In the overcrowded world of award show programming, the Grammy Awards can arguably be considered the most entertaining and unpredictable. With its selection of loud music, outrageously dressed performers and the constant threat of provocative comments and behavior, the show is rarely dull.
But slip in a bootleg video of “The 13th Annual Grammy Awards,” broadcast live on March 16, 1971, and you will find yourself in a completely different socio-musical world. The tunes were not ear-splitting, the performers were dressed too tastefully, and the show offered an incredibly bizarre definition of musical talent.
Running a relatively scant 90 minutes, “The 13th Annual Grammy Awards” kept its focus on the pop and country music selections. Awards were presented for R&B and jazz, but there were no performances from the stars of those categories. Folk, classical, sacred/gospel and Broadway music was never mentioned (although awards were given in those categories separate from the broadcast).
You can get an idea of the desired audience for this Grammy show via the selection of the host: Andy Williams. Whatever his talents as a singer, Williams was a terrible comedian and he dropped a remarkable skein of unfunny and frequently offensive jokes across the night. Among his bombs: blaming a recent Los Angeles earthquake on Mama Cass Elliot falling out of bed, noting the nude cover of the “Two Virgins” album proved “that John is not one of the Lennon Sisters,” introducing Lainie Kazan by reminding the audience of her large breasts, and observing that “John Wayne is tall – when I first saw him, I thought someone bleached Wilt Chamberlain.” Ouch!
Even stranger than having Williams do one-liners was the presentation of the five songs nominated for Record of the Year. Of the five, only one tune was performed by the original recording artists: “We’ve Only Just Begun” from The Carpenters. One song obviously could not be performed by the original artists: The Beatles were already disbanded when “Let it Be” got its nomination, so Dionne Warwick filled in by doing the song as Bacharach lite-style pop ditty. Warwick’s number was staged with a curtain of beads placed behind her – clearly the set designer mistook “Let it Be” for “Lots of Beads.”
Two of the original performers were inexplicably absent from the broadcast and had their hit songs ruined by inappropriate replacements. Ray Stevens’ “Everything is Beautiful” was steamrolled by the Osmond Brothers, dressed like Elvis in his Vegas act and singing a hideous concoction which could be called Mormon Funk. James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” was covered by a stoic, stolid Anne Murray while a group of showgirls did an inane interpretative dance as phony flames were superimposed on the screen. Having Taylor’s song performed by a woman gave the lyrics a strangely lesbian tinge, though in the midst of the madness no one seemed to mind.
The fifth song was the oddest: Aretha Franklin turning “Bridge Over Troubled Water” into a lush soul declaration. The problem was not Franklin, who gave the best performance of the night. Instead, Simon and Garfunkel were very much present, sitting front and center in the audience. But this was during the final period of their partnership and the duo, who were separated by a woman seated between them, never looked at each other or smiled during the show. Their agitation was so great that Simon didn’t even bother saying thanks to the audience when the song won Record of the Year and when he won the Song of the Year honor as the songwriter for that instant classic.
Speaking of acceptance speeches, no one said anything beyond a mere thanks. Even the most dramatic audience response of the night, which accompanied the surprise appearance of Paul McCartney (with his wife Linda) to accept the Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special Award, was capped by McCartney saying a mere “Thank you!” before disappearing from the show. (Herb Alpert, a guest presenter, deviated from the script to offer a sincere word of praise for McCartney’s attendance at the broadcast.)
But for the rest of the show, “The 13th Annual Grammy Awards” was fascinating for its sheer strangeness. Some of the presenters were having a seriously off-night: Lynn Anderson was sporting a large chin brace (she never explained why, only joking that she was trying “to keep my chin up), Nancy Sinatra boasted of having the flu, John Wayne (who announced the award McCartney accepted) appeared to have indulged in a few too many drinks and was visibly bobbing and weaving, Brook Benton and Glen Campbell could not see the distant TelePrompter during their respective podium turns and needed Williams to help read the nominations out loud, and Zsa Zsa Gabor (introduced by Williams as being “beautiful and talented”) flustered co-presenter Bob Newhart (for the comedy recording award) by the ad-libbed suggestion he was fathering children out of wedlock.
Beyond the nominated songs for Record of the Year and a melody of abbreviated versions of the Best Country Song nominees, the only other musical moments was an appearance by Three Dog Night singing “Joy to the World” and a very long tribute to Henry Mancini which allowed Williams to croon “Moon River.” Mancini showed his appreciation to this banality when he presented an award by stiffly ordering the TelePrompter operator to roll past the scripted banter so he could announce the nominees and the subsequent winner (and, obviously, get off the air).
In fairness, there was one genuinely funny moment: Nancy Sinatra slammed both the Grammy event and her famously peevish father by claiming “He would’ve been here tonight, except that he didn’t want to come.”
“The 13th Annual Grammy Awards” was never shown again on American television after its live broadcast. For no clear reason, it turned up as a Japanese video (with Japanese subtitles to the talk, not the songs, and without the original commercials). The bootleg I have came from this unlikely source – the visual quality is iffy in parts, but to be frank I could do without seeing the Osmond Brothers dressed like Elvis or Anne Murray singing woefully about wanting to see Suzanne again in HDTV.
For anyone nostalgic for the music of the early 1970s, this one’s for you. And for those who think the contemporary Grammy shows are unpleasant, this one’s for you as well!
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.
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Posted on September 23, 2005 in Features by Phil Hall
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