The general field categories at the Grammys always seem to cause the most debate. In its history, one of the most highly debated categories has been Record of the Year.

Per the Recording Academy, the screening criteria for Record of the Year are the following:

“Recordings entered for consideration in this Category should represent the best overall achievement. The elements to be considered are the performance, production and engineering; secondary elements for consideration are songwriting/composition, arranging and performance of the backup vocalists and musicians, as applicable”

Clearly, all of those elements are subjective. Everyone has different ideas on what constitutes greatness in those elements. However, not every choice for Record of the Year has aged well.

We combed through all of the Record of the Year nominees and winners throughout the entire history of the Grammy Awards. Our list below spans seven decades, from the 1960s to the 2020s. Admittedly, we side with the Recording Academy on many of their Record of the Year choices. Despite this, there were some years we took issue with the song that was awarded this prestigious honor.

Many of our choices below certainly benefit from hindsight. The Grammy Awards are often a snapshot in time, and they can’t account for how well songs age. Meanwhile, some of the past Record of the Year winners can be viewed as “emotional” wins and honor certain artists posthumously.

Without further ado, here are 17 times we think the Grammys got Record of the Year wrong.

 

The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, will air live (8:00-11:30 PM, LIVE ET/5:00-8:30 PM, LIVE PT) on the CBS Television Network and will stream on Paramount+ (live and on demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or on demand for Paramount+ Essential subscribers the day after the special airs).

  • Percy Faith - 'Theme from A Summer Place' (1961)

    “Theme from A Summer Place” is a lush piece of orchestral music. It has two notable distinctions. To begin with, the song holds the record for being the longest-running instrumental song to top the Billboard Hot 100 at nine weeks. On top of that, it was the first song from a film to win Record of the Year. (You can thank us for that fun fact later if it ever comes up during a trivia game.)

    However, despite its obvious beauty, it really doesn’t hold a candle to two of the songs it was nominated against: Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” and Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

    Again, many of our issues are with how these choices have aged in hindsight. Then again, perhaps the larger issue here is the overall taste of the voters in the Recording Academy.

  • Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto - 'The Girl from Ipanema' (1965)

    Sure, “The Girl from Ipanema” is an undeniable classic. However, so is The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which was also nominated for Record of the Year. Truth be told, the competition for Record of the Year in 1965 was pretty steep. Also nominated that year were Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” Louis Armstrong’s “Hello, Dolly!” and Barbra Streisand’s “People.”

    But I mean…The Beatles were right there! 

  • Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass - 'A Taste of Honey' (1966)

    Speaking of The Beatles, they lost Record of the Year in 1966 to Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’ “A Taste of Honey.” What Beatles song was nominated, you might ask? “Yesterday.” Friggin’ “Yesterday,” which is only one of the greatest pop songs of all time! (Of course, if you’re Classic Rock magazine, you might view “Yesterday” as the worst song in the entire Beatles catalog. Then again, that’s a crazy statement we've already directed.)

  • Olivia Newton-John - 'I Honestly Love You' (1975)

    “I Honestly Love You” broke Olivia Newton-John in the United States. In fact, the song was a massive hit around the world topping the singles charts in the United States, Canada, Sweden and Australia. Its whisper-quiet delivery just hasn’t aged as well as other songs nominated for Record of the Year this year. You know what song has aged well? Fellow nominee “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” by Elton John, and we’re not even counting the awesome live duet version with George Michael. Simply put, Sir Elton should have won.

  • George Benson - 'This Masquerade' (1977)

    Honestly, sometimes it feels like the Recording Academy goes out of its way to completely alienate any sort of mainstream sensibilities. An eight-minute smooth jazz hit beat out some pretty big pop tunes for Record of the Year in 1977. Among them were Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs” and Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now.” It even beat Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight,” which still holds the title* for “Best Song About a Nooner.”

    * Not an actual title, but it should be.

  • Billy Joel - 'Just the Way You Are' (1979)

    Even the Piano Man’s biggest fans have to admit that compared to fellow nominee “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, “Just the Way You Are” shouldn’t have taken Record of the Year. Also nominated for Record of the Year in 1979 was Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” which should’ve won a special award from the Recording Academy for “Sweetest Sax Riff Ever.” (Shout out to sax player Raphael Ravenscroft!) By no means is “Just the Way You Are” not worthy. This is just a case of another nominee just being better, in our opinion.

  • Christopher Cross - 'Sailing' (1981)

    At the 1981 Grammys, Christopher Cross became the first artist to sweep the four major general field categories: Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Record of the Year. While we’re not debating the other three categories, it’s just mind-boggling that Cross won Record of the Year. He was up against the likes of Kenny Rogers’ “Lady,” Bette Midler’s “The Rose,” Frank Sinatra’s “Theme from New York, New York” and Barbra Streisand’s “Woman in Love.” Seriously, what a stacked group of nominees for Record of the Year! How the Recording Academy was able to choose a winner is difficult to wrap your mind around.

