Many were surprised when Black Pumas’ “Colors” received a Grammy nomination for record of the year. The rootsy ballad has yet to reach the Billboard Hot 100.
But “Colors” is far from the first track that didn’t make Billboard’s flagship songs chart to receive a nomination in the Grammys’ marquee category. It’s the 12th in Grammy history; the ninth since the Recording Academy installed a Nominations Review Committee in 1995 to determine the final nominees in the Big Four categories, including record of the year.
As these numbers suggest, that committee has made it easier for non-hits to receive record of the year nominations. According to the Academy, tracks have to rank among the top 20 vote-getters among rank-and-file voting members to be considered by the committee. That committee, presumably, boosted some of these post-1995 tracks the rest of the way to the top five (or top eight in the past three years), which would make them record of the year nominees.
Bon Iver has two of the 12 record of the year nominees that failed to crack the Hot 100. That’s either a sign that the Nominations Review Committee really loves the band or that pop radio is really cool to them. Or both.
Here are the 12 singles or tracks that received Grammy nominations for record of the year but didn’t crack the Hot 100. They’re listed in chronological order:
Barbra Streisand, “Happy Days Are Here Again” (1963)
This was the great star’s first signature song. The track, which was introduced in 1929, was very familiar as a rousing song of celebration. The audacity of performing the song as a dramatic ballad signaled, at the very start of her career, that Streisand was an artist of great imagination. It was featured on her eponymous debut album, which reached No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and won two Grammys: album of the year and best vocal performance, female.
Neil Young, “Harvest Moon” (1993)
No other singles received record of the year nominations without reaching the Hot 100 for 30 years, until this gentle, soothing lullaby by Neil Young. “Harvest Moon,” which was also nominated for song of the year, was the title track of Young’s 19th studio album. Linda Ronstadt sang background vocals. The project harkened back to Young’s classic 1972 album, Harvest, his only solo album to top the Billboard 200. Harvest didn’t receive a single nomination back in the day, but two decades later, a lot of raised-on-rock musicians who had been Grammy holdouts were now voting members.
Mary Chapin Carpenter, “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” (1994)
This spunky track with a feminist storyline was inspired by a blatantly sexist TV commercial of the ‘70s, in which a man points to his wife’s many attributes and decides, “My wife…I think I’ll keep her.” (That wouldn’t fly today — in a TV ad or in real life.) This song was drawn from Carpenter’s fourth album, Come On Come On, which was released in 1992. This was the song’s only Grammy nomination.
U2, “Walk On” (2001)
This tender rock ballad, which was like a salve in the wake of the national trauma that 9/11 represented, won record of the year and was nominated for best rock song. It was drawn from the band’s 10th studio album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200. The album won a Grammy for best rock album and was nominated for album of the year. The band opened the Grammy telecast in February 2002 by performing this song. (Note how U2 slyly embedded the album title into the lyrics to this song.)
Charles dusted his 1967 solo hit with an assist from Jones (and from Billy Preston, who plays the gospel-edged organ solo). This poignant ballad won Grammys for record of the year and best pop collaboration with vocals. It was from Charles’ final studio album, Genius Loves Company, which won album of the year and best pop vocal album. That album reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 following the Grammys, becoming Charles’ first chart leader since his 1962 classic Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.
Robert Plant/Alison Krauss, “Please Read the Letter” (2008)
Plant first recorded this song on a 1982 album with Jimmy Page. He re-recorded it with Krauss on their 2007 album, Raising Sand. The rustic project reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and won Grammys for album of the year and best contemporary folk/Americana album.
Bon Iver, “Holocene” (2011)
This ethereal ballad is from the band’s eponymous sophomore album, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and won a Grammy for best alternative music album.
D’Angelo and the Vanguard, “Really Love” (2015)
This adventurous soul ballad won a Grammy for best R&B song. It was drawn from D’Angelo’s third album, Black Messiah, which reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and won a Grammy for best R&B album.
Brandi Carlile, “The Joke” (2018)
This richly emotional ballad won Grammys for best American roots performance and best American roots song and was also nominated for song of the year. It’s from the singer’s sixth album, By the Way, I Forgive You, which reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200. It won a Grammy for best Americana album and was nominated for album of the year. Carlisle performed the song on the Grammy telecast in 2019.
Bon Iver, “Hey, Ma” (2019)
This is from the band’s fourth album I,I, which was nominated for both album of the year and best alternative music album.
H.E.R., “Hard Place” (2019)
H.E.R. introduced this tender R&B ballad on the Grammy telecast in February 2019. It went on to receive Grammy nominations for record and song of the year the following year. It’s from H.E.R.’s compilation album I Used to Know Her, which was nominated for album of the year.
Black Pumas, “Colors” (2020)
This rootsy ballad, which builds on the music tradition of such artists as Curtis Mayfield, is also nominated for best American roots performance. It’s taken from the deluxe edition of the duo’s eponymous debut album, which is nominated for album of the year.