The Pickled Priest Complete Guide to Grammy Atrocities: Album of the Year Winners, Pt. 1: 1959-1990
Unfortunately, despite my anti-Grammy rant last year, the Grammy Awards broadcast still aired on Sunday night. We were treated to the usual force-fed buffet of mainstream edibles, giant exposed breasts, frantic background dancing, ridiculous space-age costumes, and over-inflated hype (mostly by Trevor Noah) for almost four hours. There was even a little music wedged in for good measure. As usual, some of the winners made some sense and some didn't. Why does this happen you ask? Mainly because mass popularity doesn't mean you've sold your artistic soul to the devil just as much as mass popularity can't alone be relied upon to determine artistic merit. It's a very fine line that awards shows of all types have struggled to walk with credibility in tact. But few have failed so miserably, so often, than the Grammys, the whore of all awards shows. Some might blame it on their voting membership who, despite being so-called industry insiders, don't always keep up on new trends in music and simply don't have the time to listen to enough music to make informed decisions. It's hard enough when the musical climate stays constant, but when popular tastes change, the addition of rap and alternative rock to the mix are two relatively recent examples from the past 30 years, there isn't enough expertise to judge it properly. The same happened in the early-1960s, when the Grammys were figuring out what to do with a new thing called Rock & Roll. All of this is a recipe for laughable, arbitrary, and out-of-touch nominee selections. The Grammys are famous for trying to play catchup with the times while also trying to correct systemic bias in their voting ranks. It can be a painful process to watch. So, what do the voters do when they are ready to cast their ballot but don't have enough information to make a sound decision? They default to what they know, what's popular right now, or some awkward confluence of both. In the process, many highly worthy artists get left behind. After all, if you're going to fuck up, it's best to fuck up in a crowd. And that's perfectly fine with the Grammys, because they've got a massive revenue-generating juggernaut to broadcast each year. And nothing brings in viewers like the most popular artists of the day. This isn't a recent development, however. All of this and more has been happening since the first Grammy Award telecast in 1959. Head-scratching moments abound, to say the least. While it was kind of charming at first, incompetence wears thin over time.
Today I'm presenting the history of the Grammy's most prestigious award: The Album of the Year category. I'm going to review every Album of the Year winner and fellow nominees to see what has gone right and what has gone wrong over the years. And spoiler: it's not a pretty sight in many cases. Maybe if every artist knew the show's dubious record, they wouldn't be weeping at the podium as they accept their golden Victrola like it really means something. And maybe we would no longer tout the Grammy as some major achievement worthy of great reverence and respect.
Shit, even Homer Simpson, a fictional Grammy Award winner for the album With the Be Sharps, by his barbershop quartet The Be Sharps (Category: “Outstanding Soul, Spoken Word, or Barbershop”), mocks the award in an episode of The Simpsons:
Homer (at an awards ceremony): Oh, why won’t anyone give me an award?
Lisa: You won a Grammy.
Homer: I mean an award that means something!
(Side note: On the bottom of the screen, the show put this legal disclaimer: "Mr. Simpson’s opinions do not reflect those of the producers, who don’t consider the Grammy an award at all.")
Is Homer right? Here are the facts, so you can decide for yourself.
A BRIEF GUIDE TO EACH ENTRY
Year of Award Ceremony
Winning Artist | Winning Album in BOLD font
Other nominees for that year
Priest Pick: If we had to pick from those nominated
Not Nominated: Those that were eligible for the nomination, but weren't chosen.
(Editor's Note: We've listed just a few significant records not nominated. In many cases, many other records in many other genres could’ve been listed, so don’t freak out if one of your favorites is snubbed. Also, I’ve tried to list only records that had a realistic chance of winning at the time in order to be fair to the Grammy folks.)
Atrocity Level: On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the worst) how good or bad did the Grammys do at their job? Score contemplates both the quality of the winning album and other nominees.
Commentary: Our thoughts about the year’s results.
TECHNICAL NOTE: The Grammys are awarded using their fiscal year of Oct 1 - Sept 30. So for the 1959 ceremony, the date range for eligible albums was Oct. 1, 1957 to Sept. 30, 1958. The year listed is the date when the awards ceremony was broadcast/held (normally the following February or March).
Henry Mancini | The Music From Peter Gunn
Frank Sinatra | Come Fly With Me
Frank Sinatra | Sings for Only the Lonely
Ella Fitzgerald | Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook
Van Cliburn | Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1
Priest Pick: Mancini / Ella coin flip
Not Nominated: Cannonball Adderley | Somethin’ Else; Buddy Holly | Buddy Holly
Atrocity Level: 2
Commentary: As you will see shortly, the Grammy voters spent the 1960s publicly fellating Frank Sinatra from underneath the acceptance podium (7 nominations in the first 10 years!), so it’s safe to say his double-nomination split the vote in the award’s inaugural year and gave Mancini a deserved win—delaying the gobbling of Frank’s cock until a year later. At this point in time, the golden age of the pop album was still to come, society was still figuring out what to do with rock and roll, and the Grammys were just starting up as well. Hard to find fault in anything just yet as a result—and you have to appreciate the diversity of nominations—so we’ll give them a pass this time. But only this time. On a side note, Van Cliburn was the darling of the classical world at the time (at least in the US) after becoming the first American to win a Gold Medal in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow (basically, the American Idol of classical music). If the legendary Ella Fitzgerald had won, it would've been a well-deserved nod to one of the century's greatest vocalists. She didn't, and then slipped back into near obscurity shortly after the awards ceremony, humiliated by her defeat, never to be heard from again.
Frank Sinatra | Come Dance With Me!
Harry Belafonte | At Carnegie Hall
Henry Mancini | More Music from Peter Gunn
Van Cliburn | Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3
Robert Russell Bennett | Victory at Sea
Priest Pick: Pretty much every man and woman wanted to (at the very least) dance with Sinatra in the 60s, so it’s futile to argue the choice—it’s a pretty swingin’ record, so I’ll save my bitching for later.
