It used to be pretty easy to predict Grammy winners. All you had to do was look at the list of nominees, figure out how an informed, intelligent, tasteful music fan would vote -- and then do the opposite.
Think I'm exaggerating? Just look at the Grammy record: In 1964, the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night," Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman" and the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" were all in the running for Best Rock and Roll Recording. They lost -- to Petula Clark's "Downtown." Still, that was an improvement over 1962, when Bent Fabric's tacky "Alley Cat" beat out Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," the Drifters' "Up on the Roof" and Sam Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away."
Nor did things get better with time. In 1969, "Blood, Sweat & Tears" snatched Album of the Year away from "Abbey Road," and Lionel Richie's "Can't Slow Down" bested both "Purple Rain" and "Born in the U.S.A." in the same category 15 years later. Then there was the Best New Artist award of 1974, in which Marvin Hamlisch got the nod over Bad Company and Phoebe Snow, among others. But the most notorious Best New Artist award was in 1978, when the Cars, Elvis Costello and Toto were all passed over in favor of those Boogie-Oogie-Oogie gals, A Taste of Honey.
Things got so ridiculous that by the late '80s, even the Grammy-giving National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) was embarrassed. Under the leadership of Michael Greene, the group went all out to make Grammy hipper, adding such new fields as rap, alternative music and new age, and actively trying to recruit younger members -- the sort of folks who wouldn't wind up handing the Best Hard Rock/Metal Grammy to an act like Jethro Tull (as happened in 1988).
This change in constituency may be good for NARAS, but it really makes it rough for us handicappers. Where once we could treat the Grammy voters as a single, undifferentiated mass of music-biz morons, now we have to plot the politics of the various NARAS factions: the Old Fogeys, the Young Rockers, Nashville Hipsters, R&B; Regulars and so on. It ain't easy.
In a way, that's good, since there's no way of knowing for sure who will end up in the winners' circle on Wednesday, when the 37th Annual Grammy Awards take place at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles (CBS, Channel 13 locally, will carry the ceremony live at 8 p.m.).
, But this is the way I'd bet:
Record of the year
Who's Nominated: "I'll Make Love to You," Boyz II Men; "He Thinks He'll Keep Her," Mary Chapin Carpenter; "All I Wanna Do," Sheryl Crow; "Love Sneakin' Up on You," Bonnie Raitt; "Streets of Philadelphia," Bruce Springsteen.
Who'll Win: Springsteen, in a walk. It isn't just that "Streets of Philadelphia" is a good single -- it's the biggest hit of his career, and an Oscar winner, too boot. Add in the fact that it addresses a serious issue (AIDS), and it's hard to imagine the NARAS voters choosing anything else.
Closest Competition: "He Thinks He'll Keep Her" isn't the first "new country" hit to be nominated for Record of the Year -- Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart" was in the running two years ago -- but it's certainly the smartest, and that makes it the likeliest candidate for an upset here.
Who Deserves It: Good as the Springsteen is, Carpenter's single has just as much gritty realism, and better hooks besides. It's also the only record nominated that doesn't telegraph its intentions by the fourth bar.
Album of the year
Who's Nominated: "MTV Unplugged," Tony Bennett; "The Three Tenors in Concert, 1994," Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti with Zubin Mehta; "From the Cradle," Eric Clapton; "Longing in Their Hearts," Bonnie Raitt; "Seal," Seal.
Who'll Win: Look for the Old Fogeys and the Classical Contingent to team up and push the Three Tenors over the top. In another year, Bennett's combination of class and cross-generational appeal would likely snag many of these votes, but the middlebrow appeal inherent in the tenors' operatic schlock clearly outweighs Bennett's new-found hiptitude.
Closest Competition: Because Raitt and Clapton are playing to essentially the same audience, their albums should effectively split that vote. But if not, Raitt's sure craft (and Don Was' crisp, clear production) should give "Longing" the edge.
Who Deserves It: Seal. Not only is his album smart, beautifully recorded and rich in emotional resonance, but he's the only artist here who's actually doing something in a style that's less than 40
years old. Shouldn't that count for something?
Song of the year
Who's Nominated: "All I Wanna Do," David Baerwald, Bill Bottrell, Wyn Cooper, Sheryl Crow and Kevin Gilbert, songwriters; "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," Elton John and Tim Rice, songwriters; "Circle of Life," Elton John and Tim Rice, songwriters; "I Swear," Gary Baker and Frank J. Myers, songwriters; "Streets of Philadelphia," Bruce Springsteen, songwriter.
Who'll Win: "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." Why? Because the Grammy voters love Disney songs ("A Whole New World" won last year, remember) and are pretty fond of Elton John, as well. Factor in the unspoken rule that Song of the Year should be ideal for weddings and bar mitzvahs, and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" seems a sure winner.
Closest Competition: In the event that having two "Lion King" ditties in the running splits the vote, look for "I Swear" to benefit -- it was a hit on both pop and country charts (for All-4-One and John Michael Montgomery, respectively).
