GRAMMYs' Best Albums

February 04, 2008 -- 4:45 pm PST

A retrospective look at GRAMMY Album Of The Year winners from 1980–1989

(Following is a roundup of the albums that have earned the GRAMMY Album Of The Year distinction over the last half-century. Some have surprised, some were seemingly consensus choices, and still others have fostered lasting debate. You'll read a bit about the albums and those involved in making them, the context of the time they were released, as well as a list of the other nominees. If you've been a longstanding music fan, this is your chance to reflect on a truly golden musical era. Conversely, the casual fan will appreciate this abridged glance at the history and evolution of contemporary pop. One thing's certain: it’ll start the debates all over again.)

(For a complete list of 51st GRAMMY Awards nominees, please click here.)

Christopher Cross
Christopher Cross

Christopher Cross is the only artist in GRAMMY history to land "the big four" — Album Of The Year, Best New Artist, Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year — in a single year. Cross took flight this year on the wings of his debut solo album and its lilting hit single "Sailing" (which also won for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) for Cross and producer Michael Omartian). Cross penned nine pop gems, and Omartian lined up top-flight session men and notable backing contributions from Michael McDonald, Don Henley and Eric Johnson, among others. Within the next year, Cross would win a Best Original Song Oscar for "Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)" (co-written with Peter Allen, Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager) for the Dudley Moore comedy, but future efforts would not attain similar commercial success.

Other Nominees:
Glass Houses (Billy Joel)
The Wall (Pink Floyd)
Trilogy: Past, Present, Future (Frank Sinatra)
Guilty (Barbra Streisand)

Double Fantasy
John Lennon & Yoko Ono

This year's Album Of The Year winner was a favorite driven by both an artistic and emotional resonance: John Lennon's "comeback" album, recorded with wife Yoko Ono, his first since taking five years off to raise his son Sean. For fans, the fact that Double Fantasy was released less than a month before Lennon was murdered outside his New York City apartment building makes some of its more impressionable songs ("Beautiful Boy [Darling Boy]," "[Just Like] Starting Over," "I'm Losing You," "Watching The Wheels") that much more precious. Some critics took issue with the album's slickness — it was the '80s, after all — but it was hard to challenge songs radiating such buoyant happiness and peaceful self-content.

Other Nominees:
Mistaken Identity (Kim Carnes)
Breakin' Away (Al Jarreau)
The Dude (Quincy Jones)
Gaucho (Steely Dan)

Toto IV

It was a very good year for Toto, the group comprised of some of the busiest on-call musicians on the Los Angeles studio scene. In addition to Album Of The Year, Toto took home Record Of The Year for the catchy cut "Rosanna," named for (but not about) Steve Porcaro's then girlfriend, actress Rosanna Arquette. The group was named Producer Of The Year, and Toto IV was also named Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical. To top it off, keyboarist David Paich was honored with a GRAMMY for Best Vocal Arrangement (For Two Or More Voices), and Paich, Jerry Hey and Jeff Porcaro were honored for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal(s), in both cases for "Rosanna." Like groups such as Booker T. And The MG's before them, Toto proved the depth of talent in America's finest session musicians.

Other Nominees:
The Nightfly (Donald Fagen)
The Nylon Curtain (Billy Joel)
Tug Of War (Paul McCartney)
American Fool (John Cougar Mellencamp)

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's Thriller, and its endless string of hits, dominated the charts with a 37 week run at No. 1. Nominated for 12 GRAMMYs, it won eight, including Record Of The Year ("Beat It") and Album Of The Year. For his work on the album, Quincy Jones joined Jackson as Producer Of The Year. With exposure heightened by constant rotation on MTV, many of Thriller's songs were approached as visual pieces of pop art — there's no doubt they forever changed the way we see music. Guests such as Paul McCartney ("The Girl Is Mine") and Eddie Van Halen ("Beat It") got much of the attention, but the album also featured important musical contributions from the members of Toto and the likes of David Foster, Paul Jackson Jr., and Rod Temperton (writer of the frightening title track).

Other Nominees:
Let's Dance (David Bowie)
An Innocent Man (Billy Joel)
Synchronicity (the Police)
Flashdance – Motion Picture Soundtrack (Various Artists)

Can't Slow Down
Lionel Richie

In 1984 the Reagan administration was firmly entrenched in the White House, MTV was soaring as a worldwide phenomenon and the Commodores had just two years earlier made top rank. Following a successful run as the group's lead singer, Lionel Richie began to branch out and write for other artists. His No. 1 hit duo with Diana Ross, "Endless Love," from the film of the same name, preceded his work as a solo artist. Can't Slow Down was Richie's second album, driven by the party anthem "All Night Long (All Night)" (whose infectious video was produced and directed by Mike Nesmith and co-directed by Bob Giraldi and Bob Rafelson) as well as "Hello" and "Penny Lover," among other standout tracks. It would go on to sell 10 million copies.

