Grammy madness

I can scarcely imagine a more irrelevant institution than the Grammys. I suppose the classical version of the awards, which seems to exist solely in a parallel universe entirely free of television cameras is quite useful and harmless as these things go- at least it helps sell a few CDs, but the mainstream bit of the awards has always struck me as representing all the worst aspects of the music business.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I woke to find that Herbie Hancock, who would have to be near the top of any educated music-lover’s list of greatest living American musicians, actually won Album of the Year. For the record (no pun intended), this is only the second time a jazz album has won the award (the last time was 1965, when Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto’s “Getz/Gilberto” won).

I suppose it is a sign of complete lack of understanding of what is “really” important in life that I see it as a good thing that a man who has amassed one of the most jaw-droppingly amazing bodies of work of any musician in the last fifty years wins an award. Apparently members of the audience and members of the pop music critical establishment (don’t even get me started on them) are saying that Hancock’s win is an outrage and a sure sign that the Grammys are becoming irrelevant.

So, I offer some examples of past Grammy winners from more relevant years, when the Grammy voters really understood what was important about music….

The 1980’s offered an astounding run of Grammy relevance, when the back to back winners of Album of the Year were (note- classical music is not eligible for consideration in this category. We are scum and have to learn to love life in our little off-TV ghetto)….

1983- Toto- Toto IV (apparently, the Grammys met them all the way, Rosanna, yeah….)

1984 Michael Jackson- Thriller (okay, at least this one made a lot of money, but, er, ah… oh never mind….)

1985 Lionel Richie- Can’t Slow Down (Because I’m already at a full stop. The highpoint of the jheri-curl movement)

1986- Phil Collins- No Jacket Required (possibly the greatest recording of the 20th C.! This would have been the clear winner in any year)

Don’t forget, Milli Vanilli won for best new artist in 1990 before having their award revoked on the grounds that they didn’t actually sing on their album. Oh yes, Billy Ray “achy-breaky-heart” Cyrus was nominated in 1994….

Rock on, or rockit, Herbie Hancock!

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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8 comments on “Grammy madness”

  1. John

    The other refreshing win of the year was James Ehens recording of Barber, Korngold and Walton Violin concertos (CBC records). It’s been a long time coming. (No surprise from us Canadians though)

  2. Kenneth Woods

    Also, a big shout out to my CCM colleagues Eighth Blackbird, who won for Best Chamber Music Performance. Congratulations!

    James is a great fiddle player and a lovely guy- big congrats his way.


  3. Erik K

    You should have just started in 1985. Thriller is bad ass. Bad ass. Although it’s definitely not as good as some Eliminator or Afterburner, circa the same time. I say, Ken, could you score me any of that Zed Zed Top?

  4. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Steve-

    Good to hear from you and thanks for playing the other day.

    You said it perfectly about Solti- who would know from watching the Grammys that he ever won one?


  5. Kenneth Woods

    Hey Erik

    Granted, Quincy Jones can make almost anything sound good, but I’ve always thought of Thriller as aural meth for 13 year old girls (and possibly bearded horn player/conductors). Addictive but toxic. Maybe I just can’t get over wondering how much of the inspiration for “Beat It” comes from MJ’s fascination with very young boys…..

    On the other hand, ZZ TOP offer a celebration of more learned and healthy pursuits, notably beer, chili, Jesus, whiskey, girls and cars. Those are the sort of wholesome passtimes I like to hear about in popular music.


  6. Erik K

    You know, you’ve got me thinking of another album that probably should have won Album of the Year but didn’t: Red Hot Chili Peppers “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.” As great a combination as that is, I would argue that “Beer Chili Jesus Whiskey” is over 10 times better. We need to start a band, STAT!

    As for Thriller, that was before Michael went insane and was still actually a black human being, as opposed to the beige pseudo-sapien we’ve seen since 1992. I have no such questions at that time. Well…OK, I do, but I can’t let that stop me, or else I can never listen to Afrolicious Jimmy and the Beantown Band.

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