Going into the 2015 GRAMMY Awards, the bar was set incredibly high for the nominees. Sam Smith was the big winner of the night, taking home four awards, including Song of the Year for "Stay With Me." He's not the first to win this award, and he won't be the last. Let’s take a look back at the rich history of the songs that achieved this great honor.
1958: “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)” by Domenico Modugno
As the first GRAMMY Song of the Year Award winner, Italian singer Domenico Modugno beat out Paul Vance & Lee Prockriss’ “Catch a Falling Star,” Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe’s “Theme to Gigi,” and Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft.”
1959: “The Battle of New Orleans” by Jimmy Driftwood, songwriter.
The song, written by Jimmy Driftwood, describes the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. It is written from the perspective of an American soldier. The song was covered by many artists, but Johnny Horton’s was a popular version.
1960: “Theme of Exodus” by Ernest Gold, songwriter.
Exodus, released in 1960, was an epic war film based on the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris. Ernest Gold won both the GRAMMY for Song of the Year and Best Soundtrack of the Year. It is the only instrumental song to receive that award.
1961: “Moon River” by Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer, songwriters.
The song also received an Academy Award for Best Original Song for its first performance by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The song won both the GRAMMY Award for Song of the Year and the GRAMMY Award for Record of the Year.
1962: “What Kind of Fool Am I?” by Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse, songwriters.
The song was originally introduced in the musical Stop The World - I Want To Get Off. This song was the inspiration for one of Gary Larson’s famous The Far Side cartoons.
1963: “Days of Wine and Roses” by Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer, songwriters.
The popular song is from the 1962 film of the same name. The song only has two sentences, one for each stanza, that are each repeated three times.
1964: “Hello, Dolly!” by Jerry Herman, songwriter.
This was the title song from the popular 1964 play of the same name. The Louis Armstrong version was inducted in the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 2001.
1965: “The Shadow of Your Smile” by Johnny Mandel & Paul Francis Webster, songwriters.
The song is also known as the “Love Theme from The Sandpiper” because it was introduced in the 1965 film The Sandpiper. The music was written by Johnny Mandel and the lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. It became a hit for Tony Bennett (Johnny Mandel arranged and conducted his version as well.)
1966: “Michelle” by John Lennon & Paul McCartney
This love ballad was released on the the band’s Rubber Soul album in December of 1965. It is incredibly unique, because some of its lyrics are in French. On June 2, 2010, John McCartney sang “Michelle” to Michelle Obama at the White House after receiving the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song by President Barack Obama.
1967: “Up, Up, and Away” by Jimmy L. Webb, songwriter.
The song, written by Jimmy Webb and recorded by The 5th Dimension, was a major pop hit. It was a true example of sunshine pop and cleaned up at the 10th GRAMMY Awards. The track won Best Contemporary Group Performance (Vocal or Instrumental), Record of the year, and Song of the Year. Johnny Mann Singers’ cover version picked up the GRAMMY for Best Performed by a Chorus.
1968: “Little Green Apples” by Bobby Russell, songwriter.
The song was most successful as a hit single by O.C. Smith for his album Hickory Holler Revisited. The song also won the GRAMMY Award for Best Country Song.
1969: “Games People Play” by Joe South
The lyrics are thought to be a reference to Eric Berne’s work on transactional analysis. His book deals with the “games” people play when interacting with one another. The song, itself, plays a game. Gradually changing pronouns, the song converges in stages with the listener.
1970: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Paul Simon
The song was produced by the famous American duo Simon & Garfunkel and was released as the lead single on their album of the same name. It was the last song recorded for their fifth and final album. The song won six awards at the 13th Annual GRAMMY Awards including the GRAMMY Award for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s), Best Engineered Recording - Non-Classical (for Roy Halee, engineer), and Best Contemporary Song.
1971: “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King
The song was first recorded by King for her album Tapestry, but its better known version is by James Taylor from his album Mud Slide Slim. The track won GRAMMY Awards for both King (Song of the Year) and Taylor (Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.) The song’s reassuring lyrics made it incredibly popular.
1972: “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Ewan MacColl
The 1957 folk song was written for Peggy Seeger, who would later become Ewan MacColl’s wife. The song was covered by many singers, but became a major hit for Roberta Flack. Billboard ranked the tune as the No. 1 song of the year in 1972.
1973: “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Charles Fox & Norman Gimbel
This song was written in collaboration with Lori Lieberman, who was first to record the song, but was a #1 hit for Roberta Flack. In September 1972, Flack opened for Marvin Gaye at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, and performed the song as an encore. Gaye told her afterwards to never perform the song again live until she recorded it. Flack won the GRAMMY Award for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in the same year that Fox & Gimbel won Song of the Year.
1974: “The Way We Were” by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, and Marvin Hamlisch
This was the title song to the 1973 film The Way We Were, starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. Not only did it win a GRAMMY, it won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. The famous movie also made the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Songs for Film at #8.
