When our band finally gets big and wins a Grammy award (and it's just a matter of time), it's going to be something of a hollow victory. After all, one look at Grammy history reveals a long list of winners seemingly picked by a blindfolded man chucking darts at a wall of album covers.
#7. 1992: Best Rock Song
Fuck the Grammy, in 1992 Nirvana deserved a Nobel Peace Prize. When "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came out of left field to overtake the pop and rock music landscape, it also had the pleasing side effect of wiping glitzy, overproduced, bloated hair metal bands right off the map practically overnight. For this, rock fans almost everywhere (trailer park residents excluded) are eternally thankful.
Nobody had ever heard anything like Nevermind (except for those few odd people who were familiar with the countless bands that Nirvana was "influenced" by). Such a musical revelation couldn't possibly go unrecognized.
And the Winner is ...
Who are we kidding, of course it could go unrecognized. This is the Grammys. When the Grammys see young rock bands, they shake their cane at them and tell them to get off their lawn. The Best Rock Song category in 1992 would be no different.
In what would turn out to become a disturbing trend of dishing out big awards to undeserving rockers long past their prime, the Grammy for Best Rock Song went to Eric Clapton's unplugged and slowed-down version of "Layla."
Now, if this was 1970, "Smells Like Teen Spirt" Vs. "Layla" would be a pay-per-view-worthy battle royale of epic proportions. But it wasn't, it was 1992 and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was the most important song of its day and "Layla" had morphed into a tender, acoustic ballad. Putting aside for a second that the song was over two decades old, the version of "Layla" that was nominated was about as far from rocking as you could get. Once stripped of it's memorable guitar riffs, boundless energy and devil horn-worthy awesomeness, this new, all growed-up "Layla" had no damn business being in the rock category to begin with.
In light of the fact that Clapton won approximately 60 more Grammys that evening, the least they could've done was leave him out of this one and give Nirvana their due.
But, apparently they were assuming Kurt Cobain would live another 25 years and produce an easy-listening version and they could just give it to him then.
#6. 2000: Album of the Year/Best Pop Performance/Pop Vocal Album
Let's not kid ourselves, the Grammy voters were dealing with some extremely slim pickings in 2000. Pop music was ruled by boy bands, rock was ruled by the likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit and rap was at the height of it's diamond-encrusted, Rolex-wearing, Bentley-driving materialistic douchebag phase.
There were, however, a couple of bright moments. For starters, Radiohead made everyone wait what seemed like 20 years to release the follow up to their instant classic OK Computer. What they finally gave the world was a strange mix of electronic blips, sometimes inaudible lyrics and odd song structures that somehow came together to form an album that most everyone agreed was one of the most original albums ever made.
Then there was Eminem. Was The Marshall Mathers LP controversial? Sure, but it was also the most compelling album to come from a major artist in who knows how many years. Good thing they were both nominated for Album of the Year! For once, the Grammys would be practically forced to recognize artistic merit over commercial appeal. There was no way they could fuck this up.
And the Winner is ...
We stand corrected, they could definitely fuck this up. As deserving as he may have been, the Grammy voters would have done just about anything to avoid the controversy of giving Eminem the Album of the Year award (at the time he was already drawing protests from the gay and lesbian group GLAAD).
The originality of Radiohead's album was pretty shocking to most, so going that way would've also involved controversy. Steely Dan, having just released their first album in almost 20 years (which was a big deal, according to our parents) provided the perfect escape route.
Yes, 2000, was the rare year Grammy voters didn't care about record sales. Unfortunately, they also ignored artistic merit in the interest of not wanting people to yell at them.
#5. 1978: Best New Artist
There were really just two nominees for the 1978 Grammy for Best New Artist: Elvis Costello and everybody else. By the time the awards ceremony rolled around in February of 1979, he had already recorded two of the most enduring albums to emerge from the late '70s punk/new wave movement, provided Saturday Night Live with one of its most controversial musical performances of its then young life (getting banned from the show for 12 years in the process) and established himself as the most promising young songwriter to come along in years.
If ever there was a sure winner in the Best New Artist category, Elvis Costello was it. Or so you would think.
And the Winner is ...
A Taste of Honey?
By early 1979, public sentiment towards disco music had turned from love to scorn to outright hate. After the success of the film Saturday Night Fever, major record labels had saturated the airwaves with as much synthesizer and drum machine-based boogie nonsense as they could. Even rock bands like KISS ("I Was Made For Lovin' You") and The Rolling Stones ("Miss You") started dipping their toes in the bell-bottomed leisure suit-infested waters of disco. Finally, people fucking snapped.
