Welcome to a history of the Grammys’ greatest misses. The first Grammy Awards were given out in 1959, and obviously the organization has doled out well-deserved honors to countless awesome artists since then. But let’s face it: It’s a lot more fun to home in on the mistakes that this august assemblage of music-industry pros has made in terms of legendary artists they’ve snubbed for decades. So here’s a handy tally featuring some of the most glaringly obvious omissions from the Grammy rolls. Note that if we’d made this list in 2019, it would have also included Tanya Tucker, who won her first Grammy in 2020 at the age of 61, no less than 47 years after her first nomination (yes, she started young). And note further that we aren’t counting Lifetime Achievement awards, which are bestowed as opposed to being won in a competitive context.Looking all the way back, the Grammys actually missed a big one straight out of the gate. The first awards ceremony occurred in May of ’59, three months after Buddy Holly was killed in the infamous “The Day the Music Died” plane crash, and both of his solo (i.e., non-Crickets) albums had been released in ’58. You can probably tell where this is going. Many of the artists who shaped the ’60s didn’t fare much better—Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and The Grateful Dead, for instance, remain in the non-Grammy pile to this day. The awards missed their share of ’70s heroes as well, from ABBA to Bob Marley and beyond. (For the latter, it didn’t help that the industry did not have a reggae category until 1985.) So how did the Grammys do when hip-hop and New Wave were in the ascendant? Well, ask Run-DMC, Public Enemy, Depeche Mode, or The Cure, whose (surviving) members have presumably given up on waiting for the call. The Notorious B.I.G. and Nas can tell you there was some catching up to do on the hip-hop side in the ’90s. And country superstars like Dierks Bentley and Martina McBride have their issues with the institution too. In fact, when you step back and see how much titanic talent has been given the cold shoulder by the GRAMMYⓇs, it sort of starts to seem like a badge of honor.
What better soundtrack could you have for celebrating Independence Day than the most unbound kind of music around? Hell, it’s right there in the name: free jazz. These are the sounds of liberation, of minds and spirits set loose from all constraints. We start at the birth of free jazz in the early ’60s, when visionaries like Ornette Coleman were looking beyond the horizon line to determine where jazz could go next. For Coleman and legions of others to follow, the answer was unfettered improvisation, whereby the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic settings could shift on a dime, determined by the flow of the musicians in the moment. Ornette dubbed his 1961 album Free Jazz, giving the genre a natural tag. No longer tied to any kind of conventions, free-jazz players invented musical languages of their own, and although the first bursts of the music may have all been energized by a similar spirit, every musician’s artistic argot was completely their own. The light, darting lines of Don Cherry’s trumpet, the industrial-strength blast of Albert Ayler’s saxophone, and the heady abstractions of Andrew Hill’s piano, for instance, were islands unto themselves, but anybody was welcome to visit.Free jazz was also the sound of liberation in the sense of African Americans boldly defining their cultural identity, as groups like the Art Ensemble of Chicago did with their Afrocentric, unfailingly idiosyncratic musical statements. But as subsequent generations and cultures took up the free-jazz mantle, the music moved in multitudinous directions, from the postmodern pianistics of Matthew Shipp to the visceral trumpeting of Steph Richards and beyond. There are a couple of Europeans in the mix too, but jazz is one of the ultimate American art forms, and the most untrammeled end of its spectrum makes the ideal musical companion for marking America’s anniversary of independence.
Sometimes music is a solitary endeavor. After recording technology advanced to the point of making it possible for one person to construct an entire album all by themselves, hermetic whiz kids started turning out solo albums in the truest sense of the word, in which they played and sang all or nearly all of the parts. Some of them may have been control freaks eschewing additional musicians out of monomania, but others were studio geniuses who crafted entire worlds all on their own, and thats what were looking into here.A few are former band members who ran with the chance to operate unencumbered, such as Paul McCartney and John Fogerty, who had some of their most memorable songs sans helpmates, like "Maybe Im Amazed," from the ex-Beatles 1970 solo debut, McCartney, and "Centerfield," from the CCR frontmans 1985 comeback album of the same name. Some became famous as youthful mavens of multitracking, as Prince did with his first hit, "I Wanna Be Your Lover," as well as Mike Oldfield with his first album, Tubular Bells, known forevermore as the spooky soundtrack music of The Exorcist.More and more artists are going it alone as digital technology has drastically increased the ease and options in creating one-person projects. Sometimes theyve obscured their solitary stances by adopting aliases that could be taken for band names, such as Glasser (Cameron Mesirow), Grimes (Claire Boucher), and Japanese Breakfast (Michelle Zauner). Whether they tip their hands or not, the next Todd Rundgren or Stevie Wonder could be out there right now, just waiting for the right time to pop up with a new, strictly solo masterpiece.
