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Things to watch for at the Grammys

Saturday, January 25, 2014 - Updated: 4:09 AM


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

What a scene it will be if all the nominees actually show up for the 56th annual Grammy Awards.

We're not just talking about the usual suspects like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Jay Z and Justin Timberlake. We're talking about serious hard-core longtime Hall of Famers: the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Black Sabbath and two Beatles! We know at least that Paul and Ringo will be there because they are scheduled to make a rare TV appearance together. The half-Beatles reunion is one of the nine things to watch out for on Grammy night.

* Will Grammy get the Led out?

You could argue all day about which is the best Led Zeppelin album, but for the sake of argument, let's say it's the fourth one, commonly known as "IV" or "ZoSo."

On side one alone are "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll" and "Stairway to Heaven," three monsters of the classic-rock format, now 40 years later. Not only was "IV" critically acclaimed at the time, it's the third best-selling album in U.S. history (23 million). It came out in November 1971, which would have made it eligible for album of the year in 1973.

The winner that year was "The Concert for Bangladesh," a respectable choice despite being a live album. The other nominees were Don McLean's "American Pie," the "Jesus Christ Superstar" Broadway recording (a year after the London recording was nominated), Nilsson's legit classic "Nilsson Schmilsson" and Neil Diamond's "Moods," of which we can say only: Have you heard the song "Porcupine Pie"?

No Zeppelin. No surprise, because there was no "Exile on Main Street," "Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust," "Harvest" or "Machine Head" either. Say what you want about the Grammys, but they've never been known for their good taste.

In the song of the year, "Stairway to Heaven" could have been a good replacement for, oh, Neil Diamond's "Song Sung Blue."

Led Zeppelin didn't win a Grammy for "IV" or "Stairway to Heaven" or any other album or song for that matter. The only time these metal gods were even nominated was for best new artist in 1970 when they fell to Crosby, Stills & Nash (they could do worse). In 2005, Zep was awarded one of those thanks-anyway Lifetime Achievement Awards.

This year, Led Zeppelin could win its first actual Grammy. The band is nominated for best rock album for the live "Celebration" and Best Rock Performance for the live "Kashmir." With their luck, it will go to Imagine Dragons.

* Will Grammy make good on 'the snub'?

When the nominations were announced in December, Sara Bareilles tweeted: "I never in a billion million years thought I'd be nominated for Album of the Year."

You know who else must have been surprised?

Justin Timberlake.

If ever the table seemed to be set for him to run off with some top awards, it was this year, for "The 20/20 Experience," a classy comeback that was 2013's top-selling album. Kind of a shocker then that the six-time Grammy winner is shut out in all the top categories.

Maybe the nomination committee agreed that JT's songs ran a little too long on "20/20" when the nods went to Bareilles, Daft Punk, Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Taylor Swift. Voters have a chance to send a small message by handing Justin the pop vocal album Grammy (over Bruno Mars and Lorde).

Top of the list of people not surprised by an album of the year snub: Kanye West, who's familiar with that situation. His "Yeezus" won the national critics' poll in the Village Voice, but the best it can do on Sunday night is best rap album.

* Will the most nominated win the most?

When the nominations were announced in December, the headlines read that Jay Z leads the pack with nine nominations. Here's the fine print: None are in the top categories. Because he's against himself in two categories, he has a chance only at seven. And one is for recording package, so it's not really him, and two are for music videos.

There's a good chance he'll win only two.

Forget rap album. "Magna Carta ... Holy Grail" is no match for Kanye or Kendrick Lamar, or even Drake or Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, for that matter. "Tom Ford" might be the weakest song in the rap performance field.

His best shot is with a song on the Timberlake album, "Suit & Tie," for pop duo/group performance, followed by his two rap/sung collaborations with Timberlake and Beyonce.

* What will the Beatles do?

If you've seen the Grammys lately, you've noticed that it's practically one big live concert with a few breaks to hand out awards.

