I resisted the temptation to join in the snickering last month when Pia Zadora picked up a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal. I wanted to actually listen to the show-biz curio's record before I snickered.

The problem was, I couldn't find my review copy of the record, which I had never gotten around to playing. That led to the hard part. How would you like to go into your neighborhood record store and ask a hip-looking clerk, "Do you have the new Pia Zadora album?" You can bet I waited until no one else was around.

The real surprise in all this, however, is that Zadora's vocal on "Rock It Out" turned out to be more effective than two of the other female rock nominees--Wendy O. Williams and Lita Ford. What happened in this category? Why no nomination for Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders? Or Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go's? Or Cyndi Lauper?

Then again, what are the Grammys--or any of the entertainment industry awards shows--without some serious second-guessing?

The truth is, there was less need for snickering over the nominees this year than in a long time.

The 6,000 members of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences still concentrate too much on mainstream best-sellers, bypassing this time around such worthy rock entries as R.E.M. and Los Lobos.

However, the Best Album nominees did include the two most distinguished collections of 1984: Prince's "Purple Rain" and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A."

There's no guarantee that one of those LPs will win top honors, but at least the nominations give us something worthwhile to root for during the nationally televised ceremonies Tuesday night (KCBS Channel 2, 8 p.m.).

Reason for encouragement: The NARAS membership chose correctly last year when it gave Michael Jackson a record eight Grammys. Reason to worry: the earlier Grammy sweeps of Christopher Cross and Toto.

An extra piece of drama in Tuesday's 27th annual Grammy presentation involves the attempt by Tina Turner to become the first woman ever to sweep the rock, pop and R&B; vocal awards. If she doesn't win in the rock category, brace yourself: Pia, Wendy and Lita are waiting in the wings.

Here's who I'll be rooting for in six key categories Tuesday.

Best Record: The nominees are Chicago's "Hard Habit to Break," Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," Huey Lewis & the News' "The Heart of Rock & Roll," Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" and Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It."

Chicago has been making classy but melodramatic ballads for years (in fact, Chicago has been remaking this classy but melodramatic ballad for years), so there's no reason to suddenly declare this one the most distinguished recording of the year. Lewis' "Heart," a mediocre update of Chuck Berry's rock 'n' roll travelogues, is far outclassed here. Lauper's "Girls" is fun, but hardly prize-winning stuff.

Springsteen, the most acclaimed figure in American rock since Bob Dylan, has never won a Grammy so you could hardly begrudge him a win for "Dancing," though the restless tale is not one of his most commanding works. That leaves Turner's "What's Love," an exquisite tale of romantic insecurity. It wasn't just the best of the nominees, it was the best single of 1983: a superb blend of song, vocal and production. Turner's only Grammy win was in 1971 when she and former husband Ike Turner took best R&B; group vocal for "Proud Mary."

My vote: "What's Love Got to Do With It."

Best Album: Lauper's "She's So Unusual," Prince's "Purple Rain," Lionel Richie's "Can't Slow Down," Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." and Turner's "Private Dancer."

In a much better than average field, I'd skip past Lauper (enticing and eclectic, but with a low degree of invention) and Richie (polished and well-crafted, but too conservative) to Turner, whose graceful blend of soul, pop and rock textures was more alluring than many of the albums that have won this award over the years. But even her strong return to pop action falls short of the ambition and breakthrough of Prince and Springsteen.

Prince's album is an outstanding mix of personal commentary and theatrical imagination, while Springsteen's LP is an endearing look at traditional American values and allegiances. "Purple Rain" is more consistent and, initially, more impressive, but there is a quiet insistence to the simple truths and ultimate challenges of "Born in the U.S.A." that makes it the more essential work.

My vote: "Born in the U.S.A."

Best Song: Phil Collins' "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)," Lauper and Rob Hyman's "Time After Time," Graham Lyle and Terry Britten's "What's Love Got to Do With It," Richie's "Hello" and Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You."

The thing you're looking for in this category is a standard: a song that has a certain timeless, universal appeal. But there are two types of standards: the somewhat passive ones that are built around an effortless charm ("Hello" and "Called") and the more substantial songs that have an edge of originality and independence. While the Collins tune has a some of the latter qualities, "What's Love" is a standout. It's a song with enough emotional nuance and range to tempt any great pop or R&B; singer to try an interpretation.

My vote: "What's Love Got to Do With It."

Female Pop Vocal: Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life," Sheena Easton's "Strut," Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It" and Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy."

Play these records back to back and you wonder why the NARAS members even bothered to nominate more than one person. The runners-up range from weak (Easton, Sheila E.) to merely acceptable (Lauper, Williams).

My vote: Tina Turner.

Female Rock Vocal: Lita Ford's "Dancin' on the Edge," Turner's "Better Be Good to Me," Bonnie Tyler's "Here She Comes," Wendy O. Williams' "WOW" and Pia Zadora's "Rock It Out."

Forget for a moment the absence of Hynde, Carlisle and Lauper. Even Madonna would have stood out among Turner's weak competition. Turner's presence saved the category from being a total farce.

My vote: Tina Turner.

Female R&B; Vocal: Patti Austin's "Patti Austin," Chaka Khan's "I Feel for You," Shannon's "Let the Music Play," Turner's "Let's Stay Together" and Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy."

As much as I'd like to see a Turner sweep, it's hard to go against Khan, whose vocal on this Prince tune is a masterful combination of seduction and sass. If Turner had been nominated for "What's Love," she would have made this race a photo finish, but she also had to compete indirectly against the memory of Al Green's seductive original version of "Let's Stay Together," and Green's always hard to beat.

My vote: Chaka Khan.

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