When Metallica Somehow Lost a Metal Grammy to Jethro Tull
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences made a bid to prove it could keep up with the times on Feb. 22, 1989 by introducing the first-ever Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance (Vocal or Instrumental) Grammy Award.
Alice Cooper and Lita Ford went onstage to list the contenders: Metallica for their fourth album …And Justice For All, Jane’s Addiction for their debut LP Nothing’s Shocking, AC/DC for their 11th outing Blow Up Your Video, Iggy Pop for his track "Cold Metal" and, well, Jethro Tull for their latest LP Crest of a Knave.
Cooper and Ford weren’t the only ones to assume Tull’s presence on the list was some kind of joke. In fact, during rehearsal earlier that day, the placeholder winner’s envelope contained a card with the prog-rock band’s name on it, making it seem almost certain they wouldn’t win. How could they? Surely it was between media favorites Jane’s Addiction and scene darlings Metallica.
“I opened the envelope, and when I saw the name, I thought they’d given me the envelope from the rehearsal,” Cooper told Classic Rock in 2016. “Everybody in that room was certain that Metallica would get the Grammy," he added. "I looked at it again, and it did have a different seal on it and details like that. It was the real thing. So I said, ‘For the Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Grammy … Jethro Tull!’ There was a two-minute pause, then everybody broke out laughing. They thought I was doing a joke.”
It’s probable that Metallica themselves, who’d appeared onscreen pulling faces moments earlier, gasped. “If you watch the video, you’ll see my eyes get real big when Alice says ‘Jethro Tull'," Ford recalled. "I was trying not to show any emotion, but it was like, ‘What?!’ It was a shock to everybody when Alice read out Jethro Tull’s name. Metallica were standing right there, all ready to go on, and they were sure in their heads that they’d got it.”
Watch Alice Cooper and Lita Ford Announce Jethro Tull’s Grammy Win
Jethro Tull were thousands of miles away, having been advised not to attend the event. “The record company said they didn’t think it was really worth the expense of flying us over to Los Angeles because Metallica were favorites to win it – which suited me fine because we were working in the studio at that time,” band leader Ian Anderson told EonMusic in 2017.
“We got the news while we were sitting in the studio; a representative from Chrysalis Records called us and said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve won the Grammy!'" Anderson added. "And I’m not sure if we could hear the boos at that point, but clearly it was a very unpopular win. Poor Alice Cooper, being the presenter, had to step to make a rather dubious acceptance speech on my behalf.”
Despite the disappointment, Metallica had at least become the first metal band to perform at the Grammys, having played “One” during the evening.
“When Jethro Tull was announced, after we had performed, it sort of reiterated what everybody had thought all along,” drummer Lars Ulrich told Rolling Stone in 2014. “It was the thought that the Grammys were out of whack with what was current, that it was still sort of a few years behind the curve in terms of what was really going on in the music world, rather than what was going on within the Recording Academy.
"This is how fucked up it was: The record company had already made 10,000 one-sheets to put in record stores that said ‘Grammy Award Winner,'" Ulrich added. "So we said, why don’t we just put a sticker on them that says, ‘Grammy Award Loser’?”
Watch Metallica Performing 'One' at the 1989 Grammys
“Obviously, we were pleased to have won,” Anderson said in 2016. “But we didn’t really start thinking about it until a couple of days later when the news started to filter out about how badly the award had been received in Los Angeles. I think one New York paper even referred to us as ‘the now-defunct Jethro Tull.’ Tongue in cheek, our record company placed an ad in Billboard magazine with the strapline, ‘The flute is a heavy, metal instrument.’ When the Grammy trophies finally arrived, one of them, I think it was [guitarist] Martin Barre’s, had actually got broken in transit.”
NARA moved quickly to try to put the embarrassment in the past, splitting the Hard Rock/Metal Performance category into two separate awards, and handing the 1990 Best Metal Performance to Metallica for "One."
In 1992, when the band won a Grammy award for the Black Album, Ulrich told the audience, “We’ve got to thank Jethro Tull for not putting an album out this year.” Later, he reflected, “Listen, we were psyched that we were involved [in 1989]. We were psyched that we were invited. We were psyched that we got to perform. And then, a year or two later, they invited us back and we got our award. … So it worked out okay. I’m happy that we were the first guys to knock on the fucking door.”
Watch Lars Ulrich Thank Jethro Tull at the 1992 Grammys
To date, Metallica have won eight performance Grammys plus one for packaging, and notably returned to perform “One” with classical pianist Lang Lang at the 2014 ceremony. After their surprise victory, Jethro Tull were never nominated again.
Watch Metallica Performing 'One' at the 2014 Grammys with Lang Lang
“It would be nice to be able to not talk about Grammys full stop, and even more so the American Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” Anderson said in 2017. “I mean, I find these really rather tedious; it’s America, I don’t come from America; I don’t play American music. I don’t belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the Grammy thing was just a one-off little moment where 5,000 members of the National Academy of Recording Artists decided to award to Jethro Tull rather than Metallica.”