10 Times the Grammys Got It Wrong
Forget, if you can, the fact that the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and the Who have never won a Grammy. Those are big-picture oversights that only add fuel to the tons of Grammy hate that’s raged since the ’60s. It’s the Recording Academy’s knack for getting it head-smackingly wrong year after year that shows just how meaningless the awards really are. It wasn’t easy, but we pared down a whole lotta groan-worthy moments to come up with our list of the 10 Times the Grammys Got It Wrong.
Best Original Score
The Beatles seemed to have a lock on the Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Show category in 1965. The world was riding a wave of Beatlemania, and the group’s 1964 movie (and soundtrack) A Hard Day’s Night was a popular and critical favorite. But Grammy voters, still hating on everything rock ‘n’ roll, instead gave the award to the Mary Poppins soundtrack. It was the just the start …
Song of the Year
What did the Grammys have against the Beatles? The same thing they had against anyone playing rock music, most likely. But even the group’s most adult-friendly number, “Yesterday,” didn’t stand a chance with voters, who gave Song of the Year in 1965 to the super-sappy ‘The Shadow of Your Smile,’ which was the love theme from the equally soggy, and forgettable, movie The Sandpiper. Meanwhile, “Yesterday” became one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century.
Rock & Roll Recording
In 1967, one of the most landmark years in rock history, the best Rock & Roll Recording — a category designed to give resigned recognition to a genre more than a decade old — went to a record that knocked pop music back 30 years. Nominees that year included the Beach Boys‘ “Good Vibrations,” the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and the Mamas & the Papas’ “Monday, Monday.” The winner? The New Vaudeville Band’s ’30s novelty throwback “Winchester Cathedral.”
Best New Artist
There’s nothing wrong with Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” Its songwriting narrative is one of the era’s sharpest and most influential (all the more remarkable, it reached No. 1). But Gentry wasn’t a career artist, something Grammy voters should have picked up on based on the rest of her lackluster debut album. Still, she managed to snag the coveted Best New Artist Grammy in 1968 over the much more worthy Jefferson Airplane.
Song of the Year
Does it even matter which mega pop hit — Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” or Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” — won Song of the Year honors in 1978? No, it does not. All you need to know is that the Eagles‘ vastly superior “Hotel California” was trounced by a slickly produced ballad so covered in goop, even your grandma turned it off.
Best New Artist
Disco ruled the airwaves and charts in 1978, so it’s no surprise that several dance-oriented artists showed up among the Grammy nominees a year later. But did voters really need to give the Best New Artist award to A Taste of Honey, a Los Angeles studio group that scored a No. 1 hit in “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” Granted, it’s one of the better disco songs of the era, but the only other Top 40 hit they released was a remake of a wimpy ballad called “Sukiyaki'”in 1981. Still, they were named Best New Artist over more career-building nominees the Cars and Elvis Costello.
Album of the Year
Grammy voters fell back on some familiar names when it came to 1981’s Album of the Year: Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand. They also nominated the record that made a huge impact throughout the preceding year — Pink Floyd‘s monumental and instant-classic The Wall. But rather than recognize one of the era’s defining masterpieces, the Grammys awarded the biggest honor of the year to soft-rocker Christopher Cross’ snoozy debut album.
Album of the Year
So many classic albums were released in 1984, and many of them made the list when Grammy voters announced their Album of the Year nominees in 1985. Bruce Springsteen‘s Born in the U.S.A. and Prince‘s Purple Rain dominated the charts; Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual was a huge hit too. And all are now considered ’80s classics. But timid Grammy voters handed the year’s biggest award to Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down, admittedly his best album but nowhere near as legendary as the records it was up against.
Best Hard Rock / Metal Performance
The most famous, and notorious, of Grammy’s many screw-ups, Jethro Tull‘s 1989 win over Metallica in the first-ever Best Hard Rock / Metal Performance category, has become legend over the past quarter-century. If anyone ever needed more proof that Grammy voters were out-of-touch old-timers, Tull’s win for the forgettable Crest of a Knave over Metallica’s mammoth … And Justice for All delivered it like a hammer from an oblivious god.
Best Rock Song
We think “Layla” is one of the best songs of all time. But it’s the seven-minute 1970 Derek and the Dominos version — featuring soaring slide guitar by Duane Allman and what’s probably the greatest coda in rock history — that we want to hear, not Eric Clapton‘s defanged acoustic version from his 1992 Unplugged album, which somehow beat Nirvana‘s epochal “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (the song that only revitalized rock ‘n’ roll in the ’90s) for Best Rock Song in 1993.