Not just a rare EGOT, but an even rarer PEGOT (that’s with a Pulitzer as the cherry on top of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), Marvin Hamlisch and his music is sure to continue to be loved sincerely by romantics and liked ironically by hipsters the world over, with varying levels of appreciation from all kinds of listeners in between. Still scoring films as recently as Soderbergh’s crime comedy The Informant! in 2009, Hamlisch’s range went from dark and heavy dramas such as Sophie’s Choice, to marshmallow-lite fluff like Three Men and a Baby. But what he’ll be most remembered for are his passionate love themes. The movies and the artists chosen to interpret his songs may be all over the place in terms of artistry, but the melodies themselves are top caliber heartstring-tuggers all the way.
Hamlisch hit an early home run with the inevitable classic The Way We Were, a song that so defined Barbra Streisand’s career she kept trying to out-do it with the themes to her succeeding films, culminating with another collaboration in I’ve Finally Found Someone, a decent song dragged down by Bryan Adam’s unsubtle rasping. Hamlisch again struck gold by heading into more action-packed territory, producing what many consider the best Bond theme, Nobody Does It Better from 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. But there must really have been something in the air in 1978 (a year previously dissected on this blog) because that’s when Hamlisch put out what I consider his two most stirring anthems. The films themselves may not have been as memorable, but the songs, oh! they’re stuck forever in our misty water-colored brain matter.
From the mushy Robby Benson skating drama Ice Castles comes talent show and wedding staple Looking Through The Eyes of Love. It can be argued that Melissa Manchester outsings Barbra in this love anthem, matching Hamlisch’s musical pathos with her bombastic, throaty alto. Despite, or probably because of, the ballad’s sentimental earnestness, it’s recently been used more as a punchline than to provoke swooning these days. One of the best example of this would be this scene in underrated beauty pageant mockumentary Drop Dead Gorgeous, which also features a killer interpretation of Manchester’s hit Don’t Cry Out Loud, written by sometime Hamlisch collaborator and partner Carole Bayer-Sager. Skip to 4:22 on this clip.
From the poignant midlife romance Same Time, Next Year, wherein Marsha Mason and Alan Alda carry on a star-crossed affair, Hamlisch was inspired to pen what I consider the high water mark of his ballad-smithing, the duet The Last Time I Felt Like This. I first heard this sung by 1980s-era Philippine pop stars Timmy Cruz and Louie Heredia, but I guess original interpreters Johnny Mathis and Jane Olivor did it more justice, as seen in this Oscar clip.
As the theme’s slow build and layers of emotion wash over you, memories rush back, and you wonder whether it really was all so simple then, or if time has merely rewritten every line, and when exactly was the last time you felt like that? Then the autonomic response kicks in and it hits you, this was the baby boomers’ “Someone Like You”.