Who Deserves It: None of them. "Streets of Philadelphia" is a moving piece of music, but it's hard to imagine anyone but Bruce Springsteen singing it; "All I Wanna Do" has an engaging narrative and a catchy chorus, but is otherwise an utter lightweight. The rest should come with a warning from the dentist.
Best new artist
Who's Nominated: Ace of Base, Counting Crows, Crash Test Dummies, Sheryl Crow, Green Day.
Who'll Win: Ace of Base. Having three of last year's 10 best-selling singles is the kind of achievement Grammy voters have traditionally rewarded, and the fact that this Swedish quartet is no Milli Vanilli should only work in its favor.
Closest Competition: Counting Crows were too eager to whine in the press that "Mr. Jones" was overplayed, Crash Test Dummies still seem like one-hit-wonders, and there aren't enough 11-year-olds in NARAS to garner Green Day any votes. No, should the Grammy voters decide to reward art instead of commerce, Sheryl Crow will leave Los Angeles with this Grammy.
Who Deserves It: Both Ace of Base and Sheryl Crow are reasonable options. But Warren G would be an even better choice -- too bad he wasn't nominated.
Female pop vocal
Who's Nominated: "Hero," Mariah Carey; "All I Wanna Do," Sheryl Crow; "The Power of Love," Celine Dion; "Longing in Their Hearts," Bonnie Raitt; "Ordinary Miracles," Barbra Streisand.
Who'll Win: Although "Ordinary Miracles" hardly stands as Streisand at her strongest, it's enough of a star turn to convince the traditionally conservative Grammy pop voters.
Closest Competition: Both Carey's "Hero" and Dion's "Power" offer the right mix of sappy sentiment and show-off singing to be strong contenders, but Dion's flair for melodrama would give her the edge.
Who Deserves It: Sheryl Crow, whose "All I Wanna Do" has more to do with pop today than any of the other nominees.
Male pop vocal
Who's Nominated: "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," the Artist Formerly Known as Prince; "Said I Loved You . . . But I Lied," Michael Bolton; "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," Elton John; "Prayer for the Dying," Seal; "Love the One You're With," Luther Vandross.
Who'll Win: Elton, with a roar. If that "Lion King" magic doesn't work here, it won't work anywhere.
Closest Competition: Bolton is generally a favorite in this category, and "Said I Loved You" is one of his best efforts in a while -- though it seems unlikely he'll outpace the Disney juggernaut.
Who Deserves It: Seal. If they're not going to change the name to Best Male Schlock Vocal Performance, shouldn't they at least honor a genuine pop record?
Traditional pop vocal
Who's Nominated: "MTV Unplugged," Tony Bennett; "Roberta," Roberta Flack; "Moonlight Becomes You," Willie Nelson; "Duets," Frank Sinatra; "The Concert," Barbra Streisand.
Who'll Win: Sinatra. though not by virtue of the performances. Look for him to win this one on the strength of his reputation.
Closest Competition: Bennett's "MTV Unplugged" offers a stronger performance than Sinatra's, and almost as many hip guest stars. Moreover, it's also up for Album of the Year and may get votes from those who chose "The Three Tenors" in the bigger category.
Who Deserves It: Nelson. If traditional pop is meant to reward those who make the most of the songs, then Nelson's respectful and intensely personal performances deserve the award.
Female rock vocal
Who's Nominated: "I'm Gonna Be a Wheel Someday," Sheryl Crow; "Come to My Window," Melissa Etheridge; "Supernova," Liz Phair; "Circle of Fire," Sam Phillips; "Love Sneakin' Up on You," Bonnie Raitt.
Who'll Win: Although Raitt has four other nominations this year, her best shot is in the rock category, where her solid reputation and gutsy performance outclass everyone else.
Closest Competition: Etheridge is something of a Grammy favorite, and the fact that "Come to My Window" is her biggest commercial success to date makes her the obvious spoiler in this race.
Who Deserves It: Phair. She's hardly the strongest in the field, but "Supernova" is the catchiest and most original tune nominated.
Male rock vocal
Who's Nominated: "Loser," Beck; "Red Rain," Peter Gabriel; "In the Garden/You Send Me/Allegeny," Van Morrison; "Streets of Philadelphia," Bruce Springsteen; "Philadelphia," Neil Young.
Who'll Win: Springsteen. Like he'd win Record of the Year and lose this . . .
Closest Competition: Young, if only because careless voters might pick the wrong "Philadelphia" song.
Who Deserves It: Forget all that garbage about "slacker chic" -- Beck's "Loser" is too audacious and droll to be anything but a winner.
Who's Nominated: "Vs.," Pearl Jam; "Monster," R.E.M.; "Voodoo Lounge," Rolling Stones; "Superunknown," Soundgarden; "Sleeps With Angels," Neil Young.
Who'll Win: The Stones, who to the enduring shame of NARAS have never won a Grammy before.
Closest Competition: If the voters were rock critics, R.E.M. would win in a walk. But they're not, and that should give Pearl Jam an edge.
