Songs That Were Almost Unsung

Making a movie is a tough collaborative process. Sometimes the right decisions win, and sometimes they don’t. Below are a few examples of how different certain musical films would have been had one song been cut.

1. "Over the Rainbow"

When writing the music for The Wizard of Oz, Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg struggled to create the song that Judy Garland would sing on her Kansas farm. But once they cracked it, the song’s perfect melody and wishful lyrics fit naturally. However, when the film was finished shooting, the runtime was too long, and studio executives thought that cutting the song would help get it back on track. The executives also didn’t understand why a Kansas girl was singing a ballad in the first place. Even when Arlen, Harburg, and Garland stood up for the song, executives weren't swayed. Finally, producer Arthur Freed gave an ultimatum – either the song stayed or he'd leave. That was enough to get them to change their mind. “Over the Rainbow” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1940, and ever since, it was a standard that Garland sang throughout her life.

2. "Moon River"

“It was one of the hardest things I ever had to write because I couldn’t figure out what this lady would be singing up there on the fire escape,” recalled composer Henry Mancini. Meeting Audrey Hepburn did the trick and helped him compose the “sophisticated country song.” When the film was completed, Paramount’s president was unhappy with the runtime and the song, believing Hepburn couldn’t carry a tune. Thankfully, director Blake Edwards fought for the song, and “Moon River” won the Oscar for Best Original Song.

3. "Part of Your World"

When testing The Little Mermaid, a Disney executive noticed that the children in the audience seemed to be disinterested with “Part of Your World.” So why not cut it out? Songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken however objected to the decision, as the song was Ariel’s “Want song,” a song that identified her desires with the audience and made them root for her. Ultimately, Ashman gave an ultimatum – if the song goes, I go. So the song stayed. Menken and Ashman's score won an Academy Award in 1990.

4. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head"

Robert Redford, like several others in the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid crew, didn’t get the song. He said, “…the music played a huge role [in the film]. I didn't see it at the time because I thought it was stupid.” Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the song was meant to be a little out of place for a Western – but the 20th Century Fox executives thought it was too out of place. That is, until they released it as a single before the film's release. It became Billboard’s #1 song and remained at the top for four weeks. Bacharach said, “The studio didn’t realize how it would connect with the public, and it became a huge hit almost overnight.” The song won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1970.

5. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

This song almost died in two different ways! When composer Hugh Martin first created the tune, he had a hard time working out the details and decided to discard it. Lyricist Ralph Blane heard him working though, and they dug it out of the trash to finish it. While the melody was perfect, the somber lyrics made Judy Garland pause. “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last/Next year we may all be living in the past.” How could she sing that to Margaret O’Brien? Garland asked for a lyric rewrite, and Martin refused. That is until Tom Drake, Judy’s “boy next door,” stepped in and convinced the composer that the song was too good to leave as is. So Martin budged, and the song became a holiday standard after the film’s release.

6. The Soundtrack of Mary Poppins

Walt Disney wanted to adapt the beloved Mary Poppins series for the screen, but the author P. L. Travers was a tough cookie to crack. When Disney gave her a say in the production, she finally agreed. However, she objected strongly to the songs written by the Sherman Brothers. She would have preferred that the song use actual songs written during the Edwardian period. However, Disney had the final approval, and thank goodness. “Chim Chim Cher-ee” won the Best Original Song Academy Award and the entire soundtrack won Best Original Score, proving that song’s merit.

7. "Puttin' on the Ritz"

Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder only had one fight while making Young Frankenstein. “You tap dance to Irving Berlin in top hat and tails with the monster?” asked Brooks, disapprovingly. Mel worried that the bit, though funny, was too ridiculous for the film. Gene, on the other hand, thought it demonstrated how civilized the monster had become. They decided to film the scene and see how audiences reacted. While shooting it, the extras laughed so much that Brooks had to remind them to act scared. “Gene was dead right because it took the movie to another level – our level,” Mel recalled.