Held during a year of widespread disco dancing, wide lapels and bicentennial celebration, the 18th Annual GRAMMY Awards were hosted for the sixth time by Andy Williams. By this time, Williams was beginning to express a few complaints—albeit completely comedic ones for his monologue. “Although I’ve never won anything…one should not have to pay for one’s own parking, or share one’s dressing room with the Captain & Tennille’s bulldogs.” And in one of his racier lines, Williams also noted that the GRAMMY Awards were now 18 years old, adding, “So you can now take your GRAMMY across state lines without violating the Mann Act.”
True to Williams’ promise that “we’ll be opening more envelopes than the CIA,” the show got down to business following a rousing first performance of “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” by Natalie Cole (which would win Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female). Presenters Helen Reddy and Neil Sedaka then revealed that Cole had won the GRAMMY Award for Best New Artist. Before handing out the award for Best Jazz Performance By A Group—won by Chick Corea & Return To Forever—jazz vocal giants Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé offered one of the evening’s most spontaneous and winning performances with a master class in scatting. Academy President Jay Cooper then introduced Henry Mancini who narrated a tribute to the music of the Windy City, Chicago—from its rich legacy in the blues to classical. Celebrating the music of Academy Chapter cities would be a theme from 1976 through 1979, with Atlanta, Memphis and San Francisco saluted in addition to Chicago.
Producer and director Marty Pasetta peppered the 18th GRAMMY broadcast with a series of psychedelic graphic effects that made even Ray Steven’s rendition of “Misty” feel a little trippy. Indeed there was something nice and trippy about a year in which Stephen Sondheim won Song Of The Year for his Broadway ballad “Send In The Clowns,” while the Best Pop Instrumental Performance GRAMMY went to Van McCoy for “The Hustle.” Disco also emerged victorious in the Best R&B Instrumental Performance category where Silver Convention’s “Fly, Robin, Fly” rose to the occasion. With wins in both pop and R&B categories, disco was starting to show the short-lived hold it would soon have on the music world. Meanwhile, the ever-soulful Earth, Wind & Fire won their first GRAMMY in the Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus for “Shining Star.” That award was handed out by Aretha Franklin and the Lockers, the funky dance troupe who gave the watching world a little disco lesson.
But this was also a fine night for members of the ’70s singer/songwriter movement. Paul Simon, a defining figure in that genre, won Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, for his work on Still Crazy After All These Years. Janis Ian won Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, for her confessional ballad “At Seventeen,” while Larry Alexander, Brooks Arthur and Russ Payne were awarded the Best Engineered Recording—Non-Classical for Ian’s album Between The Lines. Another singer/songwriter on the show was a white-tuxedoed Barry Manilow who performed a crowd-pleasing version of “Mandy” weaving in a bit of “Could It Be Magic” for good mellow measure.
Duos of various sorts also fared well at this GRAMMY show. Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge won Best Country Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group for “Lover Please,” and the Captain & Tennille took home the GRAMMY for Record Of The Year for their debut pop smash “Love Will Keep Us Together.”
But ultimately, the most charming thank you of the night came from Paul Simon who earlier performed “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” from a small platform in the audience. Accepting the GRAMMY Award for Album Of The Year, Simon thanked a list of people including his producer Phil Ramone and onetime partner Art Garfunkel. In the end, Simon got a tremendous laugh by concluding, “Most of all, I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder, who didn’t make an album this year.”