If there were a Triple Crown for songwriting for films, it would consist of the Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy. Sixteen songs have won all three of these awards in songwriting categories. With the 93rd annual Academy Awards set for Sunday (April 25), it’s a good time to look back at the most lauded film songs of the past six decades.
Barbra Streisand, Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion have each introduced two Triple Crown winners. Alan Menken has co-written four of them, more than any other songwriter.
Will this year bring us a 17th Triple Crown winner? We’ll have a partial answer on Sunday. “Io Sì (Seen)” from The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se) by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini won the Golden Globe on Feb. 28. If it also wins the Oscar, it will be two-thirds of the way to Triple Crown status. It would need to also win a Grammy on Jan. 31, 2022, to complete the sweep. If any of the other four Oscar-nominated songs wins this year, there will be no Triple Crown winner this year. (It’s not easy to join this little club — nor should it be.)
The Oscar for best original song dates to 1934. The Golden Globe in that category dates to 1961 (though they dropped the category in 1962 and 1963). The Grammy for song of the year dates to 1958. In 1987, the Grammys added an additional category, best song written specifically for a motion picture or television (now called best song written for visual media). This gave film songs a much better chance of bringing home a Grammy. (That’s why three-quarters of these 16 songs are post-1987.)
Here’s a complete list of the 16 Triple Crown winners, followed by the titles of two songs that narrowly missed out. The years shown are the years the films were released. All of the post-1987 songs won a Grammy in the visual media category. Songs that won Grammys in other songwriting categories are so noted.
“The Way We Were” (1973)
The late Marvin Hamlisch teamed with Alan and Marilyn Bergman to write this instant standard from the Streisand/Robert Redford romance of the same name. Streisand sang it on the film soundtrack. It became her first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Streisand opted not to sing the song on the Academy Awards telecast, so another legend, the late Peggy Lee, filled in for her. This won the Grammy for song of the year.
“Evergreen (Love Theme From A Star Is Born)” (1976)
Streisand and Paul Williams teamed to write this cozy ballad from the third iteration of A Star Is Born. It became her second No. 1 hit on the Hot 100. Streisand, who had won an acting award eight years earlier for Funny Girl, is to this day the only person to win Oscars for both acting and songwriting. Streisand sang the song on the film soundtrack and on the Academy Awards telecast. This won the Grammy for song of the year, in a tie with “You Light Up My Life.”
“You Light Up My Life” (1977)
The late Joseph Brooks wrote this hymn-like ballad from the film of the same name. This was the first song written by a solitary songwriter to win the Triple Crown. This also marked the only time that a songwriter has won the Triple Crown for a song from a film that he or she directed. Kacey Cisyk sang it on the film soundtrack (actress Didi Conn lip-synched in the scene, which features Brooks in a cameo as the music director). Debby Boone, whose cover version was the first single in Hot 100 history to log 10 weeks at No. 1, sang it on the Academy Awards telecast.
“Last Dance” (1978)
The late Paul Jabara wrote this disco classic from Thank God It’s Friday. Donna Summer’s single reached No. 3 on the Hot 100. Her performance of the song on the film soundtrack and on the Academy Awards telecast is a key reason she will forever be known as the Queen of Disco. The song had pulse and energy. Summer gave it heart. This won a Grammy for best rhythm and blues song.
“Let the River Run” (1988)
Carly Simon wrote and recorded this song, which played over the opening credits of Mike Nichols’ Working Girl. Simon is the only solitary female songwriter to win the Triple Crown. Simon’s single peaked at No. 49 on the Hot 100. It was her 23rd and most recent Hot 100 entry. This was a thin year for film music. There were only three nominees for best original song — the least since 1935. Also, for the first time since 1944, none of the nominated songs was performed at the ceremony.
“Under the Sea” (1989)
This witty song from The Little Mermaid was the first from an animated film to win the Triple Crown. Menken and Howard Ashman co-wrote the zesty, Caribbean-inflected tune. Samuel E. Wright performed the song on the film soundtrack. His single recording didn’t make the Hot 100. Geoffrey Holder performed it on the telecast.
