The 2022 Grammys have been and gone, and that got me wondering – is music nowadays just objectively bad, or am I being too harsh? To test that theory, I went back and listened to every “Song of the Year” winner since its inception in 1959 … and it turns out the quality has pretty much been level for 65 straight years.
I know there’s a “Record of the Year” category that might demonstrate the year’s best talent slightly better, but I thought I’d start with the songwriting award first – who knows, if people like this list then maybe I can do that ranking as well! (Although there would be a fair bit of overlap…)
Just as a disclaimer before we start – this list is VERY subjective, and I’ve ranked the songs purely on how much I enjoyed / appreciated them. I tried to be impartial to a certain extent, otherwise most recent songs would be near the bottom, but it was impossible to keep all of my opinions out of it.
That being said, how would I rank all 65 “Song of the Year” winners?
You can check out some of my related lists below:
65 – The Battle Of New Orleans (Johnny Horton)
A song that actually made me laugh out loud when I first heard it, the competition for 1960’s award must have been particularly stale.
It’s such a stereotypical, simple country song, and there’s nothing interesting or clever about it. The only song on this list that I’d be brave enough to call outright “Bad” (although how many Johnny Horton fans are going to come to my blog to run to its defence?)
64 – From a Distance (Bette Midler)
One of the most generic 80’s love ballads I’ve ever heard, it baffles me that Bette Midler managed to win this prestigious award twice (her other effort was slightly better, though).
It’s sickeningly cheesy, and the production dates it massively. Even though I’m listening to it right now while writing this, I’ve forgotten it entirely.
63 – Hello, Dolly! (Louis Armstrong)
Louis Armstrong’s voice is certainly an acquired taste, and I think I’m leaning more towards the dislike side of the argument.
Other than the off-putting voice, the big-band swing and jazz is just about as standard as you can get.
62 – The Shadow of Your Smile (Tony Bennett)
I’m sure Tony Bennett was the real deal back in the 60’s, but this style of music hasn’t aged particularly well.
I think it’s only really Frank Sinatra that can still pull it off in a modern way, as otherwise its just an old dude singing about some boring love story.
61 – Not Ready to Make Nice (The Dixie Chicks)
This is a completely biased pick, as I’m not a country music fan at all.
The Chicks (or The Dixie Chicks, as I used to remember them by) are decent enough singers and songwriters, but I refuse to believe that this was the best song released in 2007.
60 – Volare (Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu) (Domenico Modugno)
The first ever winner of the award back in 1959 … and it’s fine.
It’s as standard as a song like this could ever be, but I had a fun enough time listening to it in the background of other work.
59 – Somewhere Out There (Linda Ronstadt & James Ingram)
I feel like musical tracks shouldn’t be considered for an award like this, as they would surely have a category of their own and it’s unfair on the other popular songs released that year.
“Somewhere Out There” is a little derivative of the Wizard Of Oz original, but it does the job I suppose.
58 – Theme of Exodus (Ernest Gold)
“Theme of Exodus” is the only time a movie soundtrack has ever won the award, and while I’m glad they decided to steer towards pop songs after this I think they chose a good one to give it to.
It’s full of bravado and drama, and it’s extremely well written and performed … but it sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the other mainstream songs.
57 – Sunny Came Home (Shawn Colvin)
A song that hasn’t stood the test of time at all, 1998’s “Sunny Came Home” has almost never featured on radios since.
The melodies are quite lovely, but this is a song that I’m never going to listen to again as it isn’t my style of song at all.
56 – I Write The Songs (Barry Manilow)
As cheesy as it gets, “I Write The Songs” goes way too overboard trying to be this rousing anthem … but it clearly worked since it got the most votes during 1977’s awards.
Considering the 70’s was such a fantastic decade for songwriters, it’s disappointing to see such a simple song win the prize.
55 – What Kind of Fool Am I (Sammy Davis Jr)
Another snoozefest from the early 60’s, but I love how Sammy Davis Jr. puts his heart and soul into the performance.