Not Nominated: Miles Davis | Kind of Blue; Ray Charles | The Genius of Ray Charles
Atrocity Level: 4
Commentary: It’s amazing how early on the Grammys got stuck in a nomination rut by retreating back to their panic room with a soon-to-be-obligatory Sinatra nod. Mancini checked in with a sequel to his previous winner (that’s where it ended—no Still More Music from Peter Gunn in 1961, thankfully). Even Van “The Man” Cliburn was back interpreting yet another Russian composer (Joe McCarthy would’ve had a field day with this guy!). And still not even a whiff of Elvis Presley on anyone's radar at this point. Take a brief moment to bask in the relative "maturity" of the times. Fifty years later, guys wearing robot helmets win the trophy!
Bob Newhart | The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart
Harry Belafonte | Returns to Carnegie Hall
Sviatoslav Richter | Brahms Concerto No. 2
Frank Sinatra | Nice ‘n’ Easy
Erich Leinsdorf | Puccini: Turandot
Nat King Cole | Wild is Love
Priest Pick: Newhart!
Not Nominated: The Dave Brubeck Quartet | Time Out; John Coltrane | Giant Steps; Miles Davis | Sketches of Spain
Atrocity Level: 7
Commentary: In the early days of the Grammys, any genre of music could, in theory, vie for the title of Record of the Year—comedy albums included. Imagine today if Katy Perry, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Kathy Griffin, Esperanza Spalding, and Kanye West all battled for the same award. Would we see Kanye interrupting CSO conductor Riccardo Muti during his acceptance speech? The bottom line is that everybody loved, and still loves, Bob Newhart, a comedic institution then and now. That said, a perplexing roster of jazz classics have been ignored by the committee over the years which leads to a high atrocity level this year. One thing that is also very clear is that this was long before nominees were almost exclusively selected on the basis of potential Nielsen ratings impact. There were no green-haired girls standing on cars back in the 60s, that's for sure.
Curious side note: The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart didn’t even win the Grammy for Best Comedy Performance at the 1961 ceremony—Bob's sequel to that album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back!, did! How does the best album of the year lose in its own category to the same person? Ridiculous, but appropriately, kind of funny, too. Bob surely appreciated the irony.
Judy Garland | Judy at Carnegie Hall
Henry Mancini | Breakfast at Tiffanys
Ray Charles | Genius + Soul = Jazz
Si Zentner & the Johnny Mann Singers | Great Band with Great Voices
Nat King Cole | The Nat King Cole Story
West Side Story | Soundtrack
Priest Pick: We were still a pretty naïve country in 1962, and it doesn’t get more Leave it to Beaver than Judy @ Carnegie (a delightful period piece I encourage you to hear, btw), but Ray Charles should’ve won easily.
Not Nominated: Oh, nobody notable except 1998 Grammy Hall of Fame Award winner John Coltrane's My Favorite Things.
Atrocity Level: 6
Commentary: The first of many women to receive the big award, and the first live album to do so (only three more live records have won since). In retrospect, it’s a little surprising that West Side Story didn’t win, but the return of a beloved star was apparently too much to overcome. And no, the Grammys were still not ready to acknowledge the existence of our precocious seven-year-old, rock and roll. And Ray? People aren't color blind now, so imagine what it was like in the early 60s. That he was even nominated shows you how undeniable his genius was back in the day.
Vaughn Meader | The First Family
Tony Bennett | I Left My Heart in San Francisco
Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd | Jazz Samba
Ray Charles | Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music
Allan Sherman | My Son, the Folk Singer
Priest Pick: Ray’s instant classic should’ve been the blowout winner
Not Nominated: Bob Dylan | Bob Dylan; Dexter Gordon | Go
Atrocity Level: 9
Commentary: The second comedy album in three years to win. What a laugh! It was an era where the comedy album was still pretty new, but they were all the rage at the time. Meader’s parody of the Kennedy clan was a sensation, becoming the fastest selling record of all-time to that point (one million a week for its first seven weeks!). In retrospect, absolutely ridiculous; at the time, a phenomenon. But it's amazing how quickly a joke can turn sour when the butt of the joke gets assassinated. Timing is everything in entertainment and this is the quintessential example. Before that happened, however, the record—which Jackie O didn't like, but JFK found amusing—made Meader a rich man. Hopefully he saved some of the dough. The sad part is that it never should've won in the first place. Ray Charles should’ve been to the Grammys in the 60s what Stevie Wonder was in the 70s—dominant and celebrated. Culturally, the album was slowly becoming the definitive artistic statement and the competition would become much more fierce in coming years. So much so, a comedy album never won the big award again. Eventually, it was exiled to its own category. Which makes logical sense.
Barbra Streisand | The Barbra Streisand Album
The Swingle Singers | Bach’s Greatest Hits
Andy Williams | Days of Wine and Roses
Al Hirt | Honey in the Horn
The Singing Nun | The Singing Nun
Priest Pick: Nobody
Not Nominated: Thelonious Monk | Monk’s Dream; Bob Dylan | The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan; James Brown | Live at the Apollo
Atrocity Level: 10
Commentary: Like five polar bears eating marshmallows in a snowstorm, this could be the whitest group of nominees in Grammy history. I do understand that James Brown’s black and sweaty Live at the Apollo might’ve been a bridge too far at the time—the antipode of Judy at Carnegie Hall—but there’s no excuse for nominating the Singing Nun in his place either. Couldn't we meet somewhere in the middle?! The Dylan snub alone merits the highest atrocity level. Why didn't the Grammy voters pick up on his genius by now? If the answer was blowin' in the wind, the voters didn't hear it. Which is what happens when you live with your head up your ass, I suppose.
