The winners of tonight's "24th Annual Grammy Awards Show" on CBS will benefit at the record stores for about a week. Some stores may even set up displays, but most won't even bother with that.
Although the Grammy Awards show is the second most watched awards program on television, there will be no bonuses for winning artists when it's time for a new contract. Unlike the Oscars, there has been no advertising blitz aimed at the voters; there have been no special consumer ads for competing records saying "NOMINATED FOR 6 GRAMMY AWARDS"; there will be few "Grammy Winner" stickers.
Enthusiasm for--and talk about--the awards peaked when the nominations were announced last month; most of the attention centered, as it does every year, on the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences' ultra-conservative choices, on the idiocy of having singles competing against albums, on the constraints of the 64 categories (hard rock, which sells the most records, never gets nominations in the three major categories (record, song and album of the year). People will grumble about record company employes voting as a bloc for their own product, about voting alongracial lines. Others will complain about how some entries wound up as finalists (George Duke and Stanley Clarke in Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group? Adam and the Ants as Best New Artists?). After the awards, people will talk about the unfairness of it all (Lena Horne and her Broadway show having to compete against hit singles by Juice Newton, Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton and Olivia Newton-John). Within a week, business will be going on as usual.
The Washington Post asked 11 industry observers to handicap the top 16 awards from tonight's Grammys, to test their perceptions of the industry. The observers are: Kal Rudman, whose Friday Morning Quarterback is one of the top tip sheets in music; Kent Burkhart, with partner Lee Abrams, one of the nation's top radio consulting teams; Martin Rushent, just voted England's Producer of the Year for his work with the Human League and Altered Images; Jerry Del Colliano, publisher of Inside Radio; Jimmy Douglass, New York producer (Slave, Gang of Four) and recording engineer (Rolling Stones, Foreigner); Melvin Lindsay, the "Quiet Storm" on WHUR; Bill Danoff, formerly of the Starland Vocal Band and Washington's only two-time Grammy winner; Robert Christgau of the Village Voice, dean of American rock critics; Greg Geller, head of A&R at Columbia Records, considered to have two of the best ears in the record industry; John Matthews, manager of Record and Tape Ltd. in Georgetown. Some participants passed on some categories.
According to this well-informed group, there are only four shoo-ins: Grover Washington Jr., whose "Winelight" is expected to take the jazz fusion award (seven of eight votes), Kim Carnes for female pop vocal performance (seven of 10 votes) and Sheena Easton as best new artist (six out of 10); Bruce Springsteen got six of eight votes for male rock vocal performance.
The big battles are Kim "Bette Davis Eyes" Carnes versus Diana Ross and Lionel Richie ("Endless Love") in both song and record of the year, and Carnes versus the late John Lennon for album of the year. A dark horse in all three categories is Christopher Cross ("Arthur's Theme Do the Best You Can "); Cross was last year's upset winner of all four top awards, but released only that single in 1981; there's also a residual feeling that he won too much as a rookie last year.
Carnes, a popular industry figure who has been waiting in the wings for a decade, is riding high on the strength of "Bette Davis Eyes," written by Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss and described by Robert Christgau as a "pure pop phenomenon." "All the other singles sound soupy," adds Kal Rudman, "but this one is full of touches and surprises that keep it fresh and vital. It also has a very low burnout factor." The dark horse is the Ross/Richie "Endless Love." "Endless airplay, endless jukebox play," says Jerry Del Colliano, pinpointing a continual industry battle as to whether voters are professionals rewarding their own or, as one handicapper put it, "merely worshiping at the altar of commercial success."
If Carnes is somehow bumped out of Record of the Year, her "Mistaken Identity" should pick up Album of the Year as consolation. Carnes' main competition there is the John Lennon/Yoko Ono "Double Fantasy." Judging from handicappers' response, the Lennon album will present a dilemma for many voters; its chances rest on high sentimentality for the murdered Lennon, as well as the fact that Lennon and the Beatles won only six Grammys in their time. "If he hadn't died, Lennon wouldn't have even been nominated," says John Matthews.
Popster Sheena Easton, likely winner as Best New Artist, will reflect the industry's inherent conservatism ("That's always a bad taste award," says Christgau). Four dissenting votes were split between female rockers, the Go-Go's ("a straight American band that makes an impact, which is healthy for American rock," says Rushent), and Luther Vandross, a powerful new black vocalist who has yet to achieve significant crossover appeal. Vandross will also have to overcome the industry's racial conservatism; in 23 years, only two black acts (Natalie Cole and Taste of Honey) have won Best New Artist.
In the rock field, the female vocalist award is a tight battle between Pat Benatar (last year's winner in the same category) and Stevie Nicks (two-Grammy winner as part of Fleetwood Mac). Bruce Springsteen, a non-winner despite platinum raves, may finally get a thank-you in the rock male category, ironically for one of his less sterling efforts, "The River." "He is one of the few serious artists in America," says Martin Rushent.
The rhythm & blues and country awards seem a bit more open. Stephanie Mills (last year's female winner) has a slight edge over 10-Grammy winner Aretha Franklin, while two newcomers, James Ingram and Luther Vandross, vie for the male award; it hardly matters since the probable winners are Earth, Wind & Fire or the Commodores, both highly successful crossover bands. In fact, the R&B awards hardly reflect black radio as much as they do crossover appeal.
In the female country category, it's an acknowledged old-timer (Dolly Parton and "9 to 5") against a veteran who's just found success this year (Juice Newton and "Queen of Hearts"). Look for a Parton victory ("I'll go for the mass lady," says Del Colliano). Eddie Rabbit, who is basically a pop artist recording in Nashville, is a favorite as country male, though George Jones can't be discounted ("His winning is a tradition now," says Bruce Geller).
The Oak Ridge Boys are favored over Alabama and the Kenny Rogers/Dottie West duo in the country duo-group category. Interestingly, in that same category, Dottie West is competing against her daughter, Shelly (teamed with David Frizell, son of Lefty). It's probably better if neither wins. Incidentally, the only winners from the same families, in different years, are the Coles (Nat and daughter Natalie), sisters Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle.