With the Grammys turning 50, we offer some highlights (and lowlights)

[10 February 2008]

By Jim Harrington

The Oakland Tribune (MCT)

There’s only one sure bet for this year’s Grammy Awards: It’s going to be more fun to watch than the Golden Globes.

The union for striking Hollywood writers, which forced the cancellation of the Golden Globes gala, has decided to spare the Grammys from the picket lines. Thus, the show will be shown at 8 EST tonight on CBS, broadcast from Staples Center in Los Angeles.

That’s good news, since it would have been a shame to cancel the 50th annual Grammy Awards. In honor of the milestone anniversary, we’ve decided to look back at 50 big moments in Grammy history. All of these moments, both good and bad, have combined to define what’s become music’s biggest night.

Please note that these memories are listed chronologically, as opposed to using a ranking system. Also, we’re sure that we’ve forgotten a few of the top moments—50 years, after all, is a lot of ground to cover—so please forgive us if we overlooked any of your favorite memories.

1. Just for laughs: Music takes a back seat as comedian Bob Newhart wins Best New Artist and Album of the Year (for “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart”) in 1961. It was not the only time that a comedic offering would score Album of the Year—Phil Collins’ “No Jacket Required” would also win in 1986.

2. Celebrating a life: The very first Lifetime Achievement Grammy was given out in 1962 to a well-deserving Bing Crosby. By the time the trophy was given out again, in 1965 to Frank Sinatra, it was officially known as the Bing Crosby Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.

3. Vaudeville act: Grammy voters get it wrong at least as often as they get it right. In hindsight, one of the earliest major flubs was when they picked the New Vaudeville Band’s novelty hit “Winchester Cathedral” for Best Contemporary R&B recording in 1966. What else was nominated? Only five of the best songs in pop-music history—the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” the Association’s “Cherish,” the Mamas & the Papas’ “Monday Monday,” the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville” and the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”

4. Beatlemania. A rock platter finally wins for Album of the Year in 1968. Grammy voters were late in catching up with the times (a trend that continues to this day), but they certainly picked a good one to start with—the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

5. A true Wonder: Stevie Wonder owned the `70s like no other, at least according to Grammy voters. He won the most coveted of all trophies, Album of the Year, for three consecutive releases—“Innervisions” (1974), “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” (1975) and “Songs in the Key of Life” (1977). It was such a Grammy dynasty that when Paul Simon picked up the award in 1976, for “Still Crazy After All These Years,” he thanked Wonder for not releasing a record that year.

6. It’s a tie: For the only time in Grammy history, the song of the year category ends in a tie and two trophies are given out in 1978, to Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” and Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.” And really, who could pick between those two?

7. Taste of success: In 1979, A Taste of Honey passed the Cars and Elvis Costello to win best new artist. A Taste of Honey, of course, is still known today for the single “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” while the Cars and Costello haven’t been heard of since.

8. Bringing the “Flowers”: Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand had each recorded separate versions of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” before (legend has it) a DJ had the bright idea to mash the two renditions into a single duet. The first time the dynamic duo would sing the song live together was at the Grammys in 1980.

9. One big night: In 1981, Christopher Cross became the first (and still only) artist to win the so-called “Big Four” (record, album and song of the year, as well as best new artist) in one single year. He also took home the Oscar that year for Best Original Song (“Arthur’s Theme”).

10. Eight hands: In 1983, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and (get this) Count Basie sat down at four pianos and deliver what is arguably the most legendary of all Grammy performances.

11. Toto rules: In 1983, Toto triumphed over Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Joe Jackson and Willie Nelson—all, obviously, lesser talents in Grammy voters’ eyes—to win record of the year for “Rosanna.” It was one of six awards Toto would win that night.

12. Marvin, Marvin: Marvin Gaye’s comeback was capped off when he won his first-ever Grammys for the song “Sexual Healing” in 1983. He sang a knockout version of that hit at the award show. Sadly, it would be one of his final performances—he was murdered on April 1, 1984.

13. Rhymin’ Simon: Paul Simon capped off a big Grammy night in 1987, which included winning album of the year, for “Graceland,” with a great rendition of “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” The disc (recorded mainly in South Africa), as well as the Grammy performance, helped shine a light on the issue of apartheid.

14. Thick as a Brick: The inaugural Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance was given out in 1989 and, to the shock of head-bangers everywhere, it went to Jethro Tull. That band, best known for its flute work, beat out the heavily favored Metallica. Fans booed, and the Grammy folks wisely split Hard Rock and Metal into two categories for 1990.

15. Public embarrassment: Grammy organizers obviously didn’t do much homework when they added the inaugural rap category in 1989. The first award was presented to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince for the family-friendly “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” That victory quickly became a joke in the hip-hop community, which was clearly rooting for Public Enemy’s ground-breaking “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.”

