Should’ve Won: Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely – Frank Sinatra
Winner: The Music From Peter Gunn – Henry Mancini
The very first album of the year award was given in 1959, which means that Sinatra’s true masterpiece, 1955’s In the Wee Small Hours, was never eligible. Luckily, his 1959 classic was at least nominated, but sadly lost the award to Henry Mancini. While Mancini’s record was a better than average soundtrack that included an iconic main theme, it simply doesn’t compare to Sinatra’s emotional classic.
For Only the Lonely is a strong contender for the second best entry into Sinatra’s legendary catalog, sporting a multitude of excellent tracks and great performances from ‘Ole Blue Eyes across the run time. “Angel Eyes,” is one of the best tracks in his career and throughout the entire record, Frank is at his absolute best. Above all this, while Mancini is no slouch in music history, hindsight has shown that the pedigree of Frank Sinatra would’ve been the perfect starting point for music’s most prestigious annual award.
Should’ve Won: Abby Road – The Beatles
Winner: Blood, Sweat, & Tears – Blood, Sweat, & Tears
If ever one needed proof of the Grammys’ fallibility, it can be found in 1970’s award for Best Album. This wasn’t the first Grammys snub that the Fab Four had suffered as their 1967 classic, Revolver was beat out by a lesser release from Frank Sinatra, but this is quite different. Where The Beatles were only just getting started in ’67, no hindsight was needed to understand the importance of Abbey Road which came at the end of the most celebrated and influential careers in music history that had kickstarted the British Invasion and forged rock music into existence.
You could be forgiven, on the other hand, for not knowing the album that won 1970’s award. Blood, Sweat, & Tears was the sophomore album for the jazz rock band of the same name. It went quadruple platinum and was exceptionally well received upon release, but it hasn’t aged all that well, and today just sounds like a fairly well performed jazz rock record. It isn’t the worst choice for album of the year, but with the rock and roll movement in full swing, there’s simply no excuse for the Grammys to miss such an important record.
Should’ve Won: The Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
Winner: Innervisions – Stevie Wonder
Unlike the majority of this list, 1974’s winner is somewhat understandable. This was Stevie Wonder’s first Best Album win, and though he’d go on to win twice more with arguably better projects, Innervisions is no slouch. The instrumentation on this record is excellent and Wonder’s ear for melody and songwriting abilities certainly comes through loud and clear. This would be a perfectly good choice if it weren’t for the album it beat out.
The Dark Side of the Moon is on nearly every list of all time great albums and tops quite a few. While I’ve written extensively about the album from a sonic standpoint, it’s worth noting just how important it is. Often sighted as the moment when Pink Floyd found their footing, Dark Side was the beginning of a run of internationally massive and creatively groundbreaking records that would see Floyd climb to heights that are very rarely reached by musicians. It took an underground psych-rock outfit to the absolute peak of rock superstardom, engraining them in American culture forever. It went on to sell 45 million copies worldwide, putting it in the top five best selling albums of all time. Worse still, it wasn’t even nominated.
Should’ve Won: Nevermind – Nirvana
Winner: Unforgettable… With Love – Natalie Cole
1991 was one of the most exciting years in music, and especially rock history. Here are just a few high profile releases: Skid Row’s Slave to the Grind, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Use Your Illusion I and II from Gunz n’ Roses, U2’s Achtung Baby, and Metallica’s Black Album. In rap music, we had releases from Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube, and Public Enemy. In fact, on the exact same day as the release of my choice for this year’s Grammy, Red Hot Chili Peppers released their seminole classic, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The kicker is, not only were all of these albums beat out by Natalie Cole, not a single record I just listed was nominated for best album at 1992’s awards.
Any of those records are absolutely excellent choices for album of the year, but if the Grammys are ostensibly concerned with awarding not only artistic excellence but cultural importance, they missed a big one in September of ’91. Nirvana’s Nevermind, though arguably not their best project, is on the shortlist for the most game changing albums of all time. Coming out of nowhere and released with reasonably low expectations from DGC Records, the album exploded thanks to an incredible reception of the lead single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” While the Grammys could be slightly forgiven had the record been still in the early days of it’s meteoric rise, this was clearly not the case as it had just, a month before the awards, toppled Michael Jackson’s Dangerous to top the Billboard charts. Sadly, the Grammys never did catch up on the Grunge movement as only one grunge album, Pearl Jam’s Vitology in ’96, was ever even nominated and none won the award.
Should’ve Won: To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Winner: 1989 – Taylor Swift
This is the most recent word from the Grammys and it is yet another case of a massively impressive field of choices from which the committee seemed to do their best to make the worst possible choice. While 1989 was successful, it was far from Taylor Swift’s best effort, even at the time as she was coming off of the far superior Red just two years prior. Swift seemed destined for Grammy gold in the years, like it or not, but there was simply no excuse for this snub.
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly can only be described as a masterpiece in every since of the word. The storytelling and political commentary is some of the best in music history, the gorgeous instrumentation of Kamasi Washington and his orchestra is breathtaking, the production is the best since Radiohead’s OK Computer, and the scope and shear ambition of the project is simply unmatched in the modern music landscape. I would confidently place the record among the greatest of all time, but there is, of course, another element to this. Only two hip-hop albums have ever won the award, Lauren Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauren Hill and Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and the category’s history of representing African American artists is nearly as abysmal. Considering the massive amount of TPaB that is devoted to discussion of African Americans in modern culture, it couldn’t have been a better choice for the win. Unfortunately, Kendrick seems cursed to be perpetually nominated without a win, despite being one of the best artists of our time.