Monday, February 05, 2024

Your Monday Moment of Award Show Hangover

Hey -- that Grammy TV special last night was really a bag of gas, wasn't it?

Oh, hell -- the Grammy's have ALWAYS been jive. As witness this piece I did in the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review back in May of 1979.

1. What can you say about a twenty-one-year-old music awards presentation that refuses to die? Here are some phrases that spring immediately to mind: Incurably lame. Unblushingly crass. Leisure-suited. Spectacularly corrupt. Totally irrelevant.

2. Q: Why are the Grammys named after the archaic gramophone? A: Because it would be too embarrassingly appropriate to name them after the contemporary phonograph.

3. 1978 was the year album sales of more than ten million units became commonplace, and yet fewer records cracked the weekly Top Ten than ever before. It was the year in which it dawned on people that 80 percent of all the recording artists in the world were signed to either Warner Bros (and its affiliates) and CBS, the year that any rock musician with even a modicum of sensitivity realized that having a hit record on the charts was suddenly, for the first time in pop music history, a less than honorable ambition (what doth it profit a man, after all, to go multi-platinum and yet lose his soul?). It was also the year that disco, Bee Gees style, swept the Grammy awards.

4. For years, the thing that has confused me most about the Grammys is that although sales, by and large, seemed to be the only criterion that counted, rock-and-roll was invariably snubbed. Strange, since whatever you think of rock as music, it does sell; in fact, the first albums to shatter the multi-platinum barrier (Frampton Comes Alive and Fleetwood Mac) were rock records, if relatively safe ones. This year, however, the reason has become clear to me; after sales, the next factor that means anything to the Recording Academy is “recognizability.” (Translation: Any music that is on TV a lot or gets played at said members’ sons’ bar mitzvahs.) This explains the triumph of the Brothers Gibb (five awards) and why the only non-disco smasheroo to win in 1978 was Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” a mushy ballad that has replaced (woe, woe) “Feelings” in the repertoire of the Merv Griffins of this world. It also explains why a classical record that did not receive a single favorable review from a serious critic – Horowitz’s Rachmaninoff Third Concerto – cleaned up; Vladimir, thanks to the Jimmy Carter Live from the White House show, was a Public Broadcasting celebrity.

But where the truth of this theory really becomes apparent is in the Best New Artist competition. In 1976, the nod went to the Starland Vocal Band (remember them?), because they’d had one big single and their own TV show, rather than to Boston, whose album sales at last count were in the neighborhood of twelve million copies. In 1977, Debby Boone, who has yet to duplicate the fluke success of “You Light Up My Life,” beat out Foreigner (who have now had two multi-platinum albums and five consecutive hit singles) simply because she sang the damned song on every prime-time TV variety special over a six-month period. This year, similarly, “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” guaranteed to be the only non-Australian disco song recognizable to middle-aged matrons from Scarsdale, enabled its creators, A Taste of Honey (gimme their real names, quick!) to triumph over both the Cars and Elvis Costello. This is ludicrous on the face of it – except when you consider that there isn’t a bar-mitzvah band in the land who has yet learned “Moving in Stereo,” and that, despite Linda Ronstadt, Mike Douglass has yet to essay “Allison.”

5. Rona Barrett, who is, granted, hardly a critic to be mentioned in the same breath as, say, James Agee, took notice of this year’s Academy Award nominations, marveled that the three top money-making pictures (Grease, Animal House and Superman) were up for relatively few awards, and announced with some satisfaction that “Oscar has finally come of age.” Assuming that’s true, which is doubtful, given the nine nominations for Heaven Can Wait, one must remember that Oscar is, after all, fifty-nine. What are the odds against anyone’s making a similar claim for the Grammys thirty years hence?

6. Woody Allen to Diane Keaton in award winning Annie Hall: “All they do in this town is give awards. Best Fascist Dictator: Adolph Hitler.”

Hey -- if you were watching on Sunday, I think you'll agree with me when I use the Yiddish expression "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."


Gummo said...

I hated awards shows when I was a kid. Thought they were pointless. And BOOOOORING.

Huh, guess I haven't changed.

Sal Nunziato said...

"This is ludicrous on the face of it – except when you consider that there isn’t a bar-mitzvah band in the land who has yet learned “Moving in Stereo,”



mistah charley, sb, ma, phd, jsps said...

1/i wasn't watching last night - but i think your point #2 is still true 45 years later

2/although the yiddish expression you mention is very apt, your point #5 discussion of "coming of age" reminds me of

Ve get too soon oldt, too late schmart

Anonymous said...

i would add to your point 1- pathetically pointless.

RobP57 said...

Its like Stereo Review just showed up in my mailbox...thank you for this

Allan Rosenberg said...

About 25 years ago my wife told me if I ever complained again about the Grammys I wouldn't get laid for a month so I never watched nor complained about the awards nor the show ever again. That is mostly a true story.

Captain Al