  • Toto - 'Rosanna' (1983)

    The 25th Annual Grammy Awards that took place in 1983 was another infamous ceremony that’ll be forever known as the “Toto year.” Not only did Toto IV win Album of the Year, “Rosanna” won Record of the Year. Sure, the nominees in the Record of the Year field aren’t exactly the strongest collection of songs in Grammy history. But Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind” and Vangelis’ classic instrumental “Chariots of Fire” are just better, more impactful songs. Here’s an idea for the Recording Academy: Maybe they should go back and review winners, similar to how Rolling Stone reranked its list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All.” We’re not suggesting stripping any Grammy Awards, but things like this are just always fun to debate. Afterall, why do you think we’re taking the time to write this list in the first place?

  • USA for Africa - 'We Are the World' (1986)

    It’s understandable why “We Are the World” won. Sure, it was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and it raised a bunch of money for various African relief efforts. Plus, it gave us that funny/awkward Bob Dylan GIF. But, and this needs to be said, “We Are the World” isn’t a good song! Literally any other song nominated for Record of the Year could’ve won, and it would have been great. There were some stellar tunes nominated! Also nominated for Record of the Year in 1986 was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” and Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love.”

  • Steve Winwood - 'Higher Love' (1987)

    By now on this list, you’ll have noticed that some of the songs that won Record of the Year are actually really good, but their competition was just better, especially in hindsight. Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” falls under that distinction. Great song? Yes, but better than Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”? Nope, but it was definitely better than Dionne Warwick and Friends’ “That’s What Friends Are For.” Similar to “We Are the World,” “That’s What Friends Are For” raised money for a good cause (AIDS research), but the song was just too cheesy.

  • Bobby McFerrin - 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' (1989)

    Oof! What on Earth was the Recording Academy thinking with this one?! This is one of the worst Record of the Year winners of all time, and for obvious reasons that we don’t even have to get into with this novelty tune. Literally any other nominee could have won, and it would have been an outstanding choice. Those nominees? Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” Anita Baker’s “Giving You the Best That I Got,” Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and Steve Winwood’s “Roll with It.”

  • Natalie Cole (with Nat King Cole) - 'Unforgettable' (1992)

    Sometimes the Recording Academy makes choices based more on emotions than anything. That was seemingly the case when “We Are the World” won in 1986, and that certainly seemed to be the case in 1992 when Natalie Cole did a duet of sorts with her father, Nat King Cole, on a cover of his classic tune “Unforgettable.” Is it the biggest crime the Record Academy ever committed? No, but this is yet another example of truly incredible songs being overlooked for the sake of a “moment.” The four other songs nominated against “Unforgettable” were Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby,” Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion” and Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About.”

  • Coldplay - 'Clocks' (2004)

    #GrammysSoWhite? In the case of Record of the Year at the 2004 Grammys, that could be easily argued. Coldplay’s “Clocks” is a great song with a great piano hook, but it was very much the “safe” choice out of the field of nominees, which included The Black Eyed Peas & Justin Timberlake’s “Where Is the Love?” and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” However, Record of the Year easily could have been a tie between Beyonce ft. Jay-Z’s “Crazy in Love” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” Both tunes have been far more impactful in recent years.

  • Ray Charles & Norah Jones - 'Here We Go Again' (2005)

    Yet another emotional choice. “Here We Go Again” was featured on the posthumously released Genius Loves Company and is Ray Charles’ final studio album. Charles is an undeniable legend. That goes without saying, but “Record of the Year”? No, this should have either gone to Green Day’s “American Idiot” or Usher ft. Lil Jon & Ludacris’ “Yeah.”

  • Kings of Leon - 'Use Somebody' (2010)

    If you’re a Kings of Leon fan, “Use Somebody” is the moment where the band grew into a more pop, less garage/southern rock sound. Once again, it’s not a bad song, but it just hasn’t aged as well as other nominees. Among them are Beyonce’s “Halo” and Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” Both were better, more impactful songs. (Also, people need to do a favor and revisit Kings of Leon’s first three albums, because their raucous sound then was just so cool.)

  • Gotye ft. Kimbra - 'Somebody That I Used to Know' (2013)

    This is definitely one of the Recording Academy’s biggest errors in recent years, especially when it’s been proven that Gotye is yet another one-hit-wonder. As with previous choices, it seems as though literally any other nominee up for Record of the Year would have been the better choice that also would’ve have aged gracefully. In this case, the other nominees were The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You,” Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and fun. ft. Janelle Monae’s “We Are Young.” The Recording Academy’s mission probably isn’t to go out of their way to annoy people, but it sure does feel like it sometimes.

  • Billie Eilish - 'Everything I Wanted' (2021)

    “Everything I Wanted” secured back-to-back Record of the Year wins for Billie Eilish. (She won the honor in 2020 for “Bad Guy.”) While there was stiff competition for Record of the Year in 2021, it just seemed like the year was Megan Thee Stallion’s coming out party, similar to Eilish in 2020. “Everything I Wanted” is a great song; “Savage” is just better. You don’t have to be classy, bougie or ratchet to realize that.

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