Music Review: Ultimate Grammy® Collection (7 CD Series)

As the Grammy® awards get ready to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary with its annual awards show to air February 10, 2008 on CBS, Shout factory has released the 7 CD Ultimate Grammy® Collection.
The set consists of Contemporary R&B, Contemporary Pop, Classic R&B, Classic Pop, Contemporary Rock, Classic Country, and Contemporary Country. Each of the artists featured on this 100 plus song compilation is a Grammy® winner. One thing is for sure, there isn’t a real dud in the entire set.

In his liner notes for each CD, 27 time Grammy® Award winner Quincy Jones writes: “A Grammy® song is one that has done the impossible: It has burned its way into your DNA. Grammy® songs are our shared history. They are the songs of the places and people that matter. They mark time.”
All of the songs on the Ultimate Grammy® Collection are capable of bringing back memories, a first date, a prom, a marriage, the birth of a child etc. Music plays a powerful role in many people lives, and the Ultimate Grammy® Collection serves to bring some of the best songs of our time together in one collection. Some are legends, while others only had one or two big hits, but all influenced our musical culture in some way.
Contemporary R&B features a wide range of artists. Anita Baker, Terence Trent D’arby, Soul II Soul, Luther Vandross, Ray Charles, Sade, Toni Braxton, Boys II Men, Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre, R. Kelly, Brandy & Monica, TLC, Whitney Houston, D’Angelo, Usher, Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z. The set offers a pretty nice overview of the artists that have won Grammy®s in the R&B categories from 1988-2006.
Contemporary Pop spans the last 14 years and includes the winners of Grammy®s for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, Best Pop Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocal, Best Dance Recording, and Best New Artist. The set begins with k.d. lang’s 1992 hit “Constant Craving” and ends with John Mayer’s 2006 hit, “Gravity” Most of the songs on this disc are instantly familiar and provides a solid overview of Grammy® winning pop music over the last 14 years.

Classic R&B
stands as one of my favorites in the Ultimate Grammy® Collection. This set covers almost 20 years, spanning 1967-1985. Any compilation that begins with Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and continues with Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” is getting off on the right foot. Otis Redding is featured with his 1968 double Grammy® winning tune “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay.” Of course, Redding died before the song became a massive hit. Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” is a bona fide classic; the man put rhythm into rhythm and blues. “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips remains the perfect sing-a-long-song and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” remains a tribute to his tremendous talent. The man was taken too soon.

Classic Pop
covers 1964-1984. The album kicks off with Petula Clark’s mega-hit “Downtown,” which has since been covered by numerous artists. Next are the Mamas and the Papas with their unforgettable 1966 gem, “Monday, Monday.” Many music fans may have forgotten that José Feliciano won a Best Contemporary Pop Vocal Performance Grammy® in 1968, for his cover of The Doors “Light My Fire.” Feliciano’s largely acoustic version of the classic song is included on Classic Pop.
Harry Nilsson’s 1969 song “Everybody’s Talkin’” is the definition of a good pop song: at once catchy but laden with deeper meaning. Popularized in the Oscar-winning film Midnight Cowboy, it’s hard not to listen to the song and visualize Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman wandering the streets of New York City.
By the mid to late 1980’s pop music had begun to lose its originality, A lot of songs had a cookie cutter, mass produced sound as underwhelming songs by Phil Collins, Steve Winwood, and Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes took home awards for Best Pop Performance and round out the songs on Classic Pop.
Contemporary Rock covers from 1989-2005. The set begins with In Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” which is still one of the best hard rock records ever produced. Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” the bands huge hit about runaways, which seemed to be everywhere in 1992, still packs an emotional punch. “Plush” was the best song STP ever recorded and The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” has one of the best guitar solos ever committed to tape.
Classic Country is a really fun collection. Spanning 1965-1982, this CD has some of the best country music ever produced. Every song is a hit that still enjoys regular radio airplay today. The legendary Johnny Cash appears twice; once as a solo act with his rowdy anthem “A Boy Named Sue” and again with his wife June Carter Cash, on “If I Had a Hammer.” Willie Nelson also does double duty, appearing alone on 1982’s song of the year, “Always on My Mind” and joins Waylon Jennings for “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” and Kenny Rogers contributes his Iconic hit, “The Gambler.”
The ladies are well represented on Classic Country. Jeannie C. Riley gets things started with the catchy “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” Tammy Wynette croons her fan favorite, “Stand By Your Man,” Crystal Gale shows off a lovely voice with “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and “9 to 5,” Dolly Parton’s 1981 Grammy® winner for Best country Song, sounds as relevant today as it did back then.
Contemporary Country points out how much country music has changed from the early 1980’s to present day. Contemporary Country spans from 1990-2006 and lacks much of the fun and artistry of the Classic Country disc. With the exception of The Judds “Love Can Build A Bridge,” and Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name” — both released in the early 1990’s –, it became increasingly obvious that much of country music was taking on more of a pop sound.
While Carrie Underwood deserves her place in Grammy® history for her song, “Jesus Take the Wheel” and Gretchen Wilson brought some new ideas to the table with “Redneck Woman,” I came away from this compilation feeling like it should be called Contemporary Country Pop. The last ‘true’ country song on the album, is Leann Rimes “Blue” and she has really been struggling to find her place in the genre ever since.
As a whole, the Ultimate Grammy® Collection was an excellent idea. The fact that the collection was released on 7 separate CDs means that fans can purchase all of the discs or only those that interest them. The sound quality is excellent and each CD comes with liner notes from Quincy Jones and information on the Grammy® each artist and/or song received. For further information and complete track lists, please go to the Ultimate Grammy Collection website.

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