GRAMMYs' Best Albums

February 05, 2008 -- 6:17 pm PST

A retrospective look at GRAMMY Album Of The Year winners from 1990–1999

(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.)

Back On The Block
Quincy Jones (And Various Artists)

Almost 40 years after launching his career as a young jazz trumpeter in Lionel Hampton's band, Quincy Jones utilized his wide range of skills as a performer, composer, arranger, and producer to create Back On The Block, an album whose spectrum of musical colors spans jazz to rap, soul, world music, and pop. Varied contributors include Joe Zawinul, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Chaka Khan, Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, Kool Moe Dee, Ice-T, Melle Mel, and pre-teen R&B star Tevin Campbell. Because of its eclecticism, the album brought home GRAMMYs in divergent genres including arrangement, rap and jazz, and Jones was named Producer Of The Year for the third time.

Other Nominees:
Mariah Carey (Mariah Carey)
…But Seriously (Phil Collins)
Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em (M.C. Hammer)
Wilson Phillips (Wilson Phillips)

Natalie Cole

Prior to releasing Unforgettable, Natalie Cole — named Best New Artist at the 18th Annual GRAMMYs in 1976 — had kept a fair distance from her musical heritage, creating mostly pop and R&B-based recordings. But she seemed to come to peace with her lineage on Unforgettable, striking a beautiful balance of jazz and R&B standards, and taking advantage of technological recording advances allowing her to "duet" with her late father, jazz icon Nat. (The massive success of the album led her to move even further toward jazz on subsequent albums.) In addition to Album Of The Year, Unforgettable's title track was dubbed both Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year (won by songwriter Irving Gordon).

Other Nominees:
Heart In Motion (Amy Grant)
Luck Of The Draw (Bonnie Raitt)
Out Of Time (R.E.M.)
The Rhythm Of The Saints (Paul Simon)

Eric Clapton

In a year of incredibly strong albums, including U2's heralded Achtung Baby and Annie Lennox's solo debut, an acoustic effort by a guitar legend was recognized as the year's standout. One of the more stellar albums of the MTV "Unplugged" series, Eric Clapton's 1992 effort (recorded in front of an intimate audience at Bray Studios in London) was a high point in his '90s output. The stripped-down yet genuine collection included a re-working of the classic "Layla," traditional blues numbers "Rollin' And Tumblin'" and "Before You Accuse Me," and "Tears In Heaven," a touching farewell to his young son Conor, who had died the previous year. The track won both Song and Record Of The Year; in total, Unplugged garnered six GRAMMYs.

Other Nominees:
Ingenue (k.d. lang)
Diva (Annie Lennox)
Achtung Baby (U2)
Beauty And The Beast — Motion Picture Soundtrack (Various Artists)

The Bodyguard — Original Soundtrack Album
Whitney Houston

Seven years after her splashy self-titled debut, Whitney Houston took a detour from pop superstardom into acting with the film The Bodyguard. Although the romantic thriller failed to garner critical acclaim, the explosive popularity of the soundtrack resulted in an increase in box office receipts. The album featured such standout Houston performances as "I'm Every Woman," the soaring "I Have Nothing" and the monumental, yet plaintive "I Will Always Love You." Penned by Dolly Parton, it wasn't the first time the latter song was heard in a film: The same year "I Will Always Love You" appeared on Parton's album Jolene (1974), Martin Scorsese used it in his romantic drama Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. The Bodyguard would spend 20 weeks at No. 1 and sell more than 17 million copies, making it the biggest-selling soundtrack album in history.

Other Nominees:
Kamakiriad (Donald Fagen)
River Of Dreams (Billy Joel)
Automatic For The People (R.E.M.)
Ten Summoner's Tales (Sting)

MTV Unplugged
Tony Bennett

After hitting a rough spot in his career, 68-year-old Tony Bennett — one of the most enduring and respected pop standards interpreters  — suddenly gained a whole new appreciative audience, many of whom were not even born when he'd won Record Of The Year in 1962 for "I Left My Heart In San Francisco." Under the shrewd guidance of his son and manager Danny, MTV Unplugged became the apex of a refreshed phase of Bennett's career. Ably supported by his loyal and elegant Ralph Sharon Trio (and joined by guests Elvis Costello and k.d. lang) on MTV Unplugged, Bennett introduced a new generation to the Great American Songbook, once again proving that standards are hard to beat — in any era. 

