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POP EYE SPECIAL

Who Knows? It's Only Rock 'n' Roll : The Traveling Wilburys and Fine Young Cannibals are favorites for best album in this year's Grammy race

January 07, 1990|PAUL GREIN

The Grammy competition for album of the year shapes up as a classic showdown between old and new rock sensibilities, as personified by the Traveling Wilburys and the Fine Young Cannibals, respectively.

The Rolling Stones, Richard Marx and Don Henley should also be among the album finalists when nominations for the 32nd annual Grammy Awards are announced Thursday, but the contest appears to be chiefly between the Wilburys and the Cannibals.

The Wilburys began in 1988 as an informal collaboration by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and the late Roy Orbison, but the sessions went so well that the rock veterans decided to make an album.

Appealing mostly to the older segment of the contemporary pop-rock audience, "The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1" represented a victory for traditional rock values. It also foreshadowed one of last year's key trends: the return of '60s stars.

By contrast, the Cannibals' "The Raw & the Cooked" was aimed chiefly at the young dance-rock market. The silky blend of rock and dance strains logged more weeks at No. 1 (seven) than any other album last year. It represented a smashing breakthrough for the English trio, which is fronted by soulful lead singer Roland Gift.

Though nearly 300 albums were eligible for this year's top Grammy Award, it's possible to narrow the field by studying past voting patterns of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

The organization's 5,800 members--mostly artists, producers and songwriters--tend to favor big sellers that fall right in the mainstream of contemporary popular music, rather than raw or experimental records by rock, rap or metal performers.

Here's how this year's key races are likely to shape up.

Album of the Year

"Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1"--This collection was released shortly after the beginning of the eligibility year (Oct. 1, 1988 to Sept. 30, 1989) and has already dropped off the national charts. Yet the Wilburys' wide appeal to pop, rock, adult contemporary and even country fans will likely offset that disadvantage. A similar all-star collaboration, "Trio," by Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, was nominated in this category two years ago.

In addition, two of the Wilburys are front-runners to win Grammys in their own right. Petty is likely to win his first Grammy in the male rock category for his smash album "Full Moon Fever," and Orbison, who died in December of 1988, is a leading contender in the male pop division for his posthumous album "Mystery Girl."

"The Raw & the Cooked"--The hippest of the five most likely entries, this should capture the votes of younger, more rock-conscious members. But its comparatively narrow base of support may hurt it in the final round of voting leading up to the Feb. 21 awards show at the Shrine Auditorium. Like Peter Gabriel three years ago, the Cannibals may be nominated for several key awards and still go home empty-handed.

Richard Marx's "Repeat Offender." Marx is dismissed by critics, but he specializes in the kind of well-crafted, mass-appeal pop that Grammy voters love. And they seem to like Marx. As a newcomer two years ago, he was nominated for best rock vocal performance alongside four of the biggest names in the field--Springsteen, Seger, Cocker and Turner.

Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence." Though this album sold more than a million copies, it wasn't a runaway best-seller. But like Sting, Henley is so widely respected that even a bread-and-butter hit by him is apt to make the grade.

The Rolling Stones' "Steel Wheels." Besides being a best-seller, this album was tied to last year's most successful and visible concert tour. And there will be considerable sentiment in the academy to make up for past slights. The Stones have never won a Grammy and weren't even nominated for one until 1978, when "Some Girls" was up for album of the year.

The likely runners-up for album of the year: Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation 1814," Anita Baker's "Giving You the Best That I Got," Petty's "Full Moon Fever," U2's "Rattle and Hum," Prince's "Batman" sound track, Orbison's "Mystery Girl" and Paul McCartney's "Flowers in the Dirt."

(Paula Abdul's "Forever Your Girl" and Bobby Brown's "Don't Be Cruel" were released prior to the beginning of the eligibility year; Billy Joel's "Storm Front" was issued after its conclusion.)

Record of the Year

The following five most likely nominees among the 264 singles eligible for record of the year all reached No. 1 on the weekly pop chart.

Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." This sentimental ballad from Midler's movie "Beaches" will appeal to the academy's old guard, the members who have long supported Barbra Streisand (who's had five record of the year nominations since 1963). Midler herself was a record of the year finalist in 1980 with "The Rose."

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