Ragtime

One More Hour

Based on E.L. Doctorow’s bestseller, RAGTIME (1981) details the interweaving plots of several famous (Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, Harry Houdini) and fictional characters in 1906 New York City.

While not wholly successful, the film does contain a star-making performance by Howard Rollins, Jr. as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a black piano player who must resort to violence to seek revenge for the injustices done to him and his fiancé, Sarah (Debbie Allen). The film is also notable for James Cagney’s final screen performance as Chief of Police Waldo Rhinelander. But the movie lives on in the hearts of film music lovers for Randy Newman’s melodic score.

Newman had scored the 1971 cult film, COLD TURKEY, but he was better known as a singer and songwriter. Newman’s career remained on the fringe until the ubiquitous hit, “Short People,” in 1977.

Given the title of the film, you might suspect a score full of Joplin-esque rags, but “there isn’t much,” said Newman. “It didn’t call for it. They weren’t dealing with it. ‘Happy white people’ was a different kind of thing. The life of the piano player had just a couple things that called for it.” The nostalgic tone of the film is set by the melancholy violin and piano waltz that plays over the main credits.

Ragtime Soundtrack
“Main Title”
“Coalhouse And Sarah”

The melody is also heard over the end credits in the Oscar-nominated song, “One More Hour,” for which Newman also wrote the lyrics. The song is sung by Jennifer Warnes, who would become the premier singer of Oscar songs during the 80s. (Following the Oscar-winning “It Goes Like It Goes” from NORMA RAE (1979), her vocals can also be heard in the Oscar-winning duets “Up Where We Belong” from AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from DIRTY DANCING.)

RAGTIME would provide the harmonic basis for much of Newman’s later scores, even when it wasn’t necessarily appropriate. But that shouldn’t detract from the rich melodic tapestry of the score.

RAGTIME has been a favorite of mine ever since I first heard that haunting theme in 1981. It took Newman 18 nominations before he won an Oscar in 2000, for the song “If I Didn’t Have You” from MONSTERS, INC. If it had been up to me, Newman would have won his Oscar right off the bat for this melodically rich score, beating Vangelis’s far more popular CHARIOTS OF FIRE.

  1. I, too, have always loved this score. I always wanted to like Jennifer Warnes because of how much I love her performance of this song, but I never heard anything else from her that I liked as much. Pity.

    1. Not even the song from NORMA RAE? Great song by David Shire and Norman Gimbel that totally sets the tone for that film. My favorite Oscar songs–EVER! (How’s that for a blanket statement?)

  2. When you look at all the scores that DIDN’T win Academy Awards, it is not surprising that this didn’t win.
    (It seems that in the last couple of years the Academy Award for score is almost a Miss Corgeniality award for a film that academy members don’t believe will win anything else).
    I, also, love this score. Not just the main themes, but there is very strong thematic material throughout the score.
    I first started noticing Randy Newman when he did a very quirky arrangement for Peggy Lee’s Is that All there Is single, which really makes that song.
    Randy has a unique “voice” with his music, when he is hired for his strenghts – Pleasantville, Bug’s Life, Parenthood, and Avalon come to mind, you get excellent results.

    1. I agree with your about the Oscars. That a whole other post…or posts. :)

      I never knew Newman did that arrangement of “Is That All There Is”. You’re right, it totally makes the song.

      I wish Newman would get more live action, dramatic films to score. I think his scores for animated films are usually pretty weak. BUG’S LIFE is probably the strongest. I particularly like PLEASANTVILLE and AVALON as well. His score for THE NATURAL is also a favorite. God knows, it’s been used in numerous trailers and commercials, so it certainly made an impact outside of the film. And that lost the Oscar to A PASSAGE TO INDIA. I simply can’t even comment on that one.

  3. First watched ‘Ragtime’ in my teens and loved the various characters woven into the film.
    The music however seemed to haunt me – and I remembered this particular song though I couldn’t find the music score anywhere – but managed to play it by ear unsuccessfully!
    Was over the moon to finally track the score down via Amazon and now feel really sorry for my neighbours…cos I’m going to play this night AND day!!
    And how could this score NOT win an oscar?
    I would dare anyone to not listen to this wonderful piece of music and not love, be swayed or moved by it!

    1. Lovely score and song that haunted me ever since I saw it when it came out in 1981. Totally wore out my LP version. So glad that hasn’t happened (yet) with the CD. :)

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