Metallica's Lars Ulrich Recalls 'F---ed Up' 1989 Grammy Loss

"The record company had already made 10,000 onesheets to put in record stores that said 'Grammy Award Winner,'' he tells RS

Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull
Fin Costello/Redferns; Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns
January 27, 2014 9:15 AM ET

Metallica's electrifying rendition of "One" last night, which featured classical pianist Lang Lang, was intended to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the metal icons' first performance on the awards show. At the time, the performance was subversive: one of the heaviest, fastest-rising bands of the underground, fresh off the release of its multiplatinum fourth record, . . . And Justice for All, was performing the same night it was nominated in the inaugural Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category. But that night ended on a sour note.

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Although pundits had forecasted Metallica as the favorite, another band won the award: classic rockers Jethro Tull, who didn't even bother coming to the show. "Everybody thought Metallica would win," Tull frontman Ian Anderson recently told Billboard. "I was recording in the studio at the time – so we stayed at home." Metallica won the Best Metal Performance award the next year, for "One," and have earned nine so far. This year, the group was nominated for Best Recording Package, for the soundtrack to its film Metallica: Through the Never, which is coming out in a variety of video formats this week.

As part of a recent interview with Rolling Stone about the Through the Never  video releases, Ulrich recounted just how Metallica's first Grammy Awards went down:

Getting the chance to put a band like Metallica on a national TV show like the Grammys, and getting to occupy five-and-a-half minutes of airtime, was a huge, huge, huge, huge thing in 1989. It was a kind of validation of tens of thousands of disenfranchised and left-of-center music fans' existence, in a way. I'm not trying to pat ourselves on the back here, but it was sort of the first time the Grammys had said, "Yes, there is stuff that's edgier. There is stuff that's darker than the stuff that's being played on the radio and MTV." That was the real victory that day.

And here we were hearing, "Metallica's gonna win a Grammy." Everybody was kind of buying into this idea. And obviously, at one point, you start hearing it enough and you start buying into it yourself.

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When Jethro Tull was announced, after we had peformed, it sort of reiterated what everybody had thought all along. 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 onesheets to put in record stores that said [Justice was a] "Grammy Award Winner." So we said, why don't we just put a sticker on them that says, "Grammy Award Loser"?

Listen, we were psyched that we were involved. 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. We've won a bunch of them since. I can't remember the count. So it worked out OK. I'm happy that we were the first guys to knock on the fucking door.

I don't think I've ever met [Jethro Tull frontman] Ian Anderson. I don't think I've ever even been in the same space as Ian Anderson. The other day, I was listening to one of their songs – not "Aqualung" – but one of them was on the radio the other day. I was telling my 15-year-old son, "Those are the guys that won the Grammy the first year." I was trying to explain to him who Jethro Tull was, about this flute-playing guy that had sort of Renaissance clothes. I think it was hard to follow what I was saying, since he was listening to Arctic Monkeys with the other ear, but I gave it my best shot [laughs]. But it all worked out OK. Those were crazy days.

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