The Grammy Award for Song of the Year is one of the most prestigious awards the music industry can bestow, akin to a movie winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Song of the Year is one of just four Grammy Award categories in which different music genres compete against each other for one prize.
The award has been presented since 1959 and is given only to the composer or composers of the song. This is not to be confused with the Record of the Year award, which goes to the performer and production team of the song. In the nearly 60-year history of the Grammy Awards, 29 of the winning songs have also been selected as Record of the Year.
For the first time since 2003, the Grammy Awards will be held in New York City at Madison Square Garden on January 28. In recognition of the music industry’s big night, 24/7 Wall St. has compiled a list of every Song of the Year since the award was first presented.
The history of the Song of the Year reflects the evolution of music culture. Early Song of the Year winners were from motion pictures such as “The Theme from Exodus,” “Moon River” for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and “Hello, Dolly!”, the theme song of the film/musical of the same name. It was only in the mid-60s that Rock ‘n’ roll would get recognized when John Lennon and Paul McCartney would win for the ballad “Michelle.” Other rock composers who would eventually be honored included Bruce Springsteen and Sting.
Singer/songwriters Paul Simon and Carole King would be cited as the 1970s began, indicating a shift in pop-culture music tastes.
African-American composers would not receive Song of the Year kudos until 1985, when Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie would receive the honor for the charity single “We Are the World.”
Multiple Song of the Year winners include Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer, U2 , and Adele. Songs written for Andy Williams, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, and Roberta Flack have received this award twice.
Not surprisingly, American composers have dominated the award. U.S. songwriters have won or shared the award with a composer from another country 42 times. British composers such as Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran have won the last three Song of the Year awards. However, that streak will end this year since no British songwriters have been nominated.
24/7 Wall St. used data from The Recording Academy to identify the Grammy “Song of the Year” winners, artists, and songwriters. Data on the number of weeks each song spent on the Top 40 chart comes from Billboard.
Here are the Grammy Award Song of the Year winners the year you were born.