Ranking the Grammy Album of the Year Winners

The Grammys turn 50 on Sunday, so we figured it would be fun to take all of the Best Album winners and rank 'em, 1 to 50. Then we looked at the list and decided to limit it to the last 40 years. For that first decade, it was almost all standards (lots of Sinatra, Garland, Streisand). Oh, and a Bob Newhart comedy album. Strange, but true. So we decided to kick off the rankings with 1968 winner, which just happened to come out on top. As you make your way down the list, you'll see that the Grammy's reputation for being the opposite of hip is extremely well-deserved. As always, agree/disagree/make personal threats in the comments section.

1. The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1968) We'll take "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver" (the latter of which lost the previous year to some weird "Storytellers"-esque Sinatra album) but this was an easy choice for the top.

2. Michael Jackson - Thriller (1984)

3. Stevie Wonder - Innervisions (1974)
Our choice for the best of Stevie's three winning albums, since you would never even think of skipping a track, which you can't say about the more bloated (but obviously amazing) "Songs in the Key of Life."

4. U2 - The Joshua Tree (1988)

5. Paul Simon - Graceland (1987)
5. Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1999)
5. OutKast - Speakerboxx/The Love Below (2004)

8. Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life (1977)
Outkast over Stevie? Well, to be fair, Stevie's over Outkast, too.

9. Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind (1998) To these ears it's no better than Dylan's 13th best album, but it's the best of his Revival Trilogy, also consisting of "Love and Theft" and "Modern Times."

10. George Michael - Faith (1989)
Yes, George Michael in the top 10. Maybe it has something to do with seeing all of those "Eli Stone" promos during "Lost," but more likely it's just that this was just a rare album of expertly crafted pop songs that appeals to everyone, from Grammy voters to indie snobs.

11. Carole King - Tapestry (1972)

12. V/A - O Brother, Where Art Thou? OST (2000)
One of the albums this beat out in 2000? "Millennium" by the Backstreet Boys. Really.

13. Paul Simon - Still Crazy After All These Years (1976)
13. V/A - The Conert for Bangladesh (1973)

15. Dixie Chicks - Taking the Long Way (2007) I'm as surprised as you that J. Freedom didn't rank this one in the top 10. Perhaps Miranda Lambert has stolen all of their thunder.

16. Fleetwood Mac - Rumours (1978)

17. Simon and Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water (1971)
17. Stevie Wonder - Fulfillingness' First Finale (1975)

19. Bonnie Raitt - Nick of Time (1990)

20. V/A - Saturday Night Fever OST (1979)

21. Blood, Sweat & Tears - Blood, Sweat & Tears (1970)
Sometimes it's just fun to point out which albums didn't win. In 1970, BS&T bested the Beatles and Johnny Cash.

22. John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Double Fantasy (1982) An obviously sentimental winner in its year, it doesn't compete with Lennon's best solo work. It should still be higher on this list, but J. Freedom ranked it No. 27, somehow.

23. Alanis Morrissette - Jagged Little Pill (1996)
Perhaps my most hated album while in high school, but she seemed agreeable enough on "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

24. Norah Jones - Come Away With Me (2003)
24. Glen Campbell - By the Time I Get to Phoenix (1969)
Campbell gets half a bonus point for the fact that the title track (written by Jimmy Webb) was given a great cover treatment by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

26. Billy Joel - 52nd Street (1980)

27. U2 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2006)

28. Quincy Jones and V/A - Back on the Block (1991)
28. Lionel Richie - Can't Slow Down (1985)
Right about here is where it starts to get really ugly. If there are children near your computer, you may want to send them away.

30. Steely Dan - Two Against Nature (2001)
This was one of those classic Grammy forehead smackers. It was the perfect opportunity to reward some new blood -- Beck, Radiohead and Eminem were all nominated -- but Becker/Fagen nostalgia won out.

31. Phil Collins - No Jacket Required (1986)

32. Toto - Toto IV (1983)
Just in case you thought the Grammys only recently became irrelevant, Springsteen's "Nebraska" and Prince's "1999" came out this same year (not to
mention post-punk classics "Vs." by Mission of Burma" and "Hex Enduction Hour" by the Fall) -- yet Toto took home the grand prize. It's like Terry Pendleton winning the 1991 MVP over Barry Bonds.

33. Natalie Cole - Unforgettable ... With Love (1992)
Wait, isn't that a Lenny Kravitz album title?

34. Eric Clapton - Unplugged (1993) David's last-place choice. Some might say I have an irrational hatred of Clapton but to me, it's very rational. His music makes me physically ill.

