You may have a feeling of deja vu when the Grammy Awards are presented Wednesday night.
The big winner is likely to be a rock legend who has never gotten his Grammy due but who recorded an emotionally charged ballad that enabled him finally to connect with conservative voters.
Does the scenario sound familiar? That's what unfolded two years ago when Eric Clapton swept the Grammys with "Tears in Heaven," a heartfelt tribute to his late son. This time, Bruce Springsteen is expected to dominate with "Streets of Philadelphia," the haunting reflections of a man dying of AIDS.
Though Springsteen is one of the most acclaimed rockers of the modern pop era, he has won just two Grammys. Voters may attempt to make up for past slights by picking him in all five categories in which he is nominated, including best single record and song of the year.
The likely winner for best album, Tony Bennett's "MTV Unplugged," may add to the sense of deja vu . Two years ago, Clapton took the prize with his "Unplugged" album. Bennett is also expected to win in two other categories--traditional pop vocal and pop vocal collaboration ("Moonglow," with k.d. lang).
In this year's Grammy score sheet, Paul Grein predicts the winners in 26 key categories, while Robert Hilburn counters with the artists he thinks deserve to win:
Record of the Year: Nominees are Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You," Mary Chapin Carpenter's "He Thinks He'll Keep Her," Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do," Bonnie Raitt's "Love Sneakin' Up on You," Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia . "
Prediction: Springsteen lost in this category in the mid-'80s with "Dancing in the Dark" and "Born in the U.S.A.," but he'll finally take home the prize. "Streets of Philadelphia," from the 1993 film "Philadelphia," underscores the qualities voters have long admired in him--his artistic integrity and sense of social responsibility.
Preference: Springsteen. "Streets of Philadelphia" looked without compromise at someone in the final stages of AIDS, offering no false celebration or optimism to make the record more palatable.
Album of the Year: Bennett's "MTV Unplugged," Clapton's "From the Cradle," Raitt's "Longing in Their Hearts," Seal's "Seal , " Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti with Zubin Mehta's "The 3 Tenors in Concert 1994 . "
Prediction: In this category, voters have often turned to albums with strong conceptual hooks--a daughter's tribute to her late father (Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable" in 1992); a pop star's experiment with African rhythms (Paul Simon's "Graceland" in 1987). The album with the strongest hook this time is Bennett's: a 68-year-old crooner becoming the embodiment of cool to the MTV generation. The MTV connection allows Grammy voters to have it both ways: They can rally behind an old-guard, middle-of-the-road album and still feel they're being hip.
Preference: Raitt. "Longing" lacks the dramatic breakthrough of her "Nick of Time," the 1989 winner in this category, but it showcases Raitt's increasing maturity, especially as a writer. The best entry in a shamefully weak field.
Song of the Year: "Streets of Philadelphia," "All I Wanna Do" (written by Crow, David Baerwald, Bill Bottrell, Wyn Cooper and Kevin Gilbert), "I Swear" (by Gary Baker and Frank J. Myers) , "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and "Circle of Life" ( both by Elton John and Tim Rice).
Prediction: "Streets of Philadelphia," which won an Oscar last year as best original song, is likely to beat "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," this year's Oscar front-runner.
Best New Artist: Ace of Base, Counting Crows, Crash Test Dummies, Sheryl Crow, Green Day.
Prediction: Solo acts have won here in nine of the last 15 years, making Crow the odds-on favorite.
Preference: Green Day. The year's most arresting arrivals-- Hole and Me'Shell NdegeOcello--weren't even nominated, leaving the competition somewhat hollow. At least these neo-punkers are less pretentious than the Crows and more adventurous than Crow.
Pop Album: The Raitt, Seal and "3 Tenors" albums plus Ace of Base's "The Sign," Lyle Lovett's "I Love Everybody . "
Prediction: Grammy darling Raitt, who has won seven awards in the past five years, has a slight edge. Voters won't want her to go home empty-handed.
Preference: Raitt. Lovett and Seal are quality rivals, but "Everybody" wasn't Lovett's strongest collection, and Seal remains generally more passionate than profound.
Pop Female: Mariah Carey's "Hero," Crow's "All I Wanna Do," Celine Dion's "The Power of Love," Raitt's "Longing in Their Hearts," Barbra Streisand's "Ordinary Miracles."
