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It's the old Grammy whammy

Music critics around the country are making like a broken record again, writing the same whiny stuff about the Grammys that they do every year: The awards do not reflect what's really happening in pop music, most of the nominees are one step away from the glue factory, that sort of thing. What else is new?

The Grammys, started by the fledgling National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) in 1959, have always represented the voice of the establishment. Take 1965: The Rolling Stones put out (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, Bob Dylan released Like a Rolling Stone, the Beatles had Yesterday, Help, Eight Days a Week and Ticket To Ride. But the Grammy for best contemporary single, the closest thing there was to a rock award, went to Roger Miller's King of the Road.

This year's nominees are a sight more credible than that. Contenders for the top categories of record, song and album of the year are mostly mainstream veterans, but many of them have been chosen for great music. Don Henley, Tom Petty and Bonnie Raitt all released albums that made my 1989 10-best list. All are nominated for album of the year. Sounds pretty righteous to me.

Critics might as well face it. The Grammys are never going to represent the cutting edge. But it's better than the American Music Awards, where the people's vote reigns and the winners read like a roll-call from the top of the charts.

Anyway, it's time to put my soothsaying savvy on the line and make predictions in 13 prominent categories. Although I am not a Grammy voter, I have also included who I would cast my ballot for.

Record of the year: A win for Bette Midler's Wind Beneath My Wings goes right into the Grammy Hall of Shame, right along with Starland Vocal Band bagging Best New Artist in 1976.

Can't happen. It can't, it really can't.

Mike + the Mechanics' poignant The Living Years is too distant a memory. Fine Young Cannibals, the youngbloods of the category, have a solid shot, but radio overexposure might've hurt She Drives Me Crazy for award consideration. Don Henley and Billy Joel, both respected veterans (Henley more so), go head to head, with the meatier The End of the Innocence favored over We Didn't Start the Fire. If voters split between Henley and Joel, Cannibals have the inside track.

Look for Henley to hang on for the win. He gets my vote as well.

Album of the year: If NARAS is in the mood to honor legends, it could do no better than the Traveling Wilburys, an all-star aggregation made up of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. The hoopla over The Traveling Wilburys Vol. One has waned considerably, though.

Voters will hesitate to bestow such a plum Grammy on Bonnie Raitt, who scored her first gold album in a two-decade career with Nick of Time. Fine Young Cannibals, babes-in-arms next to the other nominees, are a little green for this kind of recognition, although they have the popularity edge with the multi-million-selling The Raw and the Cooked. Tom Petty, nominated for Full Moon Fever, has a solid chance, but he's always been a music industry maverick.

Henley's epic The End of the Innocence will allow voters to feel good about picking something important. It'll win.

This is the toughest vote for me _ I like Petty, but it's really between Henley and Raitt.

Raitt it is.

Song of the year: Holding onto vestiges of the Tin Pan Alley tradition, the academy has often favored adult ballads in this songwriting category. With that in mind, the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weill/Tom Snow tune Don't Know Much _ with its romantic vocal treatment by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville _ scores big. And wins.

Wind Beneath My Wings, by Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar, is cut from a similar cloth, but I'm counting on Grammy voters to wake up and realize it's a wretched song.

The Don Henley/Bruce Hornsby-penned The End of the Innocence is a strong contender, as is Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire, but they may cancel each other out. The Living Years, by Mike Rutherford and Brian A. Robertson, was popular too long ago.

I'd give the heady Innocence my vote.

Best New Artist: This category reflects the chart dominance of pop-dance. Only the folk-flavored Indigo Girls come from another angle, and thus are long-shots. Tone Loc will be rightfully dismissed as a novelty act.

Milli Vanilli's 6-million albums sold and current place atop the charts do the talking here. Sadly, the hair-intensive Euro-duo will win. The academy voters won't make the distinction between Milli's assembly-line drek and the vibrant street-pop of Neneh Cherry or smooth grooves of Soul II Soul.

My vote is between Soul II Soul and Cherry, and goes to Soul II Soul.

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female: There's no Whitney Houston or other superstar in this category to give the red-hot Paula Abdul (Straight Up) a run. Gloria Estefan (Don't Wanna Lose You) has faded a bit, Raitt (Nick of Time) is critically acclaimed but kind of obscure. Ronstadt (Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind), the very image of a Grammy winner, has a shot, but will bow to Abdul's superstardom. And what's the deal with Midler (Wind Beneath My Wings)? Is NARAS kidding, or what?

