Journal: News & Comment

Thursday, February 27, 2003
# 7:46:00 AM:

Well, I don't know why

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Thao asks "Norah Jones won Grammys for Record of the Year and Album of the Year. What's the difference between a 'record' and an 'album?'"

I think the confusion comes from there not being records anymore, just CDs. The terms were invented when there were singles and LPs, with singles being "records" and LPs being "albums."

In the Grammy context, a record is a recording of a single song (usually), so in Jones's case, the award was for "Don't Know Why" as you hear it on the radio, with her singing in that particular arrangement with that particular set of musicians. Album, in the parlance of old LP discs, is for a specific collection of those sorts of recordings (a CD these days), such as her Come Away With Me.

Song of the year, on the other hand, is for the composition ("Don't Know Why" again, in this instance), but goes to the songwriter(s) (here, Jesse Harris), because it refers, in essence, to the notes and words. The Grammys are so often a tidal wave of awards for a single album that the awards seem confusing, because there's such a bandwagon.

There could be multiple recordings of a song -- all those versions of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" are of one song, even if you like the Beatles one and aren't so fond of all the elevator-music variations -- but only the single song could be nominated for song of the year. Only one version exists for each of the record and album of the year nominees, though, because those refer to a specific recording (or set of recordings) by a specific set of performers, produced and mixed and mastered by a certain set of technical people.

I would argue that Jones deserved the record (and maybe album) honours more than Harris deserved the song award. "Don't Know Why" is a good song, though as a musician and student of songwriting I could point out some flaws. What makes it great is Jones's performance, the way she sings it, and the way the musicians play together. The song would not have won the award without those things, whereas another track from her album might still have won record of the year.

But don't ask me about some of the other categories, such as how to distinguish cleanly between pop performance by a duo or group with vocal, pop collaboration with vocal, and rock performance by a duo or group with vocal, or traditional R&B album and contemporary R&B album. Never mind the six gospel categories.


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