35. Ray Charles and V/A - Genius Loves Company (2005)

36. Santana - Supernatural (2000)
36. Tony Bennett - MTV Unplugged (1995)
Apparently we are not fans of "Unplugged" and/or albums with "legends" getting help from current stars.

38. Whitney Houston - The Bodyguard OST (1994)

39. Celine Dion - Falling Into You (1997)

40. Christopher Cross - Christopher Cross (1981) The answer to that burning question, "What could be a less deserving winner than Celene Dion?"

By David Malitz |  February 6, 2008; 5:38 PM ET Grammys , Rankings
Previous: January's Best Albums | Next: They Played What, Where? Vol. 1, No. 3


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George Michael was just a ...

Hallucination in the bathroom?
Andrew Ridgley wannabe?

Posted by: Hemisphire | February 6, 2008 6:44 PM

wow, this is incredibly disturbing ... i'd probably put "o brother" in the top 5 and "concert for bangladesh" in the top 10 (drop dylan and george michael), but there's not much you can do with a list that craptacular

i read some hilarious line recently from a rock critic in the 80s lionizing lionel richie and saying how he would stand the test of time while [insert indie band here -- REM? the smiths? can't remember] would be soon forgotten

Posted by: Hoya Paranoia | February 7, 2008 1:02 AM


Here's Dave Marsh, circa 1984, on the Smiths: "You take all of those sad cafe ballads, and I'll snatch up [Lionel Richie's] 'Penny Lover.' Meet you at the corner of the centuries and we'll see what lasts."

Posted by: found it... | February 7, 2008 1:04 AM

You're right on about "Faith"...it was a geniunely great pop album. I've always thought George Michael was on a level with Elton John as a pop music icon. Freedom '90 is an iconic tune as far as I'm concerned (with a brilliant video), and his "Older" album was totally overlooked. Dark, angsty, with a jazz and house undercurrent. It was part of my summer-in-UK soundtrack.

Posted by: 23112 | February 7, 2008 9:25 AM

Malitz, Malitz, Malitz... How can you be so right and so wrong at the same time. Truly a supernatural feat. The top 9 were pretty much right, except that Stevie's "Songs in the Key of Life" goes ABOVE the 3-way tie for 5th, not below it. But then we get to Mr. Michael. Simply put, no, no, no -- there is no way, on any planet, anywhere in any galaxy, that that piece of 80's fluff pop, no matter how nostalgic it makes you feel, is better than "Tapestries". And I don't even like Carole King. Even more telling is that every album through "Bridge over Troubled Water" is a better album than "Faith" (and I despise the Dixie Chicks -- for their twangy annoying nasal sound, not their politics)

And, for the record (pardon the pun), I'm even willing to argue that the Bob Newhart comedy album should rank about equal to "Faith".

Admit it, either one of 2 things happened:
- you were overcome with nostalgia of your popped-collar pastel Izod wearing days; or
- you floated "Faith" about 15 spots higher than it deserved just to generate some controversy which would force people to comment on the boards.

So which is it?

Posted by: WoW | February 7, 2008 12:22 PM

Clapton's music makes you physically ill? You really should see a doctor about that. Cause it's just wrong.

Posted by: arlington | February 7, 2008 2:55 PM

The backstreet boys deserve a Grammy they've sold over 100 million records and no grammy??? that's B.S.!!!

Posted by: LeaL714 | February 7, 2008 6:59 PM

The Backstreet Boys' album Millineum was up for album of the year in 1999. Santana's album won that year. They were never up against O Brother for album of the year...just so you know.

Posted by: Kathryn | February 7, 2008 8:19 PM

Was this an average of J-Free and P-David's lists? If so, what were the major differences and what were the top/bottom 5 for each?

Posted by: jy | February 8, 2008 12:34 PM

Many of the lower ranked albums here seem motivated more by sentiment than musical quality. Natalie Cole's and Ray Charles' albums are decent in and of themselves, but were overpraised by the Grammys probably out of sentimental tribute to legendary departed artists. That explanation doesn't suffice for Santana's overrewarded album though, as it was simply a comeback by a talented, living artist but also an inconsistent one; Carlos sounds on it (and later albums) like a great session musician contributing guitar solos to all manner of different artists, not the center of attention on his own album.

The Grammy did seem to have a bland streak in the 1980s, rewarding pleasant but rather light albums by Toto, Lionel Richie, and Phil Collins. As for Christopher Cross, in the early 80s the Grammys were just a short distance removed from such late 70s "best" new artist winners as the Starland Vocal Band, Debby Boone, and A Taste of Honey ("boogie-oogie-oogie"). Compared to that, Cross was a (modest) improvement, but surely there were more deserving albums released in 1980?

Posted by: mkarns | March 25, 2008 2:35 PM

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