Setting aside for the moment the artistic merits of Lady Gaga’s performance on Monday’s 58th Grammy Awards telecast, it’s impressive to note that the posthumous salute to the rock innovator and provocateur touched on no fewer than 10 Bowie cornerstone songs, even if some of them were revisited for under 30 seconds.
Today’s trivia question: Which of those were honored with Grammy Awards?
Was it the opening selection, “Space Oddity,” the hit that launched his career in England in 1969 and then became a Top 20 U.S. hit four years later?
How about “Changes,” the infectious track celebrating transformation from the groundbreaking “Hunky Dory" album that gave Bowie his first Billboard Top 100 single?
Maybe “Rebel Rebel,” the Rolling Stones-influenced rocker from 1974 that actually had more swagger and rock spirit than what "The World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band" was doing at that point?
He must have received a Grammy for “Fame,” or “Let’s Dance,” his two No. 1 singles that pushed his music front and center not only on pop radio but on dance floors around the world?
Beginning to catch on?
In fact, Bowie received exactly one Grammy during his lifetime, and that was for the “David Bowie” music video from 1984. (Purists will note that Bowie's name shows up a second time in Grammy Awards literature, as the artist on the 2015 song "Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)" that earned an award in the best arrangement, instruments and vocals category for arranger Maria Schneider. But that Grammy goes to the arranger, not the performing artist.)
None of his boundary-stretching albums or his genre-shaping singles or album tracks were ever recognized by the Recording Academy.
Full Coverage: David Bowie | 1947 - 2016
The loving tribute on Monday’s 58th Grammy Awards posthumously manifested the music industry’s admiration for his artistry, but it also served as a reminder of the bad old days when the Grammys were often woefully out of touch with the most innovative music coming out of the world of pop, rock, R&B, country, jazz and classical music.
The Grammys still generate no shortage of Monday morning quarterbacking with their choices, and Monday night’s award of album of the year to Taylor Swift’s “1989” has launched vigorous debate over whether it genuinely was more deserving than Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Alabama Shakes’ “Sound & Color,” The Weeknd’s “Beauty Behind the Madness” and Chris Stapleton’s “Traveller.”
But given the history of giving top awards to Christopher Cross’ “Christopher Cross” album in 1980, “Toto IV” in 1982, Lionel Richie’s “Can’t Slow Down” in 1984, Phil Collins’ “No Jacket Required” in 1985, George Michael’s “Faith” in 1988, Steely Dan’s “Two Against Nature” in 2000, Ray Charles and guests’ “Genius Loves Company” in 2004, this year brought a consistently strong group of album nominees, all of which were more closely in touch with the vibrancy of pop music at this moment than some of the winners in previous years.
The Grammys, however, still like playing catch-up with artists who were unfairly neglected in previous years. So don’t be surprised a year from now if Bowie’s “Blackstar” album shows up among album-of-the-year nominees, with the odds pretty strong even now that it will win the category.
Fortunately, for music fans and for music history, his swan song album is musically fully worthy of such peer recognition, beyond the sympathy bump Bowie’s death is likely to generate among Grammy voters.