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The Grammy Tip Sheet : U2 and Eric Clapton are favored to lead the pack in nominations--and take home top honors--in our annual handicapping

January 03, 1993|PAUL GREIN | Paul Grein, a free-lance writer specializing in pop music, has forecast the Grammy race for The Times since 1981. Last year, he correctly predicted four of the five nominees for best record and three of the five finalists for best album.

Whereas last year's Grammy Awards were a sentimental salute to the smooth sounds of Nat King Cole, this year's ceremony is going to rock .

U2, the most respected rock band of the last 10 years, is the favorite to win the best album award for "Achtung Baby," while legendary guitarist Eric Clapton will probably win for best single with "Tears in Heaven."

This would mark the first time that rock artists have swept both of the top prizes since 1978, when Fleetwood Mac took best album with "Rumours" and the Eagles won best single with "Hotel California."

The march to the Grammys begins Thursday when nominations are announced in 80 categories. The winners will be revealed Feb. 24, when the Grammys return here to the Shrine Auditorium after two years in New York.

In all, Clapton will probably be nominated in eight categories, including best album for "Unplugged" and best male vocal in pop and rock. U2 looks strong in five categories, including best single for "Mysterious Ways."

And they won't be carrying the rock banner alone. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, one of the biggest new bands of recent years, also has a strong chance of making the best single finals with "Under the Bridge."

Not that other styles of music will be shut out. The nominees for best album and best single are apt to also include R&B (En Vogue, Boyz II Men), country (Garth Brooks), adult contemporary (Michael Bolton) and pop (Vanessa Williams).

Though these artists work in different styles, they all specialize in well-crafted, highly professional recordings that fall right in the pop mainstream. That's the Grammy common denominator.

The 6,500 voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (mostly artists, songwriters, producers and session musicians) also like to celebrate winners --dramatic comebacks (Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt), career milestones (Paul Simon's "Graceland"), special event records ("We Are the World"), artistic breakthroughs (George Michael's "Faith") and commercial breakthroughs (U2's "The Joshua Tree").

They also respond to human emotion. And just as Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable" was a touching tribute by a daughter to her late father, "Tears in Heaven" is a heartfelt salute by a father to his late son. Clapton composed the song after his 4-year-old, Conor, fell to his death from a 53rd-floor apartment in Manhattan two years ago.

Best Album

The surest nominee is "Achtung Baby," U2's first formal studio album since "The Joshua Tree," the 1987 best-album winner. The Irish band, with lead singer Bono, is vying to become the first group in the 35-year history of the Grammys to win this award twice.

Clapton's "Unplugged," a live career-retrospective which was recorded for the MTV series of the same name, is another near-certain nominee. Many Grammy voters will embrace it as a way of saluting Clapton's entire 25-year career--one that has been under-recognized by the academy over the years. Clapton won his first solo Grammy just two years ago.

Michael Bolton's "Timeless (The Classics)," a collection of contemporary standards, is tailor-made for the Grammys. After all, Bolton has been nominated the last two years for reviving classic hits by Ray Charles and Percy Sledge. And "Timeless" has timing on its side: The album hit No. 1 just as the nominating ballots were sent out in December.

Garth Brooks' "The Chase" is a question mark. No country solo artist has made the best album finals since Kenny Rogers a dozen years ago with "The Gambler." Yet no country artist has ever approached Brooks' sales impact. At one point last year, he had two of the nation's three best-selling albums. A top-rated TV special, a successful concert tour and extensive media attention (including the cover of Time magazine) added to his fame and stature. Count him in.

En Vogue will probably slip into the fifth spot with their hit-studded album, "Funky Divas." That would make them the first R&B group ever to make the best album finals--unless you count the pop-minded Fifth Dimension or the rock-oriented Prince & the Revolution. The quartet's versatility--hits ranging from funk to R&B to rock--should impress Grammy voters.

So where's the King of Pop? Barring an upset, this will be the first year since 1980 that Michael Jackson has made an album that won't make the finals. His latest opus, "Dangerous," got off to a fast start when it was released in late 1991, but it didn't have the legs or impact of its predecessors.

Also possible: Annie Lennox's "Diva," k.d. lang's "Ingenue," Elton John's "The One," Peter Gabriel's "Us."

Best Single

The surest nominees are all ballads: Clapton's melancholy "Tears in Heaven," Vanessa Williams' silky "Save the Best for Last," and Boyz II Men's doo-wop-accented "End of the Road."

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