The 50th Annual Grammy Awards telecast Sunday was seen by 18.2 million viewers, down from 20.1 million in 2007, yet those who tuned in and stayed throughout three-and-a-half hour program were treated to a lot of drama over the evening’s top award, Album of the Year. With pre-Grammy favorite Amy Winehouse winning five out of five times over the course of the night, and Kayne West already the recipient of four Grammys earlier in the evening and venting on stage earlier that he deserved the top award, the thought was that the winner would obviously be one of them. West led with the most nominations this year, eight, followed by Winehouse with six.
Wrong. Probabaly with the vote split between them, Herbie Hancock was the surprise winner. Even Hancock was startled although he had prepared notes, which he even dropped. Considering that West sells millions of albums, Hancock’s “River: The Joni Letters,” a tribute to Joni Mitchell has sold only a scant 56,000 copies.
So why did Hancock win and by how much? Like most award shows, the tally is a secret. By the way the evening played out with Winehouse garnering three of the top four Grammys (Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist), she was a sure shot as the award was announced, in part because the Grammy’s had awarded Album of the Year to a jazz album only once before, Stan Getz/Astrud Gilberto’s hybrid “Getz/Gilberto” back in 1964.
The Mitchell tribute has songs sung by Norah Jones, Leonard Cohen, Tina Turner, Corinne Bailey Rae, Luciana Souza and Mitchell herself; another hybrid recording. Plus, the Grammy voters love to honor compilation albums, such as 2002 shocking “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” in 2002 as Album of the Year,
A lot of Grammy voters are executives in record labels who traditionally give the ballots to their secretaries and have them fill them in, with the proviso that they vote according to company lines. Thus, the victory for many composite albums over the years with this type of block voting is not uncommon among various award shows as well.
So what was the best album of the year? There is no objective way to answer. It is quite subjective with the three aforementioned artists as well as Vince Gill’s three CD set and a Foo Fighters CD. And all five won a Grammy on Sunday.