Best New Artist Evaluation (1970 – 1974): The Grammys

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Evaluating Grammy’s Best New Artist: Part 3 (1970-1974)

During the early-70’s, the Recording Academy continued to become more attuned to the real popular music of the day, nominating heavier acts (Led Zeppelin, Emerson Lake & Palmer) and relying much less on mainstream pop.


The nominees:

Chicago – The biggest singles group of the 70’s, Chicago mixed radio friendly hits with occasional progressive rock epics. During the 80’s, their sound moved more towards pop from their original jazz-rock. Overall, they’ve had 35 top forty hits and 19 top forty albums.

Crosby, Stills & Nash – One of the first true supergroups with David Crosby (Byrds), Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield), Graham Nash (Hollies) and, occasionally, Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield). The group was known for their tight-knit harmonies and political causes and were a major influence on a number of artists to come along later in the decade.
Led Zeppelin – One of the greatest of the heavy metal bands, Zeppelin infused their music with blues and a large dose of mysticism. They advanced the cause of album-rock with stations around the world playing multiple tracks from their albums without the songs being released as singles (something only the Beatles had much success with previously). All ten of the albums released during their time together reached the top ten with six going to number 1, even though Whole Lotta Love (1970/#4) was their loan track to reach the top ten.

Neon Philharmonic – It’s hard to see where the nomination came from. The psych-pop group only released two albums and had a single hit, 1969’s Morning Girl, which reached number 17 on the U.S. charts.

Oliver – William Oliver Swofford scored two major hits, both with songs whose source was theatrical/film. Good Morning Starshine (1969/#3 Pop/#3 Adult Contemporary) was from the Broadway production of Hair while Jean (1969/#1 Adult Contemporary/#2 Pop) was from the film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. After that, Oliver tried to regain his initial success for a number of years, but eventually retired to raise a family and sell real estate.

Artist who should have won: Led Zeppelin
Artist who won: Crosby, Stills & Nash

Let’s use some 20-20 hindsight here. If you look at that list today, there is little doubt that Led Zeppelin should have taken the prize. They became the biggest and the most influential of any of the artists; however, if you try to see it from the perspective of the voter in 1970, you had Crosby, Stills and Nash, three singers from three major bands, with one of the biggest and best reviewed albums of the year. On the other hand, you had Led Zeppelin who had just released their first album and, while innovative, it didn’t really foreshadow the brilliance of their next three LP’s. Based on that, it’s easy to see why Crosby, Stills and Nash were given the award but, from a historical standpoint, it should have been Zeppelin.

…and, really. The Neon Philharmonic?

Grade: A-


The nominees:

Carpenters – Karen and Richard Carpenter WERE pop music in the 70’s. For the entire decade, their music was a constant on both Pop and Adult Contemporary radio, scoring twenty top forty hits. Unlike many AC artists, they also had a firm grip on the album buying public, with five albums reaching the top ten and a total of seven in the top forty.

Elton John – The man who started out being the guy with the flamboyant clothing and glasses matured into one of the greatest singers and songwriters (with Bernie Taupin) of the rock era. Their intricate songs many times challenged the listener and the record’s lengths challenged radio programmers with their routine five-plus minute running times. He has had 58 records reach the top forty and 38 albums reach the same heights. A rare combination of artistic and commercial success.

Melba Moore – Initially an actress on Broadway (Hair, Purlie), she only had one minor album at the time of this nomination. Later in the decade, Moore would go on to score a number of R&B and disco hits.

Anne Murray – The Canadian songbird broke huge with her first record, Snowbird, reaching number 8 in pop and number 1 on the Adult Contemporary charts. Over the next decade, she would have eleven more top 40 hits but it was the on the country charts where she have her biggest success, scoring 41 top forty hits, even with a sound that was very smooth for the genre in the 70’s.

Partridge Family – This nomination is a bit of an anomaly because, in essence, the majority of the musicians in the recording version of the Partridge Family were experience musicians. David Cassidy, the star of the TV show, was new, but the rest of the musicians were made up of L.A.’s Wrecking Crew who had been recording since the mid-60’s.

Artist who should have won: Elton John
Artist who won: Carpenters

There is no doubting the brilliance that was Karen Carpenter’s voice but, let’s face it, the Carpenters were a clean-cut pop group who were definitely the safe choice for the academy. Elton John, though, had released two brilliant albums in 1970, Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection, proving that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder and that there was a tremendous amount of talent in that rather different man.

Grade: B-


The nominees:

Chase – Bill Chase, the head of the group, had been a trumpeter for Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. The rest of the horn section was also made up of veterans of jazz bands. Chase was different from BS&T and Chicago in that the brass section was exclusively trumpets, giving their records a distinct sound. They scored one hit, 1971’s Get It On (#24 Pop).

Emerson, Lake & Palmer – The Crosby, Stills and Nash of progressive rock, EL&P were the first big supergroup of the genre. Their musicianship coupled with their ability tin integrate classical pieces into their work made them darlings of the critics and public alike (although the critics later turned their back on them). Their influence on future groups such as Yes also makes them the most important of the nominees on future artists.

Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds – The three principles in the group were all members of the 60’s group the T-Bones (No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In)). They went to number 4 on both the Pop and Adult Contemporary charts in 1971 with Don’t Pull Your Love. After a member change (Reynolds left) but no name change (at the request of the record company), they went to the top of both charts with Fallin’ in Love (1975).