Other Nominees:
She's So Unusual (Cyndi Lauper)
Purple Rain – Motion Picture Soundtrack (Prince And The Revolution)
Born In The U.S.A. (Bruce Springsteen)
Private Dancer (Tina Turner)

No Jacket Required
Phil Collins

The charity single "We Are The World," written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson — and performed by a slew of pop stars of all stripes — brought home Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year, but Phil Collins' No Jacket Required was anointed Album Of The Year. Filled with colorful hits such as "Sussudio," "Take Me Home" and "One More  Night," No Jacket Required was stylistically miles away from Collins' experimental, prog rock days in Genesis. But its combination of synthesized undertones and pop sensibilities would help charter the sound of a new era. Appropriately, Collins and Hugh Padgham shared the award for Producer Of The Year (Non-Classical).

Other Nominees:
Brothers In Arms (Dire Straits)
Whitney Houston (Whitney Houston)
The Dream Of The Blue Turtles (Sting)
We Are The World: USA For Africa (Various Artists)

Paul Simon

One of pop's most successful forays into world music, Graceland was an experiment stemming from Paul Simon’s longtime fascination with South African culture. Coupled with a diverse collection of guests (including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt, and the Everly Brothers), it stood out from the pack. A majority of the songs also uniquely incorporate elements of the slinky South African mbaqanga style, and a few of the lyrics touch upon the subject of apartheid (part of the album was recorded in Johannesburg). But Graceland is less a message album than it is a shining example of the spiritual and rhythmic connection linking music around the globe. The title track would also garner a Record Of The Year GRAMMY in 1987.

Other Nominees:
So (Peter Gabriel)
Control (Janet Jackson)
The Broadway Album (Barbra Streisand)
Back In The High Life (Steve Winwood)

The Joshua Tree

No longer post-punk indie darlings by 1987, U2 had become full-fledged rock stars. The Joshua Tree, produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois (who first came on board with their previous release, The Unforgettable Fire), is a big reason why. Standout tracks such as "Where The Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and the haunting "With Or Without You" are pure and heartfelt, and found U2 coming into their own as a voice of their generation. By further embracing American influences like folk and blues that they first touched upon with The Unforgettable Fire — and addressing political and religious themes with conviction — U2 created their most popular and critically acclaimed album to date.

Other Nominees:
Whitney (Whitney Houston)
Bad (Michael Jackson)
Trio (Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt)
Sign 'O' The Times (Prince)

George Michael

At the 31st Annual GRAMMYs, Bobby McFerrin's optimistic "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was crowned Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year, and neo-folkie Tracy Chapman was named Best New Artist, but Faith had the substance to stand alone as Album Of The Year. George Michael's debut solo release after parting with the British duet Wham! is pure pop escapism, replete with a rich mix of beat-heavy dance club jewels ("Faith"), slow burns ("Father Figure"), jazzy torch songs ("Kissing A Fool"), and risqué romps ("I Want Your Sex"). Tightly produced by Michael (who wrote or co-wrote all the songs) and nary a low moment, the album is recognized as a pop classic and has earned the RIAA diamond certification for sales in excess of 10 million copies.

Other Nominees:
Tracy Chapman (Tracy Chapman)
Simple Pleasures (Bobby McFerrin)
…Nothing Like The Sun (Sting)
Roll With It (Steve Winwood)

Nick Of Time
Bonnie Raitt

Eighteen long years after her self-titled debut, Bonnie Raitt became a mainstream success with Nick Of Time. In addition to Album Of The Year, the Don Was-produced disc brought Raitt two other GRAMMYs; to cap off the night, she was also awarded a Best Traditional Blues Recording GRAMMY for "I'm In The Mood" for her pairing with bluesman John Lee Hooker on his album The Healer. On Nick Of Time, Raitt — known for her keen ability to swing from traditional blues to rock and back — created her most consistent collection of songs evidenced by John Hiatt's "Thing Called Love," "Have A Heart" and the GRAMMY-winning self-penned title track. Nick Of Time's wins remain a defining illustration of how GRAMMY night can become a star-making evening.

Other Nominees:
The Raw And The Cooked (Fine Young Cannibals)
The End Of The Innocence (Don Henley)
Full Moon Fever (Tom Petty)
Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 (Traveling Wilburys)

(GRAMMY Album Of The Year profiles written by Melissa Blazek.)

GRAMMYs' Best Albums, 1958-1969

GRAMMYs' Best Albums, 1970-1979

GRAMMYs' Best Albums, 1990-1999

GRAMMYs' Best Albums, 2000-2007