Stan Getz & Joäo Gilberto | Getz/Gilberto
Al Hirt | Cotton Candy
Funny Girl | Cast Recording
Barbra Steisand | People
Henry Mancini | The Pink Panther
Priest Pick: Getz & Gilberto. They were credited with igniting a bossa nova craze worldwide—an irresistible development the very vanilla Grammys desperately needed.
Not Nominated: Bob Dylan | The Times They Are A-Changin’; The Beatles | With the Beatles; The Beatles | A Hard Day’s Night; The Supremes | Where Did Our Love Go
Atrocity Level: 6
Commentary: Ah! A golden opportunity to show the world that the Grammys knew the times they were literally a-chanin'! To quote Paul K, one of my favorite songwriters, "It's a golden opportunity / I cannot wait to waste it." And waste it they did. The Academy did throw the Beatles a bone with Best New Artist (not the most prestigious award at the time—the Swingle Singers won it the year prior), but they snubbed Dylan who would never get his just due during his 60s prime, a period of free-range genius rivaled by only a few other artists in music history (the aforementioned Ray Charles being another). While it’s true that 99.9% of humans can hum The Pink Panther theme by Henry Mancini, can anyone recall another song from the record? I also take delight in the double-Streisand-snub (the insufferable "People" and her star-turn in Funny Girl). If you're a die-hard fan, my apologies, but I just can't do it. Also, one last shout out to Henry Mancini, who was absolutely crushing it in the early-60s!
Frank Sinatra | September of My Years
The Beatles | Help!
Barbra Streisand | My Name is Barbra
Eddy Arnold | My World
The Sound of Music | Soundtrack
Priest Pick: The Beatles in retrospect, but The Sound of Music was an undeniable force at the time and endures to this day. Side note: I would've given my left testicle to hear the Von Trapp Family do a Beatles tribute album back then. Imagine little Gretl taking the ironic lead on "Yesterday." Adorable!
Not Nominated: John Coltrane | A Love Supreme; Bob Dylan | Bringing It All Back Home; Otis Redding | Otis Blue; Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass | Whipped Cream and Other Delights; The Byrds | Mr. Tambourine Man; The Rolling Stones | Out of Our Heads; Bob Dylan | Highway 61 Revisited
Atrocity Level: 10
Commentary: The Beatles were finally nominated, so we’re making some progress. Unfortunately, Sinatra was on automatic in the 60s, releasing records for breakfast. lunch, and dinner on some days. The Beatles should’ve waltzed off with the award—no longer were they a fluke, no longer a passing fancy of young girls. “Yesterday” alone puts the mop tops on the podium. Excuses be damned, it was time for the Grammy Awards to realize the world was spinning faster than their insulated little worlds could handle. But they failed miserably, content to sit back with pipe and slippers in a red velvet smoking jacket. The Beatles nomination is the first time the voters had to buckle to societal pressure and allow a popular rock & roll group into their hallowed halls. A “We better include this so we don’t look too out of touch” mentality that would repeat itself ad nauseam throughout history until everyone in the know about music soon dismissed the Grammy Awards out of hand as the epic baggy pants farce that it is. On another note, The Sound of Fucking Music (its original working title) is admittedly an institution, but the Grand Canyon-sized disconnect between actual and possible nominees is so wide here you could drive Barbra Streisand’s ego through it…almost.
Frank Sinatra | A Man and His Music
Barbra Streisand | Color Me Barbra
Dr. Zhivago | Soundtrack
The Beatles | Revolver
Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass | What Now My Love
Priest Pick: Revolver, God damn it!
Not Nominated: Simon & Garfunkel | Sounds of Silence; The Beach Boys | Pet Sounds; Bob Dylan | Blonde On Blonde; The Who | My Generation; The Beatles | Rubber Soul
Atrocity Level: 10
Commentary: I mean no disrespect to Frank—his name was pre-printed on the Grammy ballot in the 60s for a reason. He was, simply, The Man. But he wasn’t creating great music from scratch, he was merely singing songs others had written—very old school. This was the way of the world for many years, but it was now time for voters to acknowledge a new era where the artist writes and performs their own music. But they didn’t, of course. They went for the familiar when they could’ve pushed themselves to understand fresh developments like the music lovers they are claimed to be, not as gummed-up cogs in a pre-programmed, antiquated machine desperately in need of a lube job. To exacerbate the situation, Sinatra’s record was a compilation album of past material, re-recorded on the occasion of his 50th birthday (because he was on a new label and couldn’t use the originals). That such a record beat out Revolver is one of the greatest atrocities in Grammy history. Perhaps voters were turned off by Lennon's "We're more popular than Jesus" comment that caused controversy in March of '66. When you add Pet Sounds, Sounds of Silence, Blonde on Blonde, and other classics of the era to the formula, it’s pure rectal-bleeding agony. The fact the Grammys still have any credibility or value in the present day is inexplicable. We have enough evidence to convict already and they’re still not even ten years old! The defendant will be tried as an adult, however, since most of its voting members are over 60—or vote like it.
The Beatles | Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim | s/t
Vikki Carr | It Must Be Him
Ed Ames | My Cup Runneth Over
Bobbie Gentry | Ode to Billie Joe
Priest Pick: My dead grandmother could’ve picked this one right from her casket
Not Nominated: The Rolling Stones | Between the Buttons; Jefferson Airplane | Surrealistic Pillow; Aretha Franklin | I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You; The Jimi Hendrix Experience | Are You Experienced; and that other great album from 1967 that you love, but isn’t listed.
Atrocity Level: 1 for the winner; 9 when you consider what wasn’t nominated.
Commentary: Now we're at least making some progress. Credit where credit is due, but if we have to pat the Grammys on the back for finally understanding the importance of the Beatles, something is seriously wrong with the establishment. Yes, the correct choice was made, but if you were the Beatles, how much excitement would you get if you won a race against the likes of Vicki Carr, Ed Ames, and Bobbie Gentry when the race should’ve featured the Stones, Hendrix, and Aretha? I suppose edging out Sinatra at the time was a major coup, but the Chairman was starting his slow fade from relevance at the time, not to mention the fact he was several years late to the bossa nova bandwagon. How proud would Secretariat have been if he won the Triple Crown running against three goats and three-legged dog?
