Great Fails In Grammy History: Christopher Cross’ self-titled debut wins Album of the Year, 1981

“It’s not far to Never-Never Land…”  Apparently, it was located in 1981’s Grammys ceremony.

Without a doubt, this one is an epic failure beyond all failures, and one of the worst decisions in Grammy voter history.  Christopher Cross’ soft pop drivel isn’t even exemplary soft pop; I can think of plenty of other artists my mother is responsible for exposing me to that don’t suck on the level of Christopher Cross:  Chris de Burgh?  Peter Cetera?  Richard Marx?

Who is Christopher Cross, you ask?  EXACTLY MY POINT.  Take a look at the full nominee list for the 1981 Album of the Year award, and you’ll see what I mean:

Glass Houses – Billy Joel
Trilogy: Past Present Future – Frank Sinatra
The Wall – Pink Floyd
Christopher Cross – Christopher Cross
Guilty – Barbra Streisand

Of all of these artists, the only one that does not have enduring name recognition is the guy who took home the hardware.  This album somehow surpassed Ol’ Blue Eyes, Bawbwa, Billy freaking Joel (whose catalogue inspired a musical!), and Pink Floyd’s opus, the current subject of a year-long tour by songwriter Roger Waters.  What the hell, Grammys?  If you recognize the name Christopher Cross at all, you’re either fairly old, got stuck hearing him as a child, or really dig the original version of the film Arthur (Cross penned and performed the theme).

So, what stellar songwriting earned Cross this award?  Let’s take a gander at a few lyrical excerpts.

Sailing: 
Sailing

Takes me away
To where I’ve always heard it could be
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free

Ride Like The Wind:
It is the night. My body’s weak.
I’m on the run. No time to sleep.
I’ve got to ride.
Ride like the wind to be free again.

Never Be The Same:
It was good for me
It was good for you
Now nothing either of us can say or do
Can change the way you feel tonight

Um… well…. it’s definitely soft pop.  And, were this a year of merely Joel and Sinatra and Streisand, maybe even Elton John on the card, I could perhaps say, “Well, I guess this one just rang true for the voters somehow.”  But the presence of The Wall completely obliterates that argument, and makes it painfully clear that artistry, metaphor, and sociopolitical critique were simply too scary to endorse.  The voters went for safety, and went for someone new, handing Cross all four major awards – not just Album of the Year!  Cross faded into obscurity after three years; Pink Floyd remains one of the most respected bands of all time, and the song of The Wall are as relevant as ever.  The Wall not only became one of the most successful albums of all time commercially; it is a live experience, during which the audience watches a wall erected and destroyed.  It spawned a feature film that still gives me chills each time I see it.  It was the anthemic concert that marked the anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s destruction.  I know that many of these events came afterwards, but the reason they occurred is the sheer emotional power of the music.  Cross was forgotten; Floyd never will be.

For comparison, lyrics from my favourite track off The Wall, Comfortably Numb:

You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown,
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb

No contest, in my opinion.

1981 on the whole was a complete wash for the Grammys.  By any music critic’s standards today, the fact The Wall only received a technical Grammy for engineering is an utter travesty and insult to the work.  Don’t believe me?  Spin the two tunes below and then try and tell me Cross deserved the hardware.  Pink Floyd was robbed, in one of the worst Grammy fails in all history.

Sailing – Christopher Cross

Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd

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