Q: On Wednesday, you discussed the most popular TV themes. Could you do the same for movie music?
F.H., of Edwardsville
A: Now, the award for the most commercially successful Oscar-winning song. OK, the envelope, please. And the winner is ... “Lose Yourself” by rapper-actor Eminem (Marshall Mathers), which spent 12 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart after his semi-autobiographical film, “8 Mile,” became both a critical and financial hit in 2002.
Praised as his best work to date, “Lose Yourself” summarized the life of B-Rabbit, Eminem’s movie character which was based closely on the St. Joseph, Missouri native’s real life. Critics praised the song’s aggressive style in describing how B-Rabbit conquers his many obstacles to win the respect of his fellow rappers.
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Interestingly, this song, which was ranked 93rd on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 top movie songs of the past century in 2004, didn’t even exist when Universal released the movie’s first trailers. The studio wanted to use “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” as the featured tune, but Eminem decided it was too personal, so during breaks in the filming he could be found writing “Lose Yourself” on the set. “You could just see him formulating stuff in his head,” actress Taryn Manning told MTV.
As further proof of his determination, Eminem recorded the song in a portable set on the studio and did all three verses in just one take, engineer Steven King told Rolling Stone magazine. The result not only became the rapper’s first chart-topper in the United States, but also hit No. 1 in 17 other countries. In 2004, it was one of only three hip hop songs — and the highest rated at No. 166 — to make Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
But as I hinted at Wednesday, while only four TV themes ever topped the Billboard Hot 100, at least three dozen movie themes and related songs have enjoyed similar success, often staying atop the chart for a month or two or more. In fact, two out of the first three No. 1s of the rock era (which unofficially began July 9, 1955) were film-related tunes.
First, many parents were likely jarred by the wild sounds of Bill Haley’s “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” from “The Blackboard Jungle,” which topped the initial lists for eight weeks. Then, after Mitch Miller took over for six weeks with his “Yellow Rose of Texas,” The Four Aces reached their peak with “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” the first song specifically written for a motion picture to hit No. 1 during the rock era.
In the 60 years since, it’s almost been Katie bar the door when it comes to film music moving up the charts. Here are a few anecdotes about the most successful:
Both Pat and Debby Boone released their first hit singles just shy of their 20th birthdays. But while Pat wouldn’t top the charts until his 11th try in 1957 (“Love Letters in the Sand”), his daughter immediately soared to fame with “You Light Up My Life.” It won an Oscar for Best Original Song (Kacey Cisyk sang it in the movie while Didi Conn lip-synced) and earned Debby a Grammy for Best New Artist. It remained perched atop the chart for 10 weeks in 1977, the most successful run since Guy Mitchell’s “Singing the Blues” way back in December 1959. Perhaps she had a little help from above. Years later, Debby said that although the song was not Christian per se, she was thinking about her relationship with Jesus when she recorded it.
Instrumentals were all the rage early in the rock era, the most successful of which was Percy Faith’s unforgettable “Theme from A Summer Place,” which hit No. 1 on Feb. 22, 1960, and stayed there for nine weeks. It was the top single of 1960, matching Faith’s own “Song from Moulin Rouge,” which was the top single of 1953. Since then, the tune has popped up everywhere from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” In 1976, Faith even recorded a disco version shortly before he died of cancer.
In the summer of 1981, the country fell head over heels for Diana Ross when she teamed with Lionel Richie on “Endless Love” from the movie of the same name. Not only did it become Ross’ hottest-selling single of her career but it also would prove to be Motown’s most successful single of all time. It also was the most successful soundtrack single to date (Debby Boone’s version was not on the soundtrack) and it was the most successful duet of all time, staying at No. 1 for nine long weeks.
Of course, you can’t talk about movie music without including the Brothers Gibb and the phenomenal success they enjoyed with “Saturday Night Fever” in 1977. After “How Deep Is Your Love” topped the charts for three weeks at Christmas followed by “Stayin’ Alive” for four weeks around Valentine’s Day 1978, they scorched the charts again with their nine-week No. 1 run of “Night Fever” starting March 18. By the time “Night Fever” had reached No. 8, the Bee Gees became the first group since the Beatles to have three songs in the Top 10 at the same time.
Again, space precludes me from listing the other 30 or so, but let me briefly jog your memory by mentioning four of the most popular: “Jailhouse Rock” (seven weeks), “Eye of the Tiger” from “Rocky III” and “Flashdance” (six weeks) and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (four weeks). I would also be remiss in not mentioning Whitney Houston’s unprecedented 14-week stay at No. 1 with “I Will Always Love You” from “The Bodyguard” as well as Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” from “Boomerang” (13 weeks) and Destiny Child’s “Independent Women Part I” from “Charlie’s Angels.”
As long as we’re talking music, can you name the three Broadway musical songs that topped the Billboard Hot 100?
Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: According to Billboard, the only James Bond theme song to hit No. 1 was Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” in 1985. Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” from “The Spy Who Love Me” and Sir Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” in 1973 came close but both stalled at No. 2.