So, in the opinion of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, what new artist best symbolized the massive shift in popular opinion that was taking place in the late 1970s? Naturally, that would be one-hit wonder disco band, A Taste of Honey.
To the band's credit, while Elvis Costello was busy defying the wishes of NBC on live television, A Taste of Honey dove headlong into the "disco sucks" era with album covers that looked like this ...
We could argue for days about who was the braver of the two.
What isn't open for debate is who was really the "best" new artist. Following their Grammy win, A Taste of Honey went on to release three more barely-noticed albums before disbanding to do who the hell knows what. Meanwhile, Elvis Costello went on to string together an incredible run of near-perfect rock albums throughout the early '80s and continues to crank out great work to this day. Does he hold any grudges over the Grammy snub? Certainly not, artists of his stature are rarely concerned with awards. As for the title of the sampler CD that was sent out to promote his 1997 greatest hits collection ...
Probably just a coincidence.
#4. 1991: Best Rap Performance Duo or Group
By 1991, the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance had only been in existence for three years and a strong case could be made that Public Enemy deserved to win every one of them.
It began in 1988, and had it not been overshadowed by the most ludicrous snub in Grammy History also taking place on the same night (foreshadowing alert!), the fact that the first rap Grammy ever was handed to anyone other than PE may have gone down in Grammy infamy. That's because 1988 was the year they released a little album called It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back. For those unfamiliar with that album, it is widely recognized as one of the greatest albums ever. Notice we didn't say "greatest rap albums ever." That's not a typo.
The next year, their anthemic single "Fight the Power" was passed over in favor of perennial wedding dance favorite "Bust a Move" by Young MC. Yep, Young MC won a fucking Grammy. Then in 1990, they lost to a song from a goddamned Quincy Jones album (sure, the song had Big Daddy Kane on it, but still ... )
So 1991 arrived and for the third straight year, Public Enemy received a nomination for Best Rap Performance. In what seemed like a clear hint that this was to be their night, their entire album, Apocalypse '91, was up against a bunch of singles. Surely, PE wouldn't get the shaft for a fourth year in a row. SURELY!
And the Winner is ...
The fucking Fresh Prince.
Obviously, the Grammy for Best Rap Performance recognizes "outstanding achievement in the field of being the rapper that frightens white people the least." That is the only criteria that would conceivably qualify "Summertime," an overly sentimental song about longing for the days when it was still warm out (about six months earlier at the time), as deserving of anything other than an immediate visit to the fast forward button. But according to the streetwise types behind the Grammys, that one song was superior to an ENTIRE Public Enemy album. A Public Enemy album that saw them almost completely overhaul their sound, crank up the controversial subject matter and still manage to be their most commercially successful effort to that point.
To his credit, Will Smith sort of changed things up too. Presumably in an effort to fight his image as rap's answer to Weird Al Yankovic, he kind of rapped in a deeper voice on "Summertime," a move that just made most people want to see Chuck D beat the shit out of him even more.
#3. 1980: Album of the Year
Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand, Pink Floyd, Christopher Cross ... one of these things is not like the other. The nominees for Album of the Year in 1980 consisted of four fucking legends and one pudgy newcomer best known for the theme song from the Dudley Moore movie Arthur. You've been reading this far, so you know what happens next, let's just get it over with.
And the Winner is ...
Christopher fucking Cross.
When up against a group like that, there isn't even an award that you could invent that Christopher Cross would deserve. Seriously, give it a shot. Even Streisand would hand him his ass if the award was for "album we're least likely to listen to." He doesn't suck enough to take home the bad awards, and he sure as shit isn't awesome enough to win Album of the Year. It's hard to say who was most deserving of the award in 1980. Wait, no it's not--Pink Floyd's The Wall was THE album of the year in 1980, spending 15 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard album charts in the US. The song "Another Brick In the Wall (Part 2)" still remains the band's sole number 1 single. Despite the huge success, The Wall was thrown one solitary bone of an award for "Best Engineered Album." Nice.
Meanwhile, Christopher Cross took home five awards in 1980. Half of this list could be filled with Christopher Cross wins from that night alone. In addition to Album of the Year, he took home Best Record, Best Song and Best New Artist. If there had been a "Best Musician in the History of Anything Ever" award, he probably would've won that too. In keeping with the long standing Grammy tradition of heaping praise on shitty artists that quickly fade into obscurity, Cross pretty much vanished after his 1985 album Every Turn of the World failed to produce a single Top 40 hit.
