The Five Best Musical Moments in Oscar History

Entertainment / Pop Culture

The Five Best Musical Moments in Oscar History

By: Ron Motta

With Idina Menzel belting out “Let It Go,” U2 performing “Ordinary Love” and Bette Midler making her performance debut at the Oscars, the 2014 edition of the Academy Awards show promises to be something of a can't miss when it comes to the movie music department. So we decided to take a look back at some of the best musical performances throughout the many years that we've enjoyed musical numbers mixed in with the biggest award show in Hollywood (and don't worry, we're skipping the worst perfromances...becauce really, no one needs to see Rob Lowe and Snow White ever again):

Michael Jackson performing "Ben" from the movie Ben, 1973.
Long before his descent into weirdness, Jackson was a child prodigy, a brilliant and soulful singer who could and did bring the house done. At just 14-year-old, his performance at the 1973 Oscars stole the show as he sang this song, written by Don Black and Walter Scharf, a paean to a boy’s best friend. You almost forget that this was the theme song to a movie about a killer rat.


Keith Carradine performing "I'm Easy" from Nashville, 1976.
It was supposed to be Diana Ross’ night. Her song, the Michael Masser & Gerald Goffin-penned “Do You Know Where You’re Going To (Theme from Mahogony),” was supposed to win. But in contrast to Ross’ over-the-top transcontinental performance (she performed via satellite from the Netherlands), Carradine’s simple, stripped-down acoustic rendering of “I’m Easy” from Robert Altman’s Nashville was rewarded.  Carradine – who wrote the song himself – took home the Oscar for Best Original Song.


Dolly Parton singing "9 to 5" from the movie 9 to 5, 1981.
How can you not love Dolly?  One of Parton’s biggest hits, “9 to 5” came from the hit comedy of the same name. Parton actually came up with the rhythm of the clacking typewriters by rubbing her acrylic nails against each other.  The song cemented Parton’s crossover appeal and netted her an Oscar nomination to boot. Although the background dancers and the choreography were typical 80s excess, it’s Parton’s infectious spirit that grabs you. 


Madonna performing "Sooner or Later" from Dick Tracy, 1991.
By the 90s, Madonna had cemented her status as a pop culture icon – and a magnet for controversy. Host Billy Crystal introduced the Material Girl as “the NC-17 portion of our really big show.” As always, Madonna confounded expectations. There was nothing raunchy about her performance of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sooner or Later” – but she definitely brought sultry back to the Oscars. Clad in a sparkling pink evening gown, Madonna belted out the tune as if she were channeling Marilyn Monroe, in the process etching out her place in Oscar history. The song, from Dick Tracy, would take home the Oscar later that night.


Bruce Springsteen singing "the Streets of Philadelphia" from Philadelphia, 1994.
Springsteen’s haunting and mesmerizing ballad about AIDS, “The Streets of Philadelphia” hit the Billboard charts (peaking at #9) and won four Grammys. Naturally, the song – from the Tom Hanks film Philadelphia – was expected to win big at the Oscars. And it did. However, it was Springsteen’s very basic performance that won the hearts of the audience. In contrast to the excess and glitz surrounding the ceremony, Springsteen stood at center stage with the band behind him and just sang. No choreography, no dancers. The result: an unforgettable performance.

Don't forget to join us this Thursday, February 27th, at 4PM Eastern (1PM Pacific) for a live online roundtable Oscar preview chat.  

[Top pic via Flickr - Davidlohr Bueso]

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