There was a lot to honestly love about the 17th Annual GRAMMY Awards, and not just because wholesome heartthrob Olivia Newton-John won both Record Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, for “I Honestly Love You.” This fifth live GRAMMY telecast, from the Uris Theater in New York, was an extremely lively and often surprising affair. Returning host Andy Williams started off the night by joking about the then exploding number of new award shows, but almost immediately the night reminded viewers why the GRAMMY Awards are a show like no other.
It’s safe to say no other awards telecast would have Roberta Flack announce, back to back, that pre-telecast winners included Sebastian Cabot, Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell’s Winnie The Pooh And Tigger Too (Best Recording For Children) and Richard Pryor’s That Nigger’s Crazy (Best Comedy Recording). Or would have featured Aretha Franklin and the Righteous Brothers soulfully singing the nominations in presenting Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus, or David Essex and Sarah Vaughan vocalizing jazzily together, or Rudy Valee and Paul Williams managing to share some funny megaphone patter. And where else would you have Bad Company and Graham Central Station compete with Marvin Hamlisch for Best New Artist?
And yet once again, Music’s Biggest Night proved big enough to make it all fit together perfectly thanks to one common link—the love and joy of music. For instance, when Hamlisch won Best New Artist, he immediately charmed the crowd by declaring “The really new artist of the year, I’m happy to say, is really Scott Joplin”—a reference to the late great ragtime legend whose music Hamlisch had used so effectively for the score to the box-office smash The Sting. “I’m just very happy that we were able…to have the rest of you all hear what we had heard and really loved.”
There were numerous performances to love on this GRAMMY night, from the Spinners taking “Mighty Love” to church to Harry Chapin making his GRAMMY debut as a nominee and performer playing “Cat’s In The Cradle” with orchestral backing.
“Putting 50 pieces behind me tonight is like putting a Rolls Royce engine in a flat bed truck,” Chapin said with a charming grin, “but I’ll do my best.”
Yet let there be no doubt about who gave an astonishingly riveting performance on this night—and clearly one of the most vital and pointed GRAMMY performances in its first 50 years. Still in the middle of one of the greatest GRAMMY rolls of all-time, the magnificent Stevie Wonder had everyone in the audience, from Marvin Hamlisch to the Pips, clapping in time to perhaps his most political and angry masterpiece ever, “You Haven’t Done Nothin’”—a song that spoke powerfully to the climate of the mid-’70s in the inner cities. Ultimately, Wonder would add four more GRAMMYs to his grand total this night—Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male (both for Fulfillingness’ First Finale), Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male (“Boogie On Reggae Woman”) and Best Rhythm & Blues Song (“Living For The City” from Innervisions). And for good measure, he also just happened to write “Tell Me Something Good,” which won Rufus the GRAMMY for Best R&B Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus.
Other great performances at the 17th GRAMMY Awards show included Aretha Franklin singing “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” for which the Queen of Soul won Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female, an award presented to her by a then otherworldly David Bowie, who memorably explained, “Ladies and gentlemen, and others, I am honored to have been selected to perform this particular task. My personal award is having the opportunity to salute ce premiere femme noir.” Accepting the GRAMMY, Franklin proclaimed, “Wow, this is so good I could kiss David Bowie. I mean that in a beautiful way because we did.”
And yet that wasn’t even the most remarkable presentation of the night, nor was Bette Midler presenting Stevie Wonder wearing a 45 rpm record of the Del Vikings’ “Come And Go With Me” as her hat. No, that honor was reserved for the last award of the night, Record Of The Year, for which the unlikely power trio of Paul Simon, John Lennon and Andy Williams teamed up for some surreal but entertaining comedy referring to all of their former partners—Art Garfunkel, Paul McCartney and Claudine Longet—with the former Beatle in particular coming off as simultaneously charming and mocking. Memorably, when an absent Olivia Newton-John won the award for “I Honestly Love You,” Art Garfunkel—wearing a faux tux-T-shirt for the occasion—was chosen to accept on her behalf. “I thought I told you to wait in the car,” Simon quipped. Garfunkel also got in a great jab, asking Simon, “Still writing, Paul?”
Ironically, while an absent Paul McCartney won a GRAMMY at the 17th Annual GRAMMY Awards (Best Pop Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus for Band On The Run), this should go down as an extremely winning night for the very present John Lennon too.