The Five Worst Album of the Year Snubs in Grammy History

If 1992 doesn’t make you angry, I don’t know who you are!

1959

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.

1970

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.

1974

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.

1992

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.

2015 

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.

My Newfound Respect for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here is a bitter and abrasive piece that may not fit squarely into Pink Floyd’s discography, but must still be recognized as an incredible project from one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Pink Floyd is one of my favorite groups of all-time. Their evolution from underground, prog-rock four piece to worldwide rock phenomena is nothing short of incredible, and their prolific writing over a nearly 50 year career means that their is no shortage of great music for fans of all eras.

Perhaps most importantly, Floyd has at least three albums, namely The Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, and Animals, which are on the short list for greatest rock album of all time. The band’s run in the 1970’s, when each of these three where released, is simply breathtaking and it’s a run that will likely never be matched.

All that being said, there is one Pink Floyd album which, though often considered a part of their top tier and despite falling squarely in the center of their 70’s run, has never seemed to impress me as much as other works. 

1975’s Wish You Were Here is a follow up to the break out success of Dark Side just two years prior. The ninth studio album from Floyd, it was the first time the band had taken much more than a year between releases, thanks to a much busier touring schedule. The record is entirely different from the rest of their catalog and was an especially radical departure from the fuller, more psychedelic sound on which they’d cut their teeth. It had always struck me as an enjoyable, albeit lacking, album from a band with much better works to offer, and as such, it was one of the last LP’s to be added to my now completed Pink Floyd vinyl collection.

Finally having the physical copy in my hand, however, I began to gain a new appreciation for the record. The artwork, while every bit as iconic as any other Pink Floyd album, is also entirely different. While other Floyd covers are psychedelic and thematic, Wish You Were Here is, first of all, encased in a large, whit box, which means that the cover photo doesn’t even take up the full space of the record. It’s also a real photo, not a drawing or other design, which also leaves the album feeling distinctly less magical than other releases. On each surface is a simple image, encased in a white box, and depicting only one point of focus.

This grounded simplicity is apparent in the music as well. Where the majority of the group’s catalog utilizes massive instrument pallets and explosive swells of sound, Wish You Were Here’s instrumentation is far more simple. Most tracks, especially the bookending epic, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” feature a looping melody with a single featuring instrument or vocal on lead.

It was this change that first lead to my distaste for the project. I’d fallen in love with the warmth and lusciousness of the band’s sound. Albums like Dark Side and even later releases like The Division Bell felt like I was swimming in a gorgeous, psychedelic soundscape, each wave of sound more powerful than the last and each low point only a pitstop before another build. Wish You Were Here simply doesn’t give you that. Instead, the album is cold. It’s distant. It has a much stronger jazz influence and it’s smoothness often feels alienating. But it’s this simplicity and focus that makes it such an important album.

Wish You Were Here is a contemplation, as with any Floyd album. But where Dark Side contemplates life and The Wall contemplates relationships, topics at least some room for warmth, Wish You Were Here sets its sights on fame, particularly through the lens of of their previous front man, Syd Barrett, a man who’d been all but destroyed by fame.

It’s within this context that we understand the choice of cold focus over indulgent fullness, of abrasive synths over expansive organs, and of clean acoustic guitars over Gilmour’s iconic, sprawling electric. The album is distant and uncaring because fame is too. Of course, it remains enjoyable, as is fame, but Floyd has perfectly captured the sense of biting callousness that so often accompanies success.

In the end, the album should be viewed not as the second release during Floyd’s 1970’s run at the very top, nor as a follow up to one of the greatest albums of all time in The Dark Side of the Moon, but as both a representation of the bleak realities of success and a skewering of the very idea of fame. Wish You Were Here is a bitter and abrasive piece that may not fit squarely into Pink Floyd’s discography, but must still be recognized as an incredible project from one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Five Albums That Would Get a 10/10

I always want to talk about these great records, and I just can’t find enough excuses! So here’s Five Albums That Would Get a 10/10!

IDLESJoy as an Act of Resistance (2018)

Putting the list in chronological order means that our first pick is my choice for 2018’s album of the year, IDLES’ Joy as an Act of Resistance. I’ve said quite a lot about this album, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. Drawing from perhaps the most embattled, controversial, and often violent sub-genres in music history, this punk record uses the traditional staples of thrashing guitars, rolling bass, and high energy to craft music that stands up to any one of the punk greats of the 70’s and 80’s. This sets a baseline for Joe Talbot’s lyricism, music on masculinity and all it’s impacts on the modern world. It’s prescient, it’s powerful, it’s hopeful, and above all, it’s perfect.

