Grammy's gold rush -- We offer analysis and trivia about music's most prestigious awards

We don’t know about you, but we can’t wait to see which titans of the pop charts will walk away with statuettes at this year’s Grammy Awards. Will it be the multi-nominated likes of Bryan Adams or Natalie Cole? Will the members of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) vote trophies to C+C Music Factory, Mariah Carey, and Michael Bolton, who just happened to sell millions of records last year? Will Naomi Judd make yet another rare public appearance to see if she and daughter Wynonna win the two awards (Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group, Best Country Song) for which they’re nominated?

Take a closer look at the nominees for the 34th annual Grammys, though, and you might spot something more interesting than guessing the winners: the seeds of a mini-revolution. Improbably, left-of-center R.E.M. leads the pack with an astonishing seven nominations and is even vying for Album of the Year with the likes of Cole and Amy Grant. Critics’ longtime favorite Bonnie Raitt — who unexpectedly dominated the 1990 awards and who this year is nominated five times — has become a NARAS pet along with speed-metal favorite Metallica. Contenders today include the veteran British speed-metal band Motorhead, hard-core rappers Public Enemy and Naughty by Nature, Seattle headbangers Soundgarden, and the long-neglected Aaron Neville. After too many years of really-out-of-it nominees, the Grammys have gotten not just older but a tad wiser — or maybe it’s simply that the baby-boomer generation is now better represented in the voting process.

No doubt the show — to be telecast live from New York’s Radio City Music Hall and hosted by Whoopi Goldberg — will have its dead spots and letdowns. R.E.M., competing in most of its nominated categories against gleaming pop idols, has no more chance of walking away with seven awards than Milli Vanilli has of hosting next year’s show; Bonnie Raitt won’t be winning five. But the list of scheduled performers is nicely eclectic, including not just Grant, Cole, and Carey, but Raitt, L.L. Cool J, and Metallica. And if Lifetime Achievement Award winner James Brown delivers an acceptance speech anywhere near Bob Dylan’s like-a-rambling-stone mutterings last year, the show may end up being worth three hours of our time. Here, then, is a select guide to this year’s Grammys: our picks for winners, awards we’d like to see, plus answers to a particularly puzzling question — why wasn’t Garth Brooks’ crossover monster Ropin’ the Wind nominated for Album of the Year?

Cookin’ Up a Grammy
Yes,you too can whip up a Grammy-winning Record of the Year, a song just like former winner ”We Are the World” or Bryan Adams’ candy-flavored ”(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” which the smart money is betting on this year. Just follow this simple recipe:

1 medium tempo ballad
1 syrupy singer
1 major record label
1 vat of plain vanilla 6 lbs. of sugar (white or brown, though white usually rises higher)
Add one or more of the following:
a) an uplifting message
b) a big-hit movie tie-in
c) social significance

Place ballad in recording studio. Do not rock to excess. Add lyrics, dumping in sugar as you go. Mix well till inoffensive, making sure any rough edges are gone. Add promotional bucks. Let rise as high as possible, preferably to No. 1. Rotate video heavily, cook till multiplatinum — and remember us in your lengthy thank you speech.

In Our Dreams
Since the Best Polka Grammy is all locked up and no major upsets loom, even a seasoned observer’s mind can start to wander. What if these awards just didn’t take themselves so all-fired seriously? Maybe then we’d see Grammys like these:

Best Manipulations of the Media By a Family
Tie — the Jacksons and the Judds

Best Imaginable Cover Version
Christian star Amy Grant’s recording of R.E.M.’s ”Losing My Religion”

Worst Spelling by a Teen Idol
Another tie — Color Me Badd and Boyz II Men

Best Music Video, Wrong Form
Michael Jackson, for the excised four-minute search-and-destroy finale to ”Black or White”

Best New Artist
Garth Brooks (to be awarded next year, when the mainstream pop world finally embraces him)

Best Motivation
Willie Nelson, for his album The IRS Tapes, which was sold by mail-order to raise money for his tax bill

Album Title Most Likely to Confuse People Who Paints Cabs for a Living
Brazilian singer Milton Nascimento, nominated in the World Music category for a record called Txai