Grammy Awards 40 years later: How the 1982 nominees stack up four decades later

The Grammy Awards, which return Sunday from Las Vegas, honor the very best of music, the songs and albums and performances that will endure for decades to come.

At least, in theory, that is. In reality? Eh, not so much.

Queen, Run-DMC, Jimi Hendrix and ABBA are pretty good, right? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thinks so. But they share a combined total of zero Grammy Awards.

At the same time, less memorable acts, like the Starland Vocal Band, Debby Boone, and a comedian doing a John F. Kennedy impersonation each won Grammys in prestigious categories. (Spoiler alert: None are in the Rock Hall.)

It’s moments like that, along with Jethro Tull beating Metallica for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental, or – two words – Milli Vanilli, that have given the Grammys a reputation for getting things wrong.

  • Members of the Go-Go’s arrive at the 24th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1982. The band, which includes, left to right, Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, and Belinda Carlisle, were nominated for best new artist but lost to Sheena Easton. (AP Photo/Doug Pizac)

  • Pop singer Sheena Easton poses with the Pointer Sisters after the Grammy Award ceremonies in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1982. Sheena won the Grammy for best new artist.” (AP Photo/Doug Pizac)

  • Rick Springfield laughs as he poses with his Grammy at the 24th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1982. Springfield won best male rock vocal performance for “Jessie’s Girl.” (AP Photo)

  • Tina Turner and James Brown shown at Grammy Awards on Feb. 24, 1982 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Doug Pizac)

  • Quincy Jones, musician and producer, shown at a Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1982. Jones was the big winner of the night with five Grammys. (AP Photo/Doug Pizac)

  • One of these things is not like the other: Rock singer Ted Nugent is seen with Adam Ant at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, Ca. on Feb 24, 1982. (AP Photo/Doug Pizac)

  • In this Aug. 22, 1980 file photo, John Lennon, right, and his wife, Yoko Ono, arrive at The Hit Factory, a recording studio in New York City. The couple’s 1980 album, “Double Fantasy,” won album of the year at the 1982 Grammys. (AP Photo/Steve Sands, File)

  • Glen Campbell at Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1982. Campbell appeared on “Sesame Country,” singing with Muppets, an album that won the Grammy for best children’s record. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

  • Kim Carnes, left, inducts Jackie DeShannon into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in New York, Thursday, June 17, 2010. At the Grammys in 1982, Carnes won record of the year for “Bette Davis Eyes,” and DeShannon with Donna Weiss won song of the year for the same single. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Sheena Easton holds her Grammy for best new artist at the 24th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1982. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

  • Songwriters Jackie De Shannon, left, and Donna Weiss pose with their Grammy award at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, Calif., on Feb. 24, 1982. They co-wrote the song “Betty Davis Eyes,” for which they won the song of the year award. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

  • Grammy winners, nominees, and attendees at the 1982 Grammys included, clockwise from top-left, Rick Springfield, members of the Go-Go’s, Quincy Jones, Adam Ant with Ted Nugent, Shenna Easton with the Pointer Sisters, James Brown with Tina Turner. (Photos by Associated Press)



So we wondered: How do the Grammy winners of 1982 stack up when considered from 2022?

The Big Four Awards

Album of the year: John Lennon and Yoko Ono won this for “Double Fantasy,” which after his murder in December 1980 became the last album of his lifetime. Don’t imagine it’s a posthumous gift, though; it’s a strong album with such songs as “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Watching The Wheels,” and “Woman.”

Oh, also: Was anything more worthy? Nope. The other nominees included Al Jarreau’s “Breakin’ Away,” Kim Carnes’ “Mistaken Identity,” Quincy Jones’ “The Dude,” and Steely Dan’s “Gaucho.”

Record of the year: Singer Kim Carnes took this one home for “Bette Davis Eyes,” which is a fine song, one we’re happy to sing loudly when it comes on the radio. And it was the top-selling song of 1981, too, not that sales equals art.

Oh, also: It beat “Just the Two of Us,” by Bill Withers and Grover Washington Jr., “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do),” by Christopher Cross, “Endless Love,” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, and “(Just Like) Starting Over,” by John Lennon. (And what was the deal with parenthetical titles in ’82?)