Kendrick LamarTo Pimp A Butterfly (2015)

It’s hard to believe that we’re fast approaching the fourth anniversary of Kendrick Lamar’s seminal, jazz-rap masterpiece, but here we are. TPAB achieved levels of storytelling which haven’t been matched in rap music before or since and it did that by selling every ounce of the record to the story. The instrumentation is helmed by Kamasi Washington who would go on to release his own debut album two months later. Throughout, each beat incorporates elements of funk, jazz, Africana, soul, boom-bap, rock, and much more. It’s a musical tour-de-force through the history of African American popular music which is only outshined by K-dot’s lyricism.

Telling the story of a young rapper breaking down on tour and returning home to the streets that made him, Lamar dances between the metaphor and the literal, the jarring and the thoughtful, love and hate, all with an eye for the larger picture while not making a single bad track out of the 16. The story ultimately serves as a contemplation on the plight of the African American community in modern America. Is it honorable to thrive while your community suffers? Can an African American ever thrive without selling out struggles they endured? Will the community ever rise above their oppression and how? These questions and more Kendrick asks with remarkable clarity and don’t even get me started on the production. TPAB feels like a living, breathing conversation, and in that sense, it’s perfect.

Jason IsbellSoutheastern (2013)

When Jason Isbell, the resident bad boy of The Drive-By Truckers, was released from the band in 2007 and entered rehab in 2012, he seemed to be an extremely tragic case of one of the greatest young songwriters of a generation who just couldn’t hold it all together. Instead, he emerged a new, sober man, married then-girlfriend Amanda Shires, and released 2013’s Southeastern, adorned with a very simplistic picture of himself staring forward. Southeastern was Isbell’s contemplation on getting sober, growing up, and most of all, on change. It is one of the most moving and honest albums ever written.

With its opener, “Cover Me Up,” a love song written to Shires to assure her that he would get sober for her, the album immediately presented a new version of Jason. One which fully recognized his potential as a lyricist and artist. Throughout Southeastern, every single track is nothing short of pure poetry over chords. He speaks on the difficulties of leaving an old life behind, his fear of losing his love, and his excitement for the new life ahead of him. More so than any other album on this list, Southeastern lands here because it is simply a masterclass in lyricism from one of the greatest writers that’s ever lived.

RadioheadOK Computer (1997)

One of the most divisive groups in history, you’ll be hard pressed to find a music fan without an appreciation for this album. Coming near the turn of the century, OK Computer feels like the cold air creeping back into a room, no longer staved off by the burning fire that was the early 90’s and the grunge movement. The album aims to capture the apathy and bleak hopelessness of a generation, and Radiohead succeeds in every way. The instrumental pallet is remarkably broad, the production is almost robotic, and Thom Yorke’s vocals are whispish and often haunting.

It’s hard to describe what a cold and distant project this is. With mixes that bury and push odd instruments and arrangements keep listeners guessing by melding organic and electronic sounds seamlessly, Radiohead is able to throw a listener off of their center of gravity, so to speak, and inspire a viscerally lonely experience throughout. Lyrics about the modern condition toe the line so tightly between story and metaphor that what anger and vitriol is drummed up will be immediately stifled by distance. As waves of largely unfamiliar sound wash over you, OK Computer lulls listeners into a bleak apathy like only Radiohead can.

Pink FloydThe Wall (1979)

A very strong argument, and one that I would likely agree with, can be made that Pink Floyd has anywhere from two to five “perfect” albums under their belt and it’s true that few bands ever have had a run like Floyd in the 1970’s, but since this list isn’t called “Top Five Pink Floyd Albums,” I’ve chosen to stick with The Wall. This is, among other things, the defining prog-rock concept album, introducing the idea selling out every aspect of an album toward the concept as very little of The Wall, save “Comfortably Numb,” sounds a whole lot like Pink Floyd. It was also, quite famously, made amid horrific turmoil within the group which likely led to their disbandment.

Nevertheless, the four of them crafted a massive work of art that strikes the heart like few works in any medium. Where Dark Side of the Moon focuses on life and Wish You Were Here deals with fame, The Wall is, above all, about isolation, both the factors that create it and the effects it has on the human psyche. Not content with the simple “love each other,” message of the previous decade, The Wall aims to explored every facet of loneliness and desolation, giving serious credence to the pains which make it seem necessary while honestly addressing it’s detrimental effects. Ultimately, when the masterpiece closer, “The Trial,” ends with the wall finally coming down, the relief is palpable, and any serious listener has learned something about themselves in the process.

