A Brief History of Alternate Versions of Songs Nominated for Grammys

The Grammys have a history of doling out nominations for live, alternate or remixed versions of songs over the years.

This year's Grammy nominations have been debated to death already, despite being out for less than a week, but a few nominations continue to stick out beyond of the classic deserving-or-not question -- perhaps most conspicuously, those songs nominated via live and alternate versions. In this year's nominations, for example, Kelly Clarkson received a nod for Best Pop Solo Performance for "Piece By Piece (Idol Version)," a live rendition of her 2015 single that was released this February after she performed the song on the 15th season of American Idol. And in Best Rock Performance, both Alabama Shakes, with "Joe (Live From Austin City Limits)," and Disturbed, with a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" performed on Conan O'Brien's talk show in March.

Those versions are just a few of the one-off renditions of songs nominated among the larger Grammy fields, while some of the smaller niche categories (Gospel and Christian in particular) are littered with them. But it's not as rare of a phenomenon as one might think.

2017 Grammys

In 2015, for example, Sam Smith took home the prestigious Record of the Year and Song of the Year awards with "Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)," a remix of Smith's original released as an EP with the single's debut; it's only the second alternate version ever even nominated for Record of the Year and the second victor in Song of the Year (Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven," from his MTV Unplugged album, won both in 1993). Because songwriters, not necessarily performers, receive nominations for Song of the Year, multiple covers of single songs have been nominated in the past in the same year: "I Swear" in 1995 by country singer John Michael Montgomery and R&B group All-4-One; "I Can Love You Like That" the following year by the same two artists; and "How Do I Live" in 1998 by both LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood.

For Album of the Year, live releases are a little more common; Johnny Cash's landmark At San Quentin received a nod in 1970 and Peter Frampton's blockbuster Frampton Comes Alive! was nominated in 1977 (losing to Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life), while Harry Belafonte's back-to-back Carnegie Hall releases received nods in 1959 and 1961 and The Three Tenors in Concert 1994 was nominated in 1995. In terms of winners, Unplugged albums from Clapton (1993) and Tony Bennett (1995) actually took home the award, and live albums Judy at Carnegie Hall (Judy Garland, 1962) and Concert For Bangladesh (George Harrison and others, 1973) also received the honor.

Individual genre nominations, as would be expected, contain many more alternate, live and remixed versions of tracks, particularly within rock, metal and pop. Most recently, Smith lost Best Pop Vocal Performance for his Darkchild remix in 2015 to a live version of Pharrell's "Happy," with a live version of John Legend's "All of Me" also nominated in the category. In 2013, Adele's live rendition of "Set Fire to the Rain," recorded at Royal Albert Hall in London, kept her 21 win string going with a victory in the same field.

Now-defunct gendered pop performance categories also served up nominations (and wins) for Elton John ("Candle In the Wind (Live 1986)" was nominated in 1988), Roy Orbison ("Oh, Pretty Woman (Live 1987)" won in 1991), Sting ("Fragile (Live)" was nominated in 2003) and Sarah McLachlan ("I Will Remember You (Live)" won in 2000), while a live version of Beyoncé's "Halo" was nominated in 2011 after its studio version won the previous year. Michael Bublé (Michael Bublé Meets Madison Square Garden, 2010), Bennett (Unplugged in 1995) and Patti Page (Live at Carnegie Hall in 1999) all scored victories for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album; Barbra Streisand, Rosemary Clooney and Rufus Wainright all picked up nominations there as well.

Within rock, the "classic" artists such as Clapton (almost all stemming from Unplugged, save a 2010 Best Rock Album nomination for his Live from Madison Square Garden release with Steve Winwood), Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck all got live nominations, as did the John Mayer Trio with their live LP Try! in 2007. Metal has been similar; Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica sit alongside Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Pantera and Hatebreed with live nominations for Best Metal Performance.

For a genre actually known for its remixes, only a few alternate songs or albums have ever won or been nominated in the rap categories over the years: iLoveMakonnen's "Tuesday" remix with Drake got a nod for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2015, though the original was never officially released; Beyoncé's "Ego" remix feat. Kanye West was nominated in the same category in 2010; the closest other one may be "Numb/Encore," a mashup from Jay Z and Linkin Park's collaborative album Collision Course which won Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2006 awards.

But R&B has been fairly well-represented, with Luke James and Rick Ross' "Options (Wolfjames Version)" nominated for Best R&B Song in 2015 and Erykah Badu's Live (1999), Alicia Keys' Unplugged (2006) and Lalah Hathaway's Lalah Hathaway Live album this year all nominated for Best R&B Album over the years. Beyoncé's "Me, Myself & I (Live)" was nominated in the now-defunct Best Female R&B Vocal Performance category in 2009.

While this is an incomplete list, it serves to show the variety of secondary versions of songs and albums that the Grammys have nominated over the years. Whether Disturbed, Alabama Shakes, Kelly Clarkson or Lalah Hathaway will prevail this year will be decided when the Grammys take center stage on Feb. 12. And check out the Spotify playlist of some of these tracks below.


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