The Grammys is jam-packed with year-by-year accounts of all the winners, from Henry Mancini, Ella Fitzgerald, and Perry Como at the very first Grammy awards (held on May 4, 1959, in the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hotel) to Bob Dylan, Shawn Colvin, and Paula Cole, who won the 1997 awards for Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist, respectively.
The music industry has changed markedly in the years since that first ceremony, and the Grammys have followed suit, if sometimes begrudgingly. In 1959, there were 28 award categories, and aside from one nominee each in the Best Country & Western Performance (The Everly Brothers) and Best Rhythm & Blues Performance (The Champs) categories, nary a rock 'n' roller can be found among the nominees. Instead, the Best Vocal Performance nominees included names like Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Doris Day, Eydie Gormé, and Keely Smith.
By contrast, the 1997 awards saw Grammys given to winners in 91 different categories, and rock, soul, and hip-hop performers have long since replaced the crooners and pop songbirds of the '50s. The change didn't come easily, however; the first award for rock music wasn't given until 1961 (Chubby Checker won the Best Rock & Roll Recording award that year), and even as late at 1967, only one nominee for Album of the Year (the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band") could be fairly termed a rock album. Jimi Hendrix never won a Grammy. Neither did Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fats Domino, the Four Tops, or Sam Cooke, just to name a few.
In part as aresultof such oversights, the Grammys still lack street cred in certain circles; many headbangers, for example, may question the value of receiving the Best Metal Performance award from an organization that is viewed by many rockers and their fans as too staid and stuffy to possibly have a clue about their favorite genre. O'Neil notes that the week after Naughty by Nature's "Poverty's Paradise" won the first Grammy ever awarded in the category Best Rap Album, it sold fewer copies than it had the previous week. Winning the Grammy actually seemed to hurt sales.
But more often, the impact on sales is a positive one. As O'Neil writes: "Bob Dylan's Time out of Mind jumped more than 400 percent the week after the 1997 Grammys, moving from 122nd on the charts to number 27. Prior to the 1994 Grammy race, Tony Bennett's MTV Unplugged had only sold 300,000 copies and did not climb higher than 69th on the charts. During Grammy week, it sold only 4,000 copies, then, after reaping Album of the Year, it reentered the charts at number 48, selling 21,000 units in one week a hike of more than 500 percent." O'Neil goes on to cite Tina Turner, Quincy Jones, and Bonnie Raitt as other artists whose sales have skyrocketed after copping a Grammy.
So who will Grammy smile on this year? It's hard to say, but anyone who enjoys cheering and jeering this annual telecast will certainly find The Grammys an invaluable resource. Brett Leveridge