When The Grammy's Got It Right

Even the best-informed and most nobly intentioned democratic body is susceptible to getting it wrong sometimes. So it should come as no surprise that, historically, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science's Grammy Awards haven't always hit the mark. But for every dubious Best New Artist honoree or dinosaur-ish Album of the Year choice, the Grammy voters have also gotten a few things right over the years.

Sometimes these successes are categorical, inclusions of genres that expand and improve the Grammys as an institution—such as the creation, in 1976, of the Best Latin Recording category. Sometimes, they're convention-defying flukes: underground heroes the Wu-Tang Clan winning their only award to date via Method Man's collaboration with voter-friendly R&B diva Mary J. Blige on 1995's "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By." And sometimes, they're simply a single great album, artist or song that squeaks through the process to claim a well-earned award.

Here, then, is a partial list of those times when the Grammy Awards have gotten it right—from country to classical, hip-hop to electronic to alternative, and from Best New Artist to Album of the Year.

Stevie Wonder - Innervisions - Album of the Year - 1974
Stevie Wonder rightly dominated the Grammys throughout the 1970s, winning numerous Best Song, Performance and Vocal awards. Innervisions, which contains such stone cold classics as "Living for the City" (which won its year's award for Best R&B Song), "Too High," "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" and "Higher Ground," was his first of many Album of the Year wins. It seems that the Grammys don't mind wild creativity when it's mixed with staggering ability. – Nick Dedina, Google Music

Various - O Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack - Album of the Year - 2002
This was another one of those Album of the Year moments that went against convention in the right way and was reflective of a much bigger cultural phenomenon. It also netted Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" and Best Male Vocal Country Performance for "O, Death." – Nate Cavalieri, Google Music

OutKast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below - Album of the Year 2004
Rap's had a legit beef with Grammy over the years, but this double set Album of the Year winner proved conclusively that hip-hop didn't have to follow any set of rules or conventions and was free to chase any muse it wanted to. It helped that "Hey Ya!"—which also won for Best Urban/Alternative Performance—was the most-played radio song of the year. – Nick Dedina, Google Music

The Fugees - The Score - Best Rap Album 1997
With The Score, the Fugees' bohemian blend of hip-hop crossed over, to the mainstream's delight. They also won that year's Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for "Killing Me Softly." – Laura Checkoway, Google Music

Amy Winehouse - Back to Black - Best New Artist 2008
Amy Winehouse didn't make it to the Grammys in 2008—she was undergoing rehab treatment and had difficulties obtaining a work visa—so she participated via satellite from a soundstage in London. The British soul singer's multi-platinum sophomore album Back to Black swept five Grammys that night, including Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance—the latter three awards befittingly for her hit "Rehab." – Laura Checkoway, Google Music

Suicidal Tendencies - Lights... Camera... Revolution - Best Metal Performance 1991
Though up against Grammy-sweepers Metallica, these Crossover Thrash titans were given the nod on one of their most metallic records to date, and for one of the most heralded songs in their repertoire. With lyrical gems like "you wouldn't know what crazy was if Charles Manson was eating Fruit Loops on your front porch," the academy certainly gets some praise for the inclusion of SoCal's famed cycos! – Jen Guyre, Google Music

Helmet - Meantime - Best Metal Performance 1993
Though NIN took home the win for Best Metal Performance this year, the nod that went to Helmet's heavy metal game-changer is commendable in and of itself. "Unsung" guitarist Paige Hamilton showed how taking jazz-influenced riffs and an alternative sensibility could still convey heaviness alongside technical prowess and anger alongside catchiness. For that, this album still remains as influential now as it was then. – Jen Guyre, Google Music

Lamb of God - Sacrament - Best Metal Performance 2007
As modern metal mainstays Lamb of God continue to take their brew of thrash, groove and death metal to new heights, their first Grammy nom (and repeated nominations thereafter) show that the frontrunning band can easily stand alongside 2007 Best Metal Performance winners Slayer. Even with one of the catchiest (albeit explicit and utterly pissed off) songs of their career. – Jen Guyre, Google Music

Damian Marley - Welcome to Jamrock - Best Reggae Album 2006
After a period of dancehall dominance, Damian Marley's first album ushered in a new millennial return to roots reggae, albeit with a hip-hop edge. The title track, which also won for Best Urban/Alternative Performance, became a worldwide anthem. – Tomas Palermo, Google Music

Radiohead - Kid A - Best Alternative Album 2001
Kid A saw the '90s alternative rock greats greeting the new millennium by absorbing IDM electronics into their already inventive sound. Radiohead had already won the Best Alternative Album category for 1997's OK Computer, and would go on to win again for 2009's In Rainbows, but with Kid A, the Academy honored a refreshingly experimental and richly rewarding paradigm shift of an album. – Eric Grandy, Google Music

