For the GRAMMY Awards, 13 would prove to be an extremely lucky number. For the first time in its history, the show had its very first live telecast—a significant departure from the previous pre-taped broadcasts showcasing certain winners a month or two after the Awards presentation. Finally, the excitement of the GRAMMYs could be enjoyed by viewers in real time.
And there was a lot to enjoy. Imagine Andy Williams delivering a joke about John Lennon appearing nude on the cover of the “Two Virgins” album (actual punch line: “The cover proved that John isn’t one of the Lennon Sisters”) or a cultural event in which jazz legend Duke Ellington and “The Partridge Family” hunk David Cassidy appear back-to-back in the list of stars, and you’ve imagined the kind of broad cultural landscape the GRAMMY Awards often traverse on a single show. You’ve also pretty clearly imagined the 13th annual telecast rightly billed as being “for the first time live from Hollywood.”
In great GRAMMY tradition, the show offered many fascinating examples of the counterculture and the old guard mixing and mingling in surprising and entertaining ways. It was telling that one of Williams’ most successful opening gags involved trying to find a group that would appeal to everyone—to which he, of course, suggested the Grand Funk Tabernacle Choir. This would also prove to be a big GRAMMY night for both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel and Karen and Richard Carpenter, all of whom took home multiple major awards.
This 90-minute show was centered around performances of the five songs nominated for Song Of The Year, often shot through beads, abstract stage designs and other ’70s style artifacts: Ray Stevens’ “Everything Is Beautiful” was sung by the Osmond Brothers, who were dressed a bit like Elvis for the occasion. The Carpenters played their own “We’ve Only Just Begun.” Anne Murray sang James Taylor’s “Fire And Rain,” with dancers dressed like flames heating things up around her. Aretha Franklin sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as Simon and Garfunkel watched from the audience. And finally, Dionne Warwick offered up an elegant take on the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” The winner was Paul Simon for writing “Bridge Over Troubled Water”—an award presented by master songwriter Burt Bacharach, who would repeat that role several times through the years, most recently at the 49th awards in the company of Seal. Simon, who would later serve as a GRAMMY host, was especially terse in giving his thanks this night: just a nod. Bridge Over Troubled Water also won Album Of The Year, while the title track took Record Of The Year, Best Contemporary Song and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists. While accepting the awards, the tension between the duo, which had recently called it quits, was palpable at the podium and they departed in opposite directions.
The Carpenters, meanwhile, won both Best New Artist (over Elton John and the Partridge Family) and Best Contemporary Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus for “Close To You.”
The nominees for Best Country Song were also performed by an impressive array of singers—Charley Pride, Conway Twitty, Wanda Jackson, Marty Robbins and a nearly clean-cut Hank Williams Jr. who did Merle Haggard’s “Fightin’ Side Of Me.” The winner, “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife,” was written and performed by Marty Robbins.
The political climate also made its mark: The late Martin Luther King Jr.’s Why I Oppose The Vietnam War took home the GRAMMY for Best Spoken Word Recording.
Yet possibly the most memorable presentation of the night—besides an entertainingly sloppy and much referenced presentation by soul singer/songwriter Brook Benton who seemed to be speaking more gibberish than English, and after which Williams jokingly reminded the audience, “We’re coming to you live tonight…”—came when another Duke besides Ellington took the stage to present a GRAMMY—John Wayne himself, who presented the award for Best Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Or Television Special. The GRAMMY went to the Beatles for the Phil Spector-produced Let It Be (an album and quasi-documentary film) over such other distinguished nominees as Johnny Mercer with Henry Mancini (Darling Lily), Alfred Newman (Airport), Johnny Mandel (M*A*S*H) and Fred Karlin (The Sterile Cuckoo). Paul McCartney clearly thrilled the crowd by appearing to accept the award, bringing his wife Linda onstage. The surprise, last minute appearance was a well-guarded secret with only a few GRAMMY officials aware that the first live telecast would be graced by an appearance by the man they call the Cute One.
Though McCartney’s actual acceptance comments were exceedingly brief (“Thank you. Goodnight.”), the visual of the happy couple standing beside the great Western star remains forever priceless—True Grit with a real Beatle.