The good guys will always grab our hearts, but it’s the bad guys who fascinate us the most. There’s usually a hint of charm in the villain, and we can’t help but at least be a little bit wooed by their brazenness. In the world of pop music, “being bad” has served many artists well, especially the good girls who’ve embraced their dark side (Rihanna), the evil gals who will “fill you with misery" (Aretha), and the seductresses who always get what they want—and then immediately regret it (Lana Del Rey). Other artists have touted their bad image right from the get-go, like Joan Jett, whose iconic “Bad Reputation” broke open her solo career, and Billie Eilish, who kicked off her big debut with the sinister earworm “Bad Guy” (duh). This playlist celebrates the bad girls (and a few guys), and even the straight-up monsters.
Get set to realign what you thought you knew about some of your favorite songs—specifically, their origins. The past several decades have been loaded with widely loved tunes that have secret pasts. From rock staples to pop anthems to soul milestones, heres a heavy batch of classic cuts you never knew were not the original versions.Some one-hit wonders even built their entire careers off a stealth cover. Toni Basil’s lone success, the 1982 No. 1 “Mickey,” was the result of gender-tweaking a 1979 tune called “Kitty” by British glam-rockers Racey.You wouldn’t have wanted to be a member of Motown group The Undisputed Truth when their minor 1972 hit “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” found a place in the R&B pantheon courtesy of The Temptations’ version later that same year. The New Wave era brought plenty more. Blondie’s 1978 single “Hanging on the Telephone” first found life as the opening cut on power-pop cult heroes The Nerves lone release, a self-titled 1976 EP. Bow Wow Wow’s ’80s smash “I Want Candy” was originally written and recorded in 1965 by The Strangeloves, a band that included future Blondie producer Richard Gottehrer. Even some artists famous for revamping classic tunes have been known to slip one by. Though Joan Jett scored a bunch of hits by rebooting other artists’ songs, most people are unaware that her biggest track, “I Love Rock ’N Roll,” was a 1975 glam-rock nugget by The Arrows.A decade later, The Lemonheads were another act known for covers whose biggest single was widely mistaken for an original. “Into Your Arms” originated not with Evan Dando but with the Australian duo Love Positions, who released it in 1989, after which band member Nic Dalton joined The Lemonheads, eventuating their version of the tune.Even ex-Beatles were part of the phenomenon. One of the biggest hits of George Harrison’s solo career was 1987’s “Got My Mind Set On You.” The song never gained much traction in its 1962 release by R&B singer James Ray, but George became familiar with it and retained it all those years later. One of the things this goes to show is that you never can tell where a great song will wind up.
Psychedelic music emerged in the mid-60s as a mutant offspring of the British Invasion and American garage rock, but has since morphed into so many different forms that it is more accurate to describe it as a feeling than a sound. Be it the the brain-melting feedback of Jimi Hendrix or Ty Segall, the dreamy reveries of Spiritualized and Tame Impala, or the heady, head-nodding beats of Flying Lotus and J Dilla, psychedelica is hard to pin down—but you’ll know you’re hearing it when you feel your mind altering. Heres our curated guide to the best head music to help you chase the rush, including our genre-spanning psych playlist (at right) and links to past Dowsers mixes for even deeper trips.