In a time where the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were starting to rise to fame, songs like “What Kind of Fool Am I” just seem a little tame.
54 – I Can’t Breathe (H.E.R.)
A purely political choice for Best Song, there’s no way the voting committee genuinely believed “I Can’t Breathe” was the best song of 2021.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s a nice track with a powerful message, but I just think the Grammys let the politics of the moment affect their decision rather than picking the best option.
53 – Days Of Wine And Roses (Frank Sinatra)
Good ol’ Frankie Blue Eyes, but I think “Days Of Wine And Roses” is one of his less interesting efforts.
Considering how prolific and entertaining he was throughout the 60’s, I’m slightly amazed that this was one of only two songs of his to win.
52 – Wind Beneath My Wings (Bette Midler)
The better of the two Bette Midler songs to win this award, but I still think “Wind Beneath My Wings” is a product of its time.
It’s one of those powerhouse ballads that will be played in karaoke bars for decades to come, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
51 – We Are The World (U.S.A. For Africa)
A little like “I Can’t Breathe”, “We Are The World” won more for political reasons than actually being a good song, but I actually don’t mind this one as much.
While the mundanity of it all can get a little silly at times, it’s just heaps of fun seeing so many well-known artists that I like in one place.
50 – Games People Play (Joe South)
There’s no chance that this was actually the best song of 1970, but it’s alright.
Joe South has the kind of rock voice that I really like, so even if the song itself is nothing special I had a decent time with it.
49 – Evergreen (Barbra Streisand)
Not the first time a Barbra Streisand song won the award, and it wasn’t the first time it was for a movie soundtrack either – but I prefer her earlier effort a lot more.
“Evergreen” is still fine, with a fabulously tender vocal performance, but it’s not one I’ll be revisiting any time soon.
48 – Change the World (Eric Clapton)
I’m sensing a pattern with some of these wins, as yet again Eric Clapton had won the award a few years previously before winning it again for a lesser song.
I’d only ever recommend “Change the World” if you were big into your 90’s acoustic rock, as otherwise there just really isn’t much substance.
47 – Daughters (John Mayer)
“Daughters” is nowhere near being my favourite John Mayer song, but I’m glad a singer-songwriter of his calibre got the recognition he deserved.
I prefer his electric guitar stuff, as I don’t think this piano / acoustic sound is a particularly gripping one, but I enjoyed it.
46 – Up, Up and Away (The 5th Dimension)
Not the kind of song I was expecting to win this award, but “Up, Up and Away” by 5th Dimension (who are more famous for “The Age of Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In” I think) is a nice little 60’s bop.
The instrumentation is pretty fun, and the melodies are catchy enough for it to be vaguely memorable.
45 – Little Green Apples (O.C. Smith)
It was about time we got a soulful song like this as the winner, and O.C. Smith’s performance is excellent.
While “Little Green Apples” is nothing to write home about, it’s certainly worth a listen if you’re looking for a chill song.
44 – Dance With My Father (Luther Vandross)
Even though the lyrics and heartfelt singing certainly make “Dance With My Father” an emotional song, I’m not sure if it’s that musically interesting.
I really respect Luther Vandross as an artist, but I’m surprised this was the only track to win the award in his career.
43 – Unforgettable (Natalie & Nat King Cole)
The Grammys finally gave Nat King Cole the award he deserved, but about 40 years too late.
Even though it probably shouldn’t have beaten its contemporary rivals to claim the award, I can’t deny that the vocal and instrumental performances are exceptional.
42 – The Way We Were (Barbra Streisand)
Very soppy and cheesy, but I actually quite like how endearing “The Way We Were” is.
Streisand’s vocals are on point, and the luscious strings give it all the drama it needs to hold my attention.
41 – Always on My Mind (Willie Nelson)
I didn’t realise that covers were allowed to be nominated for “Song of the Year”, so the fact it isn’t the original knocks it down a few places.
I probably prefer the other two famous versions by Elvis and the Pet Shop Boys over this, but Willie Nelson still puts a great spin on it.