#2. 1966: Best Rock & Roll Recording
The Best Rock & Roll Recording category in 1966 was so jam packed with awesome that even the "blindfolded man chucking darts at nominees" method could have yielded a deserving winner. The list included several future classics: "Eleanor Rigby" (The Beatles), "Good Vibrations" (The Beach Boys), "Last Train To Clarksville" (The Monkees), "Cherish" (The Association) and "Monday Monday" (The Mamas and the Papas). Take your pick, it's all magic baby! Here we have arguably The Beach Boys' and Beatles' finest moments ever squaring off, head to head, one night only!
Who will take home the gold? Oh yeah, some bullshit novelty single called "Winchester Cathedral" was nominated also, but, they wouldn't dare. Right?
And the Winner is ...
Yes, they would. "Winchester Cathedral."
By 1966, a full 10 years had passed since Elvis and his hips took to the Ed Sullivan Show stage and brought America a version of rock 'n roll music it could finally feel kind of comfortable with (that is, the kind that comes without black people). You would think after that much time, the people who picked the Grammy Award winners in 1966 would have had a fairly decent grasp on what rock 'n roll music actually was. But as it turned out, either they had no idea or we've been rocking completely fucking wrong for the past 42 years. Because apparently, in 1966, nothing rocked quite as hard as this ...
If you stuck it out the entire 5:36 waiting for the rawk to come, you'll note that it never did. That's because the Grammy for Best Rock & Roll Recording in 1966 didn't go to a rock band. It went to a group of studio musicians who recorded a goofy slice of pop-zaniness that mixes the kind of music your great-grandmother used to do the Charleston to with vocals sung through a megaphone to make them sound old-timey. Actually, according to AllMusic.com, the vocals were sung through a hand to approximate the sound of someone singing through a megaphone. Trying to replicate the sound of Good Vibrations over an entire album eventually drove Brian Wilson insane, and these guys couldn't even be bothered to buy a fucking megaphone.
When The Monkees are nominated for a Grammy and they still aren't the least credible choice, you know it's a dark day in Grammy history.
#1. 1988: Best Metal Performance
It could be argued that without Metallica, there would never even have been a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance. It had been nearly 20 years since Black Sabbath pretty much invented heavy metal, but most agree that Metallica perfected it, and spawned a whole genre of imitators.
So when the NARAS decided to add an award for Best Metal Performance, as far as most everyone was concerned the ceremony itself was just a formality. This was the award that Metallica built, giving it to anyone else would be unthinkable. Plus, their bass player had just died, and the Grammys rarely fail to jump at a sentimental opportunity like that.
They should've just mailed the damn awards to Metallica and called it a year. Right?
And the Winner is ...
What the fuck?!?! That was pretty much the universal response when Tull's name came out as the winner of the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. Seriously, Jethro Tull? Like, "Aqualung" Jethro Tull? There is an old saying that goes "you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you'll never fool anybody into believing that a band that has a motherfucking lead flautist is even kind of metal." Or something like that.
Sure, Jethro Tull could crank out tunes about dragons and ancient beasts with the best of them, but that doesn't make them Dio for fuck's sake! Did we mention the lead singer played the flute? THE FLUTE!
Granted, these days every metal band on earth has an album floating around on which they are backed by a symphony orchestra of some sort, but that shit wasn't going down in 1988. Metal at that time meant you stood on stage, played as loud and fast as humanly possible in between shots of Jack Daniels, swung your shoulder-length mullets in unison when appropriate and just rocked the fuck out. That's what Metallica was all about at the time. If they had dared to take the stage wearing fancy ruffled shirts and vests and started monkeying around with flutes, there would've been a riot.
Speaking of riots, the fact that one didn't break out when Jethro Tull was announced as the winner of the Grammy for Best Metal Performance is a minor miracle. Like no other band before or after, Metallica was robbed at the 1988 Grammy Awards, marking the first and last time anybody would ever feel sympathetic to the plight of Lars Ulrich.
If you like hearing Adam angrily rant about bad music, you should read The 9 Most Unnecessary Greatest Hits Albums of All-Time. Or, if you're still confused about what the hell Wolf Blitzer was talking about last night, check out our Complete Idiot's Guide to Super Tuesday.
Adam Brown has his own site at ScenicAnemia.com.