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The Grammy Game

With one minor addition to the Grammy Awards, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences has shown that, even when it tries to redeem its past misguided behavior, it can’t help shooting itself in the foot.

So in order to eliminate the earlier apples-and-oranges contests of singles challenging albums in the pop, rock, R&B and country fields, the academy has created a new rung in each of those fields, album of the year. But rather than making the contest for overall album of the year – one of the four main categories that also include record and song of the year as well as best new artist – a competition between the best of each of the fields, the nominees for this prestigious category don’t include any entries culled from the top choices in the R&B, country and rock categories.

Instead, this year it offers two documents of TV specials – “MTV Unplugged” by Tony Bennett and “The 3 Tenors in Concert 1994”; two names familiar to the voting membership – Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton; and the out-of-the-blue longshot: Seal.

Nominations for the 87 categories were announced Jan. 5 in Hollywood, with new host Paul Reiser doing the honors, (they also were announced, with less fanfare, in New York, Nashville and Chicago). The awards will be handed out March 1 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

The Grammys have followed the lead of the Oscars, heaping five nominations on Bruce Springsteen’s topical “Streets of Philadelphia” as well as Elton John’s songs from “The Lion King,” which are likely Oscar nominees. Raitt and rookie Sheryl Crow also snagged five along with Babyface, who is up against himself with three noms for R&B song.

If the year belongs to anyone, it may be Springsteen, who has the added benefit of having a quality song that so succinctly established a solemn mood in a well-received film.

Last year Sting grabbed six nominations and one statue; the academy thus avoided a repeat of the recent sweeps of Clapton and Raitt.

As NARAS continues to up the category count – 87 in 27 different fields – the likelihood increases of an artist enjoying a sizable haul without taking an award in the top categories. This year, it’s quite possible Soundgarden, Green Day or Me’Shell NdegeOcello – each with four nominations – could walk away with the most trophies, yet receive none of the headlines.

Perhaps more than any other band, newcomer Green Day has a carefree and commercial appeal – more than 3 million sold with no surrounding controversy – that the academy could easily endorse. The vital music of ’94, in sales and newsworthiness, continued to emerge from Seattle, and yet Soundgarden, Nirvana and Pearl Jam are relegated to the less-important categories of hard rock and alternative.

Voters could also swing toward the R&B front and honor Luther Vandross (four noms) or the thrice-nominated Boyz II Men and Seal. (Oddly enough, Seal is up against Lyle Lovett, Ace of Base, Raitt and the Three Tenors for the pop album award. Try finding anyone who owns all five of those discs.)

As for the distributor count, Polygram led with 80 nominations. Sony and Warner-Elektra-Atlantic each grabbed 74, Uni had 42, CEMA 41, BMG 36, and Rounder snagged 10.

All nominees had to be released commercially between Oct. 1, 1993, and Sept. 30, 1994. Nominated for record of the year are “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men; “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” by Mary Chapin Carpenter; “All I Wanna Do” by Crow; “Love Sneakin’ Up on You” by Raitt; and “Streets of Philadelphia” by Springsteen.

Up for song of the year – which goes to the songwriter – are “All I Wanna Do” by David Baerwald, Bill Bottrell, Wyn Cooper, Crow and Kevin Gilbert (performed by Crow); “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” by John and Tim Rice (John); “Circle of Life” by John and Rice (performed by John and Carmen Twillie); “I Swear” by Gary Baker & Frank J. Meyers (All-4-One and John Michael Montgomery); and “Streets of Philadelphia” by Springsteen.

New artist nominees are the year’s top-selling act, Ace of Base, as well as Counting Crows, Crash Test Dummies, Crow and Green Day.

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