Jethro Tull, New Vaudeville Band and Katy Perry: A Historical Tribute to the Worthlessness of the Grammys
On Wednesday night CBS aired the Grammy nominations in the form of a big concert, but the music died sometime in the first hour: Katy Perry earned an Album of the Year nomination, Glee garnered one for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals (come on), and typically tepid Grammy bait like Lady Antebellum picked up six noms. While the Grammys are supposed to represent music's biggest night on television, the ceremony remains what it has always been: a valentine to the recording industry, where popularity and obligation supersede quality. We've lined up our favorite reasons to loathe the Grammys (which is saying a lot coming from award-show junkies like us), and we hope you're dragging the needle onto your prized Jethro Tull LP as you read along.
· 1993 wasn't just a solid year for women in rock; it was the definitive year. PJ Harvey, Aimee Mann, the Breeders, and most of all Liz Phair turned out albums that would define the decade's surge in women's alternative. Unfortunately, 1993 is also a year the Grammys decided to cancel the category of "Best Rock Vocal Performance -- Female" and present a gender-neutral rock vocal award to five male nominees. In a close race, Meat Loaf beat out Bob Dylan.
· 1992 was arguably a good year for Nirvana. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" pretty much transformed the music industry overnight, no? Well, that year's Best Rock Song went not to the mulatto-mosquito anthem, but to Eric Clapton's unplugged and non-rock version of "Layla."
· The Grammys' most grating quality is its weird obligation to award legendary artists for less-than-stellar output in their latter days. (See, also: The Oscars.) The past decade's Album of the Year winners alone have included known oldsters Steely Dan, Ray Charles, and Herbie Hancock.
· While it's hard to fault the Grammys for incorrectly predicting the future, their history of awarding the Best New Artist trophy to one-hit wonders is pretty bizarre. Some awardees include Bobbie Gentry, the Starland Vocal Band, Debby Boone, a Taste of Honey, Sheena Easton, Men at Work, Milli Vanilli, Marc Cohn, and Arrested Development.
· The list of legends who've never won anything but Lifetime Achievement Grammys is predictably eye-popping: Janis Joplin, the Doors, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Bob Marley all qualify. In fact, only last year did Neil Young win his first Grammy -- for "Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package," an award given not for music, but CD artwork. And yes, there is an award for CD artwork. A better encapsulation of how tone-deaf the Grammys are could not be found.
· I have to credit Cracked for this find: 1966's Best Rock & Roll Recording (sounds dubious already, I know) went not to nominees the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, the Association, or even the Monkees. Nope, it went to a studio-musician novelty project called the New Vaudeville Band and their single "Winchester Cathedral." Even your great-grandmother, that song's intended audience, knows better. You should know that "Eleanor Rigby" and Jimi Hendrix's personal choice for the greatest song in rock history, "God Only Knows," were the losing tunes.
· Since the amount of Grammy categories exploded sometime in the past 20 years (and oodles of "rap/sung collaboration"-style niches have sprung up), many performers have been over-rewarded. Beyonce's a dynamite performer, but does she really deserve -- ahem -- 13 Grammys (plus the three she earned with Destiny's Child)? Does Alicia Keys deserve 12? Compare that to artists who've been around much longer like seven-time winner Madonna, five-time winner Elton John, four-time winner Carole King, and zero-time winner Bjork, and the tally doesn't quite add up.
· The introduction of a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance in the 1989 ceremony sparked polite applause from the headbanger community, but their joy was short-lived. Flute-playing folkies Jethro Tull won the inaugural award over actual rockers like Metallica, AC/DC, Iggy Pop, and Jane's Addiction. Figuring they had no chance of winning, Jethro Tull didn't even show up to accept the award. The upset remains the Grammys' signature moment in insanity.