L Who Deserves It: Pearl Jam or R.E.M. would be sound choices.
Who's Nominated: "Under the Pink," Tori Amos; "God Shuffled His Feet," Crash Test Dummies; "Dookie," Green Day; "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy," Sarah McLachlan; "The Downward Spiral," Nine Inch Nails.
Who'll Win: Five million albums sold ain't just "Dookie." Look for Green Day to get its Grammy here.
Closest Competition: Although superb production will earn Nine Inch Nails some votes, expect the mainstream respectability of Crash Test Dummies to give them the edge.
Who Deserves It: Nine Inch Nails, whose take-no-prisoners sound
never overpowers Trent Reznor's pop instincts.
Female R&B; vocal
Who's Nominated: "Body and Soul," Anita Baker; "Breathe Again," Toni Braxton; "A Deeper Love," Aretha Franklin; "I Don't Want to Know," Gladys Knight; "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)," Me'Shell NdegeOcello.
Who'll Win: Braxton, who'll benefit from the momentum of her Grammy victories last year.
Closest Competition: Franklin, a perennial favorite among voters.
Who Deserves It: "If That's Your Boyfriend" offers such a fresh spin on an old theme that, were the Grammys decided on the basis of musical merit, NdegeOcello would be the only choice.
Male R&B; vocal
Who's Nominated: "When Can I See You," Babyface; "I'm Ready," Tevin Campbell; "Wait for the Magic," Al Jarreau; "Always and Forever," Luther Vandross; "Practice What You Preach," Barry White.
Who'll Win: Not only did Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds write many of the year's biggest R&B; hits, he also sang one of them -- and that's the one that will win here.
Closest Competition: Although White will likely appeal to the voters' sense of nostalgia, Vandross is the only other serious contender here.
Who Deserves It: Babyface, hands down. It's a great song, and passionately sung.
Who's Nominated: "Rhythm of Love," Anita Baker; "II," Boyz II Men; "I'm Ready," Tevin Campbell; "Just for You," Gladys Knight; "Plantation Lullabies," Me'Shell NdegeOcello; "Songs," Luther Vandross.
Who'll Win: Can there be any doubt? "II" found Boyz II Men improving their music even as they broadened their audience. How could any voter ignore that?
Closest Competition: Though the Baker and Vandross albums pale in comparison with their previous work, sentiment makes them the only serious challengers in this category.
Who Deserves It: Boyz II Men, for the very reasons they'll likely get it.
Rap solo performance
Who's Nominated: "Fantastic Voyage," Coolio; "Flava In Ya Ear," Craig Mack; "U.N.I.T.Y.," Queen Latifah; "Gin & Juice," Snoop Doggy Dogg; "This DJ," Warren G.
Who'll Win: With her mainstream profile and positive image, Queen Latifah enters the fray looking like the sort of rapper Grammy voters like. Factor in the feminist message of "U.N.I.T.Y.," and you've got yourself a winner.
Closest Competition: Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage," which has the most pop smarts of any these single.
Who Deserves It: If a good groove and smooth-flowing rhymes are what you want, "Gin and Juice" delivers them by the carload. But if lyrical morality is an issue, than Snoop takes a back seat to Warren G.
Female country vocal
Who's Nominated: "Shut Up and Kiss Me," Mary Chapin Carpenter; "Is It Over Yet," Wynonna Judd; "How Can I Help You Say Goodbye," Patty Loveless; "Independence Day," Martina McBride; "She Thinks His Name Was John," Reba McEntire.
Who'll Win: If this were the Country Music Association awards, McEntire's melodramatic AIDS ballad would be a shoo-in. But Grammy's country contingent tends to be a lot hipper, which is why Carpenter's "Shut Up and Kiss Me" seems the likeliest winner.
Closest Competition: McBride, whose "Independence Day" is as spirited as "Shut Up and Kiss Me" is sassy.
Who Deserves It: Carpenter, who continues to broaden country's appeal while deepening its musical value.
Male country vocal
Who's Nominated: "Thinkin' Problem," David Ball; "Your Love Amazes Me," John Berry; "When Love Finds You," Vince Gill; "I Swear," John Michael Montgomery; "Pocket of a Clown," Dwight Yoakam.
Who'll Win: Even though this isn't the CMA awards, Gill is still the obvious choice.
Closest Competition: Montgomery, whose pop sense is intensified by the crossover appeal of "I Swear."
Who Deserves It: Yoakam, the only man in the business who can rock out without ever seeming less than pure country.
Who's Nominated: "Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys," Asleep at the Wheel; "Stones In the Road," Mary Chapin Carpenter; "When Love Finds You," Vince Gill; "Read My Mind," Reba McEntire; "The Song Remembers When," Trisha Yearwood.
Who'll Win: Carpenter, whose "Stones" manages to seem fresh and catchy without sacrificing any of its personality or depth.
Closest Competition: Gill, who epitomizes State-of-the-Art Nashville pop.
Who Deserves It: Carpenter, for the very reasons she'll get it.