Glen Campbell | By the Time I Get to Phoenix
Simon & Garfunkel | Bookends
Jose Feliciano | Feliciano!
The Beatles | Magical Mystery Tour
Richard Harris | A Tramp Shining
Priest Pick: Simon & Garfunkel
Not Nominated: The Byrds | Sweetheart of the Rodeo; Aretha Franklin | Lady Soul; Otis Redding | Dock of the Bay; Johnny Cash | At Folsom Prison; The Band | Music From Big Pink; Big Brother and the Holding Company | Cheap Thrills
Atrocity Level: 7
Commentary: I like Glen and this was a refreshing change of pace for the Grammys, but perhaps Jimmy Webb should’ve just been given the award this year instead. He wrote the iconic title track for Campbell’s winner and all the songs on ribald Irish actor Richard Harris’s musical debut, including “MacArthur Park,” a song that’s equal parts brilliant and stupid depending on your perspective. Song for song, Magical Mystery Tour would be the clear winner, but it was a compilation of sorts, collected by the band’s label with singles added after the fact to substantiate a full-length record, so it doesn’t really seem deserving in the category (although Sinatra won with a collection in 1967). But the real story here, once again, is what wasn’t nominated. My recommendation: avert your eyes or risk spontaneously coughing up your large intestine. The excuse of not knowing what to do with rock and roll was for years a faulty crutch. And could the winners in the first ten years of the award be a whiter shade of pale? While there is absolutely no excuse for ignoring so many of rock and roll’s most important albums, it’s even worse that so many seminal artists of color were kept off the podium. While I can understand that Hendrix was a little too far ahead of his time and Otis Redding too primal, there’s no accounting for the Aretha snub who possessed one of the greatest voices in music history (if not thee best) and released one of the greatest soul albums ever made. Which only adds even more atrocities to this horror movie of incompetence. If you needed a stake to forever silence the lightly–beating heart of the Grammys, look no further than 1969.
Blood, Sweat & Tears | Blood, Sweat & Tears
The Beatles | Abbey Road
The 5th Dimension | The Age of Aquarius
Crosby, Stills & Nash | Crosby Stills & Nash
Johnny Cash | At San Quentin
Priest Pick: Abbey Road
Not Nominated: The Jimi Hendrix Experience | Electric Ladyland; The Beatles | The Beatles (The White Album); The Rolling Stones | Beggar’s Banquet; Van Morrison | Astral Weeks; Led Zeppelin | Led Zeppelin; Dusty Springfield | Dusty in Memphis; Bob Dylan | Nashville Skyline; Sly & the Family Stone | Stand!; The Who | Tommy; Elvis Presley | From Elvis in Memphis; The Band | The Band; Isaac Hayes | Hot Buttered Soul; The Bonzo Dog Band | The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse*
Atrocity Level: 8
Commentary: The atrocity rating is no knock on a really good BS&T record—I do appreciate the Grammys tossing the award to a lusty, somewhat adventurous, soul/rock band. It was an adequate way to usher in the 1970s with a new leaf turned over. But, woe is me, look at what could’ve been! Abbey Road! I don’t fault them for ignoring Zeppelin—even then-hip Rolling Stone magazine, respectable at the time, didn’t understand them yet and famously panned their early records. Isaac Hayes, the Band, the Who, CCR and Sly I can also see being left off the list for various "logical" reasons. But, like Dylan in the 60s, the Grammys blundered yet again by continuing to ignore the Stones’ during their near-perfect run in the late-60s and early 70s. That said, if you go on the premise that the Stones were simply too dangerous for the older voting members of the academy, especially fresh off the 1969 disaster at Altamont, I can understand the snub for this one year only. What is truly shocking is the snub of Elvis and any notice of his return to the recording world. He announced his return in legendary fashion during his triumphant ’68 comeback special and followed that with what many consider his second best record ever (after his debut). Very surprising that Grammy didn’t take the chance to not only reward a great record, but to do what the Oscars did for Martin Scorsese when they tossed a statue his way for The Departed, and give some retrospective love when they had the chance. (Something they would end up doing over and over in future telecasts for much lesser artists.)
*Included only in protest that the Grammys don’t give out an award for Best Album Title, which this should've won handily. We give an award for liner notes, album packaging, and polka records every year, so why the fuck not? What harm could it do?
Simon & Garfunkel | Bridge Over Troubled Water
The Carpenters | Close to You
CSN&Y | Déjà Vu
Elton John | Elton John
James Taylor | Sweet Baby James
Priest Pick: Simon & Garfunkel
Not Nominated: Led Zeppelin | Led Zeppelin II; Van Morrison | Moondance; Miles Davis | Bitches Brew; The Beatles | Let It Be; Creedence Clearwater Revival | Willy and the Poor Boys; Creedence Clearwater Revival | Cosmo’s Factory; Neil Young | After the Gold Rush; The Rolling Stones | Let it Bleed;
Eric Clapton | Eric Clapton; Santana | Abraxas
Atrocity Level: 3
Commentary: A respectable list of nominees, but dubious still. The winner is undisputed, but there was a lot of competition ignored once again. James Taylor was a smoking hot commodity at the time, so it’s hard to argue his inclusion. That said, any of those from the “not nominated” list should’ve taken the Carpenters spot in the lineup for sure (and I love the Carpenters, who won Best New Artist this year), particularly Moondance and Bitches Brew. Elton John’s debut was a rare case of the Grammys discovering a deserving new talent right out of the box, but they abandoned him during much of his artistic peak during the early-70s (Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across the Water, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road). Elton didn’t get another nom until Caribou in ‘75, which seems ridiculous considering the creative waterfall he unleashed during the time period. All but one of his eleven Grammy trophies came after 1987—reason #298 that the Grammys are fucked to high heaven.