40 – You Light Up My Life (Debby Boone)
Pure 70’s cheese, but I’m not going to hold that against this solid song.
Strangely enough, 1978 was the only time the award was shared between two songs (presumably for getting the same number of votes) – but I think “You Light Up My Life” is much better than Streisand’s “Evergreen” and hence a more deserved winner.
39 – Stay With Me (Sam Smith)
I don’t particularly like Sam Smith as an artist, and I definitely didn’t enjoy “Stay With Me” when it first came out, but if I’m being fair then it’s a well-made track.
The vocals are great, especially in the huge choruses, but I’m not a fan of how simple the rest of the instrumentation is.
38 – This Is America (Childish Gambino)
One of the most recent winners of the award, and I respect Childish Gambino as an artist a lot, but this style of music isn’t really for me.
It nails the themes that it’s gunning for, though, so I have to knock it up a few places for that.
37 – Moon River (Frank Sinatra)
Definitely not the version of this iconic song that I was expecting … but it’s still good.
Frank Sinatra gives a classy performance (as always) and even if the Audrey Hepburn version ended up being the definitive one I can still appreciate the original.
36 – The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face (Roberta Flack)
Roberta Flack is an absolute master of her craft, and “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” is one of her most iconic efforts.
While not being a song that I’ll revisit too often, I still enjoyed listening to it while compiling this list.
35 – Sailing (Christopher Cross)
Ah yes, that famous artist Christopher Cross with his famous song “Sailing” …
All jokes aside, this really hasn’t stood the test of time at all compared to other 80’s classics. That being said, it’s still pretty good.
34 – Don’t Know Why (Norah Jones)
This kind of 00’s acoustic rock isn’t really my thing (I’m starting to sense a bit of a pattern with all the acoustic winners…), so this wasn’t my favourite.
Still, Norah Jones’s vocals are really quite beautiful, and the old-school vibe it gives off is immaculate.
33 – Hello (Adele)
Yet another example of a repeat winner not quite having the same effect with their second song as they did with their first, “Hello” was waaaay too overplayed when it first came out.
Adele does as fabulous a job as you would expect, but the songwriting is a little boring to win an award like this. Oh well, at least it packs a punch.
32 – That’s What Friends Are For (Dionne Warwick & Friends)
A song with this many great artists attached to it was bound to win the award, even if the song itself is very simple at its core.
Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder all help out Dionne Warwick with their great vocals, and even if the production is dated it’s still a memorable melody.
31 – Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own (U2)
I don’t know who U2 had to bribe to sweep all the awards in 2005, as they probably didn’t deserve to win any of the categories that year.
“Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” isn’t even the best song from that album, let alone the entire year – it’s still decent though.
30 – Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) (Beyoncé)
Easily one of the most iconic music videos of the past 20 years, but I’m not the biggest fan of the track itself.
I can’t deny the oomph it has, though, and Beyoncé gives the performance her all.
29 – A Whole New World (Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle)
It seems extremely odd to have a Disney song as the winner of a prestigious award like this, but they certainly picked one of the best ones of them all.
While Disney songs are hardly my niche, I think “A Whole New World” is easily up there as one of the studio’s best efforts and I’m glad it won some praise.
28 – Send in the Clowns (Judy Collins)
“Send in the Clowns” was expertly performed by Judy Collins when the award was won, but it has Steven Sondheim’s brilliance written all over it.
He was such a great musical songwriter, and he created some of the most powerful pieces of the 20th century.
27 – What’s Love Got to Do with It (Tina Turner)
Tina Turner is a very love / hate artist, but I’ve always leaned more towards the “love” side with efforts like “Goldeneye” and “Tonight”.
She rightfully won the award for “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, a great 80’s track that everyone is bound to appreciate in some capacity.
26 – Don’t Worry Be Happy (Bobby McFerrin)
Some people loathe this track for how simple it is, and there’s an argument to be made that its nomination and subsequent victory made a mockery of this award, but I really like “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.