Song of the year: “Bette Davis Eyes” didn’t blink, picking up this Grammy as well. But this category goes to the songwriters, so Carnes didn’t get a second trophy. Instead, writers Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss got the hardware.

Oh, also: “Just the Two of Us,” “Endless Love,” and “Arthur’s Theme” also showed up here, with the final slot taken by Dolly Parton for “9 to 5.”

Best new artist: Scottish singer Sheena Easton is a fine performer, though now her star has dimmed, but was she a more worthy choice for new artist than the Go-Go’s or Luther Vandross? Other worthies such as Adam and the Ants and James Ingram were shut down in this category.

Oh, also: This might be the category where the Grammys look the worst in hindsight. Setting aside all the artists who weren’t even nominated, fantastic acts including the Byrds, Elton John, Elvis Costello, and Kendrick Lamar lost to very nice but less compelling acts like Tom Jones, the Carpenters, A Taste of Honey, and Macklemore, respectively.

(To be fair, this Grammy has gone to artists such as Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keys, John Legend and Adele more recently, so they’re doing a lot better.)

Bonus tracks

John Denver hosted the show. Bill Withers sang “Just The Two of Us.” Jerry Lee Lewis and his cousin country singer Mickey Gilley played a duet and then gave the Oakridge Boys a country music Grammy for their song “Elvira.”

Here are a few of the other highlights, lowlights, and in-betweens of the 1982 awards.

A working-class dog beat the Boss: Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” off his album “Working Class Dog,” is a fantastic singalong number. But did it deserve to win best rock vocal performance by a dude over “The River” by Bruce Springsteen? Ummm.

Sesame Stagecoach: The album “Sesame Country,” which paired Loretta Lynn with the Count, Glen Campbell with Oscar the Grouch, and Big Bird with both Tanya Tucker and Crystal Gayle, won for best children’s recording. And now all we need is for the Stagecoach Festival to get this band back together.

Dolly is Queen: Dolly Parton wrote and sang the title song for “9 to 5,” winning both best country vocal performance by a woman and best country song. And our hearts. Dolly always wins our hearts.

Late for Trane: John Coltrane, who died in 1967, won his only Grammy in 1982 for a live album, “Bye Bye Blackbird,” he recorded in 1962.

The Police cop two: New Wave rock was still edgy stuff for Grammy voters, but the Police broke down the door for the genre with a pair of wins in 1982, including best rock vocal group for “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” beating nominees such as The Rolling Stones, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, and Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Citizen Kane beats the Cute One: Orson Welles had a magnificent voice, and in 1982 he won the Grammy for best spoken word, documentary, or drama recording for reading the sci-fi novel “Donovan’s Brain.” He beat, among others, Paul McCartney of the Beatles, whose interview by journalist Vic Garbarini was released on vinyl with tracks including “Beatles Haircuts and Image,” “Negative Criticism of the Beatles and Wings,” and “New Wave, Bowie, Ferry and Elvis.”

Music videos, kinda: The Grammys didn’t know what to do with music videos. The inaugural video of the year in 1982 went to former Monkee member Michael Nesmith for “Elephant Parts,” a collection of music videos and comedy sketches. Other nominees included a laserdisc for Blondie’s “Eat To The Beat Album” – good stuff – and something called “The First National Kidisc,” also a laserdisc with interactive games for kids.

A year later, video of the year went to Olivia Newton-John for “Olivia Physical,” and after that, the category was dropped, the Grammys saying in effect, let MTV have ’em.

Heard this one before? Richard Pryor won best comedy album for “Rev. Du-Rite,” a record cobbled together from live tapes at least a decade old, to which his former label had the rights. He beat Mel Brooks, who had two nominations, the soundtrack to “Airplane!” and “Urban Chipmunk,” a country parody album by Alvin & the Chipmunks.

Posting up: Composer Mike Post won twice for his theme for the TV series “Hill Street Blues,” picking up Grammys for both best instrumental composition and best pop instrumental performance. A few years earlier, he pulled off the same feat for his theme to “The Rockford Files,” which my editor still thinks is a great song.

‘And the Grammy goes to … ‘: Musician and producer Quincy Jones, who also hosted the show, was the big winner of 1982 with five Grammys, mostly for his album “The Dude,” though he also picked up best cast show album for producing “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” as well as producer of the year.

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