Stevie Nicks made headlines on Monday (March 23) when she congratulated Harry Styles for his album, Fine Line. “Way to go H~ it is your Rumours,” the legendary singer wrote, referring to Fleetwood Mac‘s landmark 1977 album.
Rumours is of course one of the best-selling albums of all time and a generational touchstone. It also holds an odd Grammy distinction — it’s one of only six albums in the 62-year history of the Grammys to win album of the year — and absolutely nothing else.
At the 20th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 23, 1978, Fleetwood Mac was nominated in three categories. They were up for best pop vocal performance by a group for their work on the album, but lost to Bee Gees‘ gorgeous “How Deep Is Your Love,” the first single from Saturday Night Fever (which went on to win album of the year the following year.) (In those days, albums and singles competed against other in performance categories.)
They were nominated for best arrangement for voices for “Go Your Own Way,” but lost to Eagles‘ “New Kid in Town,” the first single from Hotel California (one of the albums that Rumours beat for album of the year).
So why did Rumours win the top prize? The album was both a commercial and critical home-run. It logged 31 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and spawned four top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The album blended elements of pop, rock and even adult contemporary. (“Dreams” made it to No. 11 on what was then called Billboard‘s easy listening chart.) That made it appeal to a broad range of Grammy voters.
Here are the five other albums to win album of the year and in no other categories.
George Harrison & Friends, The Concert for Bangla Desh (1972). This was not only the album’s only win: It was its only nomination.
So why did it win? The cause was deeply compelling—the all-star 1971 concert at Madison Square Garden to alleviate starvation in Bangla Desh is widely regarded as the first major rock charity event. And the roster of participants was impressive — not only Harrison but also Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Leon Russell (this was the first Grammy for all three artists), legendary producer Phil Spector (his only Grammy ever) and more.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy (1981). Lennon was nominated in three categories. He was up for record of the year for “(Just Like) Starting Over,” but lost to Kim Carnes‘ trendy megahit “Bette Davis Eyes,” and best pop vocal performance, male for his tracks from the album, but lost to Al Jarreau‘s Breakin’ Away.
So why did it win? Lennon had been murdered in December 1980 by a deranged fan, a fact that is still hard to fathom all these years later. This gave Grammy voters a chance to honor his memory. Surprisingly, this was his only Grammy in his entire post-Beatles career.
George Michael, Faith (1988). Michael’s only other nomination was for “Father Figure,” which was up for best pop vocal performance, male. He lost that one to Bobby McFerrin‘s amiable “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” (Grammy voters have long had a soft spot for jazz musicians such as McFerrin and Jarreau.)
So why did it win? Faith was a convincing artistic breakthrough for someone who had broken through commercially just a few years earlier with Wham!‘s bubblegum smash “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” Grammy voters love it when an artist steps up to the next level.
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (2010). This was not only Arcade Fire’s only Grammy win that year, it’s their only Grammy win to date. The group was nominated for two other awards that year, but lost both to The Black Keys. The Suburbs lost best alternative music album to Brothers; “Ready to Start” lost best rock performance by a duo or group with vocals to “Tighten Up.”
So why did it win? Grammy voters are drawn to acts that come from the alternative music world. U2 and Beck have also won album of the year. Green Day, Coldplay and Gotye have all won record or song of the year. The better question is why didn’t The Black Keys win album of the year? They weren’t nominated. If the Nominations Review Committee had put Brothers in the finals for album of the year, it sure looks like it would have won.
Mumford & Sons, Babel (2012). This was the album’s only win, but Mumford & Sons won a second award that night for best long-form music video for Big Easy Express. Babel was nominated for best Americana album, but lost to Bonnie Raitt‘s Slipstream. The quartet was also nominated for best rock performance and best rock song for “I Will Wait,” but lost both awards to The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy” (there they are again!). (Mumford & Sons were also nominated for a song they wrote for the film Brave that didn’t appear on Babel.)
So why did it win? The quartet was riding a wave of goodwill from their previous album, the sleeper smash Sigh No More. Babel beat The Black Keys’ El Camino for album of the year, but Raitt’s album wasn’t nominated for the top award. Raitt, who won the top award for 1989’s Nick of Time, has long been a Grammy favorite.
Note 1: Frank Sinatra‘s double-disk career recap, A Man and His Music, the 1966 winner, won in no other categories that year, but its closing track, “The September of My Years,” was included on (and in fact was the title track of) the previous year’s album of the year winner. That just barely kept it off this list. Incidentally, Sinatra won two other 1966 Grammys for his sumptuous smash “Strangers in the Night,” which was not included on A Man and His Music.
Note 2: Glen Campbell‘s album of the year victory for By the Time I Get to Phoenix was his only 1968 win, but he had won two awards the previous year for his performance of the sublime title track. Likewise, Paul Simon‘s album of the year victory for Graceland was his only 1986 win, but he went on to win record of the year the following year for the title track.
Here’s another weird fact, if you can handle one more. The members of Fleetwood Mac each won two Grammys for album of the year for Rumours — one as artists and one as co-producers. Between 1965 and 1978, the Grammys allowed artists to double up in that way. The rules changed in 1979. Starting that year, and continuing to the present, an artist can win just one award for album of the year, even if he or she also works on the album in other capacities. Smart move.
Fine Line is Styles’ second solo album, just as Rumours was Fleetwood Mac’s second album by the classic line-up that sent the veteran band to the very top of the pop world. Will Nicks’ strong words of praise for Styles’ album help it land a Grammy nomination? (It would be his first, either solo or with One Direction.) We’ll find out when the nominations for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards are announced right around Nov. 20 (which was the date of last year’s announcement).
P.S.: Twenty years after Rumours, Fleetwood Mac was Grammy-nominated for a live version of “The Chain,” a key track from the album. They were nominated for best rock performance by a duo or group with vocal for a rendition of the song which was drawn from their live album The Dance.