It only makes sense that if you have the most popular musicians in the world on hand, you might as well make them sing. The Oscars, by contrast, are kind of boring, because the actors can't exactly ACT while they're there. In fact, they're usually barely competent in delivering their speeches.

This year promises performances by:

Taylor Swift, Lorde, Katy Perry, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Kacey Musgraves, John Legend and Keith Urban, plus pairings of Jay Z and Beyonce; Daft Punk with Nile Rodgers, Pharrell Williams and Stevie Wonder; Kendrick Lamar with Imagine Dragons; Metallica and Lang Lang; P!nk and Nate Ruess; Robin Thicke with Chicago; Sara Bareilles with Carole King; Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Blake Shelton; and Queens of the Stone with Nine Inch Nails, Dave Grohl and Lindsey Buckingham.

The most anticipated may be the half-Beatle reunion of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, who turn up together every now and then at some benefit but never on a stage this big. Just a guess that they'll be at the mic together and that Ringo's star turn on "With a Little Help From My Friends" will factor in.

* Mick or Paul?

A long, long time ago -- like back before the dinosaurs -- there was this rivalry between the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

Everywhere but the Grammy stage.

The Beatles won nine Grammys, five during their life as a band, including best new artist (1965) and album of the year for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

The Stones not only weren't nominated for best new artist in 1965 -- Petula Clark, Astrud Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Morgana King faced off against the Beatles -- they weren't even nominated until 1982.

That would have been about 17 albums late.

The first Stones Grammy was a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 before actually winning a real one in 1995 for best rock album ("Voodoo Lounge").

The closest we ever got to a Beatles-Stones Grammy showdown was the Stones vs. the Traveling Wilburys (which included George Harrison) in the best rock performance by a duo or group in 1990. George won.

This year the Stones and a Beatle square off for best rock song -- the Stones for the excellent "Doom and Gloom" and Paul for "Cut Me Some Slack," in which he plays the Kurt Cobain screamer role with Nirvana members Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear.

Black Sabbath is also in this category, which must be very weird for other nominees Gary Clark Jr. and Muse.

* Will Lorde be almighty?

It's hard to complain that Lorde was snubbed when the 17-year-old breakout star from New Zealand is up for song of the year, record of the year and pop vocal album.

But ... how do you get those and not best new artist? It just seems like bad math.

Lorde pretty much defines new. If she wins -- and her song "Royals" is good enough -- she will be the third youngest Grammy winner, behind LeAnn Rimes and Luis Miguel, both 14 when they won.

* Will reggae king the Lion?

Snoop Dogg has been referred to as the Susan Lucci of the Grammys (12 nominations, no wins).

This year Snoop is going where he's never gone before -- into the reggae category with his career reboot as Snoop Lion. His "Reincarnated" is up against a Marley (Ziggy), the clan that owns this category (except for Bob himself, who only ever won a Lifetime award, as the reggae category wasn't introduced until 1985, four years after his death).

Snoop also faces the legendary production team/rhythm section of Sly & Robbie, so this is no given.

* Can Tony do 51?

Wanna talk career longevity? Tony Bennett raises the bar.

The crooner has won 16 Grammys, along with a Lifetime Achievement Award. His first was for "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" at the fifth annual Grammy Awards in 1963. The most recent was in 2012 for "Duets II."

That's 49 years.

If he can beat Michael Buble, Dionne Warwick and the rest for best traditional pop vocal album for "Viva Duets," he will exceed the half-century mark in his Grammy span -- 51 years.

* Will they need the bleeper?

If Led Zeppelin didn't win a Grammy in the '70s, there was no chance for the darker and less loved Black Sabbath.

With the addition of the best metal performance category in 1990, Black Sabbath got on the board with a 2000 Grammy for a live version of "Iron Man."

This is the first chance for Sabbath to win a Grammy for a new album, "God Is Dead?," (up against Anthrax, Dream Theater and more for Metal) and we can only hope it happens, just to see the censors go nuts when Ozzy hits the podium.


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