(The following is an excerpt from And The GRAMMY Goes To...: The Official Story Of Music's Most Coveted Award.)
Like several other GRAMMY shows of the era, the 15th Annual GRAMMY Awards ceremony—broadcast live from Nashville’s Tennessee Theatre and hosted by Andy Williams—seems in retrospect to be an intermittently mind-blowing, impressively eclectic study in contrasts, from a first performance by the decidedly clean-cut Mike Curb Congregation to the Album Of The Year award going to The Concert For Bangladesh, the spiritual predecessor of such global pop goodwill efforts as USA for Africa, Live 8 and Live Aid.
Taking his cue from the previous year’s name-game jokes, host Andy Williams kidded about some songs that weren’t nominated—including “Last Tango In Paris” by Henry Kissinger, “One Less Bell To Answer” by heavyweight fighter Joe Frazier, “I Am Woman” by Alice Cooper (jokes about Cooper’s gender-bending name would become a running gag for the next few years) and Burt Reynolds’ version of “Superfly.”
He then introduced a convincing performance of “Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins & Messina, nominees for Best New Artist. Immediately afterward, the 5th Dimension offered a singing presentation of the nominees and the award went to America on the strength of the megahit “A Horse With No Name,” with Dusty Springfield accepting on their behalf.
This night in Nashville then took a country turn with Charley Pride performing “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’” followed by Loretta Lynn and Eddy Arnold presenting him with the GRAMMY for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male (it also nabbed Best Country Song for songwriter Ben Peters). The Staple Singers then gave one of the most inspiring and inspired performances of the night with their Stax soul gospel masterpiece, “I’ll Take You There,” with Mavis Staples in particularly fine form.
In arguably the night’s most unlikely pairing, the wonderfully tough-talking comedienne Moms Mabley was partnered with wholesome singer Johnny Mann of the Johnny Mann Singers to present the next award for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus. Donning her glasses and looking Mann over, Mabley told the crowd with perfect timing, “You all got to be kidding.” The award went to the Temptations for “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” with their old friend Smokey Robinson accepting (the song would win three GRAMMYs on the night for the group, arranger Paul Riser, and songwriters Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield).
The show’s mind-bending eclecticism continued for the rest of the night, from Donna Fargo singing the impossibly upbeat “Happiest Girl In The Whole USA” (and winning Best Country Vocal Performance, Female) to Curtis Mayfield and some funky interracial dancers in glitter Afros performing the gritty junkie lament “Freddie’s Dead” from Superfly. In between were some of the year’s biggest hits, including Mac Davis’ “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally.”
Other highlights of this GRAMMY evening included the great Johnny Cash delivering a little Recording Academy history like it was a great American train song. He described the organization as “fast-moving, creative and exciting like the recording industry itself. I’m Johnny Cash and I’m proud to be a part of it,” the Man In Black said in conclusion, as only he could. Close friends Harry Nilsson (who won Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, for his version of Badfinger’s “Without You”) and Ringo Starr (who accepted the Album Of The Year award on behalf of George Harrison and the other Concert For Bangladesh participants) made a memorable award presentation that saw them reading their lines in nearly perfect unison.
And in a wonderful early display of feminism on the GRAMMYs, Helen Reddy sang her anthem “I Am Woman” then, in accepting the award for Best Pop Performance, Female, she finished with one of the greatest acceptance lines of all, “...And I would like to thank God because She makes everything possible.”