by Julian Spivey
The Grammy award for Album of the Year has fared a little better over the years than the category of Song of the Year, but it’s still honestly hit or miss when you look back through time at the winners.
Here are the 10 Grammy Album of the Year winners that I believe are the greatest of all-time:
10. “O Brother, Where Art Thou” by Various Artists
I’m not sure if I’m completely cool with movie soundtracks winning Album of the Year, but I do think it’s cool that the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou” briefly made bluegrass and other forms of music born out of Appalachia cool. The soundtrack featured performances from Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and mostly notably “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” by The Soggy Bottom Boys, which includes Union Station member Dan Tyminski on vocals.
9. “The Joshua Tree” by U2
I’m admittedly not a huge U2 fan and honestly believe a large portion of their discography is overrated, but The Joshua Tree doesn’t fall into that category. The only U2 album I’ve ever owned featured the group’s greatest song “With or Without You” and a couple of more solid singles in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” The Joshua Tree won Album of the Year In 1988.
8. “Supernatural” by Santana
Carlos Santana pretty much owned popular music in 1999-2000 with his Album of the Year winner Supernatural. The collaborative album between the legendary guitarist and many stars in a multitude of genres included the 12-week No. 1 smash “Smooth,” featuring Matchbox Twenty front-man Rob Thomas, and the 10-week No. 1 hit “Maria Maria,” featuring R&B group The Product G&B. Supernatural also featured collaborations with Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, Everlast, Lauryn Hill and more.
7. “Still Crazy After All These Years” by Paul Simon
The Grammys have loved them some legendary singer-songwriter Paul Simon over the years with him winning three Album of the Year awards between his solo career and time with Simon & Garfunkel. Spoiler alert: all three of those albums appear on this list. Still Crazy After All These Years took home the honor in 1976 and featured the terrific title track, the catchy “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and the excellent regrouping with Art Garfunkel on “My Little Town.”
6. “Unplugged” by Eric Clapton
I’m really not a huge fan of live albums consisting of mostly older material taking home the honor of Album of the Year, but in 1993 it was hard to deny Eric Clapton’s Unplugged, which was recorded as part of MTV’s acoustic concert series “MTV Unplugged.” The album featured Clapton’s tragic response to his young son’s death “Tears in Heaven,” plus a memorable (and somewhat unrecognizable) acoustic version of “Layla.” Unplugged also featured many great blues numbers: Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues,” Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me.”
5. “52nd Street” by Billy Joel
Billy Joel’s 1978 album 52nd Street, which took home the Grammy Album of the Year in 1979, is probably not Joel’s best album – many would say that would be The Stranger, which preceded it. However, the album featured some killer tracks in “My Life” and “Big Shot” and would see “Honesty” nominated for Song of the Year, losing to the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes.”
4. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles
I figure this placement will be controversial. Many believe The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to be the single greatest album ever recorded, including Rolling Stone magazine. However, I don’t even believe it to be The Beatles greatest album – I’m in the corner of Abbey Road. However, there’s no denying ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ is terrific and it does feature my favorite Beatles song in the album closing “A Day in the Life.”
3. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel likely saved their best album for their last in 1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, that would win Album of the Year in 1971 after the duo’s breakup. The album’s beautifully soaring title track would also win Grammys for Song and Record of the Year. Bridge Over Troubled Water also featured “The Boxer,” which I consider to be the greatest Simon & Garfunkel recording, as well as “The Only Living Boy in New York,” which kind of foresaw the duo’s breakup.
2. “Rumours” by Fleetwood Mac
Oftentimes beautiful art comes from times of great pain and turmoil and that was certainly the case with Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours, which would win Album of the Year in 1978. Fleetwood Mac contained two sets of couples within the group: Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and John and Christine McVie with both breaking up before the making of the album leading to much angst and moodiness in tracks like “Go Your Own Way,” “Never Going Back Again” and “Dreams.”
1. “Graceland” by Paul Simon
I will make no apologies for my love of Paul Simon, who is a singer-songwriter legend and in some small ways underrated. His 1986 album Graceland, winner of Album of the Year in 1987, was a unique and wonderful mixture of sounds from all over the world including pop, rock, zydeco, a capella and African music like mbaqanga. Graceland is one of my favorite albums of all-time featuring terrific tracks like “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” “You Can Call Me Al,” “That Was Your Mother” and, of course, the title track.