The Grammys are the black sheep of award shows. The televised broadcast is usually kind of fun because you get a lot of musical performances, but as far as the awards are concern, we only really hear about the Grammys when people are upset about the results (like when Macklemore beat Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album). So, yes, there is no doubt the Grammys do not award the most sophisticated or avant-garde musical acts, but are they really that bad?
I am one of those people who finds a lot of pleasure in a lot of “silly” pop music. I am the kind of monster who prefers to listen to Taylor Swift than Radiohead, so if anyone is going to able to defend the Grammys, it’s me. But can I defend them? The only logical way in which that question can be answered is if I go through all the winners for the “Record of the Year” Grammy (arguably the most important Grammy other than Album of the Year) and see how good they are. And that’s exactly what I’ve done below.
1959 – Domenico Modugno for “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)”
I have a special soft-spot for this song because of a parody song a high school friend of mine used to sing in which he would replace the word “volare” with a ridiculous nickname he had given me. It was incredibly stupid, but also very endearing, especially because nobody ever called me by that nickname except him.
Was it a good choice though? Nobody can say this song hasn’t endured since it won the Grammy, because it plays every time a t.v. or movie character rides a Vespa through the streets of Rome.
1960 – Bobby Darin for “Mack the Knife”
Originally written for Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, this song has had a long life as a jazz standard and it’s easy to see why. It’s a fucking good song. And if you haven’t, I recommend you check out the Ruben Blades’ “Pedro Navaja”, a salsa song inspired by “Mack the Knife”.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, it’s not the Ella Fitzgerald version, but the Grammys have always been milk-toast. It’s a pretty good choice if you ask me, especially when you take a listen to the songs nominated against it.
1961 – Percy Faith for “Theme from A Summer Place”
As you can probably tell already this is a song written for the movie A Summer Place, which is about two teenage lovers from different class backgrounds who meet years later and must deal with the love affair of their own teenage children from a previous marriage. If that sounds like it came from a Wikipedia plot description is because it did.
Was it a good choice though? It’s understandable that this won given it was a huge hit at the time (and you definitely recognize the tune, no?), but the songs that lost to it include Ella’s version of “Mack the Knife” and Ray Charles’s “Georgia on My Mind”, so not really the best choice historically speaking.
1962 – Henry Mancini for “Moon River”
Another song written for a movie, which is a common occurrence for most of Grammy history (as you’ll learn by reading this). This is, of course, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s an iconic movie that hasn’t aged that well thanks to its racism. It’s a really good movie if you can look past Mickey Rooney’s offensive Japanese character, but I won’t lie, it’s tough.
Was it a good choice though? Come on, who doesn’t love “Moon River”? This is totally deserving.
1963 – Tony Bennett for “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”
Tony Bennett must have won a million Grammys. I’m pretty sure he wins one every time he puts out a new album singing his old classic, or every time he collaborates with Lady Gaga.
Was it a good choice though? I love Tony Bennett as much as the next guy, but this is not my favorite of his.
1964 – Henry Mancini for “Days of Wine and Roses”
From the movie Days of WIne and Roses. Like I said, it happens a lot.
Was it a good choice though? This is is no “Moon River”, Mancini.
1965 – Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz for “The Girl from Ipanema”
I have a love-hate relationship with the Brazilian genre of bossa-nova, of which this is the most famous song. It’s the English version of the song that won the Grammy (even though Gilberto is Brazilian), but everyone will (rightly) tell you that any Portuguese version is vastly superior (there’s even a couple good Spanish versions of the song).
Was it a good choice though? I mean, the first time you hear “The Girl from Ipanema”, you like it. It’s only after you hear it in twenty different hotel elevators and every time you are on hold with your cable company that you can’t stand it. It’s not he song’s fault. If anything, it’s become that ubiquitous because it is good. It did win this category by beating “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, so it’s questionable whether the win was deserved.
1966 – Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass for “A Taste of Honey”
You might think you don’t know what this song is, but I guarantee you will recognize the minute you click on that Youtube link.
Was it a good choice though? I don’t know if this is one of those instrumentals that have grown quaint with time, or if it was quaint from the beginning. The most famous song nominated that year is “Yesterday” by the Beatles. I would rather listen to this song twenty times in a row than having to endure the mopey laments of “Yesterday”, so there’s that.
