GRAMMYS '89 : A Show Short on Talk and Long on Song

Times Television Critic

It's name was Grammy, three-plus hours of whammy.

So from this critic, there'll be no slammy.

Apologies to rappers. But Wednesday night's Grammy telecast on CBS was, well, a fast car, a speeding, careening, rocking, fast-clocking, racing, bracing sprint down a mostly smooth track that overshot its scheduled time slot by a mere 20 minutes. Who cared?

Bobby McFerrin's acceptance speech alone (when his "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was named song of the year) was probably more musical than two-thirds of this year's record releases.

If past Grammycasts were sometimes on the cutting edge of ho-hum, this one took a hairpin turn toward the exciting and eclectic.

Music purists may disagree. But as entertainment for the broad mass of viewers, the evening was a comparative festival of diversity that had just about everything. That included a range from Leontyne Price to rocking Metallica, whose robust number "One" may have provided a preview of World War III.

Cracked host Billy Crystal: "That song was written by Steve Allen."

The night had other funny lines from Crystal. It had funny looks, from Sinead O'Connor, who seemed to fuse images of boot camp and concentration camp, and from Michael Hutchence, who had that wet, throw-something-on-when-the-doorbell-rings-and-you're-in-the-shower appearance.

It had vibrant, splashy production numbers with Luther Vandross and Linda Ronstadt, even if there wasn't a show-breaker like Michael Jackson to bring down the house inside Shrine Auditorium.

It had a smashing gospel ensemble, a booming Toni Childs and a socially conscious Tracy Chapman, who fulfilled the promise of her own lyrics to "be somebody."

It had standing ovations, but also groans of disappointment in response to some of the winners.

And, as usual with awards programs, there was at least one small moment that loomed big, this one McFerrin and Crystal's inspired bit reliving musical history.

Of all major awards shows, it's the musical ones that are usually most tailored to TV, because they're performance-oriented and celebrate song, not chit-chat.

The Grammycast, for example, was happily devoid of the awkward and vacuous scripted chatter by presenters that so often epitomizes awards shows. Nor were acceptance speeches long and windy. Instead, this was a night at the office. Everyone got down to business, and the show ran so smoothly that even its few fluffs were hardly noticed.

Said McFerrin: "Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord.

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