Sunday, 9 February 2014

Phil Collins: Losing Against All Odds

Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward in the movie "Against All Odds"
It was the biggest travesty in Oscar history, if you ask me. It was a blatant example of homerism, and showed you don't have to be the best, you just had to be American.

It was the 1984 Oscars (which were actually awarded in March of 1985) when Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” beat out Phil Collins “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)”.

It was an outrage on many levels, because “Against All Odds” was not only one of the best power ballads ever, it was a presumptive front runner for the Oscar, and just a much better, richer, more textured song.

Take a look at me now
I first heard “Against All Odds” back in 1984 and it really stuck with me. It was from a movie by the same name, featuring Jeff Bridges, James Woods, and Rachel Ward, who had just come off tours in the movie "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" and the blockbuster TV mini-series "The Thorn Birds". Soon after, I saw the video for the song on a CBC show airing after school every couple days called “Coming Attractions – Video”. It soon would be re-branded “Video Hits” hosted by Samantha Taylor.

The video was directed by Taylor Hackford who also directed the movie "Against All Odds". He had earlier success with music in movies in his production "An Officer and a Gentleman" and the song "Up Where We Belong"by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. "Against All Odds" was one of the first videos to string together clips from the movie in a meaningful way that matched the lyrics of the song. I just loved the tempo and pacing as well, especially when pounding drums are heard over top scenes of collision and violence.

"Against All Odds" was my favourite song, and remains one of my favourites to this day.

I was so excited to discover it had been nominated for an Oscar. I thought for sure it was a shoo-in, because it was head and shoulders above the other nominees: “Footloose”, by Kenny Loggins; “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” by Deniece Williams, and also from “Footloose”; “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Junior; and “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, by Stevie Wonder, from “The Lady in Red”.

Never in a million years did I think “Against All Odds” would not win, or lose to the song it did.

Oscar snub, times two
It was the first time I watched the Oscars for the best song nominees. The 1980s saw an explosion of movie soundtracks. Top-level, chart-topping performers were being recruited to sing movie soundtracks, and solid songwriters were providing the material.

The nominees for best original song were sung throughout the Oscar broadcast. When it came time for “Against All Odds”, Phil Collins was still sitting in the audience. Instead, Ann Reinking sang the song – and it was absolutely terrible. The only positive thing I could take from it was that I was able to understand two verses I could never decipher when Collins sang them.

To make matters worse, I later discovered that Phil Collins had actually offered to perform his song, yet he was refused. Every other nominee was on air and present to sing their songs. It was appalling.

The second, and more disheartening snub came when the winner was announced.

Instead of choosing the song many thought would win, the academy chose Stevie Wonder’s song. The slight still enrages me to this day.

What is amazing is that “Against All Odds” could not beat “I Just Called to Say I Love you” at the Oscars, but the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and Phil Collins bested every single male singer in music, including Stevie Wonder and Kenny Loggins, on his way to the Grammy for best pop vocal male performance in 1985.

Parting thoughts
The whole episode just illustrated for me how politics can play into awards. It was like the figure skating of music. The decision to use a second-rate performance by Ann Reinking to sing “Against All Odds” just makes me suspect the academy knew it had made the wrong choice, but decided to demean the rightful winner in the only way it could. Maybe I've just read too many conspiracy theories in my life.

It was sad, and tarnished the Oscars as a whole – for anyone who gave it any credibility at all at that point.

The Oscars are this Sunday, so keep this in mind when you see this year’s winners announced.

1 comment:

  1. Horrid as it allegedly is, I STILL want to see and hear Reinking's ruination of this great song. I have never heard her rendering (and I use the term advisedly) because I never watched it at the time, but someone MUST have it. The 1985 Oscars is indeed floating about the net, but it is a cut-down BBC version and contains neither Deniece Williams nor Ann Reinking. (I should also point out that Diana Ross, for some reason, sang "I Just Called To Say I Love You" on the Oscars that year). The "winning" song is, to my ears, still utterly drab. Time has not improved it. How the Academy's voters could have gone for such a piece of dross defeats me. At least "Part Time Lover" had a vestige of life to it. "I Just Called To Say I Love You" is and was a dull abomination and the point where Stevie Wonder completely sold out. I can still remember how deflated I was when I first heard it.... but how startled I was at Phil's "Against All Odds", a complex song that required many hearings to get it. And that, perhaps, is the key to it. The Academy just didn't "get" it.