All Grammy Record of the Year Winners, Ranked: Critics' Picks
The best of the best.
How do you play favorites with the musical performances already considered the nearest to perfection by the industry with each passing year? It’s a tall order, no doubt, but it’s certainly an intriguing concept.
Our completely subjective list of the dozens of record of the year winners at the Grammy Awards are among some of the most timeless, beloved constructions in history, spanning across all genres – pop, R&B, rock, country, you name it, it’s here.
Before either D’Angelo, Mark Ronson, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift or The Weeknd join the list come Monday, let’s discuss the best of the best: the records of the year that, if going against their award-winning peers, would probably come out on top yet again:
Our selections are below, with additional commentary on the top 15 choices:
57. "Change the World" - Eric Clapton
56. "Don’t Worry, Be Happy" - Bobby McFerrin
55. "Up, Up and Away" - the Fifth Dimension
54. "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)" - Domenico Modugno
53. "I Honestly Love You" - Olivia Newton-John
52. "Days of Wine and Roses" - Henry Mancini
51. "We Are The World" - USA for Africa
50. "Rosanna" - Toto
49. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" - Green Day
48. "A Taste of Honey" - Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
47. "All I Wanna Do" - Sheryl Crow
46. "Walk On" - U2
45. "Bette Davis Eyes" - Kim Carnes
44. "Use Somebody" - Kings of Leon
43. "The Girl from Ipanema" - Astrud Gilbreto & Stan Getz
42. "Clocks" - Coldplay
41. "Love Will Keep Us Together" - Captain & Tennille
40. "Wind Beneath My Wings" - Bette Midler
39. "Theme From A Summer Place" - Percy Faith & His Orchestra
38. "This Masquerade" - George Benson
37. "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In" - the Fifth Dimension
36. "Sunny Came Home" - Shawn Colvin
35. "Sailing" - Christopher Cross
34. "Somebody That I Used to Know" - Gotye Featuring Kimbra
33. "Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)" - Sam Smith
32. "What a Fool Believes" - the Doobie Brothers
31. "Please Read the Letter" - Robert Plant & Allison Krauss
30. "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" - Tony Bennett
29. "Strangers in the Night" - Frank Sinatra
28. "Don’t Know Why" - Norah Jones
27. "Another Day in Paradise" - Phil Collins
26. "Just the Way You Are" - Billy Joel
25. "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" - Roberta Flack
24. "Beautiful Day" - U2
23. "Here We Go Again" - Ray Charles & Norah Jones
22. "Unforgettable" - Nat King Cole & Natalie Cole
21. "What’s Love Got To Do With It" - Tina Turner
20. "Graceland" - Paul Simon
19. "Smooth" - Santana Featuring Rob Thomas
18. "Mrs. Robinson" - Simon & Garfunkel
17. "Need You Now" - Lady Antebellum
16. "Moon River" - Henry Mancini
15. "Mack the Knife" - Bobby Darin
The second-ever record of the year winner was also the first performed in English, though the song has its origins in Germany. Simon Cowell once called the tune the best song ever written, and Darin’s version accentuates the playful, if not occasionally morbid lyrics with a brass-encrusted push and shove. Not bad for a version Dick Clark thought could never resonate.
14. "Kiss From A Rose" - Seal
Never mind that recent redo for Super Bowl comedy purposes, or the fact that the song originally came to prominence as part of the Batman Forever soundtrack (hey, at least it wasn’t Batman & Robin) – “Kiss from a Rose” is a jam, a more-than-worthy addition to the song and record of the year canon. That melody and those harmonies on the chorus? Just dare try to create something that serene. Good luck.
13. "My Heart Will Go On" - Celine Dion
Unlike its namesake, the blockbuster Titanic film flourished in every possible venue – box office, Oscars, and even the Grammys via this weepy Celine Dion standard. Despite being a bit cheesy, the ballad showcases Dion at her vocal best as she soars over the somber melody. To boot, Dion breezes past one of the most climactic key changes in pop music - kid's stuff.
12. "Not Ready to Make Nice" - the Dixie Chicks
A world watched as three country singers, spurned by their musical community, the subject of death threats by daring to besmirch the good name of President George W. Bush and his War on Terror, wrote a song that addressed those who might expect an apology and raised three middle fingers in response. Country radio may not have listened much, but the GRAMMYs certainly did.
11. "Get Lucky" - Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers
“Blurred Lines” may be the biggest hit from the Pharreneissance of 2013, but “Get Lucky” is the movement’s crown jewel. In hindsight, we could all be forgiven for doubting what creation the head-scratching mix of Daft Punk, Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams would produce, but the electronic-disco smash is guaranteed to lift spirits. Expect the song, which both relaxes and excites, to hold up as well in 2043.