Prediction: Crow's engaging song was a radio and video smash, while Raitt's entry is merely the title track to her album. Advantage: Crow.
Preference: Raitt. Streisand has the more remarkable voice, but "Longing" gives Raitt much more to work with.
Pop Male: Prince's "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," Michael Bolton's "Said I Loved You . . . but I Lied," Elton John's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," Seal's "Prayer for the Dying," Luther Vandross' "Love the One You're With."
Prediction: Seal's AIDS rumination is likely to narrowly beat Elton John's pop valentine.
Preference: Seal. The Englishman has limitations, but singing isn't one of them. A wonderfully tender performance.
Pop Duo or Group: Ace of Base's "The Sign," All-4-One's "I Swear," Crash Test Dummies' "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories' "Stay (I Missed You)," Pretenders' "I'll Stand by You."
Prediction: As the only veterans in a field of rookies, the Pretenders stand out. They appeal to the same yuppie voters who have made Raitt and Clapton major winners.
Preference: The Pretenders. It's strange for the greatest female rock singer of her generation to be in a pop competition against Ace of Base and All-4-One, but that's no reason to deny Chrissie Hynde her first Grammy.
Traditional Pop: Bennett's album plus Roberta Flack's "Roberta," Willie Nelson's "Moonlight Becomes You," Frank Sinatra's "Duets," Streisand's "The Concert."
Prediction: Will voters figure the best album prize is enough recognition for Bennett and give this award to Streisand as a way of saluting her triumphant '94 tour? Probably not.
Preference: Streisand. The concert was a triumph.
Rock Album: Pearl Jam's "Vs.," R.E.M.'s "Monster," the Rolling Stones' "Voodoo Lounge," Soundgarden's "Superunknown," Neil Young & Crazy Horse's "Sleeps With Angels."
Prediction: R.E.M.'s two previous collections were both nominated for album of the year. "Monster" was considered too loud and brash to make the best album finals, but that's not a liability here.
Preference: R.E.M. A daring and rewarding work that should have been nominated for album of the year.
Rock Female: Crow's "I'm Gonna Be a Wheel Someday," Melissa Etheridge's "Come to My Window," Liz Phair's "Supernova," Sam Phillips' "Circle of Fire," Raitt's "Love Sneakin' Up on You."
Prediction: Etheridge, the winner here two years ago, is likely to nose out Raitt, who has claimed the prize twice in the past five years. Etheridge had a big breakthrough year; Raitt basically remained even.
Preference: Phair. Sassy and smart.
Rock Male: Beck's "Loser," Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain," Van Morrison's "In the Garden/You Send Me/Allegeny," Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia," Neil Young's "Philadelphia."
Prediction: The title of Beck's song describes everyone here except Springsteen.
Rock Duo or Group: Aerosmith's "Crazy," Counting Crows' "Round Here," Green Day's "Basket Case," Nirvana's "All Apologies," Pearl Jam's "Daughter."
Prediction: Voters' attention to the craft of record-making may give Pearl Jam an edge: Brendan O'Brien, who co-produced the band's album "Vs.," is nominated for producer of the year.
Preference: Nirvana. Tender and true.
Hard Rock: Alice in Chains' "I Stay Away," Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," Green Day's "Longview," Pearl Jam's "Go," Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun."
Prediction: Soundgarden's moody entry was one of last year's hottest songs on rock radio.
Preference: Soundgarden. An elegantly framed statement of youthful resilience.
Metal: Anthrax with Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise," Megadeth's "99 Ways to Die," Pantera's "I'm Broken," Rollins Band's "Liar," Soundgarden's "Spoonman."
Alternative Music: Tori Amos' "Under the Pink," Crash Test Dummies' "God Shuffled His Feet," Green Day's "Dookie," Sarah McLachlan's "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy," Nine Inch Nails' "The Downward Spiral."
Prediction: Green Day's chart punch in recent months is likely to give it the edge over fellow Woodstock '94 vets Nine Inch Nails.
Preference: Nine Inch Nails. A haunting, harrowing collection that also should have been nominated for best album of the year.
R&B; Album: Anita Baker's "Rhythm of Love," Boyz II Men's "II," Tevin Campbell's "I'm Ready," Gladys Knight's "Just for You," NdegeOcello's "Plantation Lullabies," Vandross' "Songs."
Prediction: Voters admire Boyz II Men's courtly, romantic sound and its clean-cut (read: non-threatening) image.
