The Ultimate Grammy Box: From the Recording Academy's Collection

It's easy to bash the Grammys if you're a fan of pop music -- especially if you're a record geek. It's easy to spot the omissions, whether it's the Rolling Stones or Velvet Underground, and it's easy to laugh about Jethro Tull winning the first Heavy Metal Grammy in 1988, beating out the quintessential metal band of the '80s, Metallica. These are all valid points, but they're all a little churlish, since the Grammys have never really attempted to be hip, even if they've occasionally given lip service to it. Instead, they're a snapshot of mainstream popular musical tastes at a particular time, as Sony's The Ultimate Grammy Box illustrates. The four-disc set covers a lot of ground in its 73 songs, sampling everything from Vladimir Horowitz to Beck. Since the compilers have taken no consideration to sequencing the set according to year or genre, the end result is a little overwhelming, offering such bewildering sequences as Duke Ellington, Billy Joel, Peggy Lee, and Michael Jackson; Mariah Carey, Toto, Patsy Cline, and Yo-Yo Ma; Beck, Buddy Holly, Annie Lennox, Domenico Modugno, and Boyz II Men; Tammy Wynette, Frankie Yankovic, Michael Bolton, and Woody Guthrie. Clearly, only listeners with the broadest possible taste will be able to sit through these four discs and enjoy every single track, but that's sort of the point of The Ultimate Grammy Box -- it's an attempt to chronicle every aspect of American pop music that the Grammys have covered and, in doing so, prove just how rich that music has been. Of course, the compilers bend the rules somewhat, including songs and artists that technically didn't win Grammys (such as Jimi Hendrix, a member of the Grammy Hall of Fame, but a musician who went Grammy-less during his life), but that doesn't matter since the end product is the same. The Ultimate Grammy Box is an impressive display of musical diversity that is nevertheless a little undigestible because of its diversity. It's one thing to enjoy individual tracks (most of which are excellent), or to marvel at the variety in the track listing; it's quite another to listen to it. The Ultimate Grammy Box can be entertaining -- after all, much of this music was awarded for a reason -- but it needs some hands-on editing from the listeners to make it a consistent listening experience. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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