A little bit of history as we prepare for the 50th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10.
In one of my favorite episodes of “The Simpsons,” Homer is grousing about not winning an award. Someone reminds him that, in fact, he and his fellow harmonizers in the B Sharps claimed a Grammy in 1983 for “Outstanding Soul, Spoken Word or Barbershop Album of the Year.”
Says Homer: “I mean an award that’s worth winning!”
Then, just to drive the point home, a disclaimer rolls across the bottom of the screen: “Mr. Simpson’s opinions do not reflect those of the producers, who don’t consider the Grammy an award at all.”
It is perhaps worth noting here that Simpsons creator Matt Groening did time as a rock critic at the start of his career. And for the last half-century, the Grammys have never been kind to rock or any sounds anywhere close to popular music’s cutting edge.
The Grammy story starts in 1957, when a group of the music industry’s most successful members of the old guard -- among them Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Mitch Miller of “Sing Along with” fame -- formed what is now called the Recording Academy as a reaction to that new juvenile delinquent scourge of rock ’n’ roll.
The Grammy was conceived as an award to honor “good music… on the basis of sheer artistry, and artistry alone.” In the first year of 1958, Domenico Modugno claimed Record and Song of the Year for “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu,” also known as “Volare,” while Henry Mancini took Album of the Year for “The Music from Peter Gunn.”
Mind you, that was in a year that saw major hits by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Peggy Lee, Cliff Richard and Ritchie Valens -- none of whom were even nominated. Nor, for that matter, did the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan win a single award when they were doing their best and most innovative work in the ’60s, or Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin in the ’70s, or Run-DMC or Public Enemy in the ’80s.
There are countless examples of how far out of whack the Grammys are, but here are two more of my favorites: U2 is the band with the most Grammys ever, 22, while the Beatles have a mere seven, and three of those came courtesy of “Anthology” in 1996.
And the only musician to ever win all of the “Big Four” prizes for Best New Artist, Record, Song and Album of the Year was Christopher Cross. (You remember: “Sailing,” 1980. If you’re like me, I’m sure you wish you could forget.)
So it’s gone pretty much ever since. Every year, the awards improve just a little bit. Every year, this critic and countless other music lovers complain about it all. And every year, we’re all forced to admit that we’ll watch anyway, because no more credible music award has ever come forward to take the Grammys’ place.
Let’s hope there’s something better before the Grammys reach their 100th anniversary in 2058.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THIS YEAR'S TELECAST
So, what can we expect when the 50th Annual Grammy Awards air at 7 p.m. on Feb. 10 on WBBM-Channel 2?
As usual, only a handful of awards will actually be presented during the 3 ½-hour live telecast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The vast majority of golden gramophones will be handed out beforehand, while the spotlight will go to the top winners, the usual Recording Academy blather about education and protecting musicians’ rights of musicians and a procession of live performances acts good, bad and mediocre.
Slated to play live are Feist, Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley, Beyonce and Carrie Underwood, in addition to several of those big, showy and ultimately unsatisfying forced collaborations that the Grammys have been pushing for the last few years.
Chief among these: a gospel montage featuring Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, the Clark Sisters, Israel & New Breed and Trin-I-Tee 5:7; Rihanna fronting the reunited Minneapolis funk band the Time (the Revolution must have been unavailable) and the Foo Fighters jamming with the Grammy Moment contest winners and conducted by legendary Led Zeppelin bassist and arrange John Paul Jones.
Oh, yeah: Just to cover their bases and make good for past slights to Baby Boom rock heroes, Grammy producers are also giving us their umpteenth tribute to the Beatles, this one featuring the Las Vegas cast of “LOVE by Cirque du Soleil” and some of the stars of that wretched movie musical “Across the Universe.”
Wake me when it’s over. Please?