Preference: NdegeOcello. Music that is liberating and sensual.
R&B; Female Vocal: Baker's "Body and Soul," Toni Braxton's "Breathe Again," Aretha Franklin's "A Deeper Love," Knight's "I Don't Want to Know," NdegeOcello's "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)."
Prediction: A showdown between Braxton, who won here last year, and Baker, the winner in four previous years. Baker may have finally met her match.
R&B; Male Vocal: Babyface's "When Can I See You," Campbell's "I'm Ready," Al Jarreau's "Wait for the Magic," Vandross' "Always and Forever," Barry White's "Practice What You Preach . "
Prediction: Vandross' nomination in the pop male category shows how entrenched he is with Grammy voters. He has the inside track to win here for the third time in five years.
Preference: Campbell. At his best, he combines the yearning of a young Michael Jackson with the caress of Smokey Robinson.
R&B; Duo or Group: Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You," Sade's "Please Send Me Someone to Love," Salt-N-Pepa with En Vogue's "Whatta Man," Take 6's "Biggest Part of Me," BeBe & CeCe Winans' "If Anything Ever Happened to You."
Prediction: Boyz II Men will win here for the third time in four years.
Preference: Salt-N-Pepa with En Vogue. The most spirited entry.
Rap Solo: Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage," Craig Mack's "Flava in Ya Ear," Queen Latifah's "U.N.I.T.Y.," Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Gin & Juice," Warren G's "This DJ."
Prediction: Queen Latifah has a high TV profile and a positive image--two of the factors that helped DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince become two-time Grammy winners.
Preference: Snoop Doggy Dogg. As seductive as old Memphis soul.
Rap Duo or Group: Arrested Development's "Ease My Mind," Cypress Hill's "I Ain't Goin' Out Like That," Heavy D & the Boyz's "Nuttin' but Love," Salt-N-Pepa's "None of Your Business," Warren G & Nate Dogg's "Regulate . "
Prediction: Voters' affection for the sassy "Whatta Man" will spill over onto Salt-N-Pepa's lesser hit.
Preference: Warren G & Nate Dogg. Proof that you can take the gangsta out of rap and still be cool.
Country Album: Asleep at the Wheel's "Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys," Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Stones in the Road," Vince Gill's "When Love Finds You," Reba McEntire's "Read My Mind," Trisha Yearwood's "The Song Remembers When . "
Prediction: Asleep at the Wheel is joined by 20 artists--from Merle Haggard to Huey Lewis--on this tribute album. Their votes alone could spell the margin of victory.
Preference: Asleep at the Wheel, though you feel the award should really go to Wills and the Playboys for supplying the inspiration and vision.
Country Female Vocal: Carpenter's "Shut Up and Kiss Me," Wynonna Judd's "Is It Over Yet," Patty Loveless' "How Can I Help You Say Goodbye," Martina McBride's "Independence Day," McEntire's "She Thinks His Name Was John."
Prediction: Carpenter's nomination in the best record contest is the tip-off to her dominance. Voters admire her spunk and intelligence as much as her music.
Preference: Judd. A dazzling singer who, despite all her success, remains strangely underrated.
Country Male Vocal: David Ball's "Thinkin' Problem," John Berry's "Your Love Amazes Me," Gill's "When Love Finds You," John Michael Montgomery's "I Swear," Dwight Yoakam's "Pocket of a Clown."
Prediction: Look for the easygoing Gill to win here for the third time in five years.
Preference: Ball. It's the record you'd play first on the jukebox.
Country Duo or Group: Asleep at the Wheel with Lyle Lovett's "Blues for Dixie," Diamond Rio's "Love a Little Stronger," Alison Krauss & Union Station's "When You Say Nothing at All," the Mavericks' "What a Crying Shame," the Tractors' "Baby Likes to Rock It."
Prediction: Asleep at the Wheel's nomination for best country album shows the extent of its voter appeal. Their partner, Lovett, is admired in both pop and country circles.
Preference: Asleep at the Wheel and Lovett. Lovett is saluted mostly for his writing, but his vocal here shows how much color and subtlety he brings to every line of a song.
* WAIT, THERE'S MORE . . .
Herbert Glass assesses this year's classical Grammy nominees. Page 57 . . . Don Heckman offers his picks for the jazz awards. Page 81.