Songwriters reveal the inspiration behind this year's Oscar front-runners


Bolt (Disney)

"Barking at the Moon," written and performed by Jenny Lewis

Lewis: "Given my experience growing up here in Hollywood, when it was explained to me that Bolt was a child-actor dog who had a difficult time distinguishing between Hollywood and reality, I could immediately relate to that. When I saw the sequence, I knew exactly what to do and (the filmmakers let) me run with it. It was actually easy for me -- I connected immediately to the characters and was so inspired that I wrote the song that very night."

"I Thought I Lost You," written by Jeffrey Steele and Miley Cyrus, performed by Miley Cyrus and John Travolta

Steele: "I've known Miley forever -- she and her parents are fans of mine. She recently cut a song on her breakout record that I wrote called 'Simple Song.' Miley knew she wanted to contribute a song to the film and had spoken to Disney about wanting me to write it with her. Disney flew out to show me the movie in Nashville. Toward the end of the movie John's character and Miley's character find each other, and the first thing out of Miley's mouth is, 'I thought I lost you.' I said, 'That's the song right there.' That's the point in the movie where everything gets good. She totally got it and understood that this song needed to be about this friendship between a girl and a dog. Next thing we know we were hammering it out like two old songwriters."

Dark Streets (Samuel Goldwyn Films)

"It Ain't Right," written by Tim Langhorne Brown, performed by Etta James

Brown: " 'It Ain't Right' is about two characters -- Crystal and Chaz -- and the mismatch between their expectations. Crystal feels ignored and underappreciated by Chaz, though she loves him; so the song tells her story. Chaz feels the same about his father -- there's a failure to really connect; so it tells his story too. A traditional modern electric blues band was used, but if you know your blues, you will know that there is a lot more to it than just 12-bar patterns."

"Too Much Juice," written by Tony De Meur, performed by Chaka Khan

De Meur: "Alcohol is a central issue in the movie, and the protagonist seeks out drink in order to assuage the downhill slide of his life. 'Too Much Juice' is integral to the film in that it is written from the woman's point of view -- her frustration that her man is always drunk and cannot satisfy her, in all ways."

Next: "High School Musical 3," "Quantum of Solace," "WALL-E" and more.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney)

"I Want It All," written by Matthew Gerrard and Robbie Nevil, performed by Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Grabeel

Gerrard: "It's a pivotal moment in the film, and it gave creative license to (director) Kenny Ortega to go crazy with the production of this number. There are so many (location) changes that occur within this one song. For example, at points they're in New York in a cab, so musically we actually fed off of that and had soundscapes that sounded like you were in bustling New York."

Nevil: "We wanted to do something commercial with it and make it something really accessible and radio-friendly. But at the same time, it's key that every single lyric weave the whole story line together."

"A Night to Remember," written by Matthew Gerrard and Robbie Nevil, performed by the cast

Gerrard: "We nicknamed 'A Night to Remember' the 'Prom Song' because it focused on what this event meant to (the characters) as high school students, especially the boys. The girls are what you might expect, but if you look at the boys, and you look at their (character arc) in the song, they are quite funny."

"Can I Have This Dance," written by Adam Anders and Nikki Hassman, performed by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens

Anders: "All the songs are inspired by the script, but the script is very much formed around the songs. I think the biggest challenge for us was to overcome our second-guessing. We had this piece of music almost immediately, and then we started tearing it apart. It was really hard to settle on what it needed to be. 'Can I Have This Dance' could seem kind of old, so our challenge was to make sure it was still cool and accessible to the younger audience. It was risky to go with that title, but we went for it and it worked out. It is a waltz with a pop sensibility."

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (DreamWorks/Paramount)

"The Traveling Song," written by Hans Zimmer and, performed by "This is not a typical song for me. I really wanted to push myself to compose a song that was outside my comfort zone. This was a chance for me to go beyond a beat or a rap. Not saying that I can compete with Lalo Schifrin or Henry Mancini, although these guys are my favorite composers, but I saw this as an opportunity to start training myself. Hans Zimmer wrote an amazing piece of music for the film that plays into 'The Traveling Song' that I wanted to complement melodically. (Lyrically) the song really captured the zeitgeist of the whole film: 'I've been traveling forever and now that I'm home it feels like heaven.' The film's meaning really lends itself to the melody. The song reprises several times throughout the film at key moments."

Next: "Quantum of Solace," "Slumdog Millionaire," "WALL-E" and more.

Quantum of Solace (Sony)

"Another Way to Die," written by Jack White, performed by Alicia Keys and Jack White

White: "When we got together in Nashville, it wasn't planned. It was similar to when I did a duet with Loretta Lynn. I'm really not a singer, I'm a vocalist. Alicia's a singer. The soul she put into the song really inspired me. At one point she started scatting and I asked her to do that with the guitars. We recorded on a reel-to-reel tape, which is probably not the typical approach towards recording film music. (By using a reel-to-reel) you get a whole different feel to a song, a certain soulfulness that doesn't feel so pieced together."

Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight)

"O Saya," Written and performed by A.R. Rahman and M.I.A.

Rahman: " 'O Saya' functions like a wake-up call. It's like it says, 'This is not a Bollywood film, this is a Danny Boyle film.' When you see where the song plays out, you can see and feel the energy. The kids are screaming at a plane as it flies overhead, almost like they are at a rock concert. It then leads you through a (montage) of the (slums of Mumbai). This song gives wings to the characters. M.I.A. and I sat together for a couple days and discussed how to deal with it, and we both decided 'O Saya' should be a track that says, 'What the hell is this?' I had a rhythm that sounded like a flight taking off, which is exactly what is happening in the scene where the song first appears. I wanted to include vocals of mine that would make you feel liberated."

"Jai Ho," written by A.R. Rahman, performed by the cast

Rahman: "The film culminates with 'Jai Ho,' which plays over a fairly artistic (dance number). 'Jai Ho' means 'celebrating life.' There is a saying in India, which is probably the national motto: 'truth wins.' The film does go into dark areas, but immediately brings you back to excitement, so the balance is perfect. It makes you feel good when you've gone through that whole experience. Because the song is celebrating life I used a collage of instruments: Japanese taiko, Indian mandolins and country guitars. It's not formulaic and is not a traditional Bollywood dance number."

WALL-E (Disney/Pixar)

"Down to Earth," written by Thomas Newman and Peter Gabriel, performed by Peter Gabriel

Gabriel: "I was particularly attracted to 'WALL-E' because (director Andrew Stanton) was approaching it in a very bold way, with very little dialogue, and some of the sci-fi films that were the inspiration for him were important films for me too. When the brain is not engaged in interpreting the dialogue, there is an opportunity to respond to the sound and image more viscerally. It has been a wonderful experience working with the Pixar team, who still have a very different mentality and approach toward work than much of Hollywood. I also had very much enjoyed Thomas Newman's work, particularly 'American Beauty' and the theme music for 'Six Feet Under' -- the best TV show in my opinion -- and I thought it could be an interesting collaboration."

The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight)

"The Wrestler," written and performed by Bruce Springsteen

Mickey Rourke: "I wrote Bruce a letter, because we've known each other over 20 years, and he knows what I used to be, or whatever. Where I went, what I'd been reduced to. I told him how I felt lucky now and didn't have to end up being this guy, being Randy (his character from 'The Wrestler'). A while later, I got a call in the middle of the night: He said he'd written a little song, for nothing. It's fucking beautiful, right? I was honored he took the time, because he's a busy cat. I mean, I'm so goddamn proud of this magical movie and to have Bruce's input. Ain't nobody in Hollywood with all their millions can just ring the man and he'll do a song, y'know?"