I'd vote for Raitt in a millisecond.

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male: Prince is one of pop's great innovators, but his sound track for Batman does not merit a Grammy. Voters will see it that way. Michael Bolton (How Am I Supposed To Live Without You) and Richard Marx (Right Here Waiting) are lightweights. Voters will see it that way, too.

The sentimental vote for the late Roy Orbison (You Got It), one of pop's great vocal talents, and the hotness vote for Billy Joel (We Didn't Start the Fire) will duke it out. Joel will win. (Orbison's posthumous comeback album was not the smash that everyone expected, mostly because the material was only fair.) As for me, I don't like the field, but would throw a vote Joel's way.

Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female: Women have always been second-class citizens to men in the rock Grammys, and that's evidenced by the inclusion of has-been Pat Benatar for Let's Stay Together. It looks as if NARAS simply listed all the women rock singers it could think of.

Benatar, Tina Turner (Foreign Affair) and Cyndi Lauper (I Drove All Night) really don't deserve to be here, although Turner could benefit from a knee-jerk vote. Melissa Etheridge (Brave and Crazy) is a much-hyped newcomer who performed well on last year's Grammy show.

Raitt' Nick of Time album is the class of the field. Despite her less-than-lofty popularity, I'm going out on a limb and picking her to win. And she'd get my vote, hands down.

Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male: This is a tough call in a solid, veteran-dominated field. Lou Reed's New York album was a critical smash, but Grammy still remembers when Velvet Lou walked on the wild side. Joe Cocker's When the Night Comes is too lightweight; the chameleonic Neil Young's Freedom has the powerhouse track Rockin' in the Free World, but the album racked up mediocre sales and airplay.

Henley's The End of the Innocence album and Petty's Free Fallin' run neck-in-neck. Henley wins.

After giving Henley the nod in the top categories, I'm voting Petty.

Best Rock Vocal Performance by a duo or group: The Rolling Stones have never won a Grammy, and with the band's banner '89 the academy will see clear to grant them one for Mixed Emotions. (Will the Stones care?) U2's Rattle and Hum has faded from memory; ditto U2 and B.B. King's When Love Comes to Town. The all-black hard-rock band Living Colour was a cause celebre for awhile, but is too much of a newcomer. Still, Living Colour's Glamour Boys would get my vote.

Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female: A couple of years ago, there was a noted resurgence of black woman singers. So why does this field feel so lifeless? Vanessa Williams (Dreamin'), the fallen Miss America, proved a credible singer who is not of Grammy calibre. Natalie Cole battled back from substance abuse, but Good to Be Back is forgettable. Aretha Franklin's Through the Storm was not worthy of the Queen of Soul.

That leaves youngblood Janet Jackson (Miss You Much) and elegant diva Anita Baker (Giving You the Best That I Got) to slug it out _ with Baker's more sophisticated sound taking the prize. I'd go with the more exciting Jackson.

Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male: White-hot stardom wins out again. Bobby Brown's mega-hit Every Little Step is too much for Prince's busy Batdance, Al Jarreau's invisible Heart's Horizon, Smokey Robinson's obscure We've Saved the Best for Last or Luther Vandross' lovely She Won't Talk to Me.

For me, Luther is the man, even though Won't Talk is not one of his more distinguished efforts.

Best Rap Performance: With the majority of academy members being neophytes in this category, the most familiar will win: Tone Loc's Funky Cold Medina. Young M.C.'s Bust a Move, a far better tune, is second on the popularity scale, but Loc is more of a star. D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's glib I Can Beat Mike Tyson won't get serious consideration. Public Enemy's black power anthem Fight the Power is too threatening. The sonic slop of De La Soul's Me Myself and I is too obtuse.

My vote would go to PE for the bold Fight the Power.

Best Country Vocal Performance, Female: Charismatic k.d. lang _ one of the most unique, category-defying artists to emerge in recent times _ should bag this coveted Grammy, although she could have legitimately been nominated in pop or even rock. She outdistances a field which includes Emmylou Harris' Bluebird, Rosanne Cash's I Don't Want to Spoil the Party, Dolly Parton's Why'd You Come in Here Lookin Like That and Kathey Mattea's Willow in the Wind.

My vote goes to lang as well.

