Rainbow Connection” at #74, “Born To Be Wild” at #29, and “Springtime For Hitler” at #80.

Interesting that only 2 post-1977 songs made it into the Top 25, particularly when 15 of the first 25 (#75-#100) were post-1977 songs. I don’t know what the significance of post-1977 is. Just made it up. Point is, the closer we got to #1, the more the old tunes took over.

Catchy tunes in cheesy movies—“Theme From New York, New York” at #31, “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life” at #86, “9 To 5” at #78, “Flashdance” at #55, “Up Where We Belong” at #75.

No room for “Follow The Yellow Brick Road”, huh? Two other song made it from Oz, but what’s the harm in giving props to the sing-songiest ditty in the whole movie?

Total surprises—were there any? Well, “Come What May” at #85 and “Fight The Power” at #40 were two I didn’t expect to see. They’re both pretty good, but their invitation to this party didn’t seem like obvious choices at all.

Musicals were over-represented. In an already bogus episode of this on-going “100 Years” series, they simply validated how stodgy and old the voters are by casting so many ballots for songs in a genre that was dead until Moulin Rouge revived it in ’01. How classic can some of these songs be if most of us film fans don’t even know them? There were about 15 that I had never heard of in my life until this list came out or didn’t know that song would be associated with that particular movie.

“Isn’t It Romantic?” from Love Me Tonight is a good example of that. Never heard of the movie, but of course I’ve heard of the song. So if this all-time great tune is not something a movie fanatic would link to this old movie, why did it make the list? For great ditties that helped make a scene great, there’s lots. It’s easy to associate the following songs with the following movies:
Old Time Rock N Roll (Risky Business–1983)……..Cruise dancing in his underwear
Up Where We Belong (An Officer And A Gentleman–1982)……..Gere carries Winger out of the factory and into the good life
Gonna Fly Now (Rocky–1976)……..Rocky runs the streets of Philly
Born To Be Wild (Easy Rider–1969)……..Fonda & Hopper ridin’ those motorcycles
Unchained Melody (Ghost–1990)……..Demi & Swayze get gooey in clay
Stayin’ Alive (Saturday Night Fever–1977)……..the strut

Those songs are forever linked with those movies. I hardly used any kind of in-depth description to illustrate my point there, but I bet you could visualize the scene in each of those movies instantly. That’s a classic song in this context. Whether or not you would ever throw them into your CD player (or whether or not you even like them), it’s hard to deny that they’re galvanizing in the context of each of those films. Most of the list, however, was just about, “Hey, I liked that song, even if nobody would ever think of it as being from [fill in the blank]. Good enough!”

But that’s not good enough. We’ve already got Casey Kasem to handle music countdowns. This list should have been more about tunes that suit the movie they’re in, that stay with you for the rest of your movie-going life.

Richard Roeper of “Ebert & Roeper” wondered why the songs below (and others I didn’t think should be included) wound up being can’t-misses that missed:
“The End” — Apocalypse Now
“Bohemian Rhapsody” — Wayne’s World
“A Mighty Wind” — title song
“Son of a Preacher Man” — Pulp Fiction
“(Don’t You) Forget About Me” — The Breakfast Club
“Live to Tell” — At Close Range
“Live and Let Die” — title song
“Tiny Dancer” — Almost Famous

I’m with him on “The End”, “Don’t You Forget About Me”, “Live To Tell” and “Tiny Dancer”. Elton’s beauty from Almost Famous, in particular, was inexplicably overlooked. That’s one of my favourite film moments in the past 25 years, that whole “bonding with music on the bus” stuff. It’s great. But the AFI doesn’t think so. That’s what this kind of show is all about, though, I s’pose. The voters make stupid choices and we get to berate them for it.

Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino would be easy winners of an award for Best Use Of A Pre-Exisiting Song, if such a trophy was ever invented. Yet next to nothing from their films got a nod on this list. Huh.

So is “Over The Rainbow” a bad pick for #1? No, but I prefer “Follow The Yellow Brick Road” and “We’re Off To See The Wizard” from the Judy Garland classic even more. If the name of this AFI list had been “Best Collection Of Songs In A Single Movie”, then The Wizard Of Oz would be #1 in a walk.

Bottom line—as great as “Over The Rainbow” surely is, I tend to toss Major League (to hear “Wild Thing”) and The Last Waltz (to rock out to “Helpless”) into the DVD player more often than any others. Nobody said a word about those in the “100 Years, 100 Songs” AFI list. Yup, a lame category and a dull selection of 100.

copyright Ryan Ellis 2013

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