Highlights of My Vinyl Collection

I’ve been collecting vinyl for awhile now. A few years and a few hundred albums later, here’s five highlights from my collection!

5. Richard Edwards – Pity Party LP

R-11145459-1519071279-3636.jpeg     On first glance, this may not seem like much. It’s been kept in relatively great condition, the cover is minimalistic and interesting, and the lightning blue vinyl is striking. What makes it special, however, is it’s status. The record only sold about 500 copies, and hasn’t been reprinted since. It was produced as a collectors edition, and as a place holder between Edwards’ excellent solo debut, Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset, and his even better follow up, Verdugo.

   The album itself is a combination of tracks from the two aforementioned projects, each performed solo on an acoustic guitar with minimal production. Edwards has such a gorgeous voice and talent for commanding attention to stripped back performances. In most cases, the less barrier between him and the listener, the better. In the end, this is one of his best projects to date, and I only wish it was in full circulation for those who weren’t able to procure it on it’s first and only print.

4. Tool – Lateralus LP

tumblr_n55pmsbyt01rgojw1o1_500_600x   Turning from one of my favorite folk artists to may absolute favorite hard rock group of all time, my second choice has got to be my Lateralus by Tool. The design on the case is gorgeous enough, sporting the colorful spirals associated with the record’s theme, but the picture discs on the inside are even more impressive. They show the upper half of a human body, removing one layer for each side of the two discs. It’s a purely Tool design, and it sets the mood before the record has even played.

   Musically, what is there to say? It’s a Tool album. It’s fantastic. Lateralus is the band’s most technical work, mixing in complex mathematical elements and executing polyrhythms with a rare precision. Instrumentally, this album is a peak, especially for Justin Chancellor’s bass work, as he begins to find his footing with the group in a major way. Maynard’s vocals and lyrics are, of course, incredible, and overall, the album is just a pure master work.

3. Pink Floyd – Collection

  From progressive metal to pure progressive rock, we’ll turn to my personal choice for the greatest band of all time, Pink Floyd. My collection is missing only a few entries, namely Wish You Were Here and A Momentary Lapse of Reason, but the bulk of their massive discography sits comfortably near the front of my record box. The designs are breathtaking in their simplicity, one of my favorite qualities of Floyd’s album covers. Dark Side of the Moon and Atom Heart Mother in particular create so much meaning with basic covers.

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   When it comes to content, as I said, I consider Pink Floyd the greatest rock band of all time. Listening to their discography in order, you’ll hear them grow and breathe as a group with very few stumbles along the way. Their prime period, from Dark Side of the Moon in ’73 to The Wall in ’79, is nothing short of perfect. However, their earlier, more experimental work is fun and exciting and their later work is expansive and powerful. They’re simply the best to ever do it.

2. Kendrick Lamar – Autographed Damn. LP

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 8.42.39 AM.png   Though rap music doesn’t have nearly the tradition in the vinyl world that other genre’s do, I just can’t resist including this gem. The blood red vinyl references one of the best tracks on the album and Kendrick’s enigmatic face peaks out irresistibly as one flips through their stacks of records. Above all, however, the autograph elevates this LP above the rest of my Kendrick collection.

   Musically, DAMN. certainly isn’t my favorite album from Lamar’s discography. That being said, it’s still one of the best records of 2017 by a mile. The heavy trap influences and simple aesthetic is a notable difference from To Pimp a Butterfly’s jazzy, maximalist style. Kendrick’s flow is blistering, and his lyricism is second to none in modern hip-hop. He’s one of the greats, and it is a pleasure to be alive during his run.

1. Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s – Broadripple is Burning/Holy Cow SINGLE

R-745551-1518276605-9152.jpeg   This was my white wale, and last year, I finally caught it. The debut single for one of my favorite bands is the reason I started collecting vinyl in the first place and it was brutally hard to get my hands on. I eventually got my hands on it for less than $100, a score as far as I’m concerned, and it now sit’s proudly atop my collection. The cover is simple and hand-drawn, the disc is a basic black, and the packaging is fairly worn, but it still stands as my crown jewel.

   The lead track is beautiful, as one would expect from a band fronted by Richard Edwards. His voice is youthful and the instrumentation is full in a way that it wouldn’t be on later releases. Lyrically, it’s one of my favorite tracks of all time, as evidenced by the line from it’s second verse which rests permanently on my arm. The B-side, “Holy Cow,” is fun as well, sounding much more like the band’s later work, but nothing tops “Broadripple is Burning.” I’ve collected nearly 200 records at this point, but none of them have given me the feeling of excitement I got from this single.