The 32nd Annual Grammy Awards

Today at 8 p.m. on Ch. 13

Host: Gary Shandling

Performers include: Miles Davis, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel, k.d. lang, Fine Young Cannibals, Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville

Presenters include: Paula Abdul, Bob Seger, Meryl Streep, Ella Fitzgerald, Milli Vanilli, New Kids on the Block, Lou Reed and Randy Travis.

Mark your own scorecard on the Grammy Awards. Below are the nominations in 13 prominent categories together with who Times pop music critic Eric Snider thinks will win and whom he personally favors.

Record of the year

The End of the Innocence, Don Henley

The Living Years, Mike + the Mechanics

We Didn't Start the Fire, Billy Joel

Wind Beneath My Wings, Bette Midler

She Drives Me Crazy, Fine Young Cannibals

PREDICTION: The End of the Innocence

SNIDER'S VOTE: The End of the Innocence

Album of the Year

The End of the Innocence, Don Henley

Full Moon Fever, Tom Petty

The Raw and The Cooked, Fine Young Cannibals

Traveling Wilburys Vol. One, Traveling Wilburys

Nick of Time, Bonnie Raitt

PREDICTION: The End of the Innocence

SNIDER's VOTE: Nick of Time

Song of the Year

The End of the Innocence, Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby

Don't Know Much, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Tom Snow

We Didn't Start the Fire, Billy Joel

The Living Years, Mike Rutherford and Brian A. Robertson

Wind Beneath My Wings, Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar

PREDICTION: Don't Know Much

SNIDER'S VOTE: The End of the Innocence

Best New Artist

Neneh Cherry

Milli Vanilli

Indigo Girls

Soul II Soul

Tone Loc

PREDICTION: Milli Vanilli

SNIDER'S VOTE: Soul II Soul

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female

Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind, Linda Ronstadt

Don't Wanna Lose You, Gloria Estefan

Nick of Time, Bonnie Raitt

Straight Up, Paula Abdul

Wind Beneath My Wings, Bette Midler

PREDICTION: Paula Abdul

SNIDER'S VOTE: Bonnie Raitt

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male

Batman, Prince

How Am I Supposed to Live Without You, Michael Bolton

Right Here Waiting, Richard Marx

We Didn't Start the Fire, Billy Joel

You Got It, Roy Orbison

PREDICTION: Billy Joel

SNIDER'S VOTE: Billy Joel

Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female

Brave and Crazy, Melissa Etheridge

Foreign Affair, Tina Turner

I Drove All Night, Cyndi Lauper

Let's Stay Together, Pat Benatar

Nick of Time, Bonnie Raitt

PREDICTION: Bonnie Raitt

SNIDER'S VOTE: Bonnie Raitt

Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male

The End of the Innocence, Don Henley

Free Fallin', Tom Petty

Freedom, Neil Young

New York, Lou Reed

When the Night Comes, Joe Cocker

PREDICTION: Henley

SNIDER'S VOTE: Petty

Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group

Glamour Boys, Living Colour

Mixed Emotions, Rolling Stones

Rattle and Hum, U2

Traveling Wilburys Vol. One, Traveling Wilburys

When Love Comes to Town, U2 with B.B. King

PREDICTION: Rolling Stones

SNIDER'S VOTE: Living Colour

Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female

Dreamin', Vanessa Williams

Giving You the Best That I Got, Anita Baker

Good to Be Back, Natalie Cole

Miss You Much, Janet Jackson

Through the Storm, Aretha Franklin

PREDICTION: Anita Baker

SNIDER'S VOTE: Janet Jackson

Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male

Batdance, Prince

Every Little Step, Bobby Brown

Heart's Horizon, Al Jarreau

She Won't Talk To Me, Luther Vandross

We've Saved the Best For Last, Smokey Robinson

PREDICTION: Bobby Brown

SNIDER'S VOTE: Luther Vandross

Best Rap Performance

Bust a Move, Young MC

Fight the Power, Public Enemy

Funky Cold Medina, Tone Loc

I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson, D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince

Me Myself and I, De La Soul

PREDICTION: Tone Loc

SNIDER'S VOTE: Public Enemy

Best Country Vocal Performance, Female

Absolute Torch and Twang, k.d. lang

Bluebird, Emmylou Harris

I Don't Want to Spoil the Party, Rosanne Cash

Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That, Dolly Parton

Willow in the Wind, Kathy Mattea.

PREDICTION: k.d. lang

SNIDER'S VOTE: k.d. lang.

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