Bob Schwartz

Tag: Led Zeppelin

An Askew Take on the Grammy Awards

Lorde - Grammy 2014
There are a few kinds of award shows. One is the kind that you’re glad you watched live, even if you can always see it in a recorded version later on, skipping the ads and the bad or worst parts, focusing only on the good or (if any) great parts. The other is the kind that, assuming you didn’t escape early, leaves you wondering whether or how you can get the two or three hours of your life back.

So which kind was Grammy 2014? Far from a CWOT (complete waste of time), with moments of validation, pathos, and brilliance. But with all the coverage and videos you can find, you don’t need one more. If you haven’t heard about Pharrell William’s hat or about Taylor Swift’s seizure-style hair whipping and mistaken belief that she won album of the year, check it out. Or not.

Here instead are a few askew points.

Lorde – Okay, this is close to mainstream coverage, but having written so much about Lorde before, I can’t skip it. She won Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Song for Royals. That’s best songwriting won by a seventeen-year-old. She also performed Royals, with a really haunting arrangement of an already haunting, what’s-that-sound track. She also has a softly herky-jerky stage presence, not quite Joe Cocker, but very cool and punk (unlike Taylor Swift’s hair whipping). Accepting an award she said, “Thank you everyone who has let this song explode. Because it’s been mental.” That’s her performing above.

Paul Williams – When Daft Punk won Album of the Year, one of their many awards, and couldn’t speak for themselves (because they are robots), a somewhat short older guy came to the mic, as one of the songwriters. That guy is Paul Williams, 72, who has been around the business so long that a recent documentary about him is called Paul Williams Still Alive. Many if not most viewers had no idea who this guy is, but he gave the final speech of the night, a funny, wonderful, inspirational few moments that put the whole Ryan Lewis and Macklemore/Same Love/mass gay marriage event in brightly positive context. For those who don’t know, Williams is a songwriter, singer, actor and, currently, president of ASCAP. His compositions include Top Ten hits for Barbara Streisand (Evergreen), Three Dog Night (Just an Old Fashioned Love), the Carpenters (We’ve Only Just Begun, Rainy Days and Mondays), and many more. Now he’s part of the Album of the Year in 2014. How f***g cool is that.

CBS and Language – And speaking about language, CBS or any broadcast network that wants to feature music awards, or for that matter movie or television awards, is going to have to figure out how to deal with language in 2014. Questions about the evolution/devolution of language norms and niceties are huge right now, but outside the scope of these notes. Kendrick Lamar’s electrifying performance with Imagine Dragons wasn’t spoiled by the bleeps (the button guy missed one, by the way), but it goes beyond silly to artistically hurtful. If you’re going to feature and exploit current art, take it and present it for what it is, or don’t. But if you want to feature universally praised nude paintings as cultural highlights, neither CBS nor the FCC should be putting black bars across the nice but naughty bits.

The Finale – And speaking about artistically hurtful, the show ran late, as awards shows will. The Grammys and CBS make a big promotional deal about all-star finales, in this case an interesting combination of Dave Grohl, Lindsey Buckingham, Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age. For those who don’t follow music, three of these people are in the pantheon: Grohl (Nirvana), Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) and Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails). Most of these big-name combinations don’t work, but this was really captivating, in a kind of dark, progressive, alt rock way. It seemed a little unusual as an ending, but artistic, edgy and vital. Before it was done, though, the cameras pulled back, and the sponsorship promos began, followed by the credits—all while the artists were still performing.

Reznor tweeted: “Music’s biggest night…to be disrespected. FUCK YOU guys.”

Led Zeppelin – In covering the nominations, I wrote about the absurdity of Led Zeppelin being nominated for Best Rock Album. In 2014. For a performance in 2007. Of songs released in 1975. They won.

Grammy Nominations Time Again

Neon Philharmonic
It’s Grammy nominations time again, in advance of January’s awards for the best in recorded music.

In some circles, the relevance of the Grammys is beyond question—as in there’s no question that they are irrelevant. In part that’s because of their being behind the times and missing the mark at various points. Of course awards are matters of disagreement and controversy, so it does come with the territory.

Still, there have been some infamously wild choices. Most celebrated, and the emblematic botched call, was Jethro Tull’s winning the 1988 Grammy for Hard Rock/Heavy Metal, over Metallica among others. (When asked about this today, as he always is, Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson simply notes that he presumes the band got the award for being “nice guys’ who had never won.)

It takes literally an hour to read the entire list of nominations and probably days to listen to all the nominated music. It might be fair and nice to acknowledge what Grammy got right, but that’s no fun. They don’t need anybody’s encouragement and way to gos/att boys. Instead it is more hopefully corrective to list some offbeat nominations or lack thereof.

Lorde is nominated for Record of the Year, Song of the Year (songwriting) and Best Popo Solo Performance for Royals. But she is somehow not in the running for Best New Artist. That single and the album (Pure Heroine) have been monstrously popular across a variety of audiences. By way of bonus, this is genuinely original and interesting music, and she wrote and recorded it when she was only sixteen. So if she shouldn’t win Best New Artist—there are some worthy competitors—she kind of deserved a shot at it.

On the other chronological end we have the oldsters. For that weirdness, you have to check out the Grammy history for Led Zeppelin. They were nominated as Best New Artist in 1970, but lost to Crosby, Stills and Nash (the other nominees were Chicago, Neon Philharmonic and Oliver. Oliver.). Then nothing, no nominations, nada. Even though all the major Zep albums sit somewhere in the all-time 100, not to mention some of the even-more iconic tracks. (To keep from singing Stairway, I listened to Neon Philharmonic’s big hit Morning Girl and Oliver’s Jean. That’ll keep you from getting too crazy heavy.)

The reunited Led Zeppelin performed at a benefit concert in 2007, and the soundtrack of the film of that concert was released, and has resulted in two Grammy nominations: Best Rock Performance for Kashmir and Best Rock Album for Celebration Day, the concert soundtrack.

That’s right. A band that broke up in 1980 (33 years ago), a band that reunited for one performance in 2007 (six years ago) to record a song it first released in 1975 (38 years ago) is up for two Grammys.

Take that you naysayers. Who says Grammy isn’t still “with it”? If that is what the kids are saying these days.