First-round ballots for this year's Grammy Awards will be mailed to more than 10,000 voters Friday, but the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences could save on postage if it skipped the formalities and announced the big winner: Santana.
The veteran group's "Supernatural," which is the nation's current No. 1 album, is the front-runner to win the best album award in the 42nd annual Grammy ceremony, which will be held Feb. 23 at Staples Center.
"It's in the tradition of [best album winners] Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan in recent years," said a veteran label executive. "Carlos Santana is somebody who has really paid his dues, who has accomplished a lot artistically over many years and who has achieved the ultimate miracle of being alive and well 30 years after he first broke onto the scene."
As with those other '60s-rooted artists before their recent Grammy breakthroughs, Santana's stature is not reflected in its Grammy track record. The group, which played at Woodstock in 1969 and first topped the chart with "Abraxas" in 1970, has never been nominated for best album. Guitar hero Carlos Santana himself has won just one Grammy--in the relatively minor category of rock instrumental in 1988.
The recording academy has been forced to play catch-up with the '60s because it was slow to acknowledge that decade's rock explosion. "The membership did not reflect what was going on in music at that time," one observer said. "Now, a large chunk of the membership is people who came of age while that music was making its mark. They hold these artists in especially high regard."
Other leading contenders for best album, in an eligibility year that ended Sept. 30, are Limp Bizkit's rock 'n' rap fusion "Significant Other," the Dixie Chicks' "Fly," Whitney Houston's R&B foray "My Love Is Your Love" and Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin's first English-language album, "Ricky Martin."
Additional possibilities range from Nine Inch Nails' "The Fragile" to Andrea Bocelli's "Sogno," and from Alanis Morissette's "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" to Mary J. Blige's "Mary."
Santana is also likely to be nominated for record of the year for its No. 1 single, "Smooth," which features Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20. The big question in this category is whether Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" will receive a nomination. The smash hit played a pivotal role in spreading the Latin pop sound, and a nomination would serve as a reminder that it was Martin's performance on the Grammy telecast in February that made him a star. But the single may sound too much like a jingle to appeal to the select 25-member panel that will meet here Dec. 10 to vote for the final nominees in the top four categories.
Should Santana win big as expected, will the Grammys finally be done paying homage to the '60s? Don't bet on it. Such icons as the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have yet to win a Grammy for best album, while John Fogerty, Brian Wilson and Aretha Franklin have never been nominated for the top award. Odds are we'll be heading down this road again.