It’s one of the most feelgood songs ever written, and Bobby McFerrin’s whimsical performance turns it into a sort of guilty pleasure track for me.
25 – My Heart Will Go On (Celine Dion)
Now we get onto the tier of songs that I felt were deserved winners through and through, and “My Heart Will Go On” is a power ballad that will be played on radios for decades to come.
It’s one of the most emotive movie themes of all time, and Celine Dion’s vocals are truly mesmeric – she even did them in just one take!
24 – Need You Now (Lady Antebellum)
I usually don’t like country-infused pop like this, but for some reason “Need You Now” just works for me.
It’s one of the best songs of the 2010’s, and the duet vocals add another great dimension to the whole thing.
23 – That’s What I Like (Bruno Mars)
“That’s What I Like” was originally a song I didn’t care for at all when it first came out, but I’ve come around to Bruno Mars’s music since his later work with Silk Sonic (more on them later…).
While it’s never going to be a song I go out of my way to listen to, I can’t deny how catchy and well-made it is.
22 – bad guy (Billie Eilish)
Like with a lot of the more recent tracks on this list, I’m not the biggest fan of the modern style – but it would be narrow-minded of me to not appreciate everything they do well.
Billie Eilish brought something completely unique to the table with “bad guy”, and she was rightfully awarded with recognition when award season came around.
21 – Fallin’ (Alicia Keys)
I really like Alicia Keys as an artist, as both her vocals and songwriting ability were unparalleled in the early 2000’s.
“Fallin'” is soulful yet catchy, and the gospel-esque choruses hit you right in the feels.
20 – Thinking out Loud (Ed Sheeran)
While I think Ed Sheeran is massively overrated in pop culture, I am glad he won the award for the right song.
“Thinking out Loud” has always been my favourite of his, as lyrically it feels like a song that genuinely came from his heart (unlike the generic rubbish he puts out nowadays…).
19 – Killing Me Softly With His Song (Roberta Flack)
Probably more famous nowadays for the Fugees cover, but the original by Roberta Flack is nothing to scoff at.
The melodies and lyrics in “Killing Me Softly With His Song” are some of the most powerful and emotional of any 70’s ballad – sometimes the original is still the best.
18 – Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes)
A classic from the 80’s, “Bette Davis Eyes” is a song that could have only worked with Kim Carnes rough vocals.
While not being anything particularly special on paper, there’s something about the way it all comes together that keeps me listening to it.
17 – Streets of Philadelphia (Bruce Springsteen)
One of the most underrated movie songs of all time, Bruce Springsteen’s theme for the movie “Philadelphia” is understated and brilliant.
I’m surprised the voting committee gave the award to such a slow and introspective song, but I’m glad they did – it’s heartfelt and real, and the swelling synths take it up a level.
16 – Leave The Door Open (Silk Sonic)
Silk Sonic are one of the most exciting music projects around today, and I was thrilled when they won the most recent award.
Mars and Paak work so well together, and even if I preferred “Smokin Out The Window” from their debut album I still really liked “Leave The Door Open” and its retro style.
15 – Tears in Heaven (Eric Clapton)
One of the most tear-jerking songs of all time, Eric Clapton’s ode to his tragically deceased son tugs at your heartstrings every time you listen to it.
His acoustic guitar work is exemplary, and the lyrics and vocals are just as emotional as you’d expect.
14 – Rolling in the Deep (Adele)
Adele’s best song, there’s something so powerful and moving about “Rolling in the Deep”.
It hits all of the right notes, and that anthemic chorus does everything in its power to get you pumped and singing along.
13 – Michelle (The Beatles)
Of all the Beatles songs to win this award, the Grammy voting board gave it to “Michelle” … Really?
It’s still a really great Beatles song, one that I’ve loved ever since I was young, but there are probably about fifty other Beatles tracks that I prefer over it (and songs like “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be” failed to win in later ceremonies as well … I’m willing to bet the voters look back on those snubs and laugh. )
12 – You’ve Got a Friend (James Taylor)
Now we get onto the tier of songs where they’ve both stood the test of time and become one of my favourite tracks.
