To celebrate GRAMMY’s first quarter century, the 25th Annual GRAMMY Awards featured all the excitement of a big anniversary celebration...and Toto, too.
Toto — a musically accomplished group of top Los Angeles session musicians that received relatively little credit from the major rock press of the day — got some GRAMMY love this year, winning not only Record Of The Year for their smash “Rosanna,” but also Album Of The Year for Toto IV, as well as GRAMMYs for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals to Jerry Hey and the group’s David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, and Best Vocal Arrangement For Two Or More Voices to David Paich, both for the track “Rosanna.” And in a surprisingly rare GRAMMY call out for a nay-saying rock critic, Paich got a laugh from the crowd by sarcastically acknowledging from the stage, “We’d like to thank Robert Hilburn for believing in us,” when in fact the longtime Los Angeles Times rock critic had done absolutely nothing of the sort.
Still, the 25th Annual GRAMMY Awards were for the most part an appropriately positive affair. “This is a milestone in the life of the GRAMMY Awards, and a celebration is definitely in order and in store,” host John Denver explained, adding that “some of GRAMMY’s greatest moments” from the past would be replayed throughout the night. Some new history was made on this GRAMMY night with an altogether remarkable live performance organized by then new GRAMMY producer Ken Ehrlich that featured Ray Charles, Count Basie, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard running through some of their greatest hits at four pianos — a true musical Fab Four for the ages. The ensemble started with Charles’ “What’d I Say,” then worked through Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump,” Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Little Richard’s gospel-fueled “Joy, Joy, Joy,” and Charles’ “Wish You Were Here Tonight,” before reprising “What’d I Say.”
The second performance of the night found Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes dueting on “Up Where We Belong,” their smash hit from the film An Officer And A Gentleman. This was a duet with a little GRAMMY history itself. Warnes had performed way back on the 11th Annual GRAMMY Awards’ “The Best On Record” broadcast as part of the Los Angeles company of Hair, while Cocker’s performance with the Crusaders at the 24th Annual GRAMMY Awards had helped inspire director Taylor Hackford to choose Cocker to sing “Up Where We Belong.” Cocker and Warnes would then win the GRAMMY for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal.
After some intelligent musical history offered by Recording Academy Chairman/President Bill Ivey, guitar pioneer Les Paul was presented with a Trustees Award. “I’m sorry that Mary isn’t here to accept this with me,” Paul said of his late great partner Mary Ford. “And I want to thank all the people that are watching on their radios.”
Les Paul wasn’t the only one getting in a good line. Eddie Murphy — who was all the rage on “Saturday Night Live” in 1982, the same year that would see his big-screen breakthrough in 48 Hrs. — had some stand-up fun speaking about the tension of being nominated for a GRAMMY. “You know what’s funny about this?” Murphy told the crowd. “A lot of people gonna lose tonight — and you got your tuxedos on and you’re losing and it’s funny.” Murphy then pretended to not know that he himself had in fact lost Best Comedy Recording to Richard Pryor during the pre-telecast, and declared, “See, I ain’t leaving here without a GRAMMY.” Later, when Lionel Richie won the GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, for his early solo hit “Truly,” Murphy got a standing ovation for crashing the stage and temporarily relieving the former Commodore of his glittering prize. “Who was that masked man?” Richie joked. For the record, Murphy did in fact give the GRAMMY back.
At a quarter century, the GRAMMY Awards inevitably reflected popular music in the early ’80s as MTV was just beginning to make its impact. The Best New Artist GRAMMY, for instance, went to early MTV favorites Men At Work, while the other nominees included early video stars the Stray Cats, Human League and Asia, as well as Jennifer Holliday who became a star from the original Broadway recording of Dreamgirls. Yet there was also a deep sense of history throughout the night, including a stunning R&B segment that featured an excellent run of performances from Harvey & The Moonglows, Gladys Knight & The Pips, the Spinners and, finally, Marvin Gaye who marked what would be his tragically short-lived comeback with a rousing and, yes, arousing rendition of “Sexual Healing” — for which he won two GRAMMYs.
In a rare serious moment onstage, Eddie Murphy summed up the night and the state of the GRAMMYs at 25. “You guys are not like doctors or nothing like that,” he said, “but you’re real important to people’s lives because you give people’s lives atmosphere…I thank you for being what you are and keep kicking butt in the ’80s.” As Murphy said this, GRAMMY director Walter C. Miller cut wonderfully to a sprightly Ella Fitzgerald clapping along enthusiastically.