February 1981: The Night CHRISTOPHER CROSS Ran the GRAMMYS

Thursday, February 25, 2021
American musician Christopher Cross poses with a Grammy Award (one of several for his song 'Sailing'), New York, New York, February 25, 1981. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)

It was the sweep heard around the world. At the 23rd annual Grammy Awards, held at New York City's Radio City Music Hall on February 25, 1981, none less than Christopher Cross took home the prize in the "Big Four" categories: Album of the Year, Song of the Year ("Sailing"), Record of the Year ("Sailing"), and Best New Artist. At the time, the only artists to have even achieved a sweep of those first three awards were Paul Simon and Carole King. To say that the music world was shook would be an understatement.

"If the nominations for the 23rd annual Grammy Awards were fairly predictable, the winners themselves were anything but," Billboard breathlessly reported at the time. "The only element of mystery or suspense going in to the televised ceremony Wednesday centered on which record industry legend -- Sinatra or Streisand -- would pick off the top awards. As it turned out, neither did." The headline to the story: "Cross Collects 5 Grammys in Major Upset," as "Sailing" also scored the award for Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals. The magazine went on to report that Cross' label, Warner Bros., was so surprised by the win that an after-party hadn't even been planned in case he did. Among the abums Cross' self-titled debut beat out for Album of the Year: Pink Floyd's The Wall.

"The whole thing's kind of surreal," Cross recalled to Songfacts in 2013. "What I love about the Grammys is that they're voted on by your peers. I always thought the Oscars and Tonys and Grammys, those original shows were the most valid because you're voted on by your peers. But it's a little uncomfortable. When I met David Gilmour [Pink Floyd's guitarist], the first thing he said to me was something like, 'I'll never forgive you for beating us out for the Grammy.' He was teasing, but...," the guitarist revealed.

"When I won Best New Artist, I felt if there was ever something I might have a chance at winning, it was that, and so when I won that award, I was thrilled, I was happy, I was done for the night," Cross added. "I was thrilled to just get that award. So when we started to win this other stuff, it was like out-of-body. It doesn't even seem possible. I was standing next to Barbra Streisand backstage when we won, because we beat them for Guilty [he also beat her for Record Of The Year - she was nominated for "Woman in Love"]. I don't think she was too happy."