1967 – Frank Sinatra for “Strangers in the Night”
It’s hard to believe it took Sinatra this long to win Record of the Year, but it was definitely serendipitous that the Grammys decided to honor him for this song.
Was it a good choice though? Yup. And I don’t want to hear from you if you don’t agree.
1968 – The 5th Dimension for “Up, Up & Away”
The 5th Dimension is most well remembered for a different song that also won Record of the Year (more on that later). They were the first black act to win Record of the Year. Previous unsuccessful nominees included Sammy Davis Jr. as well as the aforementioned Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles, all of which would’ve made awesome winners.
Was it a good choice though? This is a song about a balloon or some shit, so no… Out of the nominees I would’v voted for Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid”, but Sinatra won the previous year, so it was probably not gonna happen.
1969 – Simon & Garfunkel for “Mrs. Robinson”
Written, of course, for The Graduate.
Was it a good choice though? I love Simon & Garfunkel, so I’m probably not the most impartial person here, but I do really like this song.
1970 – The 5th Dimension for “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”
Thus, we get to the end of the sixties, and The 5th Dimension’s second (second!) win in this category… One can sum up the Grammys quite accurately by the fact that the closest thing to a rock n’ roll song to win the Grammy up to this point came from a hit Broadway show.
Was it a good choice though? Listen, the counterculture wouldn’t be the counterculture if it had been showered with golden statues. It’s probably for the best that The Velvet Underground didn’t win a Grammy. Also, this song is pretty dope.
1971 – Simon & Garfunkel for “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
I already said I loved Simon & Garfunkel, right? Well, I loooove “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
Was it a good choice though? Duh.
1972 – Carole King for “It’s Too Late”
Carole King is obviously a queen, and Tapestry (which won album of the year) is one of the best albums ever recorded…
Was it a good choice though? …that being said, “It’s Too Late” is not my favorite song on the record. The James Taylor version of “Yo’ve Got a Friend” was also nominated, as well as the “Theme from Shaft“! I’m perfectly happy with Carole King winning, though I would have accepted some love for Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, which also came out that year.
1973 – Roberta Flack for “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face”
About time some black people started to win the top Grammy award. It’s clear thus far that the Grammys are much more comfortable awarding tame and acceptable big hits instead of the revolutionary music that characterized much of mid-Century America and was produced, predominantly, by black musicians.
Was it a good choice though? The song was a huge hit at the time, and it fits so perfectly into the kind of ballad the Grammys love to give awards to. It’s not a bad song.
1974 – Roberta Flack for “Killing Me Softly With His Song”
Roberta Flack had a number of big hits in the seventies, but she is mostly remembered for being the first musician ever to win Record of the Year two years in a row (wanna know who the other one is? Keep reading, I’m guarantee the answer will disappoint you). She is a good vocalist for sure, but I guess not quite iconic.
Was it a good choice though? This is a good song no matter how you slice it, even if I will always think of The Fugees version of the song as the definitive arrangement.
1975 – Olivia Newton-John for “I Honestly Love You”
The Grammys were really into cheesy ballads during the seventies, and this is as cheesy and ballady as it gets.
Was it a good choice though? I like my Olivia Newton-John best when she’s in Xanadu mode being fun and campy, so I give this song a hard pass.
1976 – Captain & Tennille for “Love Will Keep Us Together”
I was shocked to learn this song had won the Grammy for Record of the Year. It’s such a fun and bouncy song compared to the stuff they usually reward. It’s not the height of songwriting or anything, but it’s a damn fun song.
Was it a good choice though? It is if you look at the stuff it was nominated against. A much better choice than The Eagles or Barry Manilow.
1977 – George Benson for “This Masquerade”
I did not know this song until I listened to it for this blog post and let me tell you it’s giving me some major smooth seventies vibes.
Was it a good choice? Everybody knows the apex of smooth jams in the seventies is Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”, but I guess this is an o.k. replacement, especially because you can tell Benson is giving it his all.
1978 – The Eagles for “Hotel California“
At this point saying you like The Eagles is most likely to lose you all your music cred. I must admit I enjoy quite a few Eagles songs, but not even I will defend “Hotel California”. As for this growing Eagles-hatred, we can debate how much it has to do with The Big Lebowski another time.
Was it a good choice though? Come on.