“Beauty and the Beast” (1991)
Menken and Ashman also wrote this song from the movie of the same name, which made them the first songwriters to win the Triple Crown twice. The song was performed twice on the soundtrack, by Angela Lansbury and by the team of Dion and Bryson (whose recording of the song reached No. 9 on the Hot 100). All three performers sang it on the telecast. The song’s best line: “Barely even friends/ Then somebody bends, unexpectedly.” You can say a lot in seven words.
“A Whole New World” (1992)
Following Ashman’s death from AIDS in 1991, Menken teamed with Tim Rice to write this tune from Aladdin, which made Menken the first three-time Triple Crown winner. The song was performed twice on the film soundtrack, by Brad Kane & Lea Salonga and by Bryson & Regina Belle (whose recording reached No. 1 on the Hot 100). Kane and Salonga performed it on the telecast. “A Whole New World” won two songwriting Grammys: song of the year and best song written for visual media.
“Streets of Philadelphia” (1993)
Bruce Springsteen wrote this somber ballad for Jonathan Demme’s AIDS drama Philadelphia. This was the first socially conscious song to win the Triple Crown, paving the way for “Colors of the Wind” and “Glory.” Springsteen performed the song on the film soundtrack and at the Academy Awards. His single reached No. 9 on the Hot 100. It was his 12th and most recent top 10 hit. “Streets of Philadelphia” won three songwriting Grammys: song of the year, best song written for visual media and best rock song.
“Colors of the Wind” (1995)
Menken teamed with Stephen Schwartz to write this stirring ballad from Pocahontas, the fourth song from an animated Disney film in seven years to spawn a Triple Crown winner. Remarkably, Menken co-wrote all four of these songs. The song, which expresses empathy for indigenous peoples, was a kind of a corrective to the Frontierland vision of company founder Walt Disney. The song was performed twice on the film soundtrack, by Judy Kuhn and by Vanessa Williams. Williams, whose single reached No. 4 on the Hot 100, performed it on the telecast.
“My Heart Will Go On” (1997)
The late James Horner teamed with Will Jennings to write this song from Titanic, the biggest box-office hit in film history to that point. Dion sang the song on the film soundtrack and on the telecast, giving it the grandeur it needed to match the film’s epic scope. Her single reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 and won a Grammy for record of the year. This won two songwriting Grammys: song of the year and best song written for visual media.
“Into the West” (2003)
Annie Lennox, Fran Walsh and Howard Shore co-wrote this dramatic ballad from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which won all 11 Oscars for which it was nominated. (It’s the only film in Oscar history that has gone 11-0 on the Big Night.) Lennox also sang it on the film soundtrack and on the telecast. Her single didn’t crack the Hot 100.
“The Weary Kind (Theme From Crazy Heart)” (2009)
Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett wrote this rootsy ballad for Crazy Heart, which starred Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell. Bingham, Bridges and Farrell separately sang it on the film soundtrack. Bingham’s single bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 116. Alas, for the first time in 21 years, none of the nominated songs were performed on the telecast.
Adele and Paul Epworth wrote this cool, elegant ballad for the James Bond film of the same name. This was the first Bond theme to win an Oscar. The English superstar’s recording reached No. 8 on the Hot 100. Adele sang it on the film’s soundtrack and on the telecast.
John Legend and Common wrote this song for the civil-rights drama Selma, which made them the first (and, to date, only) Black songwriters to win the Triple Crown. This is also the only song with a hip-hop element to take the Triple Crown. They also performed it on the film soundtrack and on the telecast. Their recording reached No. 49 on the Hot 100. Ava DuVernay directed the film. She’s the only female director of a film that spawned a Triple Crown winner.
Lady Gaga teamed with Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt to write this song from the fourth iteration of A Star Is Born. Gaga and Bradley Cooper, who starred in the film, sang the power ballad on the film soundtrack and on the telecast. Their recording reached No. 1 on the Hot 100. Cooper also directed the film, making him the only director of a film that spawned a Triple Crown winner who also recorded the song on the film soundtrack.
Near Misses: Elton John won all three awards for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King (1994), but his only Grammy for the song was for best male pop vocal performance, not in a songwriting category.
Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer won an Oscar and a Grammy for co-writing the melancholy title song from Days of Wine and Roses (1962). That was one of the two years that the Golden Globes didn’t have a songwriting category, so we’ll never know for sure if they would have won the Triple Crown.