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Most nominees are no-brainers - but a few are real shockers

The Grammys are upon us again. And the nominees, like most years past, are the staple mishmash of who's who in the music business.

However, looking down the list of nominees in the expanded 92-category list, there's a sense of safety and conservatism. And not a lot of surprises - unless you consider newcomer Paula Cole's seven nominations, including Producer of the Year.

But even the Cole nominations seem safe. I mean you don't see Smash Mouth's "Walking On the Sun" nominated for Record of the Year. Now, that would be revolutionary.

Still, for every no-brainer - like nominating anything Babyface has touched - there are surprises.

Take Radiohead's "OK Computer," which is in the running for Album of the Year. Why?

Well, the following isn't my predictions for the Grammys. They are my picks. They are the ones I hope will win. And as you will see once you start reading, they are probably a long way off the mark. Or should we say way off the industry mark.

RECORD OF THE YEAR: "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" by Paula Cole. Cole is one of the freshest sounds out there today. Although this song nearly saturated the market - like "I Don't Wanna Wait" is well on its way - the mixing of her background vocals to imitate rhythm instruments was a nice move.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: "This Fire," also by Cole. "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone" is only a piece of this complex puzzle known to the world as Paula Cole.

SONG OF THE YEAR: "How Do I Live" by Diane Warren. The song reached a vast audience through radio play on both country and pop stations. But this was no "I Swear."

Trisha Yearwood's version was more country than LeAnn Rimes'. Both were good, but to me Rimes' version was a little more emotional (yes, when you're a teenager, everything is more emotional). Furthermore, the song even earned a response from action movie addicts - who, as statistics show, are mostly males - thanks to "Con Air."

NEW ARTIST: Erykah Badu. She's it. She's confident and she grooves.

FEMALE POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE: "Sunny Came Home," by Shawn Colvin. This song is catchy, threatening, soothing and seductive, and it's all because of Colvin's voice.

MALE POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE: "Candle In the Wind 1997," by Elton John. The song took on a new life, but, not surprisingly, John's delivery was just as passionate as the original, if not more so.

POP PERFORMANCE BY DUO OR GROUP WITH VOCAL: "Don't Speak," by No Doubt. Although this song was well overplayed and the fascination with No Doubt has waned, Gwen Stefani's melancholy tones whispered and screamed with emotion as the band ventured into unfamiliar (for them) power-ballad territory.

And just for my own indulgence:

ROCK PERFORMANCE BY A DUO OR A GROUP WITH VOCAL: "Crash Into Me" by Dave Matthews Band. It's surreal and unobtrusive but intriguing.

HARD ROCK PERFORMANCE: "People of the Sun" by Rage Against the Machine. This is the "hard" in Hard Rock.

METAL PERFORMANCE: "Cemetery Gates" by Pantera. They make Metallica sound like Yanni.

ROCK SONG: "B----" by Meridith Brooks. It's multidimensional and risky.

ROCK ALBUM: "Nine Lives" by Aerosmith. Aerosmith was the only rock band in the nominees. John Fogerty's album crossed over to some country charts; U2's "Pop" just didn't live up to its expectations; the Foo Fighters are still struggling with that "rock-not-punk" label, and the Rolling Stones lost any sense of originality way back with "Tattoo You."

ALTERNATIVE MUSIC: Should go to a band like Styx or Journey, because the real nominees - Prodigy, Radiohead, Bjork and the Chemical Brothers - are more mainstream in this jaded day and age.