Daft Punk - Alive: 2007 - Best Electronic/Dance Album 2009
This is some good robotic hotness and, no matter your feelings about Daft Punk, noble for fending off less-than-sensible competition in the same category from Cyndi Lauper's Bring Ya to the Brink. – Andy Battaglia, Google Music

Béla Fleck - Throw Down Your Heart: Tales from the Acoustic Planet - Best Contemporary World Music Album 2010
This one is initially interesting mostly conceptually (retracing the banjo's path from Africa to American folk), but for a concept album, it also actually functions surprisingly well. Béla does his Béla thing, but the collaborators (and just the sometimes ingenious collaboration ideas) are often fantastic. – Rachel Devitt, Google Music

Method Man & Mary J. Blige - "I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need to Get By" - Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group 1996
Though I suspect it slid in on the technicality that Grammy voters really love Marvin & Tammi, this still deserves mention as the only Wu-Tang record to ever win a Grammy. – Andrew Nosnitsky, Google Music

The Roots & Erykah Badu - "You Got Me" - Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group 2000
Same as above—ultra-acclaimed undergroundish rap act wins most likely on the strength of the hook. – Andrew Nosnitsky, Google Music

Patty Griffin - Downtown Church - Best Traditional Gospel Album 2011
It's almost unheard of for a non-traditional, non-gospel artist to get nominated, and then win, the award for Best Traditional Gospel Album—think Shirley Caesar, Albertina Walker, et al.—but folk wonder Patty Griffin and a slew of her alt-country/Americana friends did it with a collection of traditional gospel classics turned end-up. – Melissa Riddle-Chalos, Google Music

Eddie Palmieri - The Sun of Latin Music - Best Latin Recording 1975
It took a while, but the Recording Academy first acknowledged the contribution of Latin artists to American music in 1975, and acknowledged it rightly, handing Eddie Palmieri the award for Best Latin Recording. – Judy Cantor-Navas, Google Music

Pinetop Perkins & Willie "Big Eyes" Smith - Joined at the Hip - Best Traditional Blues Album 2011
When the great Pinetop and Big Eyes win a Grammy, it's a victory for all those who understand that the blues have nothing at all to with Clapton, Stevie Ray and Jeff Healey. Perkins also became the oldest Grammy winner ever, at 97. – Justin Farrar, Google Music

Jordi Savall, Hesperion XXI - Dinastia Borja (The Borgia Dynasty) - Best Small Ensemble Performance 2010
Jordi Savall & Hesperion XXI's Dinastia Borja (The Borgia Dynasty) is a remarkable retrospective of composers of the Renaissance era during the time of the Borgia family. While the Borgia dynasty's reign in Spain and Italy was darkened by power struggles, abuses and papal subterfuges worthy of a thriller, their patronage of the arts enabled the rise of the Renaissance, the music of which is brought gloriously to life in this 2010 Grammy winner. – Catherine M. Gollery, Google Music

Tom Waits - Bone Machine - Best Alternative Music Album 1993
Tom Waits was puzzled when he was awarded a Best Alternative Music prize—and then later won a folk award, too. Well, the great artists are undefinably unique, and this remains a more challenging album than just about anything else people gripe about the Grammys snubbing. – Nick Dedina, Google Music

Vince Gill - These Days - Best Country Album 2008
From a field that included white-hot young guns Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley, as well as superstars Tim McGraw and George Strait, Gill won for an unprecedentedly ambitious four-disc box set of all-new material with an enormously eclectic range of styles, from bluegrass to pop and R&B. – Jim Allen, Google Music

Chucho Valdés - Chucho's Steps - Best Latin Jazz Album 2010
The stereotype is that the greatest jazz soloists are all dead and buried. The Grammys keep reminding people that Chucho Valdés is not just a giant of Cuban music, of Latin music and of jazz, but also one of our greatest living pianists. – Nick Dedina, Google Music

Black Uhuru - Anthem - Best Reggae Album 1985
The Grammys launched the Best Reggae Album category in 1985 with Black Uhuru's timeless Anthem, produced by Sly and Robbie, with lead singer Michael Rose sounding visionary. – Tomas Palermo, Google Music

Esperanza Spalding - Chamber Music Society - Best New Artist 2011
Spalding's Best New Artist award was so right on and a brave, extremely hip choice. Compared to the pop artists she was up against, she was a complete unknown. But Spalding is also the kind of artist who could be transformative for her genre's audience, which is something you can't say for Bieber, Drake or Mumford & Sons. – Nate Cavalieri, Google Music

Beck - Odelay - Best Alternative Music Album 1997
Nominated for Album of the Year (it lost to Celine Dion's Falling Into You) and winning for Best Alternative Music Album, Beck's follow-up to Mellow Gold felt like scanning the year's radio dial and mixing it all into one astounding album—a dizzying, Dust Brothers-produced collage of folk, hip-hop, big beat electronica and rock. – Eric Grandy, Google Music


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