Just Rewards

For the last few years I’ve been waxing on this idea of a project (a podcast, a blog, a thread in a message board, semaphore to passing planes) in which we (you and I) award and re-award famous awards that were once awarded. Like, hey, they never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1939. Just Rewards is now awarding that prize to Gandhi. Let’s award the 1942 Best Picture Oscar to “Citizen Kane.” Let’s de-award Hitler’s Time Man of the Year of 1938 and give it to…. uh… not Hitler…. maybe Eleanor Roosevelt, maybe? Ella Fitzgerald? That’s more like it!

Although I do want to get to those, I am going to narrow the main focus to music, and in particular: the Grammy Award for Best Record. It was first awarded in 1959 for the music of 1958, with “Volare” by Domenico Modugno winning over songs by Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and David Seville (yes, “The Chipmunk Song” could have been the first Grammy winner). A lot we could do there, and maybe we will, since they snubbed 1958 classics like “Johnny B Goode,” “La Bamba,” and “The Witch Doctor.” (It was a good year for David Seville.) But I want to start at a year that was truly full of snubs:

1957.

At least “La Bamba” had a chance. Every song before 1958 had no chance. So to right a great wrong, Just Rewards project #1 will be to reward the Best Record of 1957.

First, we need nominations. We will pick songs through a mix of

  • Songs that were popular at the time. Looking at the Billboard Charts for undeniable hits and songs that topped their year-end charts. Although this will play a role in the pool of potential nominees, when it comes to picking the best, this should play a minimal role.
  • Songs that are popular now. We got the gift of hindsight here and we should use it. If a song is beloved now, we’ll consider it. If a song came out this year and didn’t become popular until a year or more later, no matter. We’re not predicting what the Grammys would have been but what they should.
  • Songs that are critic darlings. I have a spreadsheet full of songs that were on major “all time greatest” lists and I’ll go through that data at a later date, but recently I came across acclaimedmusic.net, which has proved invaluable for this task, not only for ranking songs culled from a gazillion lists, but also for being a definitive marker of when exactly the songs came out. I’ve had to edit my list a dozen times because I had songs I thought were from 1957 turn out to be from ’56, ’58, and even one that was really from ’55. Embarrassing, but I thank them.
  • Songs we want to advocate for. That includes: underrated songs we love. We are the gatekeepers in this project, and our subjective opinions matter most. But also, at least in creating a list of potential nominees, we want a utopian selection of songs, from diverse genres and diverse people. (That said, it’ll be pretty hard to ignore some foundational Rock n Roll songs from 1957. Idealism mixed with realism, I guess!)

To start, here’s playlist of over thirty songs, based on my list and the one at acclaimed.net, of some of the greatest songs of 1957: music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXb2nCJdzD9DmJF61X3Bf0USG6edMeyyy

Take a listen. If one sticks out as the definitive best song of 1957, advocate for it by tweeting me at twitter.com/justrewardstuff

If this was the real Grammys, there would have been five nominees set in stone from history, we’d debate those, add new songs, remove their bad picks and then veto and advocate until we get a new Best Record. So instead, this week I’m going to nominate five songs that I think are shoo-ins to be discussed. This is how I envision the timeline of this moving forward.

  1. Once a day for five days, I’ll add a nomination to the list.
  2. The next week we’ll begin adding nominations selected from YOU! (note: due to demand, it may not be you, or it’ll only be you.)
  3. Debates begin somehow? (look, I got ideas, but since #2 is a big question mark, this turns into a bigger question mark)
  4. ????? (oh no, more question marks!)
  5. Profit! Sorry, I mean a Best Record of 1957 is chosen!

Let the musical adventure followed by vengeful justice for a single song begin!