Friday, February 10, 2006


Not too much to say, actually. I find it somewhat amusing that one of the very few nominated (for anything) albums I actually bought, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, won Album of the Year. Kind of dishonest for me to call the win "well-deserved" since I know pretty much zilch about the competition, but I always like seeing the boys get recognized. And a five-for-five sweep is some substantial recognition going on there.

I will say that the Song of the Year category always seems like an odd once to me. It's meant to be a songwriting award--it goes not to the artist or producer but just to the songwriter. As such, it should, or at least I think, be meant to honor a song that's, well, well-written--a song that evidences its overwhelming quality on the page, not just on record or on stage. Now, I love me my U2--that's clear. But they are not, nor have they ever been a "songwriting" band. It was Dylan who said something about how great U2's songs are, but that only they can play them. And there's some truth to that.

Take a look at the song they won for Wednesday night: "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own." A great, great song--passionately felt and emotional. But if you look at the sheet music (you can actually view a page at the on-line sheet music store musicnotes, if you install some software), it's a very, very simple song, as are many of U2's songs. Simple chords, a simple rhythm, not much fancy going on harmonically or melodically. Again--I love the song. I'm not knocking it. But as a pure piece of songwriting, as a composed set of notes and lyrics that you could hand to other artists to have them sing, it's not brilliant. And certainly not the best example of the craft of songwriting from all of last year.

U2's magic happens not on paper, but in the way that they take those basic musical ideas and transform them, either on stage or in the studio. It's a particular kind of alchemy, and it's breathtaking. Remember--huge U2 fan here. But as pure songwriting? Brilliant? Not really.

Now, this is more about the Grammys than U2. Here are the last 15 Song of the Year winners:

2004 - John Mayer, "Daughters"
2003 - Richard Marx and Luther Vandross, "Dance with My Father"
2002 - Jesse Harris, "Don't Know Why"
2001 - Alica Keys, "Fallin'"
2000 - U2, "Beautiful Day"
1999 - Itaal Shuur and Rob Thomas, "Smooth"
1998 - James Horner and Will Jennings, "My Heart Will Go On"
1997 - John Leventhal and Shawn Colvin - "Sunny Came Home"
1996 - Gordon Kennedy, Tommy Sims, and Wayne Kirkpatrick, "Change the World"
1995 - Seal, "Kiss from a Rose"
1994 - Bruce Springsteen, "Streets of Philadelphia"
1993 - Alan Menken and Tim Rice, "A Whole New World"
1992 - Eric Clapton and Will Jennings, "Tears in Heaven"
1991 - Irving Gordon, "Unforgettable"
1990 - Julie Gold, "From a Distance"

Reasonable folks may differ, and there are some good examples of songwriting in there, but I'd suggest that there are also a lot of wins where pure songwriting isn't really being honored. Like I said, it's an odd category, and one where I realy wish the criteria and voting were more rigorous.
But what do I know?

Until Whenever

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