Carole King | Tapestry
George Harrison | All Things Must Pass
The Carpenters | The Carpenters
Jesus Christ Superstar | London Cast Recording
Isaac Hayes | Shaft
Priest Pick: King
Not Nominated: Janis Joplin | Pearl; The Rolling Stones | Sticky Fingers; Marvin Gaye | What’s Going On; Rod Stewart | Every Picture Tells a Story; Joni Mitchell | Blue; The Who | Who’s Next; John Lennon | Imagine; T. Rex | Electric Warrior; Led Zeppelin | Led Zeppelin III; Elton John | Tumbleweed Connection; Derek and the Dominoes | Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Atrocity Level: 7
Commentary: I don’t begrudge King her throne as the queen of 1971—she was—and her album is beautiful and has stood the test of time. Singer-songwriters were big in the early 70s and since the Grammys are voted on by a bunch of pussies for the most part it’s a match made in hell and has been ever since. The Grammys, simply, do not rock, nor ever will. The more they try to rock, the more pathetic they become. (Famously, and laughably, giving the first ever award for Hard Rock/Heavy Metal to Jethro Tull’s Crest of a Knave in 1989.) So we get no Stones, no Who, no Zep, no nothing, forever and ever, amen. And soul? I’m pleased, but quite shocked, Isaac Hayes got a nod for Shaft, but not at the expense of Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece, What’s Going On. Or Sly Stone’s, for that matter, although it’s less surprising since he was, and always will be, too freaky for the Grammys. (He got the last laugh years later when they tried to put him onstage in 2006, but it was an epic fail.)
George Harrison & Friends | The Concert for Bangladesh
Don McLean | American Pie
Jesus Christ Superstar | Broadway Cast Recording
Neil Diamond | Moods
Nilsson | Nilsson Schmilsson
Priest Pick: None of the above
Not Nominated: Al Green | Let’s Stay Together; Neil Young | Harvest; The Rolling Stones | Exile on Main Street; Elton John | Honky Chateau; Randy Newman | Sail Away; David Bowie | The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars; Aretha Franklin | Amazing Grace; Led Zeppelin | Led Zeppelin IV; Sly & the Family Stone | There’s a Riot Goin’ On
Atrocity Level: 10
Commentary: It's hard to argue against any album with such pure intent that set the precedent for many star-studded charitable efforts to come (Live Aid, Band Aid, USA for Africa, etc.). What a feel good story with everyone banding together (literally) to help refugees in war-torn East Pakistan! Except, if you spend a little time reading about the behind-the-music history of the recording, that declaration of unified good will erodes under scrutiny. The usual greedy record label stuff, to the point Capitol Records was accused of profiting from the plight of the refugees. And it would’ve worked, too, if not for you meddling kids! And by kids, I mean humanity in general, in the form of bad PR rising like floodwater around their ankles. Eventually, and more importantly, the record was released, sold well, and to this day generates money for UNICEF. And, of course, the same collective of music industry douchebags that bickered over profits and credits made sure to reward themselves with a sweet gold trophy for their altruistic efforts.
A side message to the other nominees, all of which are darn good records: Congratulations on your nominations. I’m sure your nomination plaque will look great in your den. But look below you at those not nominated. It's the greatest collection of Grammy snubs in history of the award. It’s not your fault, of course, but don’t go thinking for a second that you deserved to be in their company.
Stevie Wonder | Innervisions
Charlie Rich | Behind Closed Doors
Bette Midler | The Divine Miss M
Roberta Flack | Killing Me Softly
Paul Simon | There Goes Rhymin’ Simon
Priest Pick: Stevie
Not Nominated: Stevie Wonder | Talking Book; Pink Floyd | The Dark Side of the Moon; Led Zeppelin | Houses of the Holy; Bob Marley and the Wailers | Catch a Fire; Steely Dan | Can’t Buy a Thrill; Al Green | Call Me; Marvin Gaye | Let’s Get It On
Atrocity Level: 5
Commentary: Is it a coincidence that almost every time an African-American or Hispanic musician has been nominated, said artist is also blind? Ray Charles, Jose Feliciano, and now Stevie Wonder. Are they afraid artists of color will see how white is the membership of the academy? We’ll never know, I suppose. Maybe the academy suddenly realized in 1974 that they were about to pull another Ray Charles if they didn’t acknowledge another musical genius while still at the peak of his powers. And I’m not talking about Elton John, either. I’m talking Stevie Wonder, the man who owned the show in the mid-70s—and deservingly so for the most part. I’m tired of pointing out the fact that those not nominated deserved better. But they did. From now on, just assume so. Imagine this list of nominees: Wonder, Pink Floyd, Marley, Gaye, and Green.
Stevie Wonder | Fulfillingness’ First Finale
John Denver | Back Home Again
Paul McCartney & Wings | Band on the Run
Elton John | Caribou
Joni Mitchell | Court & Spark
Priest Pick: Paul or Joni
Not Nominated: Steely Dan | Pretzel Logic; Eric Clapton | 461 Ocean Boulevard; Randy Newman | Good Old Boys; Supertramp | Crime of the Century; Elton John | Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; Emerson, Lake, and Palmer | Brain Salad Surgery
Atrocity Level: 5
Commentary: The Grammys were so enamored with Stevie Wonder in the 70s they even gave awards to his poorly-titled and critically overrated records. And make no mistake, F-cubed is somewhat overrated. Not bad, but not in the same company as Talking Book and Innervisions. I have no major issues with the other nominees, although it’s interesting to note how little love Eric Clapton got early in the 70s. His first win ever (other than his minimal involvement in the Bangladesh record) came in the 90s during the height of his nearly quarter century bid to become the most disappointing major solo star in rock history. And the ELP snub? Just seeing if you’re still paying attention.
