Who Knows? It's Only Rock 'n' Roll : The Traveling Wilburys and Fine Young Cannibals are favorites for best album in this year's Grammy race

The Grammy competition for album of the year shapes up as a classic showdown between old and new rock sensibilities, as personified by the Traveling Wilburys and the Fine Young Cannibals, respectively.

The Rolling Stones, Richard Marx and Don Henley should also be among the album finalists when nominations for the 32nd annual Grammy Awards are announced Thursday, but the contest appears to be chiefly between the Wilburys and the Cannibals.

The Wilburys began in 1988 as an informal collaboration by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and the late Roy Orbison, but the sessions went so well that the rock veterans decided to make an album.

Appealing mostly to the older segment of the contemporary pop-rock audience, "The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1" represented a victory for traditional rock values. It also foreshadowed one of last year's key trends: the return of '60s stars.

By contrast, the Cannibals' "The Raw & the Cooked" was aimed chiefly at the young dance-rock market. The silky blend of rock and dance strains logged more weeks at No. 1 (seven) than any other album last year. It represented a smashing breakthrough for the English trio, which is fronted by soulful lead singer Roland Gift.

Though nearly 300 albums were eligible for this year's top Grammy Award, it's possible to narrow the field by studying past voting patterns of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

The organization's 5,800 members--mostly artists, producers and songwriters--tend to favor big sellers that fall right in the mainstream of contemporary popular music, rather than raw or experimental records by rock, rap or metal performers.

Here's how this year's key races are likely to shape up.

Album of the Year

"Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1"--This collection was released shortly after the beginning of the eligibility year (Oct. 1, 1988 to Sept. 30, 1989) and has already dropped off the national charts. Yet the Wilburys' wide appeal to pop, rock, adult contemporary and even country fans will likely offset that disadvantage. A similar all-star collaboration, "Trio," by Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, was nominated in this category two years ago.

In addition, two of the Wilburys are front-runners to win Grammys in their own right. Petty is likely to win his first Grammy in the male rock category for his smash album "Full Moon Fever," and Orbison, who died in December of 1988, is a leading contender in the male pop division for his posthumous album "Mystery Girl."

"The Raw & the Cooked"--The hippest of the five most likely entries, this should capture the votes of younger, more rock-conscious members. But its comparatively narrow base of support may hurt it in the final round of voting leading up to the Feb. 21 awards show at the Shrine Auditorium. Like Peter Gabriel three years ago, the Cannibals may be nominated for several key awards and still go home empty-handed.

Richard Marx's "Repeat Offender." Marx is dismissed by critics, but he specializes in the kind of well-crafted, mass-appeal pop that Grammy voters love. And they seem to like Marx. As a newcomer two years ago, he was nominated for best rock vocal performance alongside four of the biggest names in the field--Springsteen, Seger, Cocker and Turner.

Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence." Though this album sold more than a million copies, it wasn't a runaway best-seller. But like Sting, Henley is so widely respected that even a bread-and-butter hit by him is apt to make the grade.

The Rolling Stones' "Steel Wheels." Besides being a best-seller, this album was tied to last year's most successful and visible concert tour. And there will be considerable sentiment in the academy to make up for past slights. The Stones have never won a Grammy and weren't even nominated for one until 1978, when "Some Girls" was up for album of the year.

The likely runners-up for album of the year: Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation 1814," Anita Baker's "Giving You the Best That I Got," Petty's "Full Moon Fever," U2's "Rattle and Hum," Prince's "Batman" sound track, Orbison's "Mystery Girl" and Paul McCartney's "Flowers in the Dirt."

(Paula Abdul's "Forever Your Girl" and Bobby Brown's "Don't Be Cruel" were released prior to the beginning of the eligibility year; Billy Joel's "Storm Front" was issued after its conclusion.)

Record of the Year

The following five most likely nominees among the 264 singles eligible for record of the year all reached No. 1 on the weekly pop chart.

Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." This sentimental ballad from Midler's movie "Beaches" will appeal to the academy's old guard, the members who have long supported Barbra Streisand (who's had five record of the year nominations since 1963). Midler herself was a record of the year finalist in 1980 with "The Rose."

Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." Joel, who won this award in 1978 with the instant standard "Just the Way You Are," is almost certain to return to the finals with this time-capsule summary of the past four decades of pop culture. Because "Fire" is almost a novelty record, a lot of people are already sick of it, but the backlash probably didn't set in until after the close of voting on Dec. 19.

Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy." This stylish pop/dance smash will pick up support from younger members who have helped deliver record of the year nominations in recent years for such hits as Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" and Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing."

Mike + the Mechanics' "The Living Years." This poignant story of a man reconciling his grief over his father's death with hope for his young son's future will likely strike a chord with mainstream voters, the sort who enabled Steve Winwood to make the record of the year finals the last three years running.

Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting." This tender ballad is the main reason that sales of Marx's second album have already topped the 3-million mark.

Two of the year's biggest dance hits, Janet Jackson's "Miss You Much" and Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," may well split the vote of the dance/pop constituency and just miss making the finals. Other likely runners-up: Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville's "Don't Know Much," Neneh Cherry's "Buffalo Stance" and Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence."

Best New Artist

Neneh Cherry and Soul II Soul, the year's most critically lauded newcomers, are the front-runners in the contest for best new artist. Either way, it's good news for Los Angeles-based Virgin Records, which distributes both acts. The other likely finalists: flyweight dance duo Milli Vanilli, red-hot rapper Tone Loc and touted country star Clint Black.

Here are the expected nominees in key performance categories, listed in order of predicted finish. Nominations can be for singles, albums or individual tracks. For the first time, the Grammy organization is allowing new singles from albums released in a prior eligibility year to compete in the performance categories, which should enliven several races.

Pop female vocal: Midler, who won in this category in 1980 with "The Rose," is the front-runner to win again with "Wind Beneath My Wings," which already has the aura of a standard. Also: Ronstadt's "Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind," Cherry's "Buffalo Stance," Gloria Estefan's "Don't Wanna Lose You," Abdul's "Straight Up."

Pop male: This will be the Grammy voters' last chance to salute Orbison (for his album "Mystery Girl"), a classic pop vocalist whose only Grammys to date are in the country and spoken word fields. Also: Marx's "Right Here Waiting," Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," Rod Stewart's "My Heart Can't Tell You No" and Michael Bolton's "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You."

Pop duo/group: Ronstadt and Neville's "Don't Know Much" should benefit from the Grammy organization's fondness for hit duets. Also: Mike + the Mechanics' "The Living Years," Fine Young Cannibals' "The Raw & the Cooked," Cher and Peter Cetera's "After All," Simply Red's "If You Don't Know Me by Now."

Rock female: Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time," her most successful album ever, is likely to break Tina Turner's iron grip on this award. Voters may want to cap Raitt's dramatic comeback with a Grammy--just as they did five years ago with Turner (who is almost certain to be back in the finals this year with "Foreign Affair"). Also: Melissa Etheridge's "Brave and Crazy," Lita Ford's "Falling In and Out of Love," Cyndi Lauper's "I Drove All Night."

Rock male: Petty's "Full Moon Fever" is locked in a tight race with Henley's "The End of the Innocence." Since Petty has never won, he has the edge. Also: Joe Cocker's "When the Night Comes," Stewart's "Crazy About Her," Marx's "Nothin' You Can Do About It."

Rock duo/group: The Rolling Stones should finally win their first Grammy for "Steel Wheels," unless sentiment for the Traveling Wilburys is overpowering. Also: U2's "Rattle and Hum," Guns N' Roses' "Patience," the Cure's "Love Song."

R&B; female: Three years ago, Anita Baker's "Rapture" bested Janet Jackson's "Control." This year Jackson is likely to avenge that loss. Her "Miss You Much" was a smash late in the year, whereas Baker's "Giving You the Best That I Got" peaked a year ago. Also: Karyn White's "Super-woman," Natalie Cole's "Good to Be Back," Jody Watley's "Real Love."

R&B; male: Bobby Brown's "Every Little Step" figures to be an easy winner because he was far and away the year's dominant R&B; male artist. Also: Prince's "Bat-dance," Luther Vandross' "She Won't Talk To Me," Babyface's "It's No Crime," Jermaine Jackson's "Don't Take It Personal."

R&B; duo/group: Soul II Soul's "Back to Life" is the favorite, though a duet by the queen and the godfather of soul, Aretha Franklin and James Brown, may be too much for Grammy voters to resist--even though few of them have likely heard the song, "Gimme Your Love." Also: Guy featuring Teddy Riley's "My Fantasy," Jody Watley with Eric B. & Rakim's "Friends," Surface's "Closer Than Friends."

Last year, Grein correctly predicted all five nominees for album of the year and four of the five finalists for record of the year. He averaged three to four c orrect picks in the performance categories.

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