As the GRAMMY Awards grew in influence and magnitude, they perhaps inevitably grew in controversy as well. As early as the 8th Annual GRAMMY Awards, signs were already appearing that, like all awards shows, the GRAMMYs could never please everyone. A February 23, 1966, Variety article headlined “Razzberries For GRAMMYs” took The Academy to task for slighting the R&B world in favor of country and western, and for overlooking Bob Dylan, “the single most influential figure in the pop field since Elvis Presley.” In his March 7, 1966, commentary on the GRAMMYs in the Los Angeles Times, Charles Champlin reported on both slights and noted “among the 218 final nominations in the 47 categories there is nary a single one any place for Bob Dylan…The electric-haired poet-composer-performer of ‘Tambourine Man’ and a satchel-full of other recording successes, has to be counted one of the most influential as well as one of the biggest money-spinning talents to emerge big in 1965.” When you consider the fact that among those other 1965 recording successes in Dylan’s satchel was a little something called “Like A Rolling Stone,” it’s hard to argue even all these years later.
In the post-Beatles and Dylan era, the musical and generational range within the pop and rock categories was growing, with certain growing pains perhaps a built-in result. For lovers of surreal juxtapositions, the results could be fascinating. In the Best New Artist category, for instance, Welsh sensation Tom Jones ultimately triumphed over the likes of not just Herman’s Hermits but also jazz pianist and composer Horst Jankowski. History does not record whether Herman’s Hermits and Jankowski drowned their sorrows together at the bar afterwards.
Prior to this “Best on Record” airing, the 8th Annual GRAMMYs were presented at a dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills—with Jerry Lewis on board to emcee—as well as simultaneous events by Recording Academy chapters in New York, Chicago and Nashville.
Thanks in large part to the massive crossover success of his song “King of the Road,” the gifted and witty singer/songwriter Roger Miller was the king of the night. Following his five wins at the 7th Annual GRAMMY Awards, Miller won six more GRAMMYs the second time around during the 8th Awards—Best Country & Western Song, Best Country & Western Vocal Performance, Male, Best Country & Western Single, Best Country & Western Album, as well as Best Contemporary (R&R) Vocal Performance, Male, and Best Contemporary (R&R) Single. Indeed, “King of the Road” proved so overwhelmingly popular with voters that “Queen of the House,” a soundalike female answer record by Jody Miller (no relation), was itself deemed to be the Best Country & Western Vocal Performance, Female.
The Chairman of the Board was also royalty on this GRAMMY night. Frank Sinatra’s brilliantly brooding song cycle September of My Years, produced by Sonny Burke, won Album of the Year, while Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year” also took the award for Best Vocal Performance, Male, over Paul McCartney for his performance on the Beatles’ “Yesterday.”
Another of the big winners at the 8th Annual GRAMMY Awards — Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass — won three awards including Record of the Year for “A Taste of Honey” and were given the honor of being the first musical performers on “The Best on Record” NBC special. No less than Bob Hope opened the show, coyly referring to generational divisions in show business when he noted that the special featured “just about every great artist in the musical world with the exception of Sonny & Cher. We hoped to have them but Sonny didn’t have a tuxedo and Cher wouldn’t loan him hers.” Hope also offered a little history lesson for the new generation of music lovers, holding up an award, and helpfully explaining, “This is a GRAMMY—that’s short for gramophone for those of you who were born post-Frankie Avalon. From this crude hand-cranked instrument has sprung the billion-dollar recording industry.”
Whatever divisions were at work within the industry, there were sublime GRAMMY moments on this “Best on Record” show, none more so than when GRAMMY winner Duke Ellington along with Tony Bennett teamed up to perform “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” On the show, following a tribute from Dinah Shore, Bennett handed Ellington the third ever Bing Crosby Award. In a charming if seemingly scripted moment, Ellington then asked Bennett if he and his group could have “the pleasure of merging our dulcet cacophony with the melodic contour of your aural facet of agreeability.” Ellington and Bennett’s altogether stunning collaboration was so gorgeous a musical merger that watching two masters at work, it was hard to think any controversies or generational tensions could matter.