RIFF REWIND: “Hey Jude,” “Billie Jean” and other songs that didn’t win a Grammy

Shawn Mendes

Shawn Mendes performs at Poptopia at SAP Center in San Jose on Dec. 1, 2018. He’s nominated for Song of the Year for “In My Blood” at the Grammys, held Feb. 10. Photo: Alessio Neri.

Tomorrow night is the 61st annual Grammy Awards.

The music world is supposedly buzzing, but I am not. The Grammys are garbage. With the rare exception of a Fantastic Negrito or Weird Al win, the voters consistently award the blandest, most comfortable songs and albums. It’s almost become a tradition unto itself.

Since it’s such a rich, varied field of study, and I don’t want this column to be 4,500 words long, I’m going to stick to the Song of the Year category. That means the time Blood, Sweat & Tears’ self-titled album beat Crosby, Stills & Nash, Johnny Cash’s At San Quentin and The Beatles’ Abbey Road isn’t going to come up. I’m not even going to include the time …And Justice For All lost the inaugural Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance award to, of all people, Jethro Tull.

Jethro Tull has a flautist and won Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. Over Cliff Burton-era Metallica! Alice Cooper was visibly confused and he announced the winner.

Anyway, here are songs that didn’t win a Grammy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when Brandi Carlile beats Drake, Cardi B, and Janelle Monáe for Album of the Year tomorrow. [Gokhman note: Carlile’s album is worthy].

The Beatles — “Hey Jude”

I seriously considered using that intro but just listing Beatles songs. Lennon and McCartney were nominated but did not win for “Hey Jude,” “Yesterday,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” and “Let It Be.” The only Song of the Year award they got was for “Michelle,” which I think we can all admit was not their best effort.

So why does “Hey Jude” get singled out as the most egregious snub? Because it lost to “Little Green Apples” by O. C. Smith, which was released by Roger Miller a year prior then re-released by Smith and Patti Page. It’s not awful but it’s… fine. Here’s a link if you want to hear it. Grammy voters in 1969 thought that was better than timeless classic “Hey Jude,” as well as fellow nominee “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel.

If “Little Green Apples” sounds familiar, it’s because a cover was released in 2013 by Robbie Williams and Kelly Clarkson, because of course it was.

The Eagles — “Hotel California”

Even if you share The Dude’s view of The Eagles I guarantee you know the words to “Hotel California.” It’s one of the most lasting, most famous songs of all time, and it’s held up brilliantly for over 40 years and counting. It was nominated for Song of the Year in 1978 but it did not win.

Why is this a big enough deal to make my top five? Because it didn’t just lose to one song, it lost to two of them. There was a tie for winner between Barbara Streisand’s “Evergreen” from the third version of A Star is Born and Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.” Both those songs were voted as being better than “Hotel California.”

That’s not a typo by the way. The Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga version of A Star is Born is the third remake. It came out in 1937, starring Fredric March and Janet Gaynor; in 1954 with James Mason and Judy Garland; in 1976 with Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand; then the latest one. In 2045 humanity’s last survivors will stage a puppet show remake on a cave wall under the Great Antarctic Desert.

Michael Jackson — “Billie Jean”

The winner in 1984 was Sting’s “Every Breath You Take,” which isn’t the worst song, even though it’s got an extremely creepy stalker vibe that will never cease to make me uncomfortable.

But it beat two songs off Thriller, one of the best-selling and most highly-regarded albums of all time. Absolutely nobody in the entire world, other than the 1984 Grammy voters, would say “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” were worse than “Every Breath You Take.” None! Even Sting doesn’t think it’s a very good song!

Oh, but it gets worse. At least Thriller won Album of the Year in 1983. Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” also was nominated for and lost Song of the Year, but Richie did win Album of the Year for Can’t Slow Down… over Prince’s Purple Rain.

Sinéad O’Connor — “Nothing Compares 2 U”

Speaking of Prince snubs, Prince was snubbed for writing O’Connor’s legendary ballad. Not once in his life did he win Song of the Year or Album of the Year; it was all R&B and rock genre awards, plus one for Best Soundtrack.

Apparently the Grammy voters belatedly got over whatever horrible affront Prince committed against them, since they inducted 1999 into their Hall of Fame in 2008 and Purple Rain in 2011, despite neither actually winning Album of the Year when they came out. Because that would be silly.

So who beat O’Connor in 1991 for Song of the Year? Julie Gold for Bette Midler’s cover of “From a Distance,” a song written and originally recorded six years prior. The previous year Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar won for Bette Midler’s cover of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” originally written and recorded eight years prior.

One has to wonder what would have happened if Bette Midler covered a Prince song. The entirety of the Grammys voter base would have probably dropped dead on the spot.

Sia — “Chandelier”

I’m already out of list so we have to skip ahead to 2015, the most recent outrageously poor decision, which means skimming over the ’90s and ’00s. So here’s what nonsense you missed:

  • “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt lost to “Sunny Came Home” by Shawn Colvin.
  • “Lose Yourself” by Eminem lost to “Dance with My Father” by Luther Vandross.
  • “Fuck You” by Cee Lo Green lost to “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum.
  • Billy Ray Cyrus’ crime against humanity, “Achy Breaky Heart,” was nominated for Song of the Year. It didn’t win, thank god, but one of the worst songs ever recorded was nominated for Song of the Year. Really. It was also nominated for Record of the Year. I wish I was making that up. It’s a thing that happened and we have to live with that.

Now that you’re all caught up, back to Sia. “Chandelier” is a brilliant, amazing song, and if you disagree you’re wrong. Also, if you disagree you’re likely a Grammy voter, since it lost to Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me,” which is notable for sounding exactly like Sam Smith looks.

But oh, we’re not done. “Stay With Me” also beat Hozier’s modern standard “Take Me to Church,” which is a better song by any standard. And the last two nominees? Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” and Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” which don’t have the depth or timeless quality of Sia or Hozier’s entries but are also way, way better than anything Sam Smith has ever done.

So you go ahead and watch the Grammys ceremony. I’ll just wait until the next morning to sigh dramatically at how absurd their choices were.

Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData

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