Paul Simon | Still Crazy After All These Years
Janis Ian | Between the Lines
Elton John | Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
Linda Ronstadt | Heart Like a Wheel
The Eagles | One of These Nights
Priest Pick: Simon
Not Nominated: Bob Dylan | Blood on the Tracks; Led Zeppelin | Physical Graffiti; Aerosmith | Toys in the Attic; Willie Nelson | Red Headed Stranger; Neil Young | Tonight’s the Night; Glen Campbell | Rhinestone Cowboy; Bruce Springsteen | Born to Run; Pink Floyd | Wish You Were Here
Atrocity Level: 7
Commentary: Humorously, Simon thanked Stevie Wonder in his acceptance speech for not releasing a record in 1975. Had anyone else won, the atrocity rating would’ve been through the roof, especially considering the unbelievable wealth of those not nominated (there I go again). Imagine Dylan in Ian’s spot; Springsteen in the Eagles slot; Pink Floyd subs for Ronstadt (although I do love her record); and Led Zep for Elton John (not one of his best, anyway). This could’ve been the ideal year for the Grammys to show they believed in the romance of rock and roll, the brilliance of two of the greatest American lyricists ever, and the commercial viability of hard rock.
Stevie Wonder | Songs in the Key of Life
George Benson | Breezin’
Chicago | Chicago X
Peter Frampton | Frampton Comes Alive!
Boz Scaggs | Silk Degrees
Priest Pick: Stevie in a rout
Not Nominated: Boston | Boston; Electric Light Orchestra | A New World Record; Jackson Browne | The Pretender; Heart | Dreamboat Annie; Steve Miller Band | Fly Like an Eagle; Queen | A Night at the Opera; Patti Smith | Horses
Atrocity Level: 5
Commentary: Stevie deserved the win, but he also deserved better company. A common malady at the Grammys—even when they get it right, they get it wrong (there’s a country song in there somewhere). Frampton clearly sold his soul to the devil in 1976—how else to explain his sudden success? I suppose it made no difference who else was put on the mantle beside Stevie, all were mere placeholders anyway. But man, even by Grammy’s low standards, this is a lame, dull, lifeless group. Chicago’s “chocolate bar” album featured the barely breathing “If You Leave Me Now,” George Benson’s Breezin’ was pleasantly neutered R&B more suitable to SNL’s Mellow Show hosted by Jack Johnson, and Silk Degrees is the definition of laid-back, flip-flop pop. Did the Grammy’s ship Quaalude samples with the ballot or something? Thank the Lord for Stevie or this would’ve been the most boring awards show in history. Winning was so old for Stevie, he didn’t even show up to collect his four trophies. He was in Ghana reconnecting with his heritage at the time and planning to leave the record business entirely. They did link up with him via satellite so he could accept his awards, but when presenter Andy Williams, trying to establish communication, asked Wonder, "Stevie, can you see us?" it went down in Grammy blooper history.
Fleetwood Mac | Rumours
Steely Dan | Aja
The Eagles | Hotel California
James Taylor | JT
Star Wars | Soundtrack
Priest Pick: The Big Mac Attack of 1977 steamrolled all competition
Not Nominated: Styx | The Grand Illusion; Billy Joel | The Stranger; Bob Seger | Night Moves; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Atrocity Level: 1
Commentary: Rumours owned 1977 (unless you loved punk), so this was a voter no-brainer (redundant). Seminal albums by almost every punk band from the Ramones to the Sex Pistols to the Clash to the Damned would’ve made a Best Punk Album category the most interesting award of the night (if the award existed). But there’s no expectation, in this context, that any of those records should’ve won (or wanted) a Grammy. Same for Elvis Costello and Talking Heads and countless others on the fringe of the music industry at the time. I would’ve loved to see the Sex Pistols nominated next to the Star Wars soundtrack (light sabers were the same as sex pistols when you think about it). Instead, we got more smooth pop in the nom pool, albeit at a higher complexity level than in years prior.
Bee Gees & Various Artists | Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Soundtrack
Barry Manilow | Even Now
Grease | Soundtrack
Jackson Browne | Running On Empty
The Rolling Stones | Some Girls
Priest Pick: Bee Gees
Not Nominated: Bob Seger | Stranger in Town; Bruce Springsteen | Darkness on the Edge of Town; The Cars | The Cars; The Who | Who Are You; Blondie | Parallel Lines; Meat Loaf | Bat Out of Hell; Eric Clapton | Slowhand
Atrocity Level: 4 (3 point deduction for the Manilow nod)
Commentary: Barry Manilow aside, one of the better nominee classes in recent memory. We ended up with the first soundtrack win since Music from Peter Gunn in 1959 and it’s packed with eternal hit singles. It’s not going to please fans of good old rock and roll (Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago was only a few months away!) who finally got a real rock band nominated (the Stones), but it was a start. What’s that you say? The Stones album’s first single was “Miss You,” a blatant disco number designed to capitalize on the dance craze? Ahhhh! Rock will never win! On another note: Bat Out of Hell, one of the biggest selling records of all time didn’t get a nod, which is odd, since the Grammys love a record that fattens the wallets of the record industry.
Billy Joel | 52nd Street
The Doobie Brothers | Minute By Minute
Kenny Rogers | The Gambler
Donna Summer | Bad Girls
Supertramp | Breakfast in America
Priest Pick: The Bad Girl or the 'Tramp
Not Nominated: Joe Jackson | Look Sharp!; The Knack | Get the Knack; AC/DC | Highway to Hell; Michael Jackson | Off the Wall; Led Zeppelin | In Through the Out Door
Atrocity Level: 5
Commentary: Finally, you’re saying, we’ve made it to the 80s! It’s been a long road of bloody, puss-oozing atrocities, but we made it together—that’s what’s important! Actually, this award is for albums from 1979, so put your leg warmers in the closet for one more year. The Grammys weren’t going to go with two disco records in a row, so Donna was on the wrong side of town (and by the title, literally) in 1979. Instead, a merely average Billy Joel record wins (the one that has held up the worst from his most successful period). It’s about time country got some just due, so no quibbles with Kenny Rogers. That said, I kinda lean toward Supertramp because they didn’t sound like anyone else at the time and the songs have held up ever since. Still, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall clearly got the shaft, if I may dabble in a tasteless pun—it should’ve won and been the precursor to a decade of rule by the King of Pop and the Prince of Pedophilia.