Carly Simon – One of the biggest of the singer-songwriters of the 70’s, Simon wrote from the heart and personal experience, recording songs both haunting (That’s the Way I Always Heard It Would Be) and fanciful (Mockingbird with then husband James Taylor). The biggest thing holding her back from even bigger success was her stage freight which kept her away from touring for many years. She had twelve top forty hits and thirteen top forty albums.

Bill Withers – Withers broke onto the scene with a trio of hits (Ain’t No Sunshine (1971/#2 Adult Contemporary/#3 Pop/#6 R&B), Lean On Me (1972/#1 Pop/#1 R&B/#4 Adult Contemporary) and Use Me (1972/#2 Pop/#2 R&B) before some personal and business problems knocked him out of the spotlight and into a number of years where he worked mainly in collaborations. One of those, Just the Two of Us with Grover Washington, Jr, brought him back to the radio in 1981. In recent years, he has stayed out of the spotlight.

Artist who should have won: Carly Simon
Artist who won: Carly Simon

There will be those that disagree, but Carly Simon proved herself to be a cut above the other emerging singer-songwriters with her first three albums. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were certainly talented and have made some classic music, but they tended to drift too often to the bombastic.

Grade: A


The nominees:

America – Their debut single, A Horse With No Name, sounded like a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young record but they would go on to differentiate themselves over the decade as being a group with much more to offer. Through the mid-80’s, they had eleven top forty singles and eight top forty albums.

Harry Chapin – One of the great purveyors of the story song, Chapin ignored many of the rules of the day, breaking the five-minute barrier on his first hit, Taxi and going on to record a total of eight studio albums filled with songs both whimsical (40,000 Pounds of Bananas) and tragic (Sniper). Killed in a 1981 car accident, his great efforts in fighting world hunger have led to an organization in his name that fights for the cause to this day.

Eagles – The group became the poster boys for the southern California music scene of the 70’s, recording not only their own songs but those of songwriters like Jackson Browne. Their status grew throughout the decade and, by the time they released Hotel California, they were one of music’s most respected and successful artists. Their album Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) keeps trading places with Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the biggest selling LP in U.S. history while the Hotel California disc is also in the all-time top ten.

Loggins & Messina – Kenny Loggins was a successful songwriter and Jim Messina had just left Poco when they formed a duo that would be the most successful pairing of the early-70’s. They were able to combine radio-friendly music (You’re Mama Don’t Dance, My Music) with more intricate, progressive jams (Vahevala, Angry Eyes) and occasional pieces of singer-songwriter brilliance (Danny’s Song) in a way that few other had at the time.

John Prine – Prine wrote some of the most brilliant, biting and sardonic music to come out of the folk movement of the day. While he never broke through as a major artist, his songs went on to become popular for other artists (Angel From Montgomery (Bonnie Raitt), Hello In There (Bette Midler)) and he remains a major and respected artist in Americana and folk circles.

Artist who should have won: Eagles
Artist who won: America

There was not a lot of distance between artists in what may have been one of the strongest New Artist fields ever. History has shown that the Eagles were the most deserving of the award, not only for their strength as a group but also on the work of each of the individuals as solo artists. Harry Chapin was one of the great masters of the story songs and a great humanitarian. John Prine is a brilliant, witty songwriter.

That leaves America, a good but rather derivative group, and Loggins and Messina, another set of good musicians that didn’t really advance music in any way, but were simply entertaining. Unfortunately, the Academy looked past the greatness of the first three artists and decided to go with the good but mainstream.

Grade: C


The nominees:

Eumir Deodato – Better known as simply Deodato, he has had great success in both jazz and Latin circles but is best known for his spacey 1973 instrumental take on Also Sprach Zarathustra (Theme From 2001: A Space Odyssey) which went to number 2 on the Pop and number 5 on the Adult Contemporary charts in 1973.

Maureen McGovern – McGovern went from secretary to number one recording artist in just a few months when she recorded The Morning After from the movie The Poseidon Adventure. For the next few years, she became the go-to singer for movie themes, capturing success with We May Never Love Like This Again from The Towering Inferno, Can You Read My Mind? from Superman and Different World from the TV show Angie. Over the next three decades, she has matured into a sophisticated interpreter of popular songs who has worked both in cabaret and theater.

Bette Midler – Bold, brassy and loud are just three words to describe one of the great entertainers of our time. She has been a triple threat with hit singles and albums, starring roles in major films (two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (The Rose & For the Boys)) and as a major concert attraction. Her recent run of shows in Las Vegas was one of the most successful in the city’s history.

Marie Osmond – The only sister in the singing Osmond family, Marie cut her teeth young singing with her brothers and had her first major hit at the age of 14 with Paper Roses. She spent the 70’s not only recording solo but also as a duet with her brother Donnie, with whom she also hosted a successful variety show. Her later years have included additional recording, acting on Broadway and hosting TV talk shows.

Barry White – While he was recognized as a new artist in 1974, White had actually been recording for twenty years already. His debut was at the age of 11 playing piano of Jesse Belvin’s Goodnight My Love and later working as a songwriter and producer for a number of labels. His recording breakthrough came in 1973 with I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little Bit Baby which he followed with eleven more top forty hits into the 90’s.
Artist who should have won and did win: Bette Midler

The Grammy went from a very strong field in 1973 to a rather weak one in 1974. When it comes down to it, only two of the artists were really deserving of the award, Midler and Barry White and, while White was relatively innovative in his creation of disco love songs, it was Midler who turned out to be the great performer whether on record, the concert stage or film.

Grade: A

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