11 Points

11 Strange and Surprising Grammy Winners
written by Sam Greenspan

Yesterday, on Facebook, I started noticing various people participating in a meme where they'd look up the song that was number one the week they were born, then post the music video for that song on their wall. While I'm way too cool to make a meme-driven wall post, curiosity did get me... and I looked up the number one song for my birth week.

And it was... a Donna Summer song. Not even the one I sort of like (Hot Stuff). It was Bad Girls. As my parents were in the delivery room, waiting on me to wriggle into the world, THAT song could've been playing.

After I got over the horrific notion that a pure DISCO song was number one when I was born -- and stopped feeling like I should check out nursing homes because I'm so old -- I saw that Donna Summer was nominated for several Grammys for the song. That horrible, horrible song.

It's well-treaded ground that they hand out Grammys like party favors to anyone who passes through, or even near, the music industry. But sometimes, they must even surprise themselves.

I dug through thousands of winners to find these 11 strange, unusual, surprising, random and unexpected people who won a Grammy. And the random Grammys have gone to...

  1. Woof!
    Baha Men - Best Dance Recording (2000) for Who Let the Dogs Out?

    Based on what I presume to be the age of an average 11 Points reader, you were probably a kid who was the right age to love this song when it came out... and you're now mortified that you once loved this song. But at least you have no shred of physical evidence that you once liked this song. The Grammys cannot make a similar claim.

    Also, side note -- we never did find out who, in fact, let the dogs out. The butler, perhaps? I wish I'd dug into that in my 11 Answers to the Biggest Mysteries in Songs and Lyrics list last year.

  2. Art Garfunkel *solo* - Best Children's Album (1998) for Songs From a Parent to a Child

    When he was with Paul Simon they racked up Grammys. Then they broke up. Paul Simon kept on winning. Art Garfunkel did not. Until he flipped everything around in 1998 taking down the award for Best Children's Album. Who "needs" Paul Simon NOW, right?

  3. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Best Spoken Word Album (1972) for Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam

    I didn't check, but I believe he does have a few other, more prestigious claims on his resume.

  4. It'll turn into a Ballroom Blitz. But... um... on the Big Island or something.
    Tia Carrere - Best Hawaiian Music Album (2009) for Huana Ke Aloha and Best Hawaiian Music Album (2011) for 'Ikena

    When I was reading through the list of all the Grammy winners and saw her name, my first thought was, "Wait... there's no way she won, like, Best Soundtrack for her work as part of Crucial Taunt, right?" I know those guys wail, but still. (She did not. She's won two so far by making the career change to Hawaiian singer. That's as good of a career change as Julia Child going from international spy to chef.)

  5. Mikhail Gorbachev - Best Spoken Word Album For Children (2004) for Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf

    He was also joined on the album by (and co-won the Grammy with) Bill Clinton and Sophia Loren. Is that the trio you want your kid listening to as they fall asleep? A former Communist leader and two legendary sexpots?

    (Tangent: I think it would be funny if NPR had a "morning zoo" parody called Peter and the Wolf where the two personalities used sound effects and corny radio voices but discussed classical music and intricate geopolitical issues.)

  6. Young MC - Best Rap Performance (1990) for Bust a Move

    I picked this one out because he's such a classic one-hit wonder... and one of only two Best Rap Performance Grammy winners ever. Young MC won the award the second time it was presented (beating out Tone Loc, among others). DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince won it the previous year for Parents Just Don't Understand. After 1990, the Grammys split the award into individual and group performance awards. Now, for this upcoming year, they're reunifying it -- and this award will be presented for the third time. So if Jay-Z and Kanye West win, they'll have to thank Young MC for blazing the trail that put them there. That just might knock them down a few pegs.

  7. I like the book he's reading.
    LeVar Burton - Best Spoken Word Album (2000) for The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.

    He never won one for the Reading Rainbow theme song? That's ridiculous. I can't see a butterfly in the sky and not think how I can fly twice as high OR take a look at anything that's in a book without singing that theme song.

  8. Todd McFarlane - Best Short Form Music Video (2000) for Korn's Freak on a Leash

    Yes, comic book superstar/Canadian Todd McFarlane has a Grammy. He directed the music video for that Korn song that sounds nothing like every other Korn song. The video features a mix of animation and live footage. It beat out videos from Bjork, Lauryn Hill, Brian McKnight and TLC. That era of music was weird, man.

  9. Joaquin Phoenix - Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media (2006) for Walk the Line

    He did NOT win one for his satire-that-wasn't-close-to-as-clever-as-he-thought-it-was rap career. If that's too much of a mouthful, you could just say he didn't win one whilst pulling a James Franco.

  10. Martin Scorsese - Best Long Form Music Video (2005) for Bob Dylan in No Direction Home

    Back in 2004, Vince McMahon and the WWE inducted Pete Rose into the WWE Wrestling Hall of Fame. He's made a few cameos at WrestleManias, so it worked -- but mostly, it was Vince McMahon's P.T. Barnum side shining through; him wanting to seize the sound byte of "the Baseball Hall of Fame wouldn't induct Pete Rose but the WWE Hall of Fame would!"

    I bring this up because it feels like the Grammys tip-toed dangerously close to that same territory here in 2005 with Scorsese winning a Grammy. It's as if they wanted people to say, "The Oscars won't give this guy an award, but the Grammys recognized his talent!"

    Of course, the Oscars would go on to screw them one year later by giving him an Oscar for The Departed.

    (By the way, I double-checked and no, the Grammys never did this with Susan Lucci. A bit of a dated reference, yes, but apt. APT.)

  11. Jan Hammer - Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Instrumental Composition (1985) for Miami Vice Theme

    If you ever wonder just how powerful Miami Vice was in 1985, look no further than this. It managed to get Jan Hammer two Grammys as a *composer*. That's a category that Schubert and Beethoven would've competed in if the Grammys were around back then (and syphilis wasn't).

Honorable mentions: Ken Burns, Cheech & Chong, Michael J. Fox, Zach Braff, Kate Winslet, something called the Michigan State University Children's Choir, Cynthia Nixon, Christopher Reeve, and the Starland Vocal Band.

This post was originally published on Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Music.

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