Christopher Cross | Christopher Cross
Billy Joel | Glass Houses
Pink Floyd | The Wall
Frank Sinatra | Trilogy: Past Present Future
Barbra Streisand | Guilty
Priest Pick: Would’ve looked pretty in Pink Floyd’s hands
Not Nominated: The Clash | London Calling; The Pretenders | The Pretenders; Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band | Against the Wind; AC/DC | Back in Black; Talking Heads | Remain in Light; Fleetwood Mac | Tusk; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | Damn the Torpedoes
Atrocity Level: 10
Commentary: Atrocity Level based on competition wealth, but the public gets what the public wants and in 1980, soft-rock sensation Chris Cross made the public jump up and buy records en masse via a duo of smash singles, “Sailing” and “Ride Like the Wind”, that are both still moderately tolerable to this day in a vanilla ice cream sort of way. It should be noted that it’s not always easy to separate the sensation from the moment, with the temptation to reward what’s in front of your face at the time instead of what might last. In this case, you couldn’t go five minutes without Cross watering down your radio with his peepsie croon. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time I’m sure, but in the process they created another credibility dagger through the heart of Grammy—the wimpiest organization ever created by man. And don’t get me started on the Streisand/Sinatra redux. AC/DC had chunks of both in their stool in 1981.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono | Double Fantasy
Kim Carnes | Mistaken Identity
Al Jarreau | Breakin’ Away
Quincy Jones | The Dude
Steely Dan | Gaucho
Priest Pick: John & Yoko
Not Nominated: Styx | Paradise Theater; Foreigner | 4; The Go-Go’s | Beauty and the Beat; Stevie Nicks | Bella Donna; The Rolling Stones | Tattoo You; Prince | Dirty Mind; Steve Winwood | Arc of a Diver; Hall & Oates | Private Eyes; Bruce Springsteen | The River; Dire Straits | Making Movies
Atrocity Level: 5
Commentary: By the time a much-deserved Grammy was awarded to Lennon, it was early 1982, over a year since his assassination, thanks to Grammy’s wacky fiscal year. The shock was still relatively fresh, and the music ubiquitous throughout 1981. Nobody will argue with this one even though they might have a pretty good case. Although the album was met with critical yawns when it was first released, it gained more acclaim after his tragic death. A classic case of revisionist history. The competition was predictably pretty tame as usual which makes the selection even more obvious.
Toto | Toto IV
John Cougar | American Fool
Donald Fagen | The Nightfly
Billy Joel | The Nylon Curtain
Paul McCartney | Tug of War
Priest Pick: Cougar
Not Nominated: Simon & Garfunkel | The Concert in Central Park; Asia | Asia; Duran Duran | Rio; Chicago | 16; Joe Jackson | Night and Day
Atrocity Level: 7
Commentary: To put it bluntly, 1982 ranks as one of the worst years for music in popular music history (slightly ahead of 1578, aka “The Year of the Dirge”). I look at this list of records and yawn. The names of the nominees are big, but their accomplishments relatively small—especially when compared to their past or future brilliance. At least Cougar gave us a good old-fashioned American rock and roll album. He should’ve been rewarded for it. If I hear "Roseanna" one more time in my life, I may shoot myself in the face (and don't get me started on the inexplicable return of "Africa" either). Billy's record had some highlights, and meant well, but it wasn't a great album overall. And McCartney? "Ebony and Ivory" also meant well, but the road is paved with good intentions as they say. Unfortunately, 1983 is just another entry into the Diary of a Wimpy Voter’s journal.
Michael Jackson | Thriller
David Bowie | Let’s Dance
Billy Joel | An Innocent Man
The Police | Synchronicity
Flashdance | Soundtrack
Priest Pick: Thriller—mainly because no other record was played on the radio in 1983. That said, all future copies of the album should change its title to Pedophile, so you’d have to really think about what you're doing before you buy yet another copy of it.
Not Nominated: Prince | 1999
Atrocity Level: 11
Commentary: I think we can all agree on this one even though, in my opinion, is it hasn’t aged all that well musically. That doesn't even take into account his grooming of young boys at Neverland. It's a strictly musical assessment. We didn't know of his indiscretions back then when this was staging total world domination anyway. Nobody else even bothered to write an acceptance speech in 1984 (OK, possibly Sting). Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to the entire record in one sitting and knowing what I know now, I never will. I say we forget the whole thing and incinerate the trophy.
Lionel Richie | Can’t Slow Down
Cyndi Lauper | She’s So Unusual
Prince | Purple Rain
Bruce Springsteen | Born in the U.S.A.
Tina Turner | Private Dancer
Priest Pick: Springsteen or Prince
Not Nominated: Not even bothering to look
Atrocity Level: 9
Commentary: A typical, safe, maddening choice by the Grammys. The voters just don’t wanna have fun. Let’s face it, Bruce was to 1984 what Michael was to 1983 and the trophy should’ve been delivered to him on a silver platter in front of a stadium of adoring fans. That said, I’m still somewhat shocked Tina didn’t get the sentimental vote. Prince has never done well with Grammy—a little too sexual and creepy for the organization that canonized Christopher Cross only a few years prior. If he won, it would’ve been a big moment for the show, but he never had a chance even though he also deserved it.
