Since 1959 The GRAMMYs have told us what album owned the year. So with a little hindsight, and a lot of snark, let’s take a look back at GRAMMYs’ Album of the Year (GATY) over the decades.
We can skip 1959 since the first ever winner for Album of the Year was a TV soundtrack. That was the state of “award winning” music at the end of the ‘50s.
The first full decade for The GRAMMYs Album of the Year basically evolved from your grandparents’ get-it-on grooves to what was playing when your parents lost their virginity.
Frank Sinatra made The GRAMMYs his bitch in the ‘60s with five nominated albums and three wins.
The early ‘60s were diverse. Soundtracks filled the nominee roster – West Side Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sound of Music, etc. – but Bob Newhart, Judy Garland, Vaughn Meader and Barbara Streisand came out on top. Yup, the comedian, Dorothy, a guy doing Kennedy impersonations and Babs individually won The GRAMMYs for Album of the Year.
Help! was on the way in 1966. Though Sinatra won that year – and the following –The Beatles, who were nominated for GATY five years running, beat Sinatra in ’68 with Sgt. Pepper.
So The GRAMMYs basically created a feud between Frank Sinatra and The Fab Four.
In an actual fight Frank would have broken a bottle of Jack Daniels on the bar and been able to easily take them all on without even putting down his unfiltered Chesterfield.
(Have a few hundred hours to kill? Then we’ve got a treat for you! Enjoy decades of GRAMMY winning Albums of the Year.)
At The GRAMMYs in the ‘70s if your name wasn’t Paul Simon or Stevie Wonder then you might was well go fuck yourself.
Paul Simon is the New York Yankees of The GRAMMYs: he’s been nominated every decade since the ‘60s. He won in ’71 with Garfunkel, lost to Stevie in ’74 but showed everyone he was still crazy after all those years, winning in ’76.
But if Paul Simon is the Yankees, Stevie Wonder is basically what happened after professional sports were integrated. Stevie dominated The GRAMMYs with three GATY nominations and three wins – ’74, ’75 and ’77 – becoming the first black artist to win GRAMMYs’ big award.
The GRAMMYs seemed to do a good job of representing the changing musical times in the ‘70s, probably more than any other decade. Carole King’s Tapestry won in ’72, The Concert For Bangladesh won in ’73 and then radio-dominated albums – Rumours & the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack – won in ’78 & ’79.
*Let’s not kid ourselves – you’ve been around for a while and know that the only GRAMMY winner from 1973 through 1987 was good ol’ cocaine.
All GATY winners in the ‘80s can be heard next time you’re waiting for your dentist: Billy Joel, Christopher Cross, Toto, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Paul Simon, Phil Collins, U2 and George Michael.
While the ‘80s saw a few timeless albums – Thriller and Graceland – this decade was the craziest.
The smooth sailing Yacht Rock defeated the darkness of prog rock when Christopher Cross rode like the wind, tearing down The Wall.
The 1982 winner, Double Fantasy – a “conversation” album between John & Yoko – was initially panned by critics and had sluggish sales. All the sudden everyone loved the album when John Lennon was gunned down a few months later. Brilliant PR move.
But probably the craziest of the crazy decade was the 1983 Album of the Year: Toto IV.
(We’ll save you the hassle of searching: Toto didn’t exactly follow Zeppelin’s lead, naming their albums in numerical order, but rather randomly sprinkled in numerical titles. Like the title of their 2015 album, Toto XIV…yes, Toto released a new album in 2015.)
How hot was Toto in 1983? After winning six Grammys, including the GATY, Toto postponed touring so they could help with production on Thriller. Thriller.
The ‘80s also saw bridesmaids that would eventually become brides in other decades, notably Whitney Houston & Steely Dan. Not sure what’s better, delayed gratification or peaking too soon? Billy Joel won the GATY in 1980 but then went home empty handed after being nominated in ’81, ’83 and ’84. Oh, Billy. So close to making it home three times but instead you wrecked at the very end…sound familiar?
Decade’s biggest upset? Lionel Richie’s ’85 win over Purple Rain and Born in the U.S.A.?
You had two options for Album of the Year winners in the ‘90s: female or old guy.
Female: Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston, Alanis Morissette, Celine Dion, Lauryn Hill
Old guy: Quincy Jones, Eric Clapton, Tony Bennett, Bob Dylan
The decade of collaborations. Starting in 2000 with Santana’s jam session, Ray Charles’ final album won in ’05 and Herbie Hancock’s homage to Joni Mitchell in ’08. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ pairing at the end of the decade was reminiscent of The Soggy Bottom Boys win in ’02.
Steely Dan finally got their win, U2 dismantled another, Norah Jones got her start and The Dixie Chicks got their redemption.
But of course the biggest win in the ‘00s went to the two dope boyz in a Cadillac. Stankonia lost out to the O Brother Soundtrack in 2002, but the GRAMMYs liked the way the Dungeon Family moved in ’05.
We’re over halfway through and so far this decade we still just have a lot of questions.
Did T Swift really beat Beyoncé and Lady Gaga to become the younger GATY winner?
Did Arcade Fire really beat Eminem, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to become the first “indie” winner?
Did Lady Gaga think the third time was the charm? (Spoiler: Nope. She suffered her third GATY loss in as many years.) C’mon was there ever any doubt Adele would win?
Are we really supposed to think Mumford & Sons are good?
Are you OK with having your parents say they really like that Daft Punk?
Of course in 2015 didn’t we just look the other way when the GRAMMYs were making it up to Beck who lost to Celine Dion in 1997?
Last year, did T Swift avenged their 2014 losses to Daft Punk, taking down Kanye West in the process? (Yes, we know she was up against Kendrick Lamar, but she really let the fake messiah have it during her acceptance speech.)
Which brings us to this year. Do you think in 2017 there ANY chance you think Beyoncé is going to loose the electoral college?!?
…well, we are now living in Trump’s America and she’s up against Adele, two Canadians in Drake and Justin Bieber and country hero Sturgill Simpson. Guess it depends on who Vladimir Putin likes the best…
But as we’ve seen, does it really matter who The GRAMMYs deem as the greatest artist of the year? Maybe you should ask Christopher Cross the next time he’s your local coffee shop.
So let’s all take some time this week to think about all of the past GRAMMY winners. In the meantime entire music industry will start prepping for nine hours of blowing itself on Sunday just so we can pretend that The Bodyguard Soundtrack was somehow better than REM’s Automatic For The People…which is a fucking crime against humanity. I mean, have you even heard ‘Nightswimming?’
This has been Rock ‘n’ Roll Storytime.