16. Grammy whammy: Milli Vanilli beat out the Indigo Girls and three other hopefuls to snag Best New Artist in 1990. The award was later revoked after it was discovered that the band’s so-called vocalists did not actually sing on their tracks.

17. Not quite Nirvana: In the early `90s, something was brewing in the Pacific Northwest, a little something called grunge, and Grammy voters chose to ignore its presence. Eligible for consideration for album of the year in 1992 were Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and Pearl Jam’s “Ten”—two of the best discs of the decade—and neither received a nomination. In their place were offerings by Amy Grant and Natalie Cole.

18. Unforgettable? Nearly 30 years after his death, the great Nat King Cole would garner Grammy gold in 1992. Thanks to the miracles of modern recording sciences, his posthumous duet with daughter Natalie on “Unforgettable” nabbed three trophies, including for song and record of the year. The Coles would also perform the song “live” at the show.

19. Nice tip: The best slam against the Grammys came in the fifth season of the “The Simpsons” (aired in 1993), when Homer’s Barbershop Quartet won a trophy for “Outstanding Soul, Spoken Word, or Barbershop Album of the Year.” He would later use the award as a tip for room service.

20. People Get Ready: The great Curtis Mayfield gets his due during an all-star tribute in 1994. The medley of Mayfield hits features Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Winwood and, best of all, B.B. King.

21. We once loved you: These days, we turn the song off as soon it comes on the radio and laugh with the comedians that tell jokes at the singer’s expense. Yet, there was a time when Whitney Houston and “I Will Always Love You” were all the rage. The time-capsule proof comes from her amazing performance of that tune at the 1994 Grammys.

22. From the “Streets”: Bruce Springsteen delivered his most memorable Grammy moment when he sang a chilling version of “Streets of Philadelphia” in 1995. The track (featured in the Jonathan Demme film “Philadelphia”) would go on to win four Grammys, including for song of the year, as well as an Oscar for best original song.

23. Bad “Voodoo”: Despite earning Lifetime Achievement recognition in 1986, the Rolling Stones wouldn’t win an actual trophy until 1995, when it would pick up two trophies for “Voodoo Lounge.” Talk about belated recognition—didn’t voters listen to “Exile on Main St.” or “Let It Bleed”?

24. Grammy king: Sir Georg Solti, conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has been nominated for more than 100 Grammys and he’s won a record 38. In 1996, he was rewarded with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

25. Celine supreme: Grammy voters have made plenty of choices that have made hipsters cringe, but none more so than when they picked Celine Dion’s “Falling Into You” over superb offerings by Beck, the Fugees and Smashing Pumpkins, for album of the year in 1997.

26. La Grammy loca: Ricky Martin was already a mega-star in the Spanish-language music world by the time he graced the Grammy stage in 1998. The rest of the planet would catch on as well after Martin wowed the mostly unfamiliar crowd at Madison Square Garden with his great dance tune “La Copa de la Vida.”

27. Queen of Opera-Soul? Luciano Pavarotti won the lifetime achievement award in 1998 and was scheduled to sing at the show. Yet he had to cancel, due to illness. In steps Aretha Franklin, and the Queen of Soul surprises opera fans everywhere with a sensational version of the aria “Nessun Dorma.”

28. Family man: Ol’ Dirty Bastard caused a scene in 1998 when he stormed the stage during an acceptance speech by folk star Shawn Colvin. O.D.B. was irked that his band, Wu-Tang Clan, had lost for best rap album earlier in the night. He justified his action with a statement that has since become legendary: “Wu-Tang is for the children.”

29. Wowza! Shania Twain sends sales for big-screen TVs to the stratosphere when she appears in a fabulously sexy short, tight dress to sing “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” in 1999. One day later, men could be heard around office water coolers misquoting the song’s title—“Man, I’d like to feel that woman.”

30. Hip-hop hooray! Hip-hop finally gets the official endorsement from Grammy voters in 1999 when “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” wins five awards, including for Album of the Year. Hill would never reach the heights of “Miseducation” again—in fact, nearly 10 years later, we are still waiting for the follow-up studio record.

31. Hometown hero: Carlos Santana capped off his hugely successful—and, some would say, equally improbable—comeback with one heck of a Grammy night in 2000. The mega-platinum “Supernatural” would carry Santana to eight victories, which tied Michael Jackson for the most awards won by a single artist in one year.

32. Yes, more `Drama’: Having been through plenty of drama in her life, Mary J. Blige delivers a career-defining moment, one that would solidify her reputation as “the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul,” with her performance of “No More Drama” in 2001.

