There’s not much we can predict about the upcoming Grammy Awards telecast this Sunday night. But there is one fact we can emphatically guarantee: it will be Adele’s night. And one award that the on-fire British vocalist is sure to pick up is Album of The Year. The torch-song singer’s 21 release has become both a commercial and critical juggernaut—6.5 million copies and an endless string of covers. But through the years there have been some questionable picks and snubs for the Grammy’s highest award. As you scratch your head and ponder just how Kanye West’s epic masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was excluded from this year’s list of nominees, here are eight albums over the years that deserved better.—Keith Murphy (@Murphdogg29)
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Winner: Can’t Slow Down—Lionel Richie (1984)
(Should Have) Won: Purple Rain—Prince & The Revolution (1984)
We get it Grammy voters. The thought of awarding an at times X-rated work (um…“Darling Nikki” anyone?) that basically kick-started the age of parental advisory stickers, was risky. You probably viewed the family-friendly, all-night-long jigging, mustache-waxing Richie as the safer bet, right? But let’s get real. Prince owned 1984. When His Royal Badness wasn’t dominating the top spot of the Billboard singles charts with his groundbreaking, bass-less single “When Doves Cry,” and headlining the biggest tour of the year, he was flexing his movie star swag with his acclaimed, Oscar-winning no. 1 rock film Purple Rain. Indeed, the outright robbery of one of music’s most lauded soundtracks was in a word: laughable.
Album of the Year (1995)
Winner: Tony Bennett Unplugged (1994)
(Should Have) Won: My Life—Mary J. Blige (1994)
R&B has always had a dicey history when it came to winning Grammy’s most prestigious accolade. Maybe it was Stevie Wonder’s utter ‘70s Album of the Year domination (the musical giant won the award an astounding three times). Or maybe it was the late Michael Jackson’s historic 1984 triumph of Thriller—an album that turned the Grammy’s into the Gloved One’s personal playpen. So when a genre-epitomizing album like Mary J. Blige’s landmark sophomore release My Life doesn’t even earn a nod, you have to shake your head. No one would ever dispute the gangsta of Mr. Bennett, a certifiable jazz giant. But it would have been nice to see Grammy voters color outside the lines for the most celebrated female soul vocalist of the modern age.
Album of the Year (1998)
Winner: Time out of Mind—Bob Dylan (1997)
(Should Have) Won: OK Computer—Radiohead (1997)
We know the iconic Dylan is that dude. But Tom Yorke and the boys produced arguably the greatest (and most ambitious) alternative rock album of the ‘90s. OK Computer topped seemingly every music critic’s list, but still managed to balance its music snob credentials with plenty of commercial weight—nearly 5 million copies worldwide sold to date. No act has recorded as soaring a statement on creepy self-eating angst, blind consumerism, and political stasis since.
Album of the Year (2001)
Winner: Two Against Nature—Steely Dan (2000)
(Should Have) Won: The Marshall Mathers LP—Eminem (2000)
That collective groan you heard as grizzled Steely Dan members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker walked across the stage to collect their shiny hardware was palpable to say the least. Maybe the Recording Academy was trying to make up for the criminal fact that the elder (you see a pattern?) duo never won the big one in their 70’s prime. Or was it that only one hip-hop artist, the enigmatic Lauryn Hill, had garnered the momentous prize up to that point? Whatever the reason, Eminem’s galvanizing Dr. Dre-produced statement would have been the braver and more progressive choice. Can we get a do over?
Album of the Year (2008)
Winner: River: The Joni Letters—Herbie Hancock (2007)
(Should Have) Won: Back to Black—Amy Winehouse (2007)
Another brilliant yet “safe,” geriatric winner. Another missed opportunity for the Grammy committee to make an inspired pick. Following the tragic 2011 death of Winehouse, the tortured brilliance of Back to Black shines even more brightly beyond its dark subject matter. Again, the steady jazz genius of Hancock cannot be disputed. But Winehouse represented the magical unlikely possibilities of a weird musical perfect storm: A whisky-swigging, white English Jewish chick who worships Nas and possesses a haunting, heart-piercing voice that only Billie Holiday could love. You don’t hear that everyday.
Album of the Year (2009)
Winner: Raising Sand—Robert Plant & Alison Krauss (2008)
(Should Have) Won: Tha Carter III—Lil Wayne (2007)
When Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below shockingly (and deservingly so) picked up Album of the Year accolades in 2004, cynical observers viewed the mountain top achievement as possibly the last time a hip-hop work would earn such a prodigious spotlight. Following Big Boi’s and Andre 3000’s triumphant score, it would be easy to come to such a conclusion, given that no rap act has won the award since. Which brings up to Weezy’s Carter III. It boasted more than the sufficient mix of omnipresent popularity (over 1 million sold during its first week of release) and critical-darling love. To folks over 50, tattoos and syrup-fueled rhymes can be scary. But they shouldn’t be that damn scary. Plus, we all know Wayne’s acceptance speech would have been hilarious.
Album of the Year (2006)
Winner: How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb—U2 (2005)
(Should Have) Won: Late Registration—Kanye West (2005)
Did U2 really need another one? There were whispers that the Bono-led rock Gods kind of snatched one from Prince (Again!!!) when they edged him out for his 1987 one-man-band masterpiece Sign O The Times with their signature classic The Joshua Tree. But really? This was supposed to be Kanye West’s shining moment. We can debate whether or not Ye’s meta asshole persona rubbed some voters the wrong way. But greatness is greatness. And as far as hip-hop goes, Late Registration is the kind of vast project that everybody can agree on. The majestic string orchestration of “Gone” alone deserved an award.
Album of the Year (2010)
Winner: Fearless—Taylor Swift (2008)
(Should Have) Won: The Fame—Lady Gaga (2008)
And this is why people give the side-eye to the Grammy’s. Yes, we know, we know. Taylor writes her own material. She plays acoustic guitar. She’s never in the tabloids for going on a public drug binge. To put it simply, she’s someone we all can cheer for. But Taylor didn’t transform pop like Lady Gaga. She didn’t have R&B and rock artists switching up their styles just to keep up with the sheer magnitude of electro dance revolution. So Taylor’s win amounted to America’s Sweetheart vs. censorship-sparking bad girl. Which is kind of lame when you think about it.