"AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Songs: America's Greatest Music in the Movies" is the organization's seventh survey of outstanding examples of American film. It will air Tuesday as a three-hour TV special on CBS hosted by John Travolta -- the star of "Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever."
The finalists have been selected from 400 nominated songs on a ballot that was distributed last year to a jury of 1,500 -- mostly made up of filmmakers, critics and historians. The song that comes in at No. 1 will go down as the "AFI Song of the Century."
Bob Gazzale, director of AFI productions, told UPI when the ballot first went out that AFI historians estimated that more than 100,000 songs might be eligible for the honor. Titles that might immediately come to mind for most movie fans include "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "As Time Goes By," "Moon River," "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Way We Were."
The special will include interviews with such movie-music performers and composers as Burt Bacharach, Betty Comden, Angela Lansbury, Rita Moreno, Debbie Reynolds, Paul Simon, Barbra Streisand and Andy Williams. The lineup also includes Debbie Allen, Celine Dion, Michael Feinstein, Barry Gibb and "Chicago" director Rob Marshall.
Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers is also on the show, along with Jennifer Warnes -- who has sung a record four Oscar-nominated songs and three Oscar-winning tunes.
Her duet with Medley on "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" from "Dirty Dancing" won in 1987. Her duet with Joe Cocker on "Up Where We Belong" from "An Officer and a Gentleman" won in 1982. And "It Goes Like It Goes" from "Norma Rae" won in 1981.
In an interview with United Press International, Warnes said evaluating songs for greatness requires appreciation for how the music helps people live their daily lives.
"A song that leverages a kid out of his house because his parents hate it, and a song that helps him court -- or the song that he and his young wife play at their dinner party or their wedding, or one that makes them cry when they break up," she said, "these are the songs that serve human life."
AFI judges were asked to evaluate songs based on how they helped get a story told, as well as their overall cultural impact. The AFI urged judges to select songs that "have captured the nation's heart, echoed beyond the walls of a movie theater, and ultimately, stand in our collective memory for the film itself."
The special will also feature Margaret O'Brien, who first appeared onscreen in the 1941 musical "Babes on Broadway" when she was 3 years old. Her performance as Tootie in the 1944 Judy Garland musical "Meet Me in St. Louis" left a lasting impression on American movie fans.
"They still call me Tootie," she told UPI.
O'Brien, who received the 2004 Mary Pickford Award from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Community Foundation, said music is an essential part of successful movies.
"Music is half of the movie," she said, "and some of our great composers composed the big music for the big movies that were so important, going back to MGM days."
Warnes suggested that issuing a list of great songs does not provide sufficient recompense for the artists who create music.
"Lest we get all puffed up with the notion of lists and races and the notion of superiority in music, pay your musicians first of all -- which the industry does not," she said. "If music can't function in the usefulness of daily life then let's kick it out of our culture."
Citing the work of the African teacher Malidoma Somé, Warnes said music is an essential component of everyday life.
"In his culture the musician has to be there every time somebody dies or is born, or they win a war, or something exciting happens," she said. "Music, like food, has to be there at the event."
Bing Crosby was the most represented performer on the list of 400 nominated songs, with 12. Fred Astaire was second with 11. Among composers, Richard Rodgers had the most nominated songs with 18. Irving Berlin was second with 11.
Some movie songs were ineligible for purely technical reasons.
Tunes with no lyrics -- like the "Colonel Bogey March" from "The Bridge on the River Kwai" -- were not eligible. "Laura," the theme from the Oscar-nominated drama of the same name, was not eligible because the lyric was not used in the movie.
A song need not have been written especially for a movie to be eligible. Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" was eligible even though it was not written specifically for the Tom Cruise hit "Risky Business."
The results of the AFI poll will be a closely guarded secret until after the show has aired in the Eastern time zone.
"It's one of the few television interviews I've done where I had to sign a confidentiality agreement," said O'Brien.
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