10. "Higher Love" - Steve Winwood
It’s not just the buoyant horns, earworm chorus or Steve Winwood’s belting vocal. “Higher Love”’s success is also owed to two high profile guest spots: yeah, that’s Chaka Khan on backing vocals, and the rhythm guitar work you hear is supplied by Chic’s Nile Rodgers, who had a hand in Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” winner of the same award (and, of course, the song above) nearly two decades later.
9. "I Will Always Love You" - Whitney Houston
Dolly + Whitney is a match made in Grammy heaven, so it’s no surprise their “collaboration” took top honors. The win was deserved, though, as The Bodyguard hit shows the strengths of each of its key players: Dolly Parton’s gift for simplistic but appealing songwriting, David Foster’s knack for airtight production, and Whitney Houston’s commanding vocals, on unrestrained display here. Mass popularity risks overplay and annoyance, but at its core, “Always” is a superb effort by everyone involved.
8. "It’s Too Late" - Carole King
As break-up tracks go, few stack up to Carole King’s acceptance of a relationship that’s run its course. The singer-songwriter’s warm and embracing vocal, linked with its lulling melody, ease the listener into a guided repetition, only reinforcing the lyrics’ message of resolution. Forget the classic hallmark feelings of breaking up: rage, despair, and emptiness. Instead, “It’s Too Late” leaves us with simply this: maturity and acceptance. Impressive.
7. "Tears in Heaven" - Eric Clapton
The first of Eric Clapton’s pair of record of the year wins in the 1990s was born from unspeakable tragedy: the accidental death of Clapton’s 4-year-old son Conor in 1991. But Clapton’s performance on “Tears in Heaven” is what this GRAMMY category is all about: while the songwriting is perhaps second to none, it’s his pain-stricken, heart-wrenching delivery and delicately strummed guitar that made the song one for the ages.
6. "Rehab" - Amy Winehouse
“Rehab” has taken on a sense of bitter irony since its architect, Amy Winehouse, died in2 2011, but the hit best captures the spell she left on the industry. Armed with Mark Ronson’s booming retro-soul beat, the lovesick Winehouse bleeds through the raucous narrative with enough sass and sentiment to rival Etta James. At the time, Billboard called the track “a better buzz than a double-gin martini.” We’re still sipping.
5. "Hotel California" - Eagles
A generational classic that has endured long after its original release, the Eagles’ signature tune captures the social awareness (and indulgences) of 1970s America, as we set sail down that dark, desert highway. “California” clocks in at more than six minutes, but the "journey from innocence to experience" (per Don Henley's 2013 explanation) and its drifting, rocking melody makes it worth the time. And that guitar coda signifies one of the best exits in rock music.
4. "Rolling in the Deep" - Adele
The fire that burned in Adele’s heart encircled the entire world, as the 22-year-old Brit marched through the industry with the most gripping revenge track since “You Oughta Know” scorched radios in 1996. Her confidence brims at an all-time high as she attacks the chorus with a perfectly mixed cocktail of pain, resolution and fury – served straight up in a raw, bluesy glass. We’re still living in the age of Adele, but “Deep” alone has already given her claim to an iconic song.
3. "Beat It" - Michael Jackson
It may be a shock to learn that Michael Jackson has just one record of the year win to his name (out of two nominations), but if any entry into the King of Pop’s hallowed discography should stand above the rest in this category, it’s “Beat It,” a superhuman feat of guitar-driven pop that showcases Jackson’s iconic vocal alongside one of music’s great guitar solos, courtesy of Eddie Van Halen.
2. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" - Simon & Garfunkel
One day, Art Garfunkel got his chance to shine sans the vocal presence of Paul Simon, and the result was one of the most beloved songs in the duo’s esteemed body of work. “Bridge over Troubled Water” is a lilting, lighter-than-air ballad marrying perhaps Simon & Garfunkel’s two greatest tricks in their arsenal: Simon’s songwriting and Garfunkel’s falsetto, each legendary in their own right. A fitting end to a lucrative career as a pair.
1. "Killing Me Softly with His Song" - Roberta Flack
“Killing Me Softly” wasn’t originally intended for Roberta Flack. It bounced around, eventually landing with Helen Reddy, who was uneasy about its title. Eventually (and luckily), Flack got her hands on it during a flight, and listeners have reaped the reward for decades. As she did the year before, Flack scored a one-two punch: earning a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and walking away with the Grammy’s record of the year prize (see “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” above.) The comfort of Flack’s constrained singing and her reworked melody grants the listener the luxury of swaying to an easy rhythm and ever-present drum beat. Never has the prospect of having your inner-most secrets broadcast to the world sounded so pleasurable.