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Musical notations

February 05, 2006|Randy Lewis; Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Didn't win for new artist? You genius!

CONSPICUOUS in its absence from the 2005 book of Grammy Award winners throughout history is best new artist for 1989. In the intro to that category are simply the words "No category."

In fact, an award was given: to pop duo Milli Vanilli, an award rescinded faster than you could say "Lip-sync!" when it came out that the outfit's two "singers" hadn't actually sung a note on the album that got them nominated.

Alas, if that were the only new artist award the Grammys could so easily purge from printed memory.

Over the last 48 years of gold statuette distribution, the instances in which Grammy voters have gotten it right pales in view of those when they've flopped.

The Beatles won in 1964. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But consider the names of artists not recognized as the standout members of their freshman class: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, David Bowie, U2, Prince....

It's a list that starts looking a lot like ... the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Let's flash back to 1962, the year Dylan's debut album came out. The best new artist that year? Robert Goulet. And how about five years later, when Hendrix exploded onto the rock scene? Country singer Bobbie Gentry took home the new artist trophy.

In 1978, a dorky-looking Brit named Elvis Costello at least made the nomination cut, but the award went to A Taste of Honey, which quickly rocketed ... to rock-footnote status. A chorus of "Boogie Oogie Oogie," anyone?

The next year Grammy voters didn't have to wear bags on their heads after anointing Rickie Lee Jones as the official musical vanguard. But in 1980, rather than selecting U2 or even the Pretenders, "let's play it safe-itis" kicked in again with the award to Christopher Cross.

For every "Thank God!" win such as Lauryn Hill's in 1998, we've suffered through three "You're kidding!" recipients such as America, Men at Work and Ward Swingle (remember him? We don't) of the Swingle Singers, a group somehow overlooked by Rock Hall of Fame voters.

Things started to look good early this decade with back-to-back awards for Alicia Keys and Norah Jones. But last year's nod to Maroon5 took us back to "Oh, dear!" land once again.

What'll happen in this year's showdown with John Legend, Ciara, Fall Out Boy, Keane and SugarLand? If history's our guide, it's anybody's guess.

Memo to John Legend: If you don't win, it ain't your loss. And just maybe it'd be reason to clear a spot on the mantel for a Rock Hall of Fame trophy down the line.

Randy Lewis


Time for statuette limitations, please

THE 48th annual Grammy Awards arrive with a dizzying 108 categories, and, because many will be won by collaborating music teams, trophies may outnumber limousines in the Staples Center parking lot after the show. Some of this year's head-scratching contests that represent prime candidates for future streamlining:

* Surround sound album: Sure, the Grammys like to laud technical prowess as well as musical creativity, but this just sounds silly. Wouldn't it be great if Thomas Dolby wins it one year? Although it is sort of amusing to have a category in which the Foo Fighters square off with Jose Serebrier and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, we won't be following this one closely.

* Contemporary R&B album: The category sounds fine, but what the heck is it? There's another category called "R&B album" with nominees including John Legend, Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys. Then, in this second field, you have Mariah Carey, Destiny's Child and Amerie competing with music that doesn't sound any more, uh, contemporary.

* Rock instrumental performance: Or if it stays, let's rename it the Yngwie Malmsteen Award.

* Spoken word album: With the advent of audio books, this has become the place where politicos, movie stars and self-help gurus get cheap Grammys for their mantels. This year the field includes Sean Penn, George Carlin and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Let's drop it -- or maybe spin them off and call them, um, the Chattys? This year the second category, best spoken word album for children, has a nomination for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." We're rooting for "Pooh's Heffalump," just because it's fun to say.

Geoff Boucher


Let's just say the suspense is missing

To gauge whether Grammy-winning musicians have time

to keep abreast of their peers' work, Calendar asked 2004

album of the year winners

OutKast who they like in the same category this year:

"I really can't say because I might make a lot of people mad. Are the Hives nominated? The Hives -- they're the [best]!"

-- Andre 3000, who didn't

actually say "best"

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