The Grammy Awards have certainly come a long way since Domenico Modugno took home the first Record of the Year for ”Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)” in 1958. But not that far. When this year’s nominees were announced Jan. 6 at Radio City Music Hall (where the festivities will take place on Feb. 25), the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences demonstrated once again that it has one finger on the pulse and another finger in its ear. ”It’s a bunch of crap,” yelled one furious label VP whose critically acclaimed artist was ignored. ”They’re out of their minds.”

Although the Grammys will receive a much-needed sanity boost with the addition of long-overdue categories like Best Dance Recording (among the inaugural nominees: Pet Shop Boys and Gina G.), this year’s list is rife with the usual grab bag of irrelevant choices and left-field oddities. How else to explain the appearance of Jurassic rocker Paul McCartney, whose soft-boiled Flaming Pie was nominated for Album of the Year? (Of course, fellow geezer Bob Dylan is also on the list, but his critically hailed Time Out of Mind doesn’t seem so wildly out of place.)

At least on some levels, Grammy voters really are trying: The Spice Girls were shut out. In the past, having the biggest-selling album of the year would guarantee at least one award. Also getting the cold shoulder: Janet Jackson and U2 (one nomination each).

The Academy’s moderation is probably best symbolized by this year’s undisputed Grammy Girl, Paula Cole, whose This Fire straddled the elusive middle ground between commercial and critical success. That created a best-of-both-worlds scenario for Grammy voters — thus her seven high-profile nods, including Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year for ”Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” ”I never thought I could write a hit,” says Cole. ”I feel like I should be working even harder.” Imagine how the Spice Girls feel.