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My Avatar Will Go On

Last week, as the four of us—me, Janet, Jamie, and, for a short time only, special guest and firstborn Nick—left the theater after our second viewing of Dances with FernGully, I noted with some alarm that the first two notes of the chorus of “I See You,” sung by the lovely and talented Leona Lewis, sounded identical to the first two notes of “My Heart Will Go On.” Since the tempo of the two songs is similar as well, I unfortunately spent much of the rest of the evening mentally singing, “near, far, it’s your avatar/ I believe that Eywa does go on....”

This pedestrian observation led Nick to ask a pointed and difficult question: since when, exactly, have these blockbuster movies adopted versions of the Soaring Ballad as their theme songs?  Historians of the Soaring Ballad note that its use spans a variety of genres, appearing even in the work of “rock” bands on the soundtracks of Michael Bay films.  “Did it all begin with The Bodyguard?” Nick asked.  “Goodness, no,” I replied.  “I mean, you’d have to include Maureen McGovern’s classic, Academy-Award-winning [!!] ‘(There’s Got to Be) A Morning After’ from The Poseidon Adventure, and, uh....” Whereupon, dear readers, I realized that I did not know what to say. 

This was most disconcerting.  Not merely because I am usually quite willing to mouth off about the origins of art forms about which I know nothing (and you know, I still get smooth-jazz spam as a result of that damn post), but more crucially because I think it is my job, as Nick’s father, to provide him with answers to life’s important questions, even if these answers are totally wrong, so that he will continue to look up to me as a font of all human knowledge.  But on this one, I have to admit, I got nothing.

So, friends, any ideas?  Who can we blame for the Rise of the Soaring Movie Theme Ballad?

Posted by on 01/04 at 01:42 PM
  1. Bond films, perhaps? Admittedly Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” has more raunch than wan, but therein lies a marriage of the big belting popular number to the eagerly-awaited blockbuster.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:04 PM
  2. But it’s not Friday. I’m not prepared to dispense arbitrary but fun pop culture opinions on Monday.

    Posted by Orange  on  01/04  at  03:04 PM
  3. Bond films were always in a separate category.

    While I’ll credit Maureen McGovern and/or Yvonne Elliman (JCSS was similarly fortunate with “I Don’t Know How to Sing This"), the trend became major in the mid to late 1990s.

    If I have to pick a starting point, it would be Boyz II Men with “End of the Road” for some mediocre Eddie Murphy movie. (Boomerang?)

    Captcha: end

    Posted by Ken Houghton  on  01/04  at  03:18 PM
  4. "Bond films were always in a separate category.”

    Separate to what? If you mean that they stood apart in the marketplace due to the “blue-chip” perception of the franchise, then surely their use of ballads has been something to emulate, no?

    But if not Bond, then how about Simpson and Bruckheimer movies, or anything starring a young Tom Cruise or Richard Gere in his pomp?

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:27 PM
  5. You might start with the winners of the Best Song Oscars ... start with “The Morning After” and go backward until you can’t find any more winners that fit the category of Soaring Movie Theme Ballad. I’d say “Born Free” is a possible winner, and it’s a few years before Poseidon Adventure.

    Posted by Steven  on  01/04  at  03:34 PM
  6. Have we already forgotten Lulu?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPi-nnC8VD4

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:36 PM
  7. Forget Lulu?  Who would, Fardels Bear?

    (Terribly sorry - I always wanted to say it.)

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:39 PM
  8. "Born Free,” from the 1966 film of the same name, sung by Andy Williams?

    “(Theme from) A Summer Place,” the 1960 film? Yes, it was the instrumental that was a huge hit by Percy Faith and his orchestra, but Andy Williams (again!) sang it very well on his “Moon River” album.

    I hadn’t remembered the ubiquity of Williams as film theme performer; damn this 59-year-old thing.

    Posted by Linkmeister  on  01/04  at  03:56 PM
  9. Oh, moderate and be damned, Akismet!

    Posted by Linkmeister  on  01/04  at  03:56 PM
  10. I blame Celine Dion. But I blame her for just about everything. (and for good reason)

    e.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  04:16 PM
  11. This is funny—after I posted this, I remembered that I did not, in fact, mention “(There’s Got to Be) A Morning After” to Nick.  I mentioned “Born Free.” Which, backwards or upside down, is “Star Wars.” Those near and far wars, all of the time....

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  04:38 PM
  12. Oh, moderate and be damned, Akismet!

    Fixed.  That’s a fickle little device, it is.

    I blame Celine Dion. But I blame her for just about everything.