“You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor is an absolutely amazing track, full of some really lush vocal harmonies and excellent guitar work.
11 – Rehab (Amy Winehouse)
Amy Winehouse was one of the most exciting new artists the music industry had ever seen, and when she tragically passed away not long after receiving this award the entire world seemed to stand still for a day.
Arguably her most famous track, “Rehab” has some really fun ideas throughout, capped off with some vintage production and gorgeous horn parts.
10 – What a Fool Believes (The Doobie Brothers)
The first winner of the 80’s, and while the rest of the decade’s victors would end up being quite forgettable the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” still remains one of my favourite bangers from that era.
Like with all of the winners, this track has the perfect blend of fantastic vocals and captivating instrumental parts that make me sing along every time.
9 – Beautiful Day (U2)
Some people might think U2 are completely overrated, but when they have songs like “Beautiful Day” in their catalogue I can’t help but love them.
I used to sing this song all the time as a kid, and the choruses pack a punch more than 99% of other songs ever recorded.
8 – We Are Young (Fun ft. Janelle Monáe)
“We Are Young” starts of innocently enough, but once the main portion of the song kicks in it never fails to blow my socks off.
The production is excellent throughout, and the vocals are some of the most uproarious and catchiest in modern pop history. Bonus points for containing one of my favourite bridges in a song ever.
7 – Kiss from a Rose (Seal)
Batman Forever really didn’t deserve a theme song as good as this, as Seal created his best ever song that transcended the film it was associated with.
“Kiss from a Rose” is such a gorgeous track with a phenomenal vocal performance from Seal. I think I heard a story where he almost left this on the cutting room floor … thank goodness someone talked him into using it!
6 – Viva La Vida (Coldplay)
A little bit like U2, I think people forget just how good Coldplay were in their prime – they created one of the greatest songs of the 2000’s for goodness sake!
Brian Eno’s production really shines on “Viva La Vida”, as the string work is truly exemplary. It’s been mimicked and parodied ever since, but the original still holds a special place in my heart.
5 – Smooth (Santana ft. Rob Thomas)
The most successful music comeback of all time, Carlos Santana surprised everyone when he suddenly made his re-emergence in 2000 for this slick tune.
He and Rob Thomas work wonders on “Smooth”, one of the sleekest and most feelgood songs I’ve ever heard, and I hope it gets played on radios until the end of time.
4 – Royals (Lorde)
Lorde burst onto the scene in 2013 with “Royals”, one of the most unique and clever pop songs in recent memory.
She was touted as being the next David Bowie for a reason – the lyrics and vocals are sung with utter sincerity, and the choruses are both intelligent and sexy simultaneously.
3 – Just the Way You Are (Billy Joel)
These top three songs were undeniably the greatest songs released that year, and are up there among the most iconic songs of all time (so it’s a shame that only 3/65 are in this tier … that’s only a 5% turnout).
“Just the Way You Are” is an incredibly complex pop song with what seems like hundreds of moving parts, all while still being catchy and memorable. Billy Joel is a true master of his craft, and his fantastic performance here is up there with his best.
2 – Every Breath You Take (The Police)
It’s kinda funny how everyone misinterpreted this as a genuine love song, as “Every Breath You Take” is one of the creepiest set of lyrics ever put to tape.
I still love it though, and as soon as those first few bars play you know they’ve found a phenomenal groove. The bridges also pack a huge punch, with Sting’s vocals commanding the airwaves.
1 – Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)
By far and away the best song to ever win this award, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” would probably make my top 50 songs of all time if I ever make that list.
Paul Simon’s songwriting and tender vocals at the start are absolutely gorgeous, but once Art Garfunkel joins in for the second half they gives one of the most powerful performances in music history. It’s the best “Song of the Year” winner ever, and up there as one of the best tracks of all time.
Aaaaand that’s my list. You can check out some of my recent blog posts below:
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