1979 – Billy Joel for “Just the Way Your Are”
I must admit I have a soft-spot for Billy Joel, no matter how uncool that might make me sound (and no, I’m not from Long Island).
Was it a good choice though? This has never been my favorite Billy Joel song, though I like it. I do prefer Barry White’s version, which helps the song reach the sublime level of on-the-nose smoothness it needs to fully succeed.
1980 – The Doobie Brothers for “What a Fool Believes”
Get out of town with this bullshit
Was it a good choice though? Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” lost to this garbage. I assume the tide had turned against disco by that point, but still. One of the best breakup songs ever recorded lost to the Doobie Brothers? That’s just criminal.
1981 – Christopher Cross for “Sailing”
Christopher Cross has always struck me as a reasonably talented person whose success doesn’t make a lick of sense. How did this person ever become famous, and for singing romantic songs nonetheless? … Oh my God, Christopher Cross is the Ed Sheeran of his time!
Was it a good choice though? Soft-rock classic is nowhere near to actual classic. Out of this year’s nominees, if you wanted an awesomely cheesy ballad you could’ve gone with Bette Midler’s “The Rose”, and if you wanted something safe yet enduring you could’ve gone with Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York”.
1982 – Kim Carnes for “Bette Davis Eyes”
I was surprised to learn this song actually won the Grammy. I was not aware it was as massive a hit as it actually was, though I’m certainly glad to learn that. I kind of love this song. There is something about Kim Carnes’ raspy voice and the sassy way in which she delivers the line “she’s ferocious”.
Was it a good choice though? I dig it, and it was definitely the best of the nominees.
1983 – Toto for “Rosanna”
Listen, I can fuck with some Toto, but if you’re gonna go round handing out Record of the Year Grammys it better be for “Africa”.
Was it a good choice though? I cannot even begin to approach this question objectively knowing the wrong song from Toto IV won the Grammy.
1984 – Michael Jackson for “Beat It”
You will not hear any trash-talking of Michael Jackson (as a musician) in this blog.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, you could make the case it should’ve been for “Billie Jean”, but there is no denying this song is a classic.
1985 – Tina Turner for “What’s Love Got to Do With It”
For some reason I used to really hate this song back when I was a kid. Don’t worry, readers, time has taught me to appropriately appreciate this song.
Was it a good choice though? Sure.
1986 – USA for Africa for “We Are the World”
It’s easy to understand why the Grammys would decide to award this song left and right, considering it was a way to award practically every artist working at the time and make an uncontroversial political statement.
Was it a good choice though? It’s fun to watch the video and try to pick up all the celebrities, but listen to the song on its own and you’ll probably get diabetes or something.
1987 – Steve Winwood for “Higher Love”
Ok, someone who was alive in the eighties has to let me know if I’m completely crazy for kind of loving this song. What can I say? I like fun music!
Was it a good choice though? It was a good year for Record of the Year, in a very eighties kind of way. Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”, Whiney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All”, and Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” were all nominated. I still think Winwood is a fine choice.
1988 – Paul Simon for “Graceland”
I know there are certain “problematic” things regarding the use of African music in Graceland, but I fucking love that album and I think it’s a masterpiece. That being said, the song “Graceland” doesn’t strike me as very unlike most of the songs that win Record of the year. I assume it was the swell of support for the album as a whole that got it the award.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, I love the album and I like the song. It’s a win in my book.
1989 – Bobby McFerrin for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
How unlikely is it that this weird novelty song became a massive, massive hit? It’s a song that could’ve never been a hit at any other moment in the history of music. At least not a hit of this massive proportion. The sheer weirdness of the song is enough to prevent me from hating it, even though I couldn’t in good conscience put it in my ipod or anything.
Was it a good choice though? Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” was nominated that year so of course it’s a travesty that this won instead.
1990 – Bette Midler for “Wind Beneath My Wings”
Yes, I am aware that Bette Midler isn’t the edgiest musician in the world. Are you aware, though, that this song rules?
Was it a good choice though? Listen, putting the appropriate amount of cheese on your ballad is not an easy thing to do, as Olivia Newton-John has proven to us already.
1991 – Phil Collins for “Another Day in Paradise”
Speaking of cheesy bullshit…
Was it a good choice though? There are many instances in which I will defend Phil Collins. I’ll even defense the songs he wrote for Tarzan. But this is not one of those instances. This song fucking blows.
