All the Songs Featured on the Soundtrack of the 1982 Film Adaptation of “Annie,” Discussed
1. Tomorrow (Aileen Quinn & the Orphans)
“Tomorrow,” contrary to our collective cultural memory of “Annie” (should such a thing truly exist), is only serviceable. It’s okay. It’s perky. But it happens a couple of times, and the regular version is not as good as the version sung in the White House scene (we’ll get there.) But, then, it’s a message song, and message songs always pale a little in comparison to complaining songs, or dueling songs, or songs of celebration, all of which form the bedrock of “Annie.” Of course, “Tomorrow” does introduce us to the tiny, adorable orphan, Molly. That actress is now a substitute teacher in New Jersey, and named her daughter “Molly.” Isn’t that great? Aileen Quinn is spectacular. She really is. What the role requires, apart from song-and-dance chops, you see, is the ability to constantly display varying degrees of EXCITEMENT. And Quinn nails it every time. It’s like how Daniel Radcliffe was in nineteen Harry Potter movies and was a famous wizard, but still had to go “wow, your sink WASHES ITS OWN DISHES” with that air of awe each time. Quinn is always excited. Or sad, but then excited again. Now, before we get to the other songs, let’s briefly mention that although modern medicine has cut down on the number of plucky singing and dancing New York City orphans, there are still thousands of children waiting glumly to age out of foster care. If you’d like to give one a good home and some voice and/or tap lessons, please visit AdoptUSKids.org. But not while listening to the next song, because you’ll never, ever, ever get over it.
2. Maybe (Aileen Quinn)
THIS, right? Oh, God. Do you remember it? “Betcha he reads / betcha she sews…” It’s pretty gender essentialist, but since we can date this movie to 1936 based on the fact “Camille” was in theaters, that’s forgiveable. Anyway, it’s a real tearjerker. “Come get your baaaabyyyyy,” shit. Oh, man. Orphans! In their little gunny-sack outfits. Not to mention, as Mallory Ortberg stated when watching the film for the first time, how is it that Miss Hannigan sleeps through the pillow fight but is awakened by the soft ballad? But they do wake up Miss Hannigan (oh, and on adult rewatch, Carol Burnett carries this film; she commits 100%) and Miss Hannigan is a monster, which spawns…
3. It’s the Hard-Knock Life (Aileen Quinn, Toni Ann Gisondi & Chorus)
Like many classic ensemble numbers, this one is very hazy on chorus size. Is Miss Hannigan in charge of ten orphans, or a thousand? Are they 100% white in an attempt to preserve historical segregated orphanage accuracy, or because white orphans are more sympathetic? Charmingly, “Hard-Knock Life” is a constant battle between the filmmakers and the young children to arrive at the correct tone. “You are orphans! You are being mistreated in an abusive orphanage by a horrible drunkard who acts out sexually!” goes toe-to-toe with “omigodddd I am seven and in a MOVIE! I am sliding around on bannisters and hitting other little girls with mops and I want to smile so badly I could burst! I don’t have to go to a real school!” and the latter generally wins. So many shots of children beaming their faces off, glancing off-camera, and dialing back in to sobriety. Kudos, too, to the tumbling prowess of these kids, who have the footwork of career vaudevillians. Bless them, everyone. The best part of “Hard-Knock Life,” and many of the opening scenes, however, is the “tough” one, Pepper. Pepper has it together. Pepper’s grown up too fast. The minute Pepper gets outta here, she’s gonna be fine. Pepper is a survivor. She’s not wisping around thinking about her dead parents. She’s thinking about the cons, both short and long, she’ll be pulling on the outside. Don’t waste any tears on Pepper.
4. Dumb Dog (Aileen Quinn)
This is barely a song. This is “upbeat walking away” music. This is an act break. Not to mention, way to play hard to get, Annie. Am I supposed to believe you don’t want an adorable dog following you around? What tiny child has enough self-awareness to say “oh, well, I’m a street rat and wouldn’t be able to afford to get you groomed on a regular basis, so please take your charm elsewhere?” No child. No child would do that. But “Dumb Dog” does provide the hook to set us up for…
5. Sandy (Aileen Quinn & the Orphans)
“Sandy” is a GREAT song. Despite being stupid. Who gives a shit what you call the dog? Your time would be better spent coming up with a better dog-disguise than tossing a sheet over him. The best part of “Sandy,” right, is the little blonde orphan with real singing abilities busting out: “ROOOOOOOOOVERRRRR, WHY NOT THINK IT OOOOOOOVEERRRRRR?” in this “fuck you, I had eighteen callbacks for Aileen’s role, and I have an amazing voice” threadjack of a moment, and then the other orphans are so entranced by her talent they pile on and agree with her name choice (which is stupid), until Annie shuts them down.
6. I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here (Aileen Quinn & Ann Reinking)
Definitely in the top five. Maybe the best “dancing servants” scene of our, or any age. This was where I started to wear through my VHS tape. Now, of course, I am thirty years old and can just hit the back arrow grandly while sipping a cocktail. “When you wake, ring for Drake / Drake will bring your tray!” “When you’re through, Mrs. Pugh / Comes to take / It away!” Hell, yeah. It’s all about the money, money… Happy servants. That’s all I wanted. Happy servants who had waited so long to have a little girl to wait on hand and foot. And then you grow up, and if you have a cleaning lady every two weeks, you pre-clean so she won’t judge you. “Annie” lied. The other salient point about “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here” is the continuing triumph of stairs-based choreography. 90% of the dancing in “Annie” involves going up and down stairs. It’s a good way to show off the size of your ensemble.
