NEW YORK (AP) — There was little doubt who should take home the album of the year Grammy in 1984. That was Michael Jackson with a little record called “Thriller.” He won, of course, but the Recording Academy hasn’t always been seen to make the right call over its 60 years. And you don’t have to point to just Milli Vanilli to find some surprising decisions. Here are some others.
The winner of album of the year honor in 1981 wasn’t Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra or Pink Floyd. The winner was soft rocker Christopher Cross, whose self-titled album contained the hit “Sailing.” Streisand’s album “Guilty” gave us “Woman in Love,” the Joel record “Glass Houses” yielded “You May Be Right” “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” the Sinatra album “Trilogy: Past, Present, Future” contained his classic version of “New York, New York” and the double-LP “The Wall” is considered by Rolling Stone magazine to be among the top 100 greatest albums of all time. Cross actually won four Grammys that year and called it “a dream come true.” It was head-scratcher for many others.
Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” won album of the year honors in 1969 and its title single was a huge hit for the country icon. The record beat out Jose Feliciano’s acoustic covers in “Felicano!” and Richard Harris’ “A Tramp Shining” (which had the massive hit “MacArthur Park”) but it also bested two rather fine projects: Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bookends” — with the songs “America” and “Mrs. Robinson” — and the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour,” with the songs “I Am the Walrus,” “Penny Lane,” “All You Need Is Love” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Rolling Stone named “Bookends” in its list of 500 greatest albums of all time and “Magical Mystery Tour” eventually went on to sell over six million copies in America alone.
No disrespect to Blood, Sweat & Tears, but it takes a pretty good album to beat both the Fab Four and the Man in Black in the same year. Sure, the jazz-rock band’s self-titled album had the classic tune “Spinning Wheel,” but was “Blood, Sweat & Tears” really a better album than “Crosby, Stills and Nash,” “Johnny Cash at San Quentin,” “The Age of Aquarius” or “Abbey Road”? In 1970, it apparently was. That’s despite the Cash album having “A Boy Named Sue,” The 5th Dimension’s album having “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” the Crosby, Stills & Nash album being their well-regarded debut, and the Beatles’ LP containing “Come Together,” “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun.”
A BITTER TASTE
Disco wasn’t quite dead when A Taste of Honey managed to be crowned best new artist at the 1979 Grammys. A Taste of Honey? Yes, that was the band that gave the world “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” Who the band beat out is tremendous, with the gift of hindsight, of course: Elvis Costello, The Cars, Toto and Chris Rea. If the award was supposed to reward an up-and-coming music act, it failed. A Taste of Honey would never have another U.S. No. 1 hit. Meanwhile, Costello would blossom into one of the finest songwriters with such gems as “Alison” and “Accidents Will Happen,” The Cars influenced scores of artists with “Just What I Needed” and “Drive,” and Toto are still blessing the rains down in Africa. (Just to pour salt in the wound, other bands like Van Halen, XTC, Devo and Kate Bush were overlooked in the category that year).
LUCKY MR. RICHIE
Voters in 1985 had one of the toughest tasks in Grammy history to anoint album of the year. There were arguably four modern masterpieces — “She’s So Unusual” by Cyndi Lauper, “Private Dancer” by Tina Turner, “Can’t Slow Down” by Lionel Richie, “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen and “Purple Rain” by Prince. Lauper’s album gave us “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “She Bop,” Turner had “What’s Love Got to Do with It” and “Let’s Stay Together,” and Springsteen and Prince had, well, career-defining LPs that gave us “When Doves Cry” and “Glory Days,” among others. But it was Richie who took the honor with an album fueled by bona fide hits — “Hello,” “All Night Long (All Night),” “Running With the Night” and “Stuck On You.” He must have been dancing on the ceiling.
Not all the dubious choices were made long ago. One recent decision the Grammys might want to do-over was in 2014 when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won best new artist honors. Looking back, it may not have been the wisest decision. The pair behind “Thrift Shop,” which has not aged very well, managed to beat out Ed Sheeran, whose albums now dominate the Billboard charts; James Blake, who went on to win the 2013 Mercury Prize; Kacey Musgraves, who has blossomed into a pure country-pop star; and Kendrick Lamar, considered one of the most dynamic, exciting talents in hip-hop. The voting that year was also called into question when Macklemore & Lewis beat Lamar for best rap album; even Macklemore acknowledged Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city” was better. He kept the award, though.
The Grammys came late to the party when they introduced the brand new — but awkwardly titled — category of best hard rock/heavy metal recording in 1989. Metallica were nominated — and were favorites — for “… And Justice For All.” It was up against AC/DC (“Blow Up Your Video”) Iggy Pop (“Cold Metal”) and Jane’s Addiction (“Nothing Shocking”). But the award went to the folksy, flutey rock band Jethro Tull, whose “Crest of a Knave” was decidedly not a heavy metal record. The British rockers weren’t even there at the ceremony to pick up their award, but the stunned response by award co-presenters Alice Cooper and Lita Ford was perfection. Cooper later said he had to tell the crowd he wasn’t punking them.
OUT OF LEFT FIELD
In 2008, the album of the year award didn’t go to Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” or to the Foo Fighters’ “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace,” Vince Gill’s “These Days” or even Kanye West’s mega-successful “Graduation.” It went to Herbie Hancock’s album of Joni Mitchell covers, “River: The Joni Letters,” the first jazz album to win the album award in more than 50 years and the only title in Grammy history to win album of the year before it cracked the Billboard 100. The Winehouse album was her second — and last — and contained the hit “Rehab,” ending up on many critics’ best of the year list and in Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time. West’s album had “Good Life” and “Stronger” and achieved the highest first week sales week for any album in 2007. Both West and Winehouse left the Grammys with awards — but not the big one.
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