Let’s get something straight: The Grammy awards don’t necessarily represent the best in music.
After all, only one Beatles album ever won a Grammy. And Celine Dion has more Grammys than the Rolling Stones.
I mean — come on. Celine Dion?
But while sales figures gauge popularity, the Grammys are still the ultimate measure of critical success — as will be the case when the latest round of Grammys are awarded in Los Angeles on Jan. 31.
I’ll admit, the Grammys have recognized some great music. Still, it seems like the standards have gone down. Do you think the Dixie Chicks would have done so well in 2007 had the competition not included lightweights like James Blunt, Justin Timberlake and Carrie Underwood?
Longing for a return to the great Grammy nominees, I recently looked at past winners and decided to hold my very own awards — the All-Time Grammys. Here I’ve nominated previous (worthy) winners from the major categories and pitted them against each other:
The line “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio” from “Mrs. Robinson” says so much: It’s about the end of an era, a desire to return to a certain innocence. On the other hand, the guitar solos from “Hotel California” represent some of the best instrumental pieces in rock music. And, of course, “Beat It” is Michael Jackson’s signature tune, guided by Eddie Van Halen’s searing guitar solo. But I’m a sucker for a sappy love song. The warm tone and smooth vocals on “Just the Way You Are” always compel me to sing along. With the windows closed, of course.
“Sgt. Pepper” was groundbreaking, but I think there are better Beatles albums (like “Abbey Road,” “Revolver” and” “Rubber Soul”). “Songs in the Key of Life” is a fantastic double-album with loads of variety and socially conscious lyrics. And “Rumours” doesn’t have a clunker on it. But “Thriller” was more than a great album — it was a phenomenon. It featured unlikely guest artists (Van Halen, Paul McCartney, Vincent Price), soft numbers ( “Human Nature”) and infectious dance tracks ( “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”). No wonder it elevated Jackson from star to megastar.
You could have nominated probably 40 Beatles songs for Grammys, and all of them, like “Michelle,” would be deserving of hardware. I love how Springsteen was tasked to write a song about a grim topic (AIDS) for the movie “Philadelphia,” and delivered. But “Every Breath” is so dynamic — from that opening snare crack to the seductive bass that drives the music to those stalking lyrics. There are lots of great candidates for this songwriter award, but I give this one to Sting.
I view this category as one that honors an artist that we expect to contribute lots of great stuff in the future. But clearly some Best New Artist winners (Starland Vocal Band comes to mind) didn’t come through. I should probably give this one to Crosby, Stills & Nash, but to be honest I don’t actually own any of their records. Sade, on the other hand, has that smooth, sexy vocal style. And while she’s not as famous as CSN, she’s been consistently good for two decades.
I love that Ole Blue Eyes was still churning out hits even during the peak of the British Invasion. Paul Simon showed he was an even better songwriter as a solo act with “Still Crazy.” And Phil Collins gave us another emotional love song. But Wonder’s entry is an affirmation, a joyous trip through a soul transformation.
You might accuse me of choosing Amy Winehouse for this one only as a sorry attempt to look hip as I’m hopelessly aging. And, yeah, there’s that. But the thing that made the horn-heavy “Rehab” so great was that it recalled all those great all-girl soul acts from the day. And sue me — I think it’s a catchy tune.
“Losing My Religion” might be the best song in this category, but, hey — the Beatles have to win something here. Even as the mid-60s approached, the Grammys were hesitant to acknowledge rock acts, as artists like Henri Mancini, Tony Bennett and Judy Garland tended to dominate on awards night. But the Beatles — of course—were the first rock act to crack the Grammys.