The American Film Institute's top ten picks were pretty safe choices. Of course, you can quibble about the positioning here and there, but the top ten choices were classics and obviously popular songs. The first ten are as follows…
#1 Somewhere Over The Rainbow
from The Wizard of Oz
Warner Bros. Studios
There's no doubting that "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" was going to be the popular choice. What other song from what other movie could possibly compete with "The Wizard of Oz" with the adorable young Judy Garland as being the most popular movie of all time? The impact of this song in this movie has certainly changed over the decades. It was a beacon of hope in 1939 when the movie premiered, and was also a mainstay of radio during World War II. The country was just beginning to emerge from The Great Depression, and the war in Europe was looming large when the film premiered. It was not a huge hit in theaters and was widely panned by critics of the day. It lost the Best Picture Oscar to "Gone With The Wind". But once television got ahold of it and started to show it every Thanksgiving - particularly once it was broadcast in color - "The Wizard of Oz" became a cornerstone of American culture.
#2 As Time Goes By
Warner Bros. Studios
This is probably the only serious contender for the #1 spot. "Play it again, Sam" is probably the most famous line from a movie that was never actually in the script. This film is the stuff of legends, Ingrid Bergman - to the script that was written as the movie was being shot. Less well-known is the fact that the signature song, "As Time Goes By" was written for a previous Warner movie and recycled for Casablanca. In those days, Warner Brothers had to do everything on the cheap, and so using a song they already owned probably saved them quite a bundle. But at the end of the day, there's no denying that this is one of the greatest movies of all time and certainly deserving of the top ranking AFI gave it.
#3 Singin' in the Rain
from Singin' in the Rain
If you're going to talk about the history of music in the movies, then you have to include "Singin' in the Rain." For sheer showmanship, Singin' in the Rain stands out as the best musical interlude in any movie. Gene Kelley's joyous performance and choreography keep pleasing new audiences with each generation of movie fans. And, as we'll see, the film's other numbers were also honored by the Institute. Certainly, Singin' in the Rain is the pinnacle of the MGM musical library and well-deserves this honor.
#4 Moon River
from Breakfast At Tiffany's
This is a fun little movie based on the Truman Capote novel. Starring the adorable Audrey Hepburn and the dashing young George Peppard, "Breakfast At Tiffany's" remains a favorite of many movie buffs. The choice of "Moon River" in the top 10 of AFI's list is a bit baffling. The version from the movie was sung by Audrey Hepburn. She had a sweet voice that was no bigger than she was, and once you've seen this performance you suddenly appreciate why the producers of "My Fair Lady" opted to have her voice dubbed. Written by Henry Mancini, "Moon River" was made into a hit single by 60's crooner Andy Williams and the connection to the movie was almost non-existant. A sweet lyric and a hummable melody made the song popular, but I wouldn't have put it in the top 100, let alone the top 10.
#5 White Christmas
from Holiday Inn
"Holiday Inn" was purely a little piece of fluff to showcase Paramount's resident star of the era, Bing Crosby, and RKO's headliner, Fred Astaire. The Irving Berlin song "White Christmas" turned out to be the real star, giving Bing the best-selling album for most of the 20th century as people kept buying it every Christmas. It wasn't until Michael Jackson's breakout album "Thriller" finally overtook Bing's album in sales in the late 1980's. Few songwriters have had more impact on modern American culture than Irving Berlin. It's fitting that this song is in the top 5.
#6 Mrs. Robinson
from The Graduate
The history of American songwriting could not be written without including the music of Paul Simon. With his partner Art Garfunkel, Simon was the pop poet of his generation, bridging the gap between folk and rock with his evocative music and keenly crafted lyrics. The movie "The Graduate" and the song "Mrs. Robinson" were landmarks in their fields - separately and jointly etching a portrait of the whirlwind changes in American culture in the late 1960's. Few people would disagree the director Mike Nichols' film captured the conflicts felt by the new generation who tried to find their own place in the world where values and morals were shifting faster than any time before or since. "Mrs. Robinson" was a biting commentary and an amusing little pop song all rolled into one. Kudos on this choice.
#7 When You Wish Upon A Star
Walt Disney Studios
We're unabashed Disney fans, and so we have no argument at all with including "When You Wish Upon A Star." The song is one of the most uplifting melodies of the 20th century the befit a nation emerging from The Great Depression, and it eventually became the theme song for the Walt Disney television programs and it's used to this day as the introductory theme on all of the studio's animated features. The movie "Pinocchio" is, of course, a classic in American film. The fairy tale of the puppet who wants to be a real boy has touched the hearts of children and grown-ups for over 6 decades. The film was also a milestone in animation, with many technical advances. The character Jiminy Cricket, voiced by vaudevillian Cliff Edwards, went on to star in Disney educational cartoons series titled "I'm No Fool" and other television programs. We applaud this choice as well.
#8 The Way We Were
from The Way We Were
Combine the superstar voice Barbara Streisand with the unquestionable talent of Oscar-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch and you have a formula for success. Streisand's amazing voice outshines any flaws in her personality or those in the movies she appeared in. Paired in this star-vehicle with the equally-gorgeous Robert Redford, the movie was a hit and so was this song. There had to be a place in the top ten for Babs and we certainly agree that "The Way We Were" was a milestone in movies.
#9 Stayin' Alive
from Saturday Night Fever
Well… *somebody* was going to all of those disco clubs in the 1970's, so I suppose this movie had to be on the AFI's list. It certainly put John Travolta on the map. The Bee-Gee's were a carryover from the 1960's pop era who found new life with disco anthems. There's no denying the film and the music soundtrack had an impact on the nation at the time, however much we might sneer at it today. I have a visceral dislike of Travolta, so I'll disqualify myself on this one.
#10 The Sound of Music
from The Sound of Music
20th Century Fox Studios
Oh gosh, I fell in love with Julie Andrews when I was 10 years old and saw her in "Mary Poppins". How could you not fall for the magical woman with a peaches-and-cream complexion, an angelic voice and a twinkle in her eye? The epic movie "The Sound of Music" showcased her thrilling vocal talents for movie audiences in a way that Mary Poppins never could. The movie was fun, but not one of my favorites. It did have a slew of hits that were sung by schoolchildren for many years. I don't think this particular song would have been in my top ten, but the overall score by legendary composer Richard Rogers certainly deserved to be represented high on any such list, and several of the others did make the AFI's list as you'll see.