Other Nominees:
The 3 Tenors In Concert 1994 (Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Zubin Mehta)
From The Cradle (Eric Clapton)
Longing In Their Hearts (Bonnie Raitt)
Seal (Seal)

Jagged Little Pill
Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette was quite successful as a child actress and teen pop star years before she took the world by storm in the mid-'90s. And storm is no exaggeration: Jagged Little Pill, her moody, angst-filled debut for Maverick Records was embraced by pretty much anyone who needed a soundtrack to a relationship gone sour. Co-written and produced by Glen Ballard, the album — which has become one of the best-selling recordings by a woman ever — features a solid lineup of tracks including "You Oughta Know" (a double-GRAMMY winner), "Ironic," "You Learn," and "Hand In My Pocket."

Other Nominees:
Daydream (Mariah Carey)
History Past, Present and Future Book 1 (Michael Jackson)
Relish (Joan Osborne)
Vitalogy (Pearl Jam)

Falling Into You 
Celine Dion

Celine Dion won her first GRAMMY and became a household name in 1992 primarily through her duet with Peabo Bryson on the title track to the Disney animated film Beauty And The Beast. But the expansiveness of Falling Into You, featuring the gorgeous ballad "Because You Loved Me" written by Diane Warren, foreshadowed the artistic level Dion would subsequently reach. Embellished with love-struck strings and shimmery touches of Latin American and dance-floor rhythms, the album perfectly captures the emotions and confidence of a then recently married Dion. It also set her up perfectly to record the most recognizable song of her career: four-time GRAMMY winner "My Heart Will Go On," from the 1997 film Titanic.

Other Nominees:
Odelay (Beck)
The Score (Fugees)
Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (the Smashing Pumpkins)
Waiting To Exhale — Motion Picture Soundtrack (Various Artists)

Time Out Of Mind
Bob Dylan

After a significant creative break from original recordings, Bob Dylan returned in 1997 with Time Out Of Mind, a rough-hewn collection of dark songs produced with the help of Daniel Lanois. Written during a long snowy winter in Minnesota and recorded in Miami's Criteria Studios, Time Out Of Mind's foreboding feel was heralded by critics as a return to form for Dylan. Said to be haunted by the influence of Buddy Holly during the sessions, he was further spooked by a serious chest infection that sidelined him during the final production of the album. Dylan would recover and, interestingly, would share the media spotlight during this period with his son Jakob, whose band the Wallflowers were enjoying success with Bringing Down The Horse.

Other Nominees:
The Day (Babyface)
This Fire (Paula Cole)
Flaming Pie (Paul McCartney)
OK Computer (Radiohead)

The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill

After several rewarding years with the Fugees, Lauryn Hill branched out on her own with The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, a soulful stew of hip-hop, reggae, R&B, and Motown. The album was propelled by the hit single "Doo Wop (That Thing)," which picked up GRAMMYs for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best Rhythm & Blues Song — in total, she brought home five GRAMMYs at the 41st Annual show. Although named Best New Artist, Hill was certainly not new to the entertainment industry. Before her solo success, she'd dipped her toes into acting ("As The World Turns" and Sister Act 2) and was a member of the Fugees, two-time GRAMMY winners in 1996 for the album The Score.

Other Nominees:
The Globe Sessions (Sheryl Crow)
Version 2.0 (Garbage)
Ray Of Light (Madonna)
Come On Over (Shania Twain)

Carlos Santana

With the help of then Arista head Clive Davis, Carlos Santana reintroduced himself to the world in 1999 in a new light. Already a veteran dating back to San Francisco's Summer of Love, Supernatural found Santana paired up with an array of stars including Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas ("Smooth"), Lauryn Hill and Cee-Lo ("Do You Like The Way"), rock en español act Maná ("Corizon Espinado"), as well as fellow six-stringer Eric Clapton ("The Calling"), for an album that crossed both musical and generational divides. New fans of Santana reveled in their discovery, but tenured fans knew he'd been a master of unique collaborations for years (including work with Alice Coltrane, John McLaughlin and Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji, among many others). Supernatural was anointed with eight GRAMMYs, including Album, Record and Song Of The Year (the latter for writers Rob Thomas and Itaal Shur). 

Other Nominees:
Millennium (Backstreet Boys)
Fly (Dixie Chicks)
When I Look In Your Eyes (Diana Krall)
Fanmail (TLC)

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

GRAMMYs' Best Albums, 1958-1969

GRAMMYs' Best Albums, 1970-1979

GRAMMYs' Best Albums, 1980-1989

GRAMMYs' Best Albums, 2000-2007