1992 – Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole for “Unforgettable”
As far as I can tell, this is the song that kicks off a Grammy tradition of awarding artists posthumously, as Natalie remixed her late father’s recording of the song in order to be able to have a duet with him.
Was it a good choice though? “Unforgettable” is obviously a good song, but what exactly do we gain by awarding this particular version?
1993 – Eric Clapton for “Tears in Heaven”
Nobody wants to be the jerk who tells Eric Clapton the song he wrote about his deceased child is too syrupy and it kinda sucks, so I won’t.
Was it a good choice though? In retrospect, it would’ve been shocking if the Grammy had resisted showering this song with awards. The other nominees weren’t particularly impressive, so I’ll allow it based purely on reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the song.
1994 – Whitney Houston for “I Will Always Love You”
Of course I prefer the original Dolly Parton version, but what kind of heathen would make someone have to make such a choice. There is enough love in this world to recognize Houston’s vocal performance here is impeccable.
Was it a good choice though? People must’ve been sick of the song back then, but that key change though. Twenty years later, this win is a great choice.
1995 – Sheryl Crow for “All I Wanna Do”
This was a weak year for Record of the Year, and thus, Sheryl Crow’s career was made. The woman has gotten a lot of Grammys since, and I have the feeling she wouldn’t have had the career she did without this big win so early in her career. Then again what do I know.
Was it a good choice though? It’s a fun song, but Record of the Year? I don’t know.
1996 – Seal for “Kiss from a Rose”
Cheesy ballad alert! But performed by a man handsome and suave enough to remain incredibly cool despite making a career our of pretty cheesy ballads. Also, a man whose career didn’t suffer for being associated with the movie Batman Forever, which this song was written for.
Was it a good choice though? Do I like this song ironically or do I actually like it? I can never tell, which isn’t great but is better than a lot of these winners.
1997 – Eric Clapton for “Change the World”
Another song written for a movie, most specifically the classic John Travolta vehicle Phenomenon. What? You’ve never heard of that movie? I wonder why…
Was it a good choice though? Hell no. This is the definition of boring dad rock.
1998 – Shawn Colvin for “Sunny Came Home”
A song so synonymous with the nineties that I had never even heard of it. What even is this and why did it win Record of the Year?
Was it a good choice though? I guess we as a culture have decided to forget this song ever existed and I think it’s for the better.
1999 – Celine Dion for “My Heart Will Go On”
Another song written for a movie, but not any movie. This song was written for motherfucking Titanic, which is awesome and I have no patience for anyone who will pretend otherwise so shut your faces.
Was it a good choice though? This is the type of fabulous song that makes you believe you can’t really have too much cheese.
2000 – Santana featuring Rob Thomas for “Smooth”
Remember that moment in which we decided to suddenly care about Carlos Santana? I sweat it lasted a couple of years and then we forgot about him forever. At least he got a couple Grammy out of it. Who even is Rob Thomas?
Was it a good choice though? I am aware that people who lived through the time that “Smooth” was on the radio uniformly hate it. Who am I to disagree?
2001 – U2 for “Beautiful Day”
The release of All That You Can’t Leave Behind has to be the moment in which U2 went from cool to uncool, right? People of the time, can you tell me if this assessment is correct? I know The Joshua Tree rules, but don’t know exactly when Bono and company got lost up their own assholes.
Was it a good choice though? Not a terrible song, especially by U2 standards.
2002 – U2 for “Walk On“
Yup, U2 became the second act to win Record of the Year two years in a row. This is particularly upsetting because they won for a song that doesn’t exist.
Was it a good choice though? Didn’t you read what I just wrote? This song doesn’t even exist, how is it going to win a Grammy?
2003 – Norah Jones for “Don’t Know Why”
I’m totally in the camp that doesn’t care that Norah Jones isn’t edgy or cool. I still love her, and sometimes I miss her and her music.
Was it a good choice though? The song didn’t capture the zeitgeist of 2002 in any way, but I guess Norah Jones became the zeitgeist when she won a gazillion Grammys.
2004 – Coldplay for “Clocks”
I remember when this song was used in the trailer for that Peter Pan movie everyone has forgotten about but should go back and watch it because it’s actually a pretty good movie.
Was it a good choice though? This is the part of Coldplay’s career that someone could potentially defend as not being terrible, but this song beat “Hey Ya”, so it obviously did not deserve to win.
