For the 11th Annual GRAMMY Awards, the live presentation ceremony and “The Best On Record” special were linked as never before—bringing the show one step closer to the live telecast that would follow in two years. The winner for Record Of The Year was not announced during the awards dinner so that the winner could instead be revealed during the NBC special that aired nearly two months later on May 5. To accomplish this, five separate awards announcements and acceptance speeches were taped. Just an hour before air time, a network official opened the envelope and instructed a machine operator to insert the correct reel into the master tape. The decision proved somewhat controversial. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, staff writer Wayne Warga reported that when Los Angeles Chapter President Irving Townsend announced at the awards dinner that an award was being held back to help ratings, “The audience booed him. Fortunately, nobody threw anything. This was probably because the waiters had wisely cleared the tables.” Apparently performances by Jackie DeShannon, Lou Rawls, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart and Bill Medley were far better received.
There was no booing whatsoever when “The Best On Record” finally aired—indeed this edition of “The Best On Record: The GRAMMY Awards Show” felt downright giddy thanks in part to the presence of opening and closing act Dan Rowan and Dick Martin whose “Laugh-In” show had become the comedic rage since its debut in 1968. Interestingly, “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” was—like “The Best On Record”—produced by George Schlatter, a synergy that lent the proceeding a certain “Laugh-In” like, slightly off-color, “sock-it-to-me” charm.
Accordingly, comedians figured quite prominently in this hour of TV. Flip Wilson introduced Jeannie C. Riley’s performance of “Harper Valley P.T.A.”—a winner for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female, and a nominee in the still open Record Of The Year category—by declaring, “Country music has come a long way since the washboard and kazoo. Nowadays they use electric washboards and electric kazoos.” Don Rickles appeared alongside Tiny Tim for a surreal introduction of a fascinating and unusual clip of another of the Record Of The Year nominees—Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” Asked to film a performance of the song, Simon & Garfunkel suggested instead that they would prefer to film a segment at an empty Yankee Stadium—a seeming nod to Joe DiMaggio who figured in the song’s lyrics. Executive Producer Ted Bergmann recalls Paul Simon saying, “Art and I will run the bases while you play ‘Mrs. Robinson.’” The resulting clip is a fantastic, offbeat early rock video—a truly winning non-performance GRAMMY performance. Tommy Smothers introduced the Los Angeles cast of “Hair,” which then performed two songs from “The American Tribal Love Rock Musical,” spotlighting both Delores Hall and Jennifer Warnes, the latter of whom would return to win a couple GRAMMYs more than a decade later.
It took a village—okay, actually the entire King Family—to introduce Best New Artist and Best Contemporary Pop Vocal Performance, Male, winner Jose Feliciano, and the singer/guitarist did the whole family proud with a powerful rendition of “Light My Fire.” Burt Bacharach introduced a strong performance of “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” by Dionne Warwick—GRAMMY winner for Best Contemporary Pop Vocal Performance, Female. “She has a voice and a style and a warmth that gives any song a very special meaning,” he said, clearly from personal experience. Mama Cass, meanwhile, introduced a performance clip of “Hey Jude” by the Beatles—another nominee for Record Of The Year.
Toward the end of “The Best On Record,” Henry Mancini appeared to introduce “the big one we’ve all waited for” — the winner of Record Of The Year. Ultimately Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” prevailed over not only the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” but also Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey.” Accordingly, the pre-taped speech came from Art Garfunkel who, wearing a tux but holding a baseball, graciously — and theoretically — accepted on behalf of producer and engineer Roy Halee and “my best friend Paul Simon who wouldn’t wear a tuxedo today.”
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