When it came time to hand out Oscar nominations for the 1988 movie year, Academy members were so dismayed by the compositions eligible for the Best Original Song category that they reduced the number of contenders by forty percent. Only three songs were nominated, and one of them was a thoroughly unremarkable (and little-known) wisp of nothing from the minor indie hit Bagdad Cafe. There was even some talk of scrapping the category altogether, even though much of the nineteen-eighties had been a boom time for movie soundtracks, with enormous hits going on to become Oscar winners.
And anyway, the real problem with the category was that the voters weren’t looking hard enough. There might have been a shortage of treacly ballads penned by Diane Warren or other default favorites of the Academy’s music branch, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t other gems written directly for the screen. As proof, I humbly submit “Hairspray.”
The most durable and pliable of John Waters’s cinematic creations, Hairspray is grand in every way. That poppy perfection includes the music, most of which is assembled from the vintage Tune Tote 45 RPM case in the Baltimore filmmaker’s beauteous brain. The sole exception is the title cut that opens the film, a zippy bit of retro goodness recorded by Rachel Sweet, a diminutive singer who knew her way around an oldie. The song is precious, witty, and actually relates smartly to the film in which it resides. It’s irresistible. Then again, I guess the Academy was able to resist it just fine.
Eventually, a different awards body would have the sense to realize Waters was an inspirational impresario of fine musical efforts.
Listen or download –> Rachel Sweet, “Hairspray”
(Disclaimer: Although I haven’t looked lately, I believe the Hairspray soundtrack — the 1988 version, to be precise — is out of print as a physical item that can be procured from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said store and the original artist. This song is shared here with the understanding that doing so impedes no fair commerce. I also maintain sharing the song is “fair use.” Even so, I know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove it from my corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)