7. Little Girls (Carol Burnett)
Carol. Burnett. Carol. Burnett. Breathtaking! I did not appreciate, as a child, the extent to which Carol Burnett approached this role without a thought for trying to be sexy. She’s covered in hideous makeup, she’s wearing these awful teddies, she’s gloriously falling in and out of bathtubs filled with gin, she’s contorting her face like putty, and she OWNS it. I felt bad for Miss Hannigan, after this song. Yeah, she doesn’t like kids, so what? She’s sort-of feeding them, isn’t she? Yeah, she knocks them around, but they also step on her toes and drop dead rats down her blouse, so maybe there are two sides to every story, you know?
8. Let’s Go to the Movies (Aileen Quinn, Ann Reinking, Albert Finney & Chorus)
Oh, sweet Ann Reinking. She’s so weird in this song. Her dance moves are bizarre. Remember when she scoots forward while sitting on an ottoman like a dog on the carpet, which resting her face alternately on each wrist? But, despite that, and her fake “COPS and robbbers” shooting-finger-gestures, one is indeed swept away by the glory of the cinema. Which is good, because you have to sit through, like, four solid minutes of “Camille,” so it’s important for you to still be humming the chorus as you go into it. This is also our first introduction to Finney’s non-existent singing voice (no, he is fabulous in this, though, shut up), so the fact he gets a credit on the soundtrack for literally shouting “turn the kitchen light off!” is remarkable.
9. We Got Annie (Ann Reinking, Lu Leonard, Geoffrey Holder & Roger Minami)
This is very racist. We can’t even talk about the Asp, so let’s just say that Geoffrey Holder, who sings only the title line, once, is completely wonderful, has had a storied, award-winning career in the theater, and there is every chance he warmly remembers playing Punjab. Ann Reinking also gets to dance some more. Moving on!
10. Sign (Carol Burnett & Albert Finney)
BEST SONG BEST SONG BEST SONG BEST SONG. Finney, again, cannot really sing, so he does the Rex Harrison school of just yelling words in the correct cadence, and it works out perfectly well. Women do not get to do that, incidentally. Only male actors are allowed to shout-sing. This is the duet in which Miss Hannigan is trying desperately to seduce Daddy Warbucks, and Daddy Warbucks is blackmailing her into formalizing his adoption of Annie. Which apparently, at the time, just required a drunk signature from a government functionary in her underwear. This is where I admit that this scene informed my entire school of knowledge on how to seduce men for at least a decade. Even though it doesn’t work for her. I just honestly thought that you would wear very little and offer to make dry martinis and fling yourself at their chests and then they would be putty in your hands. Which, I mean, is still sort of true, but minus the “I make a very…wet…souffle” part.
11. You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile (Peter Marshall, Chorus and Orphans)
So, apparently the radio guy in this song was the original host of “Hollywood Squares,” which is why he gets special billing in the credits, it’s not just that he’s a lot of fun. This is some catchy shit. To this day, I see some mention of Beau Brummel, and I’m lost in a world of “….they stand out a MILE, but brother, you’re never fully dressed without a smillllllle” and spelling out toothpaste brands.
12. Tomorrow (White House Version) (Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Lois deBanzie & Edward Herrmann)
A drastically better version of “Tomorrow,” largely through the inclusion of Richard Gilmore, Rory’s grandpa, as FDR, a role he has played many, many times. It’s not that he can sing, particularly, but he yells “sing, Oliver! That’s an order, from your Commander in Chief!” and then Finney muddles through a few bars. This is also the only remaining reference to the original Broadway musical’s political content. That they go to the White House and briefly sing a song about things getting better. I’m not sorry, really, because the blah blah New Deal blah blah Hoover stuff is not really super interesting, but it’s worth mentioning that the original show was trying to make some kind of statement about poverty and noblesse oblige. As opposed to just, hey, this one kid has a lot of bathrooms now, so things are great.
13. Easy Street (Carol Burnett, Tim Curry & Bernadette Peters)
And then we have Tim Curry. Tim Curry never sounds like a convincing American, but who would care? He’s a delight. This song, you may remember, opens with him saying “G—-g—-g—geeeeeeaaaaassssy street,” and you think he’s having a seizure, but in the movie, he’s opening the envelope with the dead parents’ half of Annie’s locket and just milking the moment. And then they dance up and down stairs, and Bernadette is a better dancer, so she gets more interesting things to do, and there’s an eeensy bit of sexual tension between Miss Hannigan and her brother, but just a touch. Just to keep it interesting.
14. Maybe (Reprise) (Aileen Quinn & Albert Finney)
This is the same song that Fievel sings when he thinks about his family, and the same song Big Bird sings when he thinks about his friends. It’s sad. But don’t worry!
15. Finale/I Don’t Need Anything But You/We Got Annie/Tomorrow (Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Chorus and the Orphans)
Glorious reunion. Fireworks. Names spelled out in lights. Inexplicable circus. Stair dancing. Miss Hannigan has a happy ending. Shout-singing. I love YOU, Daddy Warbucks. “Tomorrow” swells, hearts burst. All is well.