Such was the politically charged climate of the times that even consistently amiable host Andy Williams—decked out in a maroon velour tux with wide contrasting black lapels—couldn’t help but make a few Watergate references during the 16th Annual GRAMMY Awards show. Joking about some songs that were not nominated during his opening monologue, Williams mentioned “Why Me,” as sung by John Ehrlichman, Bob Haldeman, John Mitchell and “the whole gang” as Williams called the other Watergate co-conspirators. Even more cutting was a line that Williams later threw into his introduction of soul great and future Chef on “South Park,” Isaac Hayes, whose tremendous musical talents he said, “gave us ‘Shaft,’ which is what we’ve been getting for the last couple years.”
The 16th GRAMMY Awards were a loose and lively affair with a number of extremely soulful performances and a series of wonderful, unlikely co-presenters. The Jackson 5 teamed with jazz drum legend Shelly Manne to very musically present the first award of the broadcast for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus. The award went to Gladys Knight And The Pips for “Midnight Train To Georgia,” the group’s first win despite three consecutive previous nominations. Knight and the Pips also performed an excellent version of the now classic.
Now in its teen years, these GRAMMYs were a little bawdier than normal as well—hilariously so in the case of Moms Mabley and Kris Kristofferson’s unlikely moment as a comedy duo of sorts attempting to present the award for Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus, also to Gladys Knight And The Pips. Equally entertaining was the extended patter between Helen Reddy and Alice Cooper that found them discussing such pressing issues as the length of his “snake.” After being presented with the GRAMMY for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, by the unusual partnership of Loretta Lynn and the DeFranco Family, Charlie Rich delivered a smoldering version of “Behind Closed Doors,” his unusually carnal country crossover smash. And a pre-Reverend Al Green steamed up the Palladium with “Call Me (Come Back Home),” one of his sultry bedroom smashes.
The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler, on her way to becoming a huge star with her racy and flamboyant stage act, accepted the Best New Artist award from Karen and Richard Carpenter, whose clean cut image she had earlier parodied in her shows. “My dear, isn’t that a hoot?” Midler said after taking the award from Karen. “I’m surprised she didn’t hit me over the head with it.”
But at sweet 16, The Academy also showed it was beginning to understand its role in preserving music’s legacy. Williams announced the launch of the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, currently more than 700 titles strong, with the first five inductees: “Body And Soul” by Coleman Hawkins, “The Christmas Song” by Nat “King” Cole, Paul Whiteman’s version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue,” “West End Blues” by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” (performed with the Ken Darby Singers).
“Dueling Banjos”—a surprise crossover hit thanks to its appearance in the film Deliverance—won Best Country Instrumental Performance for Steve Mandell and Eric Weissberg, the former wearing quite possibly the biggest sideburns in GRAMMY history. These were also stoned times, and when the smoke cleared the Best Comedy Recording GRAMMY went to Cheech & Chong for Los Cochinos. For reasons related or not, it was also a year marked by a few major sound problems—most notably during Chuck Berry and Little Richard’s performing presentation of the award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male, to Stevie Wonder for “Superstition” that found the two rock legends trying to name the nominees during rousing renditions of their greatest hits. They ultimately ended up sharing a mic, which Berry accused Richard, perhaps characteristically, of trying to keep to himself.
This was also a banner year for two of the most gifted talents of this or any other era—Roberta Flack and Stevie Wonder. Flack and producer Joel Dorn won the GRAMMY award for Record Of The Year for the second year running—this time for “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” which also won Song Of The Year—an award that went to “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” the previous year. Flack also took home the GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
Wonder—in addition to performing an utterly radiant version of “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”—won four awards this night including Album Of The Year for arguably his greatest album ever, Innervisions. It was a remarkable triumph for a man who had been comatose for a week in the summer of 1973 after a serious car accident. So it was especially moving when Wonder brought his family onstage with him during his multiple acceptance speeches. Wonder dedicated his GRAMMY for Best Pop Performance, Male, for “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” to fellow nominee Jim Croce, who had died tragically in a plane crash in September of 1973. He also pointed out his brother Calvin, who had saved his life after the accident, and even allowed his mother to say a few words and express her own appreciation for the “sunshine of my life.”