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Somehow, Jethro Tull Toppled Metallica for a Grammy Upset

Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull

One of the best moments on The Simpsons was in a 1993 episode in which we learned that Homer, Principal Skinner, Barney, and Apu were in a barbershop quartet called The Be Sharps. The group was so good that they won a Grammy award for best "Barbershop Quartet Album." At one point, Homer doesn't have change to tip a bellboy, so he offers him his Grammy statue. The bellboy, after seeing it's a Grammy, throws it off a balcony, and an off-screen voice yells, "Hey, don't throw your garbage down here." Yeah, it was a sick burn.

Some 18 years later, most people's opinion of the Grammys hasn't changed much. Most journalists and musicians consider the annual award ceremony to be out of touch, and the reputation is somewhat deserved. That's not to say voters don't occasionally get it right. Sometimes, hindsight changes our perception of whether they got it right or not. After all, it seems pretty crazy to think Milli Vanilli would ever get a Grammy now, but in 1990, it probably wasn't so far-fetched. Sometimes, though, the Grammys simply get it wrong. Dead wrong.

After a three-year break, Jethro Tull released Crest of a Knave in 1987. For the most part, Jethro Tull was known as a blues-rock band that occasionally added elements of folk music to their songs. They're also one of the few rock bands to heavily incorporate flute in their sound. On Crest of a Knave, the band attempted to go in a beefier direction, with more electric-guitar-driven rock. Still, calling the album "hard rock" was a stretch. Crest was harder than Aqualung or Thick as a Brick, to be sure, but not by much.

The following year, Metallica released its fourth album (and the first after bassist Cliff Burton's death), . . . And Justice for All. The record is largely considered by most fans to be one of their best albums. And thanks in large part to MTV's heavy rotation of the video for "One," it was also the record that helped launch them into the mainstream.

On paper, these two albums, Crest of a Knave and . . . And Justice for All, couldn't be more different. One record was essentially the very definition of "heavy," and the other, well, it featured someone playing the flute. Ask any metalhead, and he will tell you there is nothing "heavy" about the flute.

Despite their dissimilarities, in 1989, both Metallica and Jethro Tull found themselves nominated at the 31st Grammy Awards in the "Best Hard Rock/Metal" category (it was also the first year the category existed). Also nominated that year were AC/DC, Iggy Pop, and Jane's Addiction. Metallica was clearly the favorite to win. Even Jethro Tull thought so — they were so convinced they had no chance to win that no one from the band showed up to accept the award from presenters Alice Cooper and Lita Ford.

In all fairness to Jethro Tull, Crest of a Knave isn't a bad record; it just doesn't really belong in the same category as . . . And Justice for All. Though the decision to give the award to Jethro Tull instead of Metallica didn't make any sense at all, both bands seemed to have a good amount of fun with it afterwards. Metallica added "Grammy Award LOSERS" to subsequent pressings of . . . And Justice for All. Jethro Tull took out an ad in Billboard magazine with a picture of a flute and the words "The flute is a heavy, metal instrument."

The Grammy for Crest remains Jethro Tull's only one, but the win remains one of the most memorable in Grammy history. After all, how many bands can say they were more metal than Metallica, if only for one night?

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