By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
Part 1 of this series covering Bob’s 1969 nomination for Best Folk Performance appeared here: Bob’s Grammy Nominations and Wins
We enjoyed doing that one so much we thought we’d inflict another on you. This time, the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance – 1980.
And this time Bob won with “Gotta Serve Somebody”
This was the first year for this category and Bob picks it up!
It was certainly a more produced sound than we often got with Bob. And of course it was picked up as part of the start-up of the “Christian project” as I once saw it noted, which really did give me a smile.
And Bob’s singing is particularly well-honed for this song – it sounds like he’s really worked at what he wants to do here, rather than just trying it out with the band and picking the best of a few run throughs. And that’s really important with this strophic form, with such a simple two line chorus. Indeed, given that it is purely strophic, there is no variation in the middle 8. Everything comes from the smoothness of the performance, the entertaining lyrics, and that beautiful variable organ throughout. Even the fade out appears to be well-manicured – how very unlike Bob (on occasion).
But what really tells us that this is a sublime performance is the fact that the oh-so-simple chorus comes into the song no less than seven times. Now without a beautiful, controlled arrangement, that will not hold – the audience will move on, easily bored. But not here, the sound is so beguiling, one just wants to stay (even if it is simply to find out if the song tells us any more about the choosing that has to be done – which in reality it doesn’t.)
Thus the message of the lyrics is so utterly simple: “you are going to have to serve somebody.” And that someone turns out to be the Devil or God. There’s not attempt to put forward the argument; it is a statement. So the notion that one can simply have a life in which one aims to be a jolly nice person, being kind, helpful others, doing positive things, simply isn’t on the cards. It is not that such a life is a bad thing, but rather it is, in this song, impossible. It just isn’t on.
Which, to my mind, although probably no one else’s, makes the lyrics a complete load of turnips. But well, that’s just me.
The song won the award, and yes one can see why. But the real interest comes when one starts to listen to the rest of the nominees. So here we go…
Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him?
This was his first release I think, and so before he moved into a jazz sound, but it is a very attractive piece; the producers and musicians seem really to have worked together to take what could have just been an ordinary pop song and make it into a really unusual performance. But perhaps not a strong enough song to take the judges by storm.
Robert Palmer – Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)
I always had time for Robert Palmer although I’d hardly pick this as one of his greats. If I had to nominate something from him across his career, and particularly as this is Untold Dylan I think I’d come up with
but then that wasn’t on the list of nominations for the judges. It’s good it’s fun, but it is not earth shattering or new, in the way that I think Dylan’s performance was. Everyone knew what Dylan could do but they would not have heard him perform like that before and I think that influenced the judges.
Rod Stewart – Blondes (Have More Fun)
This too, is very much of its era – its a great dance song (although sadly in those days film producers didn’t approve of dancers actually expressing what was in the song so I guess only actual dancers will appreciate what I mean).
But this isn’t an award for a video, it is an award for a song, and really, they seriously thought this could win? There’s nothing wrong with it, but surely no one was nominating this as the stand out moment of the year. Were they? (Perhaps they were – if so, these were sad days indeed).
I wonder if they managed to get insurance on that double bass.
Frank Zappa – Dancin’ Fool
Aaron: What an odd selection of tracks here!! Bob and Frank not hugely respected for their vocals and what is that Rod Stewart track doing there – the video was played on the first day of MTV but the single only reached 63 directly after the number 1 smash Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?
Robert Palmer’s hit top 10 in the US but outside the top 60 in the UK. The Joe Jackson track was his debut single and in my opinion it’s a real good ‘un!
Tony: I agree it is very odd to have Zappa and Dylan here. Zappa was the artist I went to see every time he came to the UK – and I’d disagree about his singing actually, but what really made his music so incredibly important for me was the intricacies of the compositions and arrangements. The only rock musician I can remember playing a piece on stage in 7/4 time.
The complexity of “Dancin Fool” is extraordinary, and his range of styles within the song is remarkable. He was also the only rock performer who I have seen who conducted his band on occasions. But then with four or five changes of time signature within one song it was totally necessary.
But in each case (Dylan and Zappa) it does seem to me that their originality has meant that there is no tradition started for others to take over. They are the two sublime figures of post-war popular music.
The award is for vocal performance, and I’d have given it to Frank because of the variety. If it had been for production, or the sound of the whole song, yep Bob would have won the day for me.
Probably a good job I’m never on the committee.
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