No one ever accused Academy Award voters of being too hip in their musical tastes. Though in its heyday the Best Original Song Oscar went to classics like “White Christmas,” “Over the Rainbow” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the award’s more recent history is littered with kids’ songs from animated features, Dianne Warren ballads and aging baby boomer pop stars hungry for another award on their mantle. Though over the last 15 years, a handful of random quality acts have somehow managed to sneak into contention for the Best Song Oscar like Elliott Smith, Bjork, Aimee Mann. And a few have actually won the statuette: Eminem, Bob Dylan, the Swell Season, to recall a few.
This year there are only two songs nominated for the award: “Real in Rio” by Sergio Mendes (and his collaborators) and “Man or Muppet” by Bret McKenzie. All due respect to the bossa nova legend, but we’re rooting for the guy from Flight of the Conchords for scoring a scene that finally what Jason Segal looks like as a Muppet. So in honor of this weekend’s Oscar festivities, we present to you five other great songs by Bret McKenzie worthy of being honored.
1. “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros”
We’re not sure if there’s a less gangsta place on earth than New Zealand — unless you think hobbits are particularly street-savvy — but that’s what makes this Flight of the Conchords’ song so hilarious. Despite saying that his “rhymes are bottomless,” Jermaine Clement gets tongue-tied one line into his verse, and McKenzie gives us his best Busta Rhymes-in-a-fisheye-lens into-the-camera delivery while rapping about how there “ain’t no party like my nana’s tea party.” Though in his defense, maybe his nana is a real badass?
2. “Inner City Pressure”
McKenzie has had a more “serious,” traditional musical career outside of the Conchords, recording earnest electro-folk as Video Kid and making feel-good dub/funk/reggae with the Black Seeds. But it’s no wonder he is being feted by Oscar for the kind of sweet/silly pop song that he honed writing with Clement. Just like “Man or Muppet” imitates yet transcends Harry Nillson’s “Without You” and Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself,” “Inner City Pressure” manages to both lampoon the Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” (right down Bret and Jermaine’s reedy talk-singing) and best it with the duo’s unique musical point of view and sly sense of humor.
3. “Hurt Feelings”
If McKenzie didn’t convinced you in “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros” that he’s a tough, skilled rapper, then perhaps “Hurt Feelings” will offer proof of his street cred.
4. “Rambling Through the Avenues of Time”
We love a good karaoke-bar sing-along to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and have always had a soft spot for Peter Sarstedt’s faux-French folk ode to a bohemian jet-set beauty, “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?,” so we were predisposed to love this track, which uses both songs are inspiration. But as with the best Conchords songs (and McKenzie’s Muppets tunes), it wouldn’t be as resonant and memorable if it was a mere joke or mean-spirited caricature. There is heart, whimsy and innocence in all of McKenzie’s songs, and it’s obvious that he only parodies what he loves.
5. “You Don’t Have to be a Prostitute”
This may not be one of Flight of the Conchords’ most beloved songs—that’s probably “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” or “Business Time”—but it is our personal favorite. Perhaps that’s because, as far as songs go, the Police’s “Roxanne” is ripe for satire. Or maybe it’s because the premise—male prostitute Jermaine is forced to go “to work with only his one tool,” but he doesn’t have many takers and living with a roommate makes being a “bro-ho” difficult—is so delightfully silly. But it’s probably just that the Conchords’ version of jaunty reggae-rock, replete with a chorus of cooing background singers/hookers, is so convincing.