Tracy Chapman: The Grammy Favorite : ‘Fast Car’ may help propel the biggest sweep ever by a new artist

Tracy Chapman could be headed for the biggest Grammy sweep ever by a new artist--surpassing even Christopher Cross’ five-Grammy blowout in 1981.

The 31st annual Grammy nominations won’t be announced until Thursday, but it’s a foregone conclusion that the 24-year-old folk singer will dominate the action.

Chapman’s self-titled debut album, which has sold more than 2 million copies in this country, seems certain to be nominated for album of the year. And her “Fast Car” single, which motored into the Top 10 last summer, seems equally certain to be nominated in the record and song of the year balloting.


The Boston-based singer is also a safe bet in three other categories--best new artist, best contemporary folk performance and best female pop vocal.

And we’re not just talking about the nominations.

Chapman has an excellent chance of winning in all six categories when the awards are handed out at the Shrine Auditorium on Feb. 22.

Cross, whose mellow mix of pop and rock made him a sensation briefly in the early ‘80s, won in four of the same categories--album, record and song of the year and best new artist. His fifth Grammy was for best arrangement.

But to equal--or top--Cross’ record, Chapman will have to beat back some fierce competition. George Michael’s “Faith,” which has sold more than 6 million copies in this country and has generated an unprecedented six Top 5 singles, will also have much support in the best album balloting.

And Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” is a formidable best record finalist. There will be considerable sentiment to give Jackson the award to take some of the sting out of his Grammy shutout last year.

There’s drama in several other races too:

Will the Beach Boys finally win their first Grammy for the lighthearted pop smash “Kokomo?” And will Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson be nominated in any major categories for his critically lauded, but poor-selling solo debut album?

Will Luther Vandross win his first Grammy for best male R&B; performance after being the premier male R&B; singer for most of the ‘80s?

Will Bruce Springsteen win again in the male rock vocal competition, or has his image been tarnished by his heavily publicized marital upheaval?

But the real drama in this year’s Grammy race is to see which faction of the academy will prevail in the album of the year balloting--the “moderates” or the “progressives.”

Album of the Year

The “moderates” have long dominated the 6,000-member academy, which consists primarily of artists, producers, songwriters and musicians. Fans of well-crafted, mass appeal pop, they helped deliver best album awards to such hugely popular but critically dismissed artists as Phil Collins, Lionel Richie and Billy Joel. They have a strong candidate this year in Michael, whose “Faith” album logged 46 weeks in the Top 10.

But the “progressives” have been coming up fast in recent years. Younger and more rock-conscious, they helped swing the album of the year prize to socially conscious, critically acclaimed LPs the last two years (Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and U2’s “The Joshua Tree”). They have an equally strong standard-bearer in Chapman.

The other likely nominees are the latest albums by three Grammy perennials: Sting’s “Nothing Like the Sun,” Steve Winwood’s “Roll With It” and Bobby McFerrin’s “Simple Pleasures.”

Also possible: INXS’ “Kick,” Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby,” Brian Wilson’s “Brian Wilson,” Randy Newman’s “Land of Dreams,” various artists’ “A Very Special Christmas.”

Best-selling albums by U2 and Anita Baker were released after the close of the eligibility period--Oct. 1, 1987, through Sept. 30, 1988--though their lead-off singles are eligible in the best record balloting.

Record of the Year

Chapman’s “Fast Car,” a stark portrait of a woman trapped in a cycle of poverty, and Jackson’s philosophical “Man in the Mirror” are the singles to beat here.

Their expected competition: McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” Winwood’s “Roll With It” and Michael’s “Faith.”

If Winwood makes the finals, he’ll become the first artist to be nominated for best record three years in a row since Roberta Flack in the early ‘70s. The British pop veteran won two years ago with “Higher Love” and was nominated last year with “Back in the High Life Again.”

A word of caution: Michael has five entries competing for a spot in the record of the year finals, and they could easily cancel each other out. Assuming that doesn’t happen, look for “Faith” to get the nod over “One More Try"--if only because it’s the first Michael hit that bleary-eyed Grammy voters will encounter on the alphabetical list of 238 (count ‘em) eligible singles.

Also possible: INXS’ “Need You Tonight,” Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time,” Phil Collins’ “Groovy Kind of Love,” Baker’s “Giving You the Best That I Got,” U2’s “Desire,” Sting’s “We’ll Be Together.”

Best New Artist

If Chapman doesn’t win this award, the Grammys shouldn’t even bother renting a hall for their 32nd annual ceremonies. The other likely nominees: Rick Astley, Keith Sweat, Al B. Sure! and Toni Childs.

Also possible: Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians, Sinead O’Connor, Johnny Hates Jazz, Kylie Minogue, Morrissey.


Other likely nominees include:

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male: Michael’s “Faith,” McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” Sting’s “Nothing Like the Sun,” Winwood’s “Roll With It,” Collins’ “Groovy Kind of Love.”

Pop Female: Chapman’s “Fast Car,” Houston’s “One Moment in Time,” Brenda Russell’s “Get Here,” Taylor Dayne’s “Tell It to My Heart,” Basia’s “Time and Tide.”

Pop Group: Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield’s “What Have I Done to Deserve This,” Beach Boys’ “Kokomo,” Brenda Russell & Joe Esposito’s “Piano in the Dark,” Chicago’s “Look Away,” Escape Club’s “Wild, Wild West.”

Rock Male: Springsteen’s “Chimes of Freedom,” Eric Clapton’s “After Midnight,” Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible,” Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young,” Joe Cocker’s “Unchain My Heart.”

Rock Female: Lita Ford’s “Lita,” Patti Smith’s “Dream of Life,” Pat Benatar’s “Wide Awake in Dreamland,” Tina Turner’s “Tina Live in Europe,” Childs’ “Don’t Walk Away.”

Rock Group: U2’s “Desire,” INXS’ “Kick,” Bon Jovi’s “New Jersey,” Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” Cheap Trick’s “The Flame.”

R&B; Male: Vandross’ “Any Love,” Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” D’Arby’s “Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby,” Sweat’s “Make it Last Forever,” Sure!'s “In Effect Mode.”

R&B; Female: Baker’s “Giving You the Best That I Got,” Pebbles’ “Girlfriend,” Dayne’s “I’ll Always Love You,” Angela Winbush’s “Angel,” Karyn White’s “The Way You Love Me.”

R&B; Group: Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Love Overboard,” New Edition’s “Heart Break,” the Deele’s “Two Occasions,” the Jets’ “Rocket 2 U,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “System of Survival.”

Pop prognosticator Grein last year correctly predicted three of the five nominees for record and album of the year and best new artist.