    Indeed, if not for Celine Dion, Quebec City would still have a hockey team.  With two Stanley Cups to its credit!

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  04:42 PM
  13. Elvis in “Love Me Tender?”

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  05:16 PM
  14. The soaring ballad theme is pretty standard in anime productions, and has been for many years.  Since many recent domestic films seem to be tearing a page from anime (or is that manga?) it seems reasonable that this aspect of the genre would be adopted as well.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  05:17 PM
  15. It occurs to me you could go back as far as 1949 and “Some Enchanted Evening” from “South Pacific,” if you wanted to, but there are so many good songs in that play that “Bali Ha’i” would get backers as the One True Ballad.

    Posted by Linkmeister  on  01/04  at  05:41 PM
  16. This is a two-pronged question; how do you define soaring ballad theme, and how far back do you want to go?  We seem to forget that silent movies were accompanied by live soundtracks played in the theaters.  Forced by Tin Pan Alley copyrights to play various “classics” as well as improvise, much of the canned repertoire consisted of melodic ballads.  I believe the original soundtrack of The Birth of a Nation: the Clansmen included many Civil War ballads.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  06:20 PM
  17. Love Story?

    That movie was hilarious.

    Posted by Peter K.  on  01/04  at  06:47 PM
  18. how far back do you want to go? 

    I would say no further than that movie about the workers coming out of the factory, to the tune of Whitney Houston’s soaring ballad, “One Moment in Time.”

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  07:14 PM
  19. Does “Moon River” count?  To be sure, it’s a wan one.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  07:46 PM
  20. "To Sir with Love” wasn’t so bad.

    Nor was “Alfie” altho maybe neither one of them soars a lot.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  08:08 PM
  21. One tin soldier rides away.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  08:52 PM
  22. Does ”The Porpoise Song” from The Monkees Head count as an example of the phenomenon?

    Posted by Ben Alpers  on  01/04  at  10:09 PM
  23. Well then, talkies and color came together in <The Wizard of Oz</i> which is filled with gooey mushy ballads and jinglistic songs (and 70 years old last week).  However that is essentially two films, and the one with all the music and color is a musical fantasy. 

    Some of those Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films were less musical and more romantic comedy rife with ballads.  And there were those Doris Day features in the 50s, along with epic cinerama travelogues pretending to be tender romances.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  12:35 AM
  24. Actually, I think the genre we are looking for here is more specifically “Soaring Movie Theme Ballad as Sung over the Ending Credits by an Adult Contemporary Singer.” Which, if you ask me, started with 1990s Disney movies, especially Beauty and the Beast.

    Posted by pmg  on  01/05  at  12:36 AM
  25. I think PMG is just about right, above, with the soaring ballad over the end credits.  I particularly recall sitting through the closing credits of “An American Tail” and noting the horrifying romantic ballad duet - James Ingraham and Roberta Flack, I think - covering a song done earlier in the film by two sibling mice.  And since then I’ve noticed the frequent inclusion of stuff over the end credits that’s obviously there only to juice sales on the soundtrack album.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  03:33 AM
  26. PMG FTW, then.  See also Pocahontas, The Lion King ... and to think that Disney’s Oliver and Company (presiding musical spirits:  Billy Joel and Huey Lewis) was such a bomb that it almost killed the Disney feature-length animated film altogether.  We might have been spared the Soaring Movie Theme Ballad as Sung over the Ending Credits by an Adult Contemporary Singer altogether....

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  09:35 AM
  27. This thread got me thinking about “Back in the USSR” “Lara’s Theme” and Doctor Zhivago; if it were made today the “Somewhere My Love” version would surely be soaringly sung over the end credits by Connie France* (as it was, a Swelling Full-Orchestral version of the theme was played).

    *I found myself foggy on exactly what the relationship between the movie theme and the song was and it is mildly entertaining story:

    By special request of Connie Francis, Paul Francis Webster later took the theme and added lyrics to it to create “Somewhere My Love”. Francis, however, retired from the project when the lyrics were presented to her because she thought of them as too “corny”. A few weeks later, Francis reconsidered her position and recorded the song nonetheless, but by then Ray Conniff had also recorded a version of his own, reaching #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1966. Conniff’s version of the song also topped the “Easy listening” chart in the U.S. for four weeks. Despite Conniff’s success, Francis also had her version released as a single, and although it failed to chart in the US, it became one of her biggest successes internationally, becoming one of the “Top 5” in territories such as Scandinavia and Asia. In Italy, her Italian version of the song, “Dove non so”, became her last # 1 success.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  10:38 AM
  28. I think it all started going wrong with American Graffiti, which seems to have changed the nature of the soundtrack from “Actual Music from the Film” to “Songs That We Think Are Cool and May Or May Not Actually Be Heard in the Movie.” This allowed record labels to load up “soundtrack” albums with about 5,000 horrible songs by Kenny Loggins, and, just as memorably, the military recruiting love ballads from “Top Gun.”

