There were only three nominees in the Best Original Song category at the 61st Academy Awards, presented to films released in 1988. This was the first time I can recall hearing the argument that it was time to eliminate the category altogether, the proposal accompanied by the insistence that it was a relic of the time when Hollywood was still cranking out original musicals on a regular basis. Even though the nineteen-eighties were boom years for soundtracks, there was a sense that the process of assembling a batch of pop songs that could be slapped onto cassettes (that was the music delivery system of choice those days, kids) was an achievement of marketing departments and partnered record labels rather than filmmakers. The inability of the Academy to find the typical five contenders was a sure sign that a reconsideration of the category was due.
Now had they really tried, the musicians probably could have found a couple more options. Certainly the Academy’s predilection for pop stars as they begin the downslope of their career had a chance to make an invite to Cyndi Lauper at least a little appealing. She didn’t write “Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China),” but she was the performer of the track included in the film Vibes, which also served as her first attempt at turning into a full-fledged film actor. Now, there was probably no way the Academy was going to let the film Vibes, one of the true artistic and box office disasters of the year, show up anywhere on their nominations list, even though the Best Original Song category in surrounding years was able to make room for such reviled titles as Mannequin, Chances Are, and Young Guns II.
I can’t personally speak to the quality of Vibes, though I’ve seen just enough to trust that the brutal reviews are accurate (I once popped it into the VCR at one of the video stores I worked at in the late-eighties and early-nineties and found it dreadful even under those circumstances of high distraction). The song’s pretty fun, though, at least on par with mediocre winner and a certainly better than the wispy songs from Phil Collins and the film Baghdad Cafe that officially competed. But really what does Lauper care? She’s got a Tony.
Finally, any discussion of the 61st Academy Awards absolutely requires that I include a link to its most notorious element.
Listen or download –> Cyndi Lauper, “Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)”
(Disclaimer: Let’s be real. The Vibes soundtrack is out of print. I went be surprised if it went out of print about a month after it was released. The whole thing was a serious disaster. I checked through about four different Cyndi Lauper “best of” releases without finding it on the individual track listings before I finally gave up. It’s possible that it’s available for purchase from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that duly compensates the proprietor of said store, the artist, and the songwriter, but I can’t find proof of that. Go buy the original Broadway cast recording for Kinky Boots. Lauper would probably prefer that anyway. Despite my conviction that sharing the track her does no real harm, I will gladly remove it from the Internet if asked to do so by anyone with due authority to make such a request.)