Old style music preferred to youth pop
By Pat Murphy
THE early Grammys didn’t care for rock ‘n’ roll.
The Grammys were invented in the late 1950s to give the American music industry its own version of Hollywood’s Oscars. Ostensibly, “artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence” would be the watchword. And right from the get-go, the works honoured were fine representations of their respective genres. But for its first decade, the Grammys really didn’t care much for rock ‘n’ roll or even pop music primarily youth-oriented.
To get a real sense of this shunning, let’s take a look at the first 10 years for the three most high profile awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year.
The date convention used will be the year for which the award was given, not the year when the presentation was made. Like the Oscars, the presenting ceremonies happened the following year (e.g. 1958’s awards were presented in 1959).
Record of the Year
1958: Volare by Domenico Modugno
1959: Mack the Knife by Bobby Darin
1960: Theme from A Summer Place by Percy Faith
1961: Moon River by Henry Mancini
1962: I Left My Heart in San Francisco by Tony Bennett
1963: Days of Wine and Roses by Henry Mancini
1964: The Girl from Ipanema by Astrud Gilberto & Stan Getz
1965: A Taste of Honey by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
1966: Strangers in the Night by Frank Sinatra
1967: Up, Up and Away by the 5th Dimension
Before1967, none of the winners bore any material resemblance to rock ‘n’ roll or any form of contemporary beat music. Indeed, if you took your impressions of the popular music scene solely from a perusal of the list, you wouldn’t know that rock ‘n’ roll existed.
It’s true that Bobby Darin had started life as a rock ‘n’ roller and Mack the Knife was extremely popular with younger people. But it was essentially a jazz-flavoured, swinging revival of an old song that marked a transition point in the Darin career. From Mack the Knife onwards, he morphed into a
finger-snapping night club performer.
What happens when the perspective is expanded, adding nominees to the pool of winners? The story remains the same.
Frank Sinatra was nominated six times in the first decade, and Tony Bennett had three nominations. Meanwhile, Elvis, Ray Charles and The Beatles had just two nominations each, none of which produced a Record of the Year Grammy. The likes of The Everlys, Ricky Nelson, Fats Domino, Roy Orbison, Brenda Lee and The Beach Boys – all then at the peak of their considerable fame – never got a look in.
Starting with Up, Up and Away in 1967, the pattern changed. Winners were now invariably from the youth-oriented side of the musical spectrum and traditional adult artistes were pushed towards the sidelines. Oh, they might still garner the odd nomination, such as Ed Ames with My Cup Runneth Over or Peggy Lee with Is That All There Is? But the tide had decisively turned.
Song of the Year
This is the composer award for the year’s best original song. A look at the first decade of Grammy winners pretty much repeats the Record of the Year story.
1958: Volare by Domenico Modugno & Franco Migliacci
1959: The Battle of New Orleans by Jimmy Driftwood
1960: Theme of Exodus by Ernest Gold
1961: Moon River by Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer
1962: What Kind of Fool Am I? by Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley
1963: Days of Wine and Roses by Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer
1964: Hello Dolly by Jerry Herman
1965: The Shadow of Your Smile by Paul Francis Webster & Johnny Mandel
1966: Michelle by John Lennon & Paul McCartney
1967: Up, Up and Away by Jimmy Webb
The relative disinterest in youth-oriented pop doesn’t go away when nominees are added to the pool. If anything, it gets more pronounced.
Including winners, there were 50 Song of the Year nominees in the first decade, and old style writers, particularly those writing for Hollywood or Broadway, dominated.
The Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen duo snagged four nominations; Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer and Jule Styne each got three; and the Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley team scored two.
Meanwhile, the prolific Burt Bacharach/Hal David pair – who were writing major pop hits through the entire decade – earned only a single nomination, and that was for the distinctly older-sounding Wives and Lovers, not for more contemporary fare like Anyone Who Had a Heart.
Most significantly, there’s the illustrious list of writers who never featured at all. For instance: Boudleaux & Felice Bryant, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman, the various Brill Building combinations and Bob Dylan. Another way of looking at it is to zero in on particular songs in particular years.
Was the nominated Gigi really a better song than the non-nominated All I Have to Do Is Dream? The latter wasn’t merely a much bigger hit but has also been durable over the ensuing decades whereas Gigi has more or less disappeared. Similarly, was The Second Time Around a better song than Save the Last Dance for Me? Or Lollipops and Roses a better song than Runaway? And how about You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ going without a nomination in a year where nods went to both Dear Heart and Who Can I Turn To?
Album of the Year
1958: The Music from Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini
1959: Come Dance with Me by Frank Sinatra
1960: The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart by Bob Newhart
1961: Judy at Carnegie Hall by Judy Garland
1962: The First Family by Vaughn Meader
1963: The Barbra Streisand Album by Barbra Streisand
1964: Getz/Gilberto by Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto
1965: September of My Years by Frank Sinatra
1966: A Man and His Music by Frank Sinatra
1967: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
In fairness to the Grammys, the lopsided pre-Sgt Pepper list of winners is more understandable than for the previous two categories. During the late 50s and early 60s, the American album market was overwhelmingly dominated by artistes and recordings whose primary appeal was to an older demographic.
There were a few youth-oriented exceptions. Elvis was a significant album market presence throughout the decade, being joined by the folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary from 1962 onwards. But neither scored a nomination, never mind a trophy.
However, the compelling evidence of a dismissive attitude towards youth-oriented pop is really to be found in the Record of the Year and Song of the Year categories.
That, though, changed from the mid-60s on. In the end, the market-place imperative prevailed. It usually does.
A native of Ireland, Pat
Murphy now lives in Toronto, Canada.