    Posted by Russell60  on  01/05  at  11:44 AM
  29. My first thought was that Berlin song from Top Gun, but I don’t know if it was played over the credits.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  12:57 PM
  30. I know it’s not the first or the most typical, but there should be special mention of the most egregious...which for me would have to be Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” sung for Steven Tyler’s daughter in the movie. Talk about layers!

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  02:20 PM
  31. From the 1980s--"Endless Love,” Lionel Ritchie and
    Diana Ross--movie of the same tragic name.  Ye gods.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  03:37 PM
  32. Does ”The Porpoise Song” from The Monkees Head count as an example of the phenomenon?

    No. Too much psychedelia, not enough soaring. Easily the best Monkees track of all time, however. Yes--I’ma let you finish--of All Time!!
    (and by “best” I mean there are none better [captcha])

    btw, Ben, are you perchance related (by marriage, I guess) to one of my favorite people of All Time, Annie (same surname), of Pacific Palisades?

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  05:34 PM
  33. The flip of the “Porpoise Song” 45, “As We Go Along,” wasn’t too shabby, either.  “The Porpoise Song” was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin; “As We Go Along” was written by Carole King and Toni Stern.  Was this the exact moment that Carole King metamorphosed from 60s pop powerhouse to mellow 70s singer-songwriter?

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  08:01 PM
  34. I’m still chuckling over Dances With Ferngully.  If only Avatar had a bat performed by Robin Williams.

    Posted by Geoffrey  on  01/05  at  08:48 PM
  35. btw, Ben, are you perchance related (by marriage, I guess) to one of my favorite people of All Time, Annie (same surname), of Pacific Palisades?

    Yes, indeed. She’s my aunt.  You have excellent taste in people, Sven!

    Posted by Ben Alpers  on  01/05  at  10:29 PM
  36. Speaking of exiting the factory, “Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong” or whatever it’s called surely deserves special mention in the “egregious” category.

    Posted by Lance  on  01/05  at  10:41 PM
  37. When did that whole idea of the Motion Picture Soundtrack Album (tm) take off in the first place?  I associate it with that first half-generation after the debut of MTV, things like _Flashdance_ and _Footloose_ and of course the never-ending _Dirty Dancing_ soundtrack hegemony.  But that could be Gen-X cheez nostalgia talking.

    Also, when did it become a way for recording artists on the back ends of their careers to make a play for a cheap Oscar?  Was Phil Collins the pioneer there?

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  02:21 AM
  38. Whoops, I forgot Saturday Night Fever.  But I still think there’s something to the Footloose/Flashdance nexus.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  02:27 AM
  39. Okay Ben, now the question is what is Annie’s maiden name?  I ask because i spent a great deal of my youth in Pacific Palisades.

    To FlipYrWhig:  There were soundtrack albums from early on, many of which are still available i believe.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  04:18 AM
  40. I should have known better than to read this comment thread early in the morning. Now I’ll have to spend the first part of the morning (at least) fighting off a monotonous internal version of “Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong.” Thanks, Lance.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  08:54 AM
  41. Okay Ben, now the question is what is Annie’s maiden name?  I ask because i spent a great deal of my youth in Pacific Palisades.

    Well she spent her youth in Texas, so I doubt it would mean much to you.

    Posted by Ben Alpers  on  01/06  at  11:47 AM
  42. I don’t think musicals like Wizard of Oz can really be counted in this inquest. While there were soundtrack albums from way back, most consisted of the actual music written for the film as opposed to a collection of radio pop hits expropriated for the film. As a result of these limits, I’d disqualify the earlier mentioned “I don’t know how to sing this” from JC Superstar, just as I would disqualify “The Impossible Dream” from Man of LaLucha. “Moon River” however...hmm, that might be early enough and it certainly is sufficiently cheese-laden—“my huckleberry friend” WTF is that supposed to even mean? “Born Free” is also an early example. Scanning the list of Oscar award winners, the first one that I found that is total schlock is “Love is A Many-Splendored Thing”
    I’d agree that the Bond movies after the first one might be considered a special sub-category, since the themes have not always sucked or been power-ballad crap.

