Bono wasn't cut off but should have been.

Frank Sinatra was cut off but shouldn't have been.

It was that kind of a lousy night yesterday at the 36th annual Grammy music awards ceremony, badly broadcast by CBS from New York's Radio City Music Hall.

Top honors went to the soundtrack of "Aladdin," with five awards; Whitney Houston with three, including record and album of the year; and Sting with three. Maryland's Toni Braxton was named best new artist. In accepting the award for best alternative music album for "Zooropa," U2 vocalist Bono said: "I'd like to give a message to the young people of America. We shall continue to abuse our position and {expletive} the mainstream." Chagrined host Garry Shandling quickly ad-libbed, "I take full responsibility. I told him we were on cable." In fact, there was supposed to be a 10-second delay, but Bono's remark went out live (though it was expected to be edited when the program was shown on the West Coast).

That wasn't the case with Sinatra, whose Grammy Living Legend Award was preceded by a rambling homage from the fashionably disheveled Bono and a standing ovation from the full house of 4,000. "That's the best welcome I ever had," said a choked-up Sinatra. "This is like being in baseball -- the bases are loaded and you're at bat, and you don't know what you're going to do." Though Sinatra noted that "I ain't going yet," his acceptance speech was cut off as the broadcast clumsily went to a commercial.

Once again, Shandling apologized, later joking that he'd just gotten a call from Lorena Bobbitt saying that "even I wouldn't have cut off Frank Sinatra."

A few minutes after the Sinatra snafu, Billy Joel interrupted his performance of "The River of Dreams," looked at his watch and said: "Valuable advertising time going by, valuable advertising time going by. Dollars, dollars, dollars." After smiling, Joel resumed playing.

But Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, later said that a Sinatra assistant worried the 78-year-old crooner "would have talked for about an hour," the Associated Press reported, and after a few minutes she asked CBS to cut him off.

The soundtrack to "The Bodyguard" was named album of the year, clearly because of its sales figures, not its achievement. Houston opened the evening with a radiant rendering of "I Will Always Love You," the inescapable pop standard that sold 4 million singles and fueled "The Bodyguard" to sales of 26 million copies worldwide, though it included only four songs by her.

In a bit of fortuitous (or awkward) programming, Houston was almost immediately handed the award for record of the year by the song's writer, Dolly Parton, and her producer, David Foster (later named producer of the year). Parton noted that the 1974 song had been written out of heartbreak, then added, "It's amazing how healing money can be."

The song won a second Grammy for best female pop vocal. "I think everyone can dig and understand 'I Will Always Love You,' " Houston said backstage. Three weeks ago, she collected eight American Music Awards for the single and soundtrack.

Because of a rule change enacted after the 40-year-old "Unforgettable" won for song of the year in 1992, "I Will Always Love You" was not up for that award because it was not considered a new song. The award went to the seemingly less-than-popular choice of "A Whole New World (Aladdin's Theme)," written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice and given a lukewarm reaction by the audience.

As the recording industry honored its top performers, it was clear that mainstream artists would be dominating these awards, with the soundtrack for "Aladdin," the Walt Disney animated hit, winning the most Grammys. Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle won best pop performance by a duo or group for singing "A Whole New World," which also won best song written for a motion picture or television. The other "Aladdin" awards were best musical album for children and best instrumental composition written for a motion picture or for television.

Sting, whose six Grammy nominations topped the field for performers, won best pop vocal performance by a male for "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You." His "Ten Summoner's Tales" won for best engineered album and best long-form video. Sting, who already has 10 awards as a solo act and as a member of the Police, had a chance to tie Paul Simon's record for most Grammys ever received by a single artist, but he had to win every award

he was nominated for to do so. By winning three, he passed Michael Jackson, who holds 12.

But Sting was shut out of the major awards (record, song and album of the year), as were Billy Joel and R.E.M. Joel, who already has five Grammys, was up for five more, while R.E.M. was up for four. Neither got an award.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences also honored Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and songwriter Curtis Mayfield with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Mayfield was paralyzed four years ago when a lighting tower fell on him before a concert in New York City. Bruce Springsteen, who led an all-star chorus in a medley of Mayfield classics, told him: "We thank you for the lasting soul and deep beauty of the music that you've made for us. You've been a lasting inspiration."

Mayfield, speaking softly from his wheelchair, said, "Above all else, thanks to you the people, my fans and friends throughout the world, who have given your support and your respect for 35 years of my life."

In addition to being named best new artist, Toni Braxton won the Grammy for best R&B vocal performance, female, for "Another Sad Love Song." It was a good sign for the future since it involved beating Houston and Franklin. Mary-Chapin Carpenter, who grew up in New Jersey and built her career in Washington clubs, won the best female country vocal performance award for the third year in a row with a cover of Lucinda Williams's "Passionate Kisses," which earned Williams a Grammy for best country song. DC Talk's "Free at Last" won for best rock gospel album. Local music critic Joel E. Siegel shared a best album notes award for "The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve 1945-1959," which also won for best recording package and historical album.

Gangsta rap was given a nervous nod when Dr. Dre's "Let Me Ride" won for best rap solo performance; NARAS voters apparently overlooked Dre's disrespect for women out of respect for his platinum sales and sterling production. Digable Planets' "Rebirth of Slick" won the rap group award.

Tony Bennett's "Steppin' Out" beat Barbra Streisand's "Back to Broadway" for best traditional pop vocal performance. "What a thrill," said Bennett, who has become a favorite on the alternative music circuit through his appearances on MTV and at rock concerts. "I don't know what Barbra's going to say about this."

Miles Davis received posthumous honors, winning the award for large jazz ensemble performance for "Miles and Quincy Live at Montreux," a collaboration with Quincy Jones, pop music's biggest Grammy winner with 25 total. Davis also figured in the two jazz awards for saxophonist Joe Henderson. Henderson won the best jazz instrumental solo for "Miles Ahead" and best jazz instrumental performance for the album "So Near, So Far (Musings for Miles)." Guitarist Pat Metheny won his 10th consecutive Grammy Award when "The Road to You" was named best contemporary jazz instrumental.

Winners were determined by the ballots of 6,500 voting members of NARAS. The loser was CBS, which turned in one of the worst Grammy broadcasts in memory, missing cues, cutting away too soon or too late, opting for uninteresting audience shots. Of course, much of the audience seemed uninterested, and it certainly was uninspired by most of the performances sprinkled through the show. When Sting sang, "You could say I lost my faith in the people on TV," you had the feeling he was being quite specific.