Phil Collins | No Jacket Required
Dire Straits | Brothers in Arms
Whitney Houston | Whitney Houston
Sting | The Dream of the Blue Turtles
USA for Africa | We Are the World
Priest Pick: Whitney
Not Nominated: U2 | The Unforgettable Fire; Talking Heads | Stop Making Sense; Madonna | Like a Virgin; Don Henley | Building the Perfect Beast; John Fogerty | Centerfield; Tears for Fears | Songs From the Big Chair; Talking Heads | Little Creatures; John Cougar Mellencamp | Scarecrow
Atrocity Level: 5
Commentary: I like Phil—how can you not appreciate a commercially successful, homely, balding, pasty-white superstar?—but even I, a non-Whitney fan, knew she got the royal shaft in 1986. A once in a lifetime vocal talent. On another note, it frosts my ass that a courtesy nomination was doled out to the pungently crappy, quickly-thrown-together We Are the World charity album. The fact it didn’t even beat out Phil Collins is testament to its overall rancidness. Remember The Concert for Bangladesh’s Grammy from 1973? Here’s another case of the record industry patting itself on the back like they’ve melted the essence of Mother Theresa onto vinyl or something. It might’ve won, too, but have you seen what’s on that placemat? Its only real gem was Springsteen’s “Trapped,” a great live cover of a Jimmy Cliff song. Beyond that? A turd from Steve Perry, a steaming dump by the Pointer Sisters, a bloody deuce from Chicago, and a soiled diaper from Kenny Rogers. Ugh. Huey Lewis’s live “Trouble in Paradise” wasn’t bad, but if that’s your silver lining, you’re in a shitload of trouble.
Paul Simon | Graceland
Peter Gabriel | So
Janet Jackson | Control
Barbra Streisand | The Broadway Album
Steve Winwood | Back in the High Life
Priest Pick: Simon
Not Nominated: Bruce Hornsby & the Range | The Way It Is; Madonna | True Blue; Sade | Promise; Anita Baker | Rapture
Atrocity Level: 2
Commentary: The triumphant return of one of the greatest American songwriters and with global pizzazz, to boot. Oh, and Chevy Chase, too! It was the feel good comeback of 1987—the record everyone could agree upon. On a side note, the Grammys ritual snubbing of Madonna early in her career is an interesting social trend. Especially considering the dramatic switch in recent years toward rewarding pop divas like Rihanna, Katy Perry, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, et al. Had Madonna grown up in the vacuous 21st century, surely she’d have a mantle full of meaningless hardware to her name. I suppose she was just too far ahead of the curve for the traditionally conservative Grammy voters. Thankfully, by 1987 some of the old guard members were dying off one by one, allowing some younger blood to infiltrate the organization. Unfortunately, that didn’t necessarily turn out to be a good thing either. Other than the Streisand nomination, this is a pretty good group of nominees for once.
U2 | The Joshua Tree
Whitney Houston | Whitney
Michael Jackson | Bad
Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, & Emmylou Harris | Trio
Prince | Sign o’ the Times
Priest Pick: Prince
Not Nominated: Beastie Boys | Licensed to Ill; Robert Cray | Strong Persuader; Suzanne Vega | Solitude Standing; Guns ‘n’ Roses | Appetite for Destruction; John Mellencamp | The Lonesome Jubilee; 10,000 Maniacs | In My Tribe
Atrocity Level: 5
Commentary: I wouldn’t have found what I was looking for with or without you, mainly because the streets have no fucking names in God’s country! Christ almighty, all the U2 songs on The Joshua Tree start sounding the same to me after a while. If the Grammys had a sack, they would’ve given Prince the golden Victrola for his groundbreaking effort, but the ubiquitous U2, and Bono's insufferable acceptance speeches, got in the way.
George Michael | Faith
Tracy Chapman | Tracy Chapman
Bobby McFerrin | Simple Pleasures
Sting | …Nothing Like the Sun
Steve Winwood | Roll With It
Priest Pick: Chapman
Not Nominated: Bruce Springsteen | Tunnel of Love; INXS | Kick; Leonard Cohen | I’m Your Man; Melissa Etheridge | Melissa Etheridge; Public Enemy | It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back; Jane’s Addiction | Nothing’s Shocking
Atrocity Level: 6
Commentary: It was no shock that George won the trophy—he probably deserved it for one of the defining pop records of the last quarter-century, not to mention one of the best-selling. I couldn’t name you more than three tracks on it if you put a gun to my head. Could you? In the process of anointing a record with a song called “I Want Your Sex,” the voters missed out on a truly ground-breaking, socially powerful, vocally stunning, instrumentally bare, singer-songwriter masterpiece from Tracy Chapman. Tracy’s riveting solo performance of “Fast Car” on the telecast might’ve changed some votes, but the ballots were already cast—and a chance to announce a monumental, albeit temporary, shift toward substance and diversity was left on the cutting room floor.
Bonnie Raitt | Nick of Time
Don Henley | The End of the Innocence
Fine Young Cannibals | The Raw and the Cooked
Tom Petty | Full Moon Fever
Traveling Wilburys | Vol. 1
Priest Pick: Raitt
Not Nominated: Cowboy Junkies | The Trinity Session; Lou Reed | New York; De La Soul | 3 Feet High and Rising; The Neville Brothers | Yellow Moon; Madonna | Like a Prayer; Pixies | Doolittle; Lyle Lovett | Lyle Lovett and His Large Band
Atrocity Level: 1
Commentary: 19 years into her career, Bonnie deservedly struck Grammy gold—although she was a long shot bet for a late-career resurgence at the time. If you were doing a scavenger hunt and one of the items was “Find someone who doesn’t love and respect Bonnie Raitt,” your futile search would be over 30 years old by now. The feel-good vote of the 80s for sure, and it warms my cold, sarcastic heart to this day. Even better, Don Henley’s record, featuring guest appearances by one-third of all eligible Grammy voters, still managed to lose. I do, however, need to mention that I’d chose anything from the “Not Nominated” section over Raitt’s album if I had a vote. I love her and all, but facts is facts.
Part 2: 1991-2021 posts tomorrow!