Despite the legendary status assigned to much of their output, Led Zeppelin have not only never won, but they were only nominated a single time, in 1970 when they lost the Best New Artist prize to Crosby, Stills, and Nash. They haven’t been completely ignored by NARAS, though — Led Zep picked up a Lifetime Achievement prize in 2005, and both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have scored victories away from the band that made them famous.
The ”Son of a Preacher Man” singer lost the only race she was involved in, dropping Best Female Pop Vocal Performance to Peggy Lee in 1970. That’s despite a bucketful of iconic hits like ”Wishin’ and Hopin”’ and ”You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.”
Though he has been one of the most successful and recognizable rappers in the world for two decades, Snoop has never taken home a prize at the Grammys. His nomination at this year’s show — for Best Rap Song for his Wiz Khalifa collaboration ”Young, Wild and Free” — is his last chance to score as Snoop Dogg, as this year marks his transition to the reggae-fied ”Snoop Lion.”
Everybody agreed Nas’ landmark 1994 debut Illmatic was an instant classic — except for the Grammy voters who didn’t even nominate Nas for Best Rap Solo Performance that year (the prize went to Queen Latifah, and the Best Rap Album category wasn’t added until 1996). Nas has four more chances this year, and he could break his streak: His Life Is Good is a favorite to win Best Rap Album.
Go ahead and invent rock and roll, Mr. Berry. Just don’t expect to get any hardware for it. Berry was hurt by the fact that he did some of his best work before the Grammys even existed, then he toiled without recognition as bands that ripped him off sailed up the charts. He got a Lifetime Achievement statuette in 1984, but how ”Johnny B. Goode” (which came out during the first year the Grammys were handed out) didn’t sweep that first show is anybody’s guess.
The Beach Boys came of age right as the Grammys were just getting started and peaked right when they figured out what to do with rock music, but still never walked away with a prize. They’re nominated for Best Historical Album this year (for The Smile Sessions), though perhaps the most egregious snub came in 1989 when the ubiquitous ”Kokomo” lost the prize for Best Song From a Motion Picture or Television to Phil Collins’ ”Two Hearts.”
Death couldn’t keep Shakur from being nominated — his ”Changes” got a nod for Best Rap Solo Performance a full four years after his untimely passing. Still, one of the most influential rappers in history never scored any hardware, and the list of MCs who beat him in Grammy competition — including Coolio and Naughty By Nature — is laughable.
Guns N' Roses
The Gunners hurt themselves by not putting out all that much music during their peak, and they were also hamstrung by the fact that hard rock and metal weren’t even acknowledged categories until 1988 (famously won by Jethro Tull, of all bands). Still, considering the smashing ubiquity of Guns’ debut Appetite for Destruction, it’s a little shocking they don’t have anything to show for it (outside of all those platinum plaques and giant royalty checks, of course).
Super Fly is hands down one of the best R&B albums ever crafted, and helped bridge the gap between the worlds of soul and funk into one sweet, snappy mélange. It got nominated for four prizes but didn’t win anything, and Mayfield — one of the most inventive minds and smoothest voices of his generation — never came close again. He did manage to pick up a Lifetime Achievement award in 1995, just a few years prior to his death.
That’s a lot of invites to the party without any victories for somebody as innovative as Björk. Yet, time and again, her creations have been judged inferior to her contemporaries (though most of those contemporaries, including Nirvana, Radiohead, and the White Stripes, certainly deserved those wins). Her Biophilia is up for Best Alternative Album this year, though she should probably be prepared to watch Fiona Apple or Gotye walk away with that gramophone.
Like Guns N’ Roses, the greatest MC in the history of the game was hamstrung by a lack of output (though it’s hardly his fault he only put out two albums before his tragic death in 1997). In a brutal piece of irony, Biggie’s posthumous album Life After Death, a true classic, lost the Best Rap Album race in 1998 to his friend and label boss Puff Daddy’s No Way Out, which scored its biggest hit via the Notorious B.I.G. tribute track ”I’ll Be Missing You.”
The Grateful Dead
Even the most adamant Deadheads will admit that the jam collective’s recorded output was vastly inferior to the live experience, but for a band as dynamic and influential as the Dead, it’s a little shocking they only have a single nomination to their name (and that nom is for Best Album Notes, of all things).
Again, the Crüe were thwarted by the fact that NARAS didn’t hand out metal awards until well after the height of the hair era. Still, the band’s three losses (all in the Best Hard Rock Performance category) all feel like referendums against their scuzzy meat-and-potatoes approach to turned-to-11 riffage, as they lost twice to heavy art-funk outfit Living Colour and once to shape-shifting prog deconstructionists the Mars Volta (and yes, the Mars Volta have a Grammy).
Two nominations is cartoonishly low for a group with a catalog like the Who, and it’s doubly insulting that they were nominated for two things that had nothing to do with music (Best Long Form Music Video in 1991 and Best Album Package in 1975). The Who won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2001, but they really should have been recognized long before that.
Marley’s lone Grammy nomination came in 2002 for Best Long Form Music Video — more than two decades after his death. Of course, the main reason he had trouble winning a Grammy during his life is because NARAS didn’t add a reggae category until 1985. The Marley family is well represented: Bob’s son Stephen has six Grammys, brother Ziggy has four of his own, and Bunny Wailer has won two Grammys doing tributes to Bob Marley songs.
Nominations: 8 (plus 2 more with the Supremes)
Unlike some of the other categories, the Grammys always had a good grasp on R&B, and the genre has been well-represented throughout the show’s history. That makes Ross’ career snub all the more absurd, as she has never won as a solo artist nor as a member of the Supremes. Has NARAS not gotten around to listening to ”Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” yet?
There are plenty of enraging, stupefying examples of near misses on this list, but the most hurtful came in the race for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group in 1981. Somehow, NARAS voters decided that Queen’s ”Another One Bites the Dust” was inferior to Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s hilariously overwrought, profoundly boring ”Against the Wind.” Other things ”Against the Wind” was better than, according to Grammy voters? Blondie’s ”Call Me,” the Pretenders’ ”Brass in Pocket,” and Pink Floyd’s ”The Wall.”
Talking Heads are a weird one, because packaging for two of their albums have taken home awards. But those are given to the art directors, not the artists making the sounds. So Talking Heads music has never won a Grammy, though they undoubtedly would have cleaned up in the Best Alternative era, a category not invented until 1990.
The newly-minted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have a lifetime of excellent rock songs to their credit, though that’s never been enough for the Grammy voters. Still, they shouldn’t be too ashamed: Their best album, 1987’s Bad Animals (which included the hits ”Alone” and ”Who Will You Run To”) was bested in the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group by U2’s untouchable classic The Joshua Tree.
Obviously, Perry’s career is just getting warmed up, but considering how many huge hits she’s had — including five Hot 100 chart-toppers from one album, a record she tied with Michael Jackson — she has yet to walk away with any hardware. She’s up for Best Pop Solo Performance this year, though will probably cede the victory to Adele (again), Kelly Clarkson, or Carly Rae Jepsen.