Song of the Week #8: "The Morning After"- The Poseidon Adventure
It’s hard to believe now, but disaster films were all the rage back in the 70s. And it’s not really hard to see why. Big budget blockbusters with all star casts hold a certain universal appeal after all, so no wonder audiences flocked to them. It is a little more surprising that they consistently did so well at the Oscars though, racking up nominations not only in the technical categories but the more prestigious ones as well. There’s no clearer way to demonstrate this shift in tastes than to compare the reception given to The Poseidon Adventure to that of its remake. Adventure was recognized for its acting, cinematography, editing, production design, while regular old Poseidon had to settle for Best Visual Effects. The Poseidon Adventure went home with a special Oscar for its achievement in that field as well, along with one other award- the subject of today’s column, its original song, “The Morning After.”
What you think about The Poseidon Adventure will largely depend on what you think of disaster films from the 1970s. I'm fairly ambivalent about the genre as a whole- I can't say I hate them, but they're not something I go out of my way to watch- but The Poseidon Adventure is one of the better entries I've seen. This is due in large part to a charismatic performance from Gene Hackman, fresh off his Oscar win from The French Connection, as a modern priest who finds himself in charge of saving the lives of a group of passengers. All the special effects hold up well, a bunch of character actors get to yell at one another (including Leslie Nielsen in a pre-Airplane! serious role), what more do you need? But perhaps more than any of its qualities as a film, The Poseidon Adventure is an interesting watch for how effectively it serves as a time capsule for the 70s, for better and (largely) for worse.
Now I'm going to step on some toes when I say this, but I don't care- The 1970s sucked. Oh sure, I wasn't "alive" back then to accurately judge such things, but I've seen enough TV and movies to make an informed decision. And yes, there were some good things to come out the 70's- pretty much every beloved movie from New Hollywood, for instance. But when I think of the 70s I picture ugly fashions, uglier interior decorating and the ugliest animated movies Disney ever put out. "But at least the music was great!" I can hear some of you angrily shouting at your computer monitors. And yes, the 70's saw the birth of bands like Queen and ELO (not to mention the whole disco movement), and for that I am grateful. But let's not act like the decade was without sin in the music department. After all, in what other time in human history could a simpering nothing of song like "The Morning After" become a success?
Written by Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha, the story behind how the "The Morning After" came to be is arguably more interesting than the song itself. The duo were songwriters working for 20th Century Fox who were apparently tasked to write the song in just one night (it shows). Apparently the original title was "Why Must There Be a Morning After?", but the record label changed it to a more optimistic tune. Admittedly that story isn't very interesting, but it's just not a very interesting song. Just generic 70s easy listening with some generically inspiring lyrics all performed rather blandly. (While the lounge singer in the movie was played by Carol Lynley, her voice was dubbed by Renee Armand; that said, the version most people are familiar with was sung by Maureen McGovern. Again, not very interesting, but more than the song.) I suppose this sort of song was pretty popular in its day, but a lot of things in the 70s were more popular than they ought to have been. Like Dino De Laurentiis' King Kong.
To the movie's credit, I think it's entirely possible that "The Morning After" is supposed to suck. Within the universe of the film it's presented as a song written and performed by a lounge singer on a cruise ship, which is not an act one typically associates with quality music. Of course maybe you did in the 70s, I don't know. At any rate, the film does poke fun at the song a bit when a member of the ship's crew dismisses it as being crap. At the same time, Roddy McDowall likes it, and who doesn't like Roddy McDowall? Besides, you can't give someone an Oscar for doing something intentionally bad, can you? So we have to assume that someone in the process thought they were making a good song, and enough people agreed with them to give them an Oscar for it. The songwriters would repeat this trick two years later, winning a second Oscar for the song "We May Never Love Like This Again" from The Towering Inferno. I haven't seen the movie or listened to the song, so I'll reserve any judgment on the tune for its own column, but I'm not holding my breath for it being a major improvement. Besides, they beat the theme song from Blazing Saddles, and there's no way it deserved to win over that.
Compared to the rest of that year's nominees, "The Morning After's" win doesn't seem like such a big deal. Its biggest competition probably came from the theme song from Ben, and that's the least obscure song from the slate of nominees. It's only when you look outside the official slate of nominees that this decision becomes more baffling. You see, 1972 was also the year which saw the release of Bob Fosse's Cabaret. Now I have a lot of problems with that movie (namely in that every single script change made in the adaptation from stage to screen resulted in an infinitely weaker story), but one thing I can't deny is that the new songs added to the film certainly worked. And while "Maybe This Time" is not, as I always assumed, original to the film (Kander and Ebb had written it a few years prior), Sally's big number "Mein Herr" was. And sure, maybe that's not the best song from Cabaret. But even the weakest song from Cabaret is a million times better than "The Morning After." And for the record, the weakest song from Cabaret is the pineapple song. Ok, so maybe not every change in the adaptation was for the worse.
But I digress. (Imagine that, me digressing.) As much as I dislike this song, it's not the worst one to receive an Oscar. It's simply not interesting enough to rank quite that low. And to be fair, Hirschhorn and Kasha would redeem themselves a few years later with "Candle on the Water" from Pete's Dragon. And yes, that song is ALSO some pretty intense 70's cheese, but at least it's good cheese, you know? So naturally that was the year they lost the Oscar, to the theme song from "You Light Up My Life." That's show biz kid.
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