Held during a period of tremendous cultural transition for the country and only a matter of months before the Summer of Love, the 9th Annual GRAMMY Awards reflected a certain amount of love and peace between music’s past, present and future. This was, for instance, a year when The Academy recognized the achievements of both the Chairman of the Board and the Fab Four. Sinatra’s recording of “Strangers in the Night” was named Record of the Year and Sinatra: A Man and His Music was awarded Album of the Year. Sinatra also received the Best Vocal Performance, Male, award for “Strangers in the Night.”
The Song of the Year GRAMMY, on the other hand, went to John Lennon and Paul McCartney for “Michelle” recorded by the Beatles, and McCartney also won the Best Contemporary (R&R) Solo Vocal Performance, Male or Female, for “Eleanor Rigby” — with that abbreviation of “rock and roll” in parentheses perhaps grammatically reflecting some slight ambivalence about the rock music now impacting the pop categories. The Beatles’ groundbreaking Revolver was also honored for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts, for the work of Klaus Voormann, a friend of the band since their days in Hamburg, Germany.
When “The Best on Record” show aired in May, it too reflected the marked duality of the music that was on the airwaves in 1966. After a show introduction from Steve Lawrence in which he noted, “If music happens to be your bag, I know we couldn’t drive you away from this set with a long-playing used car commercial,” Tony Randall introduced the first musical number of the show: a retro yet trippy performance of “Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band, which won the Best Contemporary (R&R) Recording, despite not being terribly R or R. During the song, at least one member of the group could be seen sipping tea. Afterwards, Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits fame noted, “I must be honest, personally I found them a bit raucous—musically.”
Restoring some order, Robert Preston, star of Meredith Willson’s Music Man, introduced a candle-lit performance by Eydie Gorme, the GRAMMY winner for Best Vocal Performance, Female (“If He Walked Into My Life”)—a decision that he declared was “more unanimous than a Russian election.” The win for Jerry Herman in the Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album for Mame was celebrated with a rousing appearance by Louis Armstrong singing the Broadway smash’s title song. Actress Edie Adams saucily referenced Herman’s earlier success with Hello, Dolly! by noting, “He scored with Dolly and he scored with Mame and got a GRAMMY for both—which makes him one of the most celebrated bigamists on Broadway.”
After singing a few bars of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” Frankie Avalon and Buddy Greco joked that anyone who sings like Ray Charles was “Italian, whether he wants to be or not.” They then introduced Charles as “one of the greatest Italian singers,” before the Genius of Soul performed his classic version of “Crying Time” for which he had won the GRAMMYs for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording and Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance, Male or Female. The most surreally intriguing introduction on this “Best on Record,” however, had to be Liberace’s comments before a fantastically psychedelic rock video for “Strawberry Fields Forever” was played: “England has produced a variety of talent ranging all the way from Richard Burton to Twiggy. This next group is somewhere in between.”
On a show where almost every presenter and performer wore formal evening wear, Liberace continued a running joke about the wild fashions currently enjoyed by the younger generation. The long-haired Beatles, he said, could take some credit for kicking off the Carnaby Street mod clothing fad “that all the kids are wearing today. I guess if you’re young and enjoy wearing garish clothing, there’s really no harm in it,” he said.
Before introducing the Anita Kerr Singers—winners of the Best Performance by a Vocal Group (“A Man and a Woman”)—comedian Godfrey Cambridge got off a few topical lines, again taking a swing at the hippies’ affinity for long hair and boots: “I guess you’ve heard that the Mamas and the Papas are expecting a baby. They can hardly wait. It’ll be the first time they really know which is the Mamas and which is the Papas.” (The California quartet took home the Best Contemporary [R&R] Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental, GRAMMY for their radiant hit “Monday, Monday.”)
Pat Boone then awarded Ella Fitzgerald the Bing Crosby Award for outstanding artistic contribution, after which she performed “Satin Doll” and “Don’t Be That Way,” bedecked in a shimmery red gown. She was ably backed by the telecast’s music director, Les Brown, who helmed the show’s house band.
Finally, Sammy Davis Jr. wrapped up the hour with a true touch of Rat Pack genius as only he could. Dramatically smoking a cigarette, Davis explained, “A phonograph record can be a magical thing. It can make you laugh, make you cry, lift you up, let you down easy. It can make you wig out, and even more important—if you’ve got the right kind of sounds, man—it can make her wig out over you.”