23rd Annual GRAMMY Awards
February 25, 1981
Radio City Music Hall, New York
Eligibility Year: Oct. 1, 1979, Through Sept. 30, 1980

Winners

Record Of The Year

Sailing

Album Of The Year

Christopher Cross

Song Of The Year

Sailing

Best New Artist

Christopher Cross

The first GRAMMY show honoring the music of the ’80s (and the first ever held at New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall) was hosted by one of the most important singer/songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s, and all the years that have followed for that matter — Paul Simon. After slyly telling the Radio City crowd that both of his parents were Rockettes, Simon said, “I am very happy to be here. It’s not only a great honor to be asked, but I think it’s a very nice career move as well.”

Yet starting with the first award of the night presented on air, Best New Artist, it became clear that this night would belong, award-wise at least, to another singer/songwriter — a previously less heralded artist from Texas named Christopher Cross. At the time Cross was enjoying tremendous success with his 1980 debut album that featured such smashes as “Sailing,” “Ride Like The Wind” and “Never Be The Same.” And by the end of this GRAMMY night, the soft-spoken Texan would pick up five GRAMMY Awards including the so-called “Big Four” — Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist. For the record, no artist thus far has repeated that achievement.

Standout performances varied widely on the show from Irene Cara’s opening rendition of “Fame,” which started outside of Radio City and found the singer and dancers working their way down the aisle to the stage, to George Jones’ short but heartbreaking rendition of the country classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which earned a GRAMMY for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male. The night also featured a multiracial gospel supergroup (including the Archers, Andrae Crouch, Reba Rambo and B.J. Thomas) coming together to perform a kind of disco/gospel version of “The Lord’s Prayer” and Chuck Mangione and the Manhattan Transfer jazzing things up together on a medley of “Birdland” and “Give It All You Got.”

Appropriately enough Paul Simon played the stirring “Late In The Evening” late in the evening, and kept things moving along throughout in his own low-key and witty way. “Our next two presenters are not only great performers and legends in their own time, they’re also well-known bigots and drug abusers,” he announced at one point. Pausing for a big laugh, Simon then added, “I just wanted to say that as an introduction. Nobody ever gives that introduction actually.”

An even bigger laugh came from presenters Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb — winners in the Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. Taking the stage, Streisand and Gibb, both dressed in white as on her hugely successful Guilty album cover, looked a little sheepish.

“Barry, do you feel guilty?” Streisand asked.

“No,” Gibb told her shyly.

“No?” she said. “I do.”

“Why?” Gibb asked her. “Why would you feel like that?”

“I don’t know — I feel like I’m cheating on Neil Diamond,” she said, referring to the man with whom she famously sang “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” on the 22nd GRAMMY Awards show.

The pair then presented Billy Joel with the GRAMMY for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male, for his Glass Houses album — a category in which his fellow nominees were Jackson Browne, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Kenny Loggins. Phil Ramone — who had produced recent efforts by both Billy Joel and Paul Simon — won Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical. In his acceptance speech, Ramone took time to thank “my little Ramones...not the ones who make records — the other ones.”

One innovative moment came at the end of the show. Many years before shows like MTV’s “Unplugged” or VH1’s “Storytellers,” this GRAMMY show presented a group of songwriters nominated for Song Of The Year — including Amanda McBroom (“The Rose”), Christopher Cross (“Sailing”), Fred Ebb and John Kander (“New York, New York”), Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore (“Fame”), and Lionel Richie (“Lady”) — to both explain and perform stripped down versions of the songs. It was a vivid reminder of the power of the songwriter.

Finally, before closing the show, Paul Simon took the stage of Radio City to recall the impact of one of the greatest songwriters of all time — John Lennon, who had been killed outside New York’s Dakota apartments only months prior to the show. As Simon put it simply and powerfully, “We’ll miss his music, his humor and his common sense.”