33. Shady union: Forget about Dr. Dre—Eminem’s most memorable collaboration came when the rapper combined with Elton John on the song “Stan” in 2001. This show of support from the openly gay celeb basically muzzled protests from some members of the gay community, who understandably didn’t care for Slim Shady’s occasionally gay-bashing lyrics.

34. Baker’s dozen: By 2001, Shelby Lynne was already a savvy veteran of the music business, having released six albums in 13 years. That didn’t stop Grammy voters, who obviously don’t get around much, from voting her Best New Artist.

35. Techno blues: Moby calls upon vocalist Jill Scott (with possibly the worst hairdo in Grammy history) and the eccentric percussion-driven Blue Man Group for an electrifying version of “Natural Blues” in 2001. The performance caused such a sensation that, after the show, people actually stopped confusing Moby with Michael Stipe.

36. Where were you? With the nation still reeling from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, country crooner Alan Jackson took the stage in 2002 and leaves nary a dry eye in the house when he sang his touching response to that terrible day, “Where Were You.”

37. Strollin’ “Moulin Rouge!” Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink sing their cover of “Lady Marmalade” from the “Moulin Rouge!” soundtrack, in 2002. The highlight of the performance occurred when Patti LaBelle—who originally scored a No. 1 hit with the song in 1975—made a surprise guest appearance and quickly outclassed everyone else onstage.

38. O Brother! For one night, old-timey music ruled supreme as the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack was the surprise success story of the 2002 Grammys. The biggest upset was its win over records by Bob Dylan, U2 and OutKast for Album of the Year.

39. Culture Clash: In 2003, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Elvis Costello lead a rousing all-star tribute to the Clash’s Joe Strummer, who died the year prior. The trio trades vocals on a great version of “London Calling” that properly honors Strummer’s legacy.

40. Troubled Waters: Simon & Garfunkel went a decade without so much as exchanging a Christmas card, yet they bridged the troubled waters to perform a version of “The Sounds of Silence” in 2003. Unfortunately, they kept right on talking and later launched one of the worst reunion tours of the 21st century.

41. Sore loser: Pulling a page from O.D.B.‘s book, 50 Cent bum rushed the stage after losing to Evanescence in 2004 for best new artist. He grabbed the Grammy, yet the guys in Evanescence didn’t try to deck the rapper. That makes sense—50’s built like a truck.

42. Fab song: Dave Matthews, Vince Gill, Sting and Pharrell Williams (on drums!) combine forces on a rollicking version of “I Saw Her Standing There” during a Beatles tribute at the 2004 Grammys—exactly 40 years to the day from when the Fab Four made their debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

43. Welcome back: In 2004, Prince pairs with Beyonce for a show-opener that becomes a true show-stopper. The duo performs a killer medley of Prince hits like “Purple Rain” as well as Beyonce’s smash “Crazy in Love.” It’s the start of a hugely successful comeback for the Purple One.

44. Come together for more Fab Four fun: Green Day’s Billie Jo Armstrong, Tim McGraw, Stevie Wonder and other stars share vocals on a poignant rendition of the Beatles’ “Across the Universe” in 2005. The rendition is presented in memory of those who lost their lives from the horrible Indian Ocean tsunamis in 2004.

45. It’s easy being Green (Day): Green Day won best rock album for “American Idiot” in `05 and then took home one of the biggies in `06, record of the year, for the “American”-track “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” It was a triumph for punk-rockers everywhere.

46. Ruining a classic: One of the most unlikely—and least successful—collaborations in Grammy history occurred in 2006 when Jay-Z, Linkin Park and Paul McCartney combined on the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” The song was a spectacular train wreck—but, hey, they get points for trying.

47. Whistlin’ Dixie: Having endured a firestorm sparked by singer Natalie Maines’ derogatory comments about President George W. Bush, the Dixie Chicks rise like a phoenix and win all five of their nominated categories in 2007.

48. Laying down the law: Having parted ways following their 1984 world tour, Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers reunite as the Police to perform at the 2007 Grammy Awards. The band plays the classic “Roxanne” and uses the event as a springboard to launch the year’s top reunion tour.

49. Woman’s world: Seven years after naming Christina Aguilera as best new artist—over that year’s favorite, Britney Spears—Grammy voters were looking pretty wise in 2007. While Brit continued her reign as a tabloid queen, Aguilera showed the world how she’s matured into an incredible vocalist with her performance of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Indeed, that awesome rendition ranks as our pick for the top solo vocal performance in Grammy history.

50. Who knows? What will be the memorable event at the 50th Grammy Awards? You’ll just have to tune in to find out.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/with-the-grammys-turning-50-were-offer-some-highlights-and-lowlights/