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Saturday, February 9, 2008

50 years of hits and misses at the Grammy awards

50 years of hits and misses at the Grammy awards

The Grammys will blow out 50 candles on the birthday cake next Sunday. But the awards themselves boast hundreds of memories - some giddy, some ghastly - that together chronicle the highs and lows of the last half century of mainstream music.

Certainly the decisions about who wins these awards can be as daft as any arts contest - missing entire trends during their most vital periods (grunge, what grunge?). Or snubbing whole genres for years (Tejano, alterna-R&B anyone?).

Yet there's no denying that the Grammys represent a kind of mass consensus of taste, comprising "the official story" of pop in any given period.

A look at the last half century of prizes and plaudits offers a telling survey of how the culture serenaded itself - from the lounge-pop of the Fifth Dimension in the mid to late '60s, to the singer-songwriter peak of the early '70s (with Carole King's big win), to the disco takeover in the Bee Gees' winning season (1977-78).

While much crucial music history takes place far offstage from this event, the Grammys have a way of catching up with it, eventually. And the organizers have made major strides in just the last half decade to live down the show's longtime put-down of a nickname, "The Grannies."

One week before this year's pivotal event, we toast the Grammys' enduring status with a rewind through its 50-year story. For each show, I've named the key trends, standout performances and outright boners that have, if nothing else, made this show music's greatest argument-starter.

(Note: Each year represents the one in which the honored music was released, not the subsequent one in which the show aired.)

2006 The Police opened the show with a pile-driving take on "Roxanne," representing the trio's first major public performance in over 25 years. Award-wise, it was an uncommonly political year. The Dixie Chicks swept all the top categories for songs that answered the flak they received for their pitched Bush bash.

2005 In a rare move, rock dominated this year, with top prizes forked over to Green Day and U2. Meanwhile, the best new artist, John Legend, gave a performance that deftly brought back swank to modern R&B.

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