The 12th Annual GRAMMY Awards should go down in history for at least two major reasons. First, this would be the very last “Best On Record” show before the GRAMMYs once and for all transformed into an annual live telecast event. Second, this was also the year that comedy great Bob Newhart actually chose to wear a green tuxedo on the show, a fashion choice that will live in a sort of charming Austin Powers-ish infamy.
Presented on NBC, and thankfully in “living color,” this “Best On Record” show was more than simply a fascinating time capsule of ’70s fashion. This year’s studio-based GRAMMY telecast suggested that the time had come to take the great leap forward to a live telecast, both because the actual presentations had now grown to an unwieldy five simultaneous dinners across the country, and since this final taped show revealed “The Best On Record” had become a curious hybrid of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and a pre-MTV video clip program. The show opened with smooth crooner Jack Jones in a sort of brown vest-dress singing the soon-to-be much recorded “Games People Play,” which won both Song Of The Year and Best Contemporary Song for the song’s writer, Joe South, who also had the first hit version. Further evidence of the song’s popularity was that soul sax great King Curtis also won Best R&B Instrumental Performance for his version of “Games People Play.”
As was now tradition, the actual GRAMMY presentation dinners were star-studded and far-flung. Bill Cosby—who once again won the award for Best Comedy Recording—was the master of ceremonies in Los Angeles, while those duties were handled by Merv Griffin in New York, Regis Philbin in Chicago, Jack Palance in Nashville and Ray Stevens and Steve Alaimo in Atlanta.
Among the other big winner’s during the first GRAMMY presentation to be held in the ’70s was the jazz-rock horn band Blood, Sweat & Tears who won GRAMMYs for Album Of The Year (Blood, Sweat & Tears) and Best Contemporary Instrumental Performance (“Variations On A Theme By Eric Satie”), while Fred Lipsius won Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) for the group’s smash “Spinning Wheel.” The gig of introducing Blood, Sweat & Tears on “The Best On Record” show fell to Sammy Davis Jr. who did not disappoint, providing some of his fantastically charming patter. “BS&T have accomplished the impossible,” Davis noted of the group who had an impressive four nominations for the year. “They have spanned the generation gap, the communication gap, the credibility gap, the sex gap and, yeah baby, the color gap. Everybody digs them.” Instead of a live performance, the show then featured a sort of early rock video of the band hanging on the road as “Spinning Wheel” played.
Yet the most unforgettable and downright surreal video of the show had to be Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?,” the year’s winner for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Female, and a nominee for Record Of Year—a category once again revealed live at the end of “The Best On Record” telecast. Lee appeared alone in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom—emphatically not singing the verses of the song. The result was strangely brilliant, as if David Lynch were suddenly directing the GRAMMY show.
Meanwhile, the single most soulful performance—and possibly the most fiercely funky ever—belonged to the Isley Brothers. Introduced by Sonny & Cher—who showed the humorous flair that would launch their comedy hour the next year—as “the only act that can drown us out,” the Isleys proceeded to whip up a fantastic and slightly frenzied rendition of “It’s Your Thing,” which won the GRAMMY for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group.
Other notable winners included Joni Mitchell’s GRAMMY for Best Folk Performance for Clouds, Quincy Jones’ victory for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Large Group Or Soloist With Large Group for Walking In Space and Harry Nilsson’s win for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Male, for his version of “Everybody’s Talkin’” from the soundtrack to the film Midnight Cowboy.
In the country music world, two future icons won, with Tammy Wynette taking home the GRAMMY for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female, for her classic “Stand By Your Man,” while Johnny Cash won Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, for “A Boy Named Sue.” Interestingly, the Man in Black wasn’t just honored for his vocal performance, but his literary performance as well, as he received the Best Album Notes award for his contributions to his friend Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline.
“A Boy Named Sue”—written by cartoonist and children’s book author Shel Silverstein—was also honored as Best Country Song, a moment in history noted by Bob Newhart who in introducing Cash confessed, “I’m a little worried what historians are going to think of us when they discover one of the biggest songs of my era was entitled ‘A Boy Named Sue.’” Ultimately, Newhart probably should have been a little less worried about that song and a little more concerned about that green tux.