10 Grammy Award Hits & Mistakes For Album of the Year

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The Gloved One and his record eight Grammy Awards in 1984

The Gloved One and his record eight Grammy Awards in 1984

Every year, the CBS-TV promotional spots scream “Music’s Biggest Night!” We’re referring, of course, to the Grammy Awards. The voters are members of the Recording Academy. And occasionally they get it right. But the unpredictability of the most important category can leave you shaking your head. So without further delay, Best Classic Bands presents the 10 Grammy Album of the Year hits and misses.

10) 1985: Lionel Richie – Can’t Slow Down

This one is particularly mind boggling. Richie’s album had two bona fide #1 monster hits: “All Night Long” and “Hello.” But all of the other nominees were more worthy: Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, Tina Turner’s Private Dancer and Prince & The Revolution’s Purple Rain. Take your pick… except for the one that won.

9) 1987: Paul Simon – Graceland

One of the years where it would’ve been hard to quibble with any of the diverse nominees winning. They were all great albums, though we do think Simon’s brilliant Graceland was the deserving pick. The others? Two British classic rockers: Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life and Peter Gabriel’s So. Barbra Streisand’s ode to her musical roots, The Broadway Album. And Janet Jackson’s statement album Control.

8) 1972: Carole King – Tapestry

While this album was a game changer for singer-songwriters and is one of the best-selling albums ever with 25 million copies sold worldwide, this isn’t the slam dunk it appears to be. It was up against George Harrison’s stunning 3-LP solo debut, All Things Must Pass, as well as the cast album of the London production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which would go on to revolutionize theater. (The Broadway cast recording was nominated the following year but also failed to win.) It also wouldn’t have been surprising for voting members to have selected the Carpenters self-titled album that yielded three huge singles. And don’t overlook Shaft from Isaac Hayes.

7) 1974-75-77: Stevie Wonder – Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, Songs in the Key of Life

In the mid-‘70s, they should’ve just dispensed with the formalities and simply handed the trophy over to Wonder, who was in the midst of career brilliance… one of the great runs in music history. These albums featured such all-time greats as “Living For The City,” “Higher Ground,” “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing,” “Sir Duke” and “Isn’t She Lovely.” Among the other nominees: Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and Bette Midler’s The Divine Miss M (1974), Paul McCartney & Wings’ Band on the Run and Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark (1975) and Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! and Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees (1977).

6) 1970: Blood, Sweat & Tears – Blood, Sweat & Tears

We like the jazz-rock band’s three hit singles from this album – “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “And When I Die” and “Spinning Wheel” – as much as anyone. And David Clayton-Thomas’ vocals were the perfect complement to that horn section. But choosing the BST album over The Beatles’ Abbey Road is just dumb. Not to mention two other worthy candidates: Crosby, Stills & Nash’s self-titled debut and Johnny Cash’s At San Quentin.

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5) 1971: Simon & GarfunkelBridge Over Troubled Water

Where to even start? The competition – there were six nominees this year – starts alphabetically with Chicago (better known as Chicago II), the two-record set that showed off Terry Kath’s genius and yielded hits like “Make Me Smile,” “25 or 6 to 4” and “Colour My World.” It continues with the Carpenters Close To You. How about Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s brilliant Déjà Vu with “Carry On,” “Woodstock,” Our House,” “Teach Your Children” and so on? Then there was Elton John’s self-titled U.S. debut with “ Your Song,” “Take Me to the Pilot” and “Border Song.” And finally, James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James with “Fire and Rain” and the title track. But it’s hard to argue with S&G and the elegant title cut, “The Boxer,” the wistful “The Only Living Boy in New York,” “Cecilia” and more.

Related: Looking back at the 1970-1974 nominees for Album of the Year

4) 2003: Norah Jones – Come Away With Me

Jones and the author in 2009

Jones and the author in 2009

Every once in a while an album strikes a chord with everyone you know. Such was the case with Jones’ February 2002 debut on the Blue Note label. The album won eight Grammy Awards including three for the single “Don’t Know Why.” The worldwide smash has sold more than 26 million copies. Come Away With Me had some serious competition from Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising, but it was one of those cases of being in the right place at the right time.

3) 1999: Lauryn HillThe Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

The award ceremony in 1999 was known as the Grammy Year of Women. Madonna won four awards. The Dixie Chicks, Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette and Shania Twain won two apiece. Hill, however, won five and became the first hip-hop act to win for Best Album. She’s never released another studio album. Let’s just pretend this didn’t happen.

2) 1979 Bee Gees (and various artists) Saturday Night Fever (Original Soundtrack)

The Brothers Gibb enjoyed hit after hit from this monster album: “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep is Your Love,” “Night Fever,” “More Than a Woman” and “If I Can’t Have You.” And that’s just Side One of the two-record set. The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls earned a well-deserved nomination; others included Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty and the Grease soundtrack. But it was the Bee Gees’ year.

Related: Looking back at the 1975-1979 nominees for Album of the Year

1) 1984: Michael Jackson Thriller

The voters went out on a limb and gave the Album of the Year trophy to Michael Jackson for Thriller. It matters not that the record was up against The Police’s Synchronicity and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. Thriller earned eight Grammy Awards. It is a piece of art and was easily the best choice.