PSYCH FUNKPsychedelic music has traditionally been used as a way to explore the inner workings of your mind. But if you take off the headphones, its also a great way to explore your body on the dance floor. Soul, funk and R&B have a long tradition of making music that rocks the hips and the third eye at the same time, from Eddie Hazels righteous riffing on Funkadelic’s Cosmic Slop to Dâm-Funks alien synth-funk bangers.Recommended Listening:A Deeper Shade of Psych SoulThe Afrofuturist Impulse in MusicInto the Nite: Synth-Funk Fantasias
PSYCH RAPPsychedelic music has drifted into every form of music, and since any worthwhile hip-hop producer keeps their ears open, its only natural that it’s became part of the mix. Revered producers J Dilla and Madlib have made hip-hop tracks that oozed with so much mood and shimmer that they didnt even need MCs to rewire the listeners brain, while the genre’s heady offshoot, trip-hop, has been obliterating genre lines and listeners’ minds for more than two decades.Recommended Listening:Great (Post-Donuts) Instrumental Hip-Hop TracksBehind the Beats: Madlib and DillaBest Trip-Hop Tracks
PSYCH JAZZAt its mid-’60s moment of origin, psychedelia immediately found a natural host in jazz. After all, both are concerned with evoking a feeling and a mood, and following inspiration wherever it leads—from the spiritually searching compositions of Alice Coltrane to Mulatu Astatke’ slippery Latin-flavored explorations to Flying Lotus dedication to feeding brains with jazz-damaged trance whispers.Recommended Listening:The Black Experimental Music MixtapeChampions of Ethiopian GrooveThe Best of Brainfeeder
PSYCH-TRONICAWhy settle for rocking minds and rocking bodies when you can do both at once? From the Chemical Brothers to Neon Indian to Boards of Canada, many of the most cutting-edge electronic-music producers spend equal amounts of time focussing on booming beats as well as keyboard lines, sine moans, and digital gurgles designed to tickle the mind. And if you need to rest after a night out, theres plenty of trippy ambient chillout tracks for that as well.Recommended Listening:Essential Acid House TraxThe Art of Psychedelic Disco-RockThe Best Electronic Shoegaze
INDIE PSYCHPsychedelia never dies, it just keeps getting weirder. Animal Collective threw down the gauntlet with 2004’s Sung Tongs, their childlike, free-spirited update of psych rock, and a generation of indie artists have taken up the challenge. From Deerhunters fearsome ambient punk to Zombys scrambled dubstep to Ariel Pinks wounded daydreams, the youngest generation continues to push music inward.Recommended Listening:Animal Collective’s Outer LimitsDreamy Noise Sounds: The Best of Kranky RecordsNew Tropics: The Modern Los Angeles Underground
PSYCH ROCKWhen rock first got psychedelic in the 60s, the most obvious proponents were self-professed freaks like Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. But nearly everywhere you looked, you could find someone trying to access their inner mind via some radical noise, from cult acts like Love and The Fugs to icons like The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Since then, every generation since has found their own way to look inside, from the Dream Syndicate in the ’80s, to Slowdive in the ’90s, to My Morning Jacket in the 21st century.Recommended Listening:Bad Trips: The Dark Side of the ‘60sSpace Rock: A Cosmic JourneyHow Psychedelia Reclaimed Modern Rock
PSYCH FOLKIn the beginning, psychedelic music was associated with guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix and waves of feedback. But that big bang was soon followed by generations of artists—from 60s Greenwich Village folkie Karen Dalton to Bert Jansch and his 70s British folk group Pentangle to modern dreamweavers like Devendra Banhart— who used acoustic guitars, pared-down arrangements, and dexterously plucked melodies to pull the listener into their headspace without the need for amplification.Recommended Listening:Way Past Pleasant: A Guide to Psychedelic FolkReligion, Rock, and LSD: A Brief History of Jesus Freaks
PSYCH PUNKThe common myth about punk is that it formed in opposition to bloated 70s rock, and rejected Pink Floyd and anything associated with psychedelia. But the truth is that plenty of punks, such as restless hardcore purveyors Black Flag and volatile noiseniks the Butthole Surfers, not to mention punk-adjacent acts like the Jesus & Mary Chain and Dinosaur Jr., looked back to the ‘60s when deciding how to expand their sound and beguile their fans.Recommended Listening:When Punk Got WeirdPsychedelia in the ‘80sThe 50 Best Shoegaze Albums of All Time
This one is for the fearless protesters in Charlottesville and Boston and Vancouver and everywhere else who are confronting the hate head-on; for the people who shouted down the bigots and ran them out of town; for Heather Heyer; for the journalists venturing behind enemy lines and silencing the propaganda; for the DIY statue-topplers; for the enterprising pranksters trolling racists with tubas and bananas; for all the woke Juggalos.As their efforts have shown, the best way to combat those espousing hate and lies is to make a bigger noise. Here are some songs to add to the din.
Prior to the release of his third album, Float, on October 6, avant-electronic mystery man Slow Magic gets us into the autumnal spirit with this mix he created for The Dowsers. "These are songs Ive been listening to lately that capture the feeling of the season changing from summer to fall," he says. "Im always intrigued how the same song can sound and feel completely different as the weather starts to adjust and catch you off guard."
This is a constantly updated playlist of (mostly) new songs that the Dowsers’ Sam Chennault loves (or at least finds interesting). They span all genres, but it focuses on hip-hop, R&B, pop and electronic. Be sure to subscribe to the Spotify playlist here.
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.