2005 – Ray Charles and Norah Jones for “Here We Go Again”
This is the biggest and clearest example of the Grammys rewarding an artist posthumously. Most people weren’t even aware this song had come out when it got nominated, but considering the then recent death of Charles, the zeitgeist that built around it (including the movie Ray, which came out that same year), it became obvious fairly quickly this was gonna take home the award.
Was it a good choice though? Sentimental wins don’t always age well, and this isn’t a particularly exciting song. It’s quite pleasant, though, and nothing is particularly impressive about the other nominees either.
2006 – Green Day for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
I was 13 at the time, so of course I was swept up by Green Day fever. I had a pair of underwear with the American Idiot logo on them. I never wore them because they were quite uncomfortable, but you get the point. This album was a huge deal for me, but by early 2006 I was completely over it and haven’t been able to fully embrace it ever since
Was it a good choice though? It’s come to the point where If I hear this song for some reason, I remember the good old days and say something like “oh right! This song!” So there’s that.
2007 – Dixie Chicks for “Not Ready to Make Nice”
I love the Dixie Chicks, and I love them even more for talking shit about George W. Bush and then writing this unapologetic song about the whole fiasco that ensued.
Was it a good choice though? There are some really good songs in this line-up, but the Dixie Chicks are deserving no question
2008 – Amy Winehouse for “Rehab”
It is really great that the Grammys got to celebrate Amy Winehouse in her prime, but there is something undoubtedly bittersweet about having done so for the song in which she sings about not going to rehab.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, what were we going to do? Not give her the Grammy? Amy Winehouse is the type of performer that only comes once in a generation.
2009 – Robert Plant and Alison Krauss for “Please Read the Letter”
This is the moment in which the Grammys started to become truly ridiculous wanting to reward veterans in the top categories. I like Plant and Krauss as much as the next guy, but what even is this song?
Was it a good choice though? No. MIA’s “Paper Planes” was nominated that year, by the way.
2010 – Kings of Leon for “Use Somebody”
The difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammys is Record awards the performers and producers of a song, while Song awards the songwriters. I mention this because how crazy would’ve been if Kings of Leon had won Song of the Year for a song that has basically ten words worth of lyrics? (They lost to Beyonce’s Single Ladies)
Was it a good choice though? Is it uncool to like Kings of Leon? Because I did, at least back then.
2011 – Lady Antebellum for “Need You Now”
My girlfriend at the time watched the Grammy for the first time in 2011, and when Lady Antebellum won Record of the Year swore to never watch the Grammys again.
Was it a good choice though? Probably not.
2012 – Adele for “Rolling in the Deep”
This is the year Adele conquered the world and took home a truckload of Grammys. It was a different time, and it was quite a moment.
Was it a good choice though? Absolutely.
2013 – Gotye featuring Kimbra for “Somebody That I Used to Know”
I don’t know if I have the wrong impression, but this strikes me as a time in which the fact that a song was featured on Glee could turn the song into a big hit. I am also under the impression that is what happened to this song. I might be completely wrong. Still, isn’t it weird that this strange song became a huge hit?
Was it a good choice though? It definitely is if you think of the Grammys as a time capsule meant to capture a particular moment in music.
2014 – Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams for “Get Lucky”
Talking about particular moments in music, in the future, whenever a t.v. show or movie is going to try to convey the year 2013, this is the song they’ll play.
Was it a good choice though? I get the feeling Daft Punk wishes they had known The Weeknd back then, but still, this is a brilliant song.
2015 – Sam Smith for “Stay With Me”
Remember when that song “Latch” came out and we were all like watch out for this Sam Smith guy and then he released his own music and we realized how aggressively ok he was.
Was it a good choice though? Might as well have given this award to Blandy McBland.
2016 – Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for “Uptown Funk”
I understand that this song is derivative and kind of basic in many ways, but if you’ve ever danced to this song at a party you must’ve realized that it’s pretty damn effective at doing what it’s supposed to do.
Was it a good choice though? I’m fine with it, though I understand if you disagree.
2016 – ???
Who will win? My money’s on Adele’s “Hello”, and that would be fine. My personal favorite in the category is Rihanna’s “Work”. And while I appreciate and admire Beyonce’s “Formation”, I don’t think I fully *get* it as much as other songs on Lemonade, but that’s a story for a different time.