1975: “Send in the Clowns” by Stephen Sondheim
Written for the 1973 musical A Little Night Music, this ballad depicts the character Desiree’s reflection on the disappointments in her life. Since then, the tune has been covered by Frank Sinatra, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, and other singing greats, making it a jazz standard.
1976: “I Write the Songs” by Bruce Johnston
Barry Manilow recorded this tune for his album Tryin’ to Get the Feeling. It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent two weeks atop the Billboard adult contemporary chart. Not only did the song with GRAMMY Song of the Year, but his album was nominated for GRAMMY Record of the Year.
1977 (TIE): “Evergreen” by Barbra Streisand & Paul Williams
“Evergreen,” composed and performed by Barbra Streisand, is the theme song for the 1976 film A Star Is Born. As composers, Streisand and Williams won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. The track was also used on a tribute album after the death of Princess Diana called Diana, Princess of Wales: Tribute.
1977 (TIE): “You Light Up My Life” by Joe Brooks
The ballad was originally recorded by Kasey Cisyk for the film You Light Up My Life and was released on the movie soundtrack to bolster sales. Debby Boone later recorded the single and it became an enormous success, topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a record-setting 10 consecutive weeks, beating out Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel / Hound Dog.”
1978: “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel
This song appeared on Joel’s 1977 album The Stranger. The song won both the GRAMMY Award for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, which greatly fueled Joel’s career as it stayed on the Hot 100 for 27 weeks.
1979: “What a Fool Believes” by Kenny Loggins & Michael McDonald
This famous tune was recorded by The Doobie Brothers for their 1978 album Minute by Minute. The song lyrics tell the sad story of a man who reunites with a previous love interest only to find that the relationship never actually existed. The song also received the GRAMMY Award for Record of the Year.
1980: “Sailing” by Christopher Cross
“Sailing” was released as the second single from his self-titled album Christopher Cross. The song was a huge success and won GRAMMY Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist of the Year, and Arrangement of the Year. VH1 named this tune the “greatest softsational soft rock music song of all time.”
1981: “Bette Davis Eyes” by Donna Weiss & Jackie DeShannon
The song was made popular by Kim Carnes and spent nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was Billboard’s biggest hit for the entire year for 1981. The tune also won the GRAMMY Award for Record of the Year.
1982: “Always on My Minds” by Johnny Christopher, Mark James, and Wayne Carson
The song was first recorded by Gwen McCrae and Brenda Lee in 1972, but subsequently was covered by dozens of performers including Elvis Presley, the Pet Shop Boys, and the GRAMMY Winning version by Willie Nelson.
1983: “Every Breath You Take” by Sting
English rock band The Police featured this on their 1983 album Synchronicity. The single was the biggest hit for the band, topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for eight weeks. The song was nominated for three GRAMMY Awards, and the band walked away with Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
1984: “What’s Love Got to Do With It” by Graham Lyle & Terry Britten
Tina Turner recorded the song for her fifth solo album, Private Dancer, and it quickly became Turner’s most successful single. The song was on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
1985: “We Are the World” by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie
This charity single was originally recorded by the supergroup USA for Africa in 1985. This was the first ever single to be certified multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. The success of the song raised more than $63,000,000 for humanitarian aid in Africa and the United States.
1986: “That’s What Friends Are For” by Burt Bacharach & Carole Bayer Sager
The song was a collaboration headed by Dionne Warwick. It included Gladys Knight, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder. The tune was released as a charity single in the UK and the US as a benefit for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, and it raised more than $3,000,000 for the cause.
1987: “Somewhere Out There” by James Horner, Barry Mann, & Cynthia Weil
Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram recorded this song, which appeared in the 1986 animated movie An American Tail. The song also won the GRAMMY Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television.
1988: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
This was the first ever a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for two weeks. The song’s title is taken from a famous quotation by Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual master.
1989: “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Larry Henley & Jeff Silbar
The highest-charting version of this song was recorded in 1988 by singer and actress Bette Midler for the soundtrack to the film Beaches. Midler also won the GRAMMY Award for Record of the Year for the song, which was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
1990: “From a Distance” by Julie Gold
Julie Gold was working as a secretary and writing songs in her free time. Her friend introduced the song to Nanci Griffith, who recorded it for her 1987 album, Lone Star State of Mind. The song had many interpretations, but the most famous is the Bette Midler version, which she recorded for her album Some People’s Lives.
1991: “Unforgettable” by Irving Gordon
The most popular version of the song was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1951, with an arrangement written by Nelson Riddle. Nat Cole’s original recording was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 2000.
1992: “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton & Will Jennings
This song, which appeared on the Rush film soundtrack, was written about the pain and loss Clapton felt following the death of his 4-year-old son Conor. Easily one of his most successful songs, it won three GRAMMY Awards: Song of the Year, Record of the Year,, and Male Pop Vocal Performance.
1993: “A Whole New World” by Alan Menken & Tim Rice
The famous song from Disney’s hit Aladdin was sung by Brad Kane and Lea Salonga in the film. The ballad between Aladdin and Jasmine is about the beautiful new world that they will discover while riding Aladdin’s magic carpet.