Greg Brodsky

11 Comments so far

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  1. Guy Smiley
    #1 Guy Smiley 10 February, 2017, 23:17

    You left another very deserving nominee in 1984 — Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man.

    I know everyone (inexplicably) loves Thriller. Personally, I never understood MJ’s appeal. Even before the details of his bizarre personal life started coming out.

    I’d have given the Grammy to Billy, whose album was not only one of his best, but the retro, doo-wop rock and soul of the record was something of a relief during the synth-heavy, new wave 80s.

    The Police and Bowie certainly had good albums too, any of which were, to me, more deserving than Thriller. that win was a popularity contest, pure and simple.

    Billy also got cheated in 1994 when River of Dreams, also one of the best (and most underrated) albums of Billy’s career lost to… “The Bodyguard” soundtrack? UGH.

    Again, a case of popularity thanks to that wretched, monster hit single Whitney Houston had. As an actual album, and artistic statement, Billy’s was the deserving winner.

    Reply this comment
    • Billy K.
      Billy K. 3 December, 2017, 22:27

      Yes, “An Innocent Man” was solid all he way through, from top to bottom. And one of my favorites. But he had the misfortune of extremely stiff competition in 1984….all the others were great.

      Never had listened to the “River of Dreams” album, until today…..checked it out on YouTube since you mentioned it was “underrated”. Not may favorite, but not a bad effort.

      Personally, I didn’t think I would like “The Nylon Curtain”…..but it turned out to be one of my favorites.

      While on the subject of things Joel, why is there such a “dry spell” on his songs. We could have used a new Joel album, like 10 years ago.

      Being a songwriter myself, I understand bouts of “writer’s block” but can’t fathom someone having it for two decades. What’s up with the lack of a new Billy Joel song?

      Reply this comment
      • Jmack
        Jmack 5 February, 2023, 11:21

        Well, at this stage in the game, Joel appears to be perfectly content cranking out the hits at Madison Square Garden. Most people could really care less about anything except the old songs,me included

        Reply this comment
    • showmesoul
      showmesoul 3 January, 2018, 00:55

      Agreed on all counts. I’ve never understood why the cognoscenti don’t get Billy Joel.

      Reply this comment
      • Mykie D
        Mykie D 17 March, 2022, 12:22

        With the exception of 2001’s Fantasies & Delusions (which he didn’t even play on!,) and the two singles he released in 2007 (All My Life and Christmas in Fallujah), the mystery of Billy Joel’s lack of new material is both sad and mystifying. He has said at various stages throughout this draught that he has nothing new to say and that writing lyrics is a tortuous endeavor. And while the latter may be true, the former is simply impossible to believe. It’s been reported that he made an unsuccessful attempt to work on new material with, of all people, Pink! Additionally, during an interview with Don Henley – conducted by Joel himself – Henley straight out offered to write with him, and seemed genuinely surprised by Joel’s lack of output, stating that he truly believed he would write (lyrics) again. It just seems impossible that the guy who clearly had something to say when he wrote “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” doesn’t, a the very least, have more to add on that front. It would seem a no-brainer that, after 30 plus years, he could at least add a verse or two to that opus…if for no other reason than to give his live audiences – who continue to follow him in droves – something new for their enduring adoration.

        Reply this comment
  2. Tommy Boy
    #2 Tommy Boy 11 September, 2021, 10:29

    Love Stevie Wonder, but Joni should have won in 74 for Court & Spark. Her album is a masterpiece from start to finish.

    Reply this comment
  3. Baybluesman
    #3 Baybluesman 20 March, 2022, 01:37

    I have Norah Jones discs in my own collection, including “Come Away With Me” which is a very good album, but C’mon Man;
    “Come Away With Me” over Springsteen’s “The Rising” as Album Of The Year”? – No freakin’ way.

    I couldn’t believe it then, and still can’t fathom it.
    That is probably the last time I watched the Grammy ceremonies, which to me, had been suspect for years, anyways.

    Did the membership at NARAS torch a couple of blunts, and sip some merlot together, to the segues in Come Away With Me”, when their ballots came due?

    Reply this comment
  4. Anthony
    #4 Anthony 3 February, 2024, 07:07

    B,S,&T was a great album all the way through. Musicianship was outstanding. Give it a listen, I know most of you probably never have.

    Reply this comment
  5. RobNY
    #5 RobNY 3 February, 2024, 08:47

    And the winner is… ‘Crest of a Knave,’ Jethro Tull.

    Reply this comment
  6. Da Mick
    #6 Da Mick 3 February, 2024, 09:33

    For some reason, all these folks here and pretty much everywhere seem to be expecting a more balanced judgement about music than we get from the so called “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.” The question is why? Judging music quantitatively to determine “The Best” is a fool’s errand to begin with as there is no “best” to any art form, only subjective appreciation. I’d like to know who is supremely qualified to make any of these decisions as to when music, a band, or an artist is “The Best?” There simply is no such thing.

    Reply this comment
  7. lighterup
    #7 lighterup 3 February, 2024, 21:29

    Totally agree with DA MICK. One man’s all time favourite is another woman’s turn that sh’t off.
    Fall Out Boy do an update of We Didn’t Start the Fire that is pretty darn good.

    Reply this comment

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