    Posted by Rev.paperboy  on  01/06  at  12:08 PM
  43. "Whoops, I forgot Saturday Night Fever.  But I still think there’s something to the Footloose/Flashdance nexus.”

    Agreed. And Fame. Also there was the Big Chill (crosses self to ward off evil).

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  12:34 PM
  44. Does Mr. Vicious’ version of “My Way” in Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video fit the bill?

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  12:40 PM
  45. Where The Boys Are.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  01:06 PM
  46. After the inexplicable decision to have someone sing “Greensleeves” during the very first curtain call* for Romeo and Juliet, it was all downhill.

    *No, neither the proto-Globe nor the Curtain Theater had front stage curtains.  They were both located near Curtain Close, though.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  02:02 PM
  47. Damn, I thought I killed this thread by mentioning Celine Dion. Oh well…

    How about “Beautiful Ride” from “Walk Hard”?

    e.

    captcha “college” as in sophomoric humor

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  04:55 PM
  48. Avatar is on track to be the second biggest film of all time.

    5 theories as to why.

    None mention music, but I like #4

    “Conservative rage? Avatar is a perfect snowball of Conservative-baiting, from the jabs at the Iraq war and the War on Terror to its heavy-handed environmentalist messages...”

    Posted by Peter K.  on  01/06  at  06:21 PM
  49. Does the theme from “Gone With the Wind” count as soaring? How about “Somewhere over the Rainbow”? Thre must be a connection to Glam-Rock here somewhere.  As an aside, I’d rather hear Marcel Dionne sing than Celine Dion any day.

    Happy New Year to everyone.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  07:44 PM
  50. Wow, 49 comments and no one has yet mentioned “Bless the Beasts and the Children” from the movie of the same name, perhaps Billy Mumy’s last pic?

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  11:12 PM
  51. You must remember this.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  03:17 AM
  52. spyder:  There were soundtrack albums from early on, many of which are still available i believe.

    I guess I should clarify—something like soundtrack album as a play for the pop charts, maybe.  Attempting to create a blockbuster album to reinforce the blockbuster movie and vice versa.  I feel like that had something to do with the creation of the Soaring Movie Theme.

    Also, I guess Diane Warren (brr) is the one who perfected the formula.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  03:54 AM
  53. I am thinking that we can target Sinatra as the first major cross-over from pop/crooner culture to make headway in film.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  07:02 AM
  54. spyder@53: May I call your attention to Bing Crosby?  (Not to mention Eddie Cantor, but you can’t call Cantor a crooner.)

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  08:13 AM
  55. @54, by all means, der Bingle.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/07  at  08:17 PM
  56. Oh, does Cris Cross’s tepid hit, “Flying,” count as a soaring ballad?

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/07  at  08:18 PM
  57. While recognizing the contribution @54, i can’t say that name, nor offer any hint of his existence.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  09:44 PM
  58. Your question is a great one as proved by 50+ comments that can’t really pin down the Ur Ballad Over the Credits that’s Terrible and Generic and Has Very Little to Do with the Movie One Has Just Seen. I always just call it “Love Theme from...If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium,” which at least had the decency to echo its own title. And though I adored “Avatar,” I was quite embarrassed by The Love Theme from Avatar over the credits.

    Posted by sfmike  on  01/08  at  03:23 AM
  59. Well, it was Nick’s question.  But yeah, isn’t it a surprisingly fertile question, even though it inflicted “Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong” and “Endless Love” on us.

    Bill @56:  I don’t think Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” was used in a movie, but as long as we’re wallowing in the schmaltz and the dreck, let’s not forget the soaring theme song to Arthur, “Once You Get Caught Between the Moon and New York City.” I once went to that film with a young woman who liked that song.  When I could not repress my full-body shudder, I knew the date was over.

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  07:16 AM
  60. ...for you and i have a guardian angel…
    not exactly your question but now i can’t get it out of my mind.

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  01:28 PM
  61. How about the theme from Exodus?

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  12:35 PM
  62. There are some earlier, but none more disturbing than “Ben”.

    Posted by  on  01/16  at  12:02 AM
  63. Some Bond themes embody the trope more than others.  The famous Connery-era ones, not so much.  But Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” (from “The Spy Who Loved Me") may be one of the prototypes for the modern action-movie credits ballad; it’s actually a pretty good song that made a big impression at the time, and it’s a love ballad with no relation to the movie plot whose sole connection to the movie is that the title appears once in the lyrics.

    Posted by Matt McIrvin  on  01/17  at  01:04 PM

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