1994: “Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen
This song was written for the film Philadelphia, an early film dealing with HIV and AIDS. The song won four GRAMMY Awards that year for Song of the Year, Best Rock Song, Best Rock Vocal Performance, and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television.
1995: “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal
The song, which was featured in the Batman Forever film soundtrack, also received the GRAMMY Award for Record of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
1996: “Change the World” by Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, & Tommy Sims
The best-known version of the tune was recorded by Eric Clapton for the 1996 film Phenomenon. The song swept at the awards, winning Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Male Vocal Performance.
1997: “Sunny Came Home” by Shawn Colvin & John Leventhal
This folk-rock song is the theme song to Colvin’s album A Few Small Repairs. It was a commercial success, winning both the GRAMMY Award for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, as well as being nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
1998: “My Heart Will Go On” by James Horner & Will Jennings
Also known as “The Love Theme from Titanic,” Celine Dion’s version of the song was as much of a smash hit as the film. It was Dion’s biggest hit ever and one of the best-selling singles of all time.
1999: “Smooth” by Itaal Shur & Rob Thomas
This song, performed by Santana and Rob Thomas (of the group Matchbox Twenty), won three GRAMMY Awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
2000: “Beautiful Day” by Adam Clayton, David Evans, Larry Mullen Jr., & Paul Hewson
This song was the title track to U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind album. As a result of its success, the album went multi-platinum and is one of U2’s biggest hits to date. Lead vocalist Bono described the upbeat track as “losing everything but still finding joy in what one has.”
2001: “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys
This was the debut single of Keys’ debut album Songs in A Minor. The song gained global success, hitting the top five in several countries and well as #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song won three GRAMMY Awards, including Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
2002: “Don’t Know Why” by Jesse Harris
This song was the second single by Norah Jones on her album Come Away with Me. The critical success of the tune established her as an artist and gained three GRAMMY Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
2003: “Dance with My Father” by Richard Marx & Luther Vandross
Vandross wrote this song based on his own personal experience, with the lyrics recalling memories of his father, who used to dance with his mother. The song earned both the GRAMMY Award for Song of the Year and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
2004: “Daughters” by John Mayer
As the third single off of Mayer’s Heavier Things, the song sold over 1,000,000 copies as of May 2013.
2005: “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” by Adam Clayton, David Evans, Larry Mullen Jr., & Paul Hewson
The third track on U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was released as the album’s second single and debuted at No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart. The song is about lead singer Bono’s relationship with his dying father. It won the GRAMMY Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, as well.
2006: “Not Ready to Make Nice” by Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, & Dan Wilson
Off of The Dixie Chicks’ seventh studio album, Talking the Long Way, the song remains the group’s biggest US hit to date. In 2009, Rolling Stone named the song as the 77th best song of the decade.
2007: “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse
From Winehouse’s second studio album, Back to Black, the lyrics are autobiographical and refer to Winehouse’s refusal to enter a rehabilitation clinic for drug and alcohol abuse. The song won three GRAMMY Awards, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
2008: “Viva la Vida” by Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion, & Chris Martin
This song, written by all of the members of Coldplay, was released as the second single from Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. The song was the sixth song to reach the 4 million mark in paid downloads in the US.
2009: “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” by Thaddis Harrell, Beyonce Knowles, Terius Nash, & Christopher Stewart
This song off of the powerhouse’s third studio album I Am… Sasha Fierce, explores the unwillingness of men to propose. The song won three GRAMMY Awards and went quadruple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
2010: “Need You Now” by Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley, & Hillary Scott
This country pop song was performed by the group Lady Antebellum and served as the lead-off single for their album Need You Now. The song garnered four GRAMMY Awards for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and Best Country Song.
2011: “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth
This tune was a huge single from Adele’s second album 21. It is the largest crossover hit in the United States from the past 25 years.
2012: “We Are Young” by Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff, Jeff Bhasker, and Andrew Dost
As the lead single from Fun’s second studio album, Some Nights, this song quickly became an anthem that reached number one in several countries. The song topped the Hot 100 Airplay chart with 120,000,000 impressions in seven weeks, the first group since Destiny’s Child to do so. The song was named 99th on the Billboard Hot 100 Songs of All-Time.
2013: “Royals” by Joel Little & Ella Yelich-O’Connor
This song both appeared on Lorde’s The Love Club EP and her debut studio album Pure Heroine. The song, aptly titled “Royals,” disapproves of the luxurious lifestyles of artists. The song spent nine weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100. Lourde, who also won the GRAMMY for Best Pop Solo Performance, became the youngest artist to achieve a number one single since 1987.
2014: "Stay With Me" by Sam Smith, James Napier, & William Phillips
Off his debut album, "In The Lonely Hour," this power ballad is Sam Smith's most successful single to date. The song won two GRAMMY Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. "Stay With Me" reached #1 on Billboards Pop Songs and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. This song has universal appeal. It's translates to every music genre; R&B, gospel & mainstream pop. Smith also took home GRAMMY awards for Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Album.