For my guesses on who’ll win the rap categories, click here.

The issue with a lot of categories that the Grammy Awards choose to recognize is the fact that the categories themselves are so amorphous. OK, it’s easy to figure out what constitutes a “rap” performance, and “pop” is an all-encompassing term. But “rock” is one of those terms that means different things to different people, and when you look at a group of nominees in a rock category, there tends to be a lot of “those two bands do NOT belong in the same category”.

It’s the same premise as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In that case, “rock” refers to any American music made after the rock era began in the mid-Fifties (which is why artists as disparate as Miles Davis, Bob Marley, Madonna and Grandmaster Flash are in the HOF). No one can really argue with that definition, can they?

Well, of course they can, because most people think of the word “rock” and immediately conjure up an image of five white guys with long hair playing guitar (there might be one black guy-he plays bass). However, even THAT definition is pretty amorphous: I mean, The Beatles are a rock band, but so is Against Me! So is Vampire Weekend. And you’d never see any of those three bands playing a bill together or hear them on the same radio station, right?

My point is that it occasionally leads to some head-scratchers, lilke Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” winning Best Rock Song in 2002, or Pink’s “Trouble” winning Best Female Rock Performance a year later. I mean, when you break it down, both bands can be considered “rock”, but…tell that to some kid listening to Led Zeppelin who has a fairly narrow definition of rock (which probably wouldn’t even include the blues singers and players Plant, Page and co. stole from).

By the way, “Drops of Jupiter” popped up on my iPod today, and I was reminded of what a great fucking song it was.

Anyhow, off my soapbox. This year’s Grammy nominees in the rock category have a very “old guard” quality to them thanks to the presence of Springsteen, U2 and Green Day (yes folks, Green Day is now classic rock). Even the nominees in the “harder” categories are a bit aged. Not sure what to attribute that all to, but here are the nominees.

Best Rock Song (awarded to the songwriter)

Nominees: The Fixer (Pearl Jam), I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (U2), 21 Guns (Green Day), Use Somebody (Kings of Leon), Working on a Dream (Bruce Springsteen)

Will Win: Kings of Leon

Should Win: Pearl Jam

Three Grammy favorites (including U2, who have won more Grammy Awards than any band in history) are here, along with a moderately-recognized band who made a great record in Pearl Jam and a team of relative new jacks in Kings of Leon. So why am I picking the new jacks to win? Because “Use Somebody” is the only one of these records nominated in a major category (Record and Song of the Year), because KoL won in this category last year (for “Sex on Fire”), and because “Use Somebody” was freaking ubiquitous last year. As much as I like the Followill boys, though, I think Pearl Jam made an amazing record (the album, “Backspacer”, was released after the eligibility deadline) and should get recognized for something. Won’t happen, though.

Best Rock Album

Nominees: “Black Ice” (AC/DC), “Live from Madison Square Garden” (Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood), “21st Century Breakdown” (Green Day), “Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King” (Dave Matthews Band), “No Line on the Horizon” (U2)

Will Win: U2

Should Win: ????

This is what I’m talking about: yes, AC/DC and DMB both qualify as rock bands, but should they be competing against one another, considering their styles of music are worlds apart? That said, this is a ridiculously interesting category, and anyone could win. AC/DC’s got the long-overdue recognition thing going for them (they’ve never won a Grammy), as well as the anti-establishment vote. Clapton and Winwood have the superstar collaboration thing going for them that worked so well for Alison Krauss and Robert Plant last year. Dave Matthews Band have the only one of these five albums in a major category (Album of the Year), plus this is their first album following the death of sax player LeRoi Moore. U2 is, well…U2. So this one is a toss-up with the only sure loser being Green Day (who got MTV and American Music Awards anyway). Thing is, though, with the exception of Clapton and Winwood (the only one of the five nominations I’ve never heard), everyone in this category made a sub-par album (to be fair, AC/DC’s wasn’t exactly subpar, it just sounded like every other album the band’s ever made). None of these guys really deserves this award. Is that sad or what?

Best Solo Rock Performance

Nominees: Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ (Bob Dylan), Change in the Weather (John Fogerty), Dreamer (Prince), Working on a Dream (Bruce Springsteen), Fork in the Road (Neil Young)
Will Win: Bruce Springsteen

Should Win: I think I’ll sit this one out, too.

I couldn’t pick a “Should Win” for the last category because no one really deserved it. I won’t pick a “Should Win” for this category because I’m fairly unfamiliar with the nominated songs. I’m not sure if I even ever knew that Fogerty and Young released albums last year. That said, I was sort of surprised that Grammy voters didn’t show Bob Dylan love in any of the major categories, since they’ve slobbed Zimmerman’s knob plenty over the course of the past decade or so. This could be his consolation prize. It’s between him and the Boss, who had the closest thing to a universally-recognized critical and commercial success out of any of the five nominees. One thing I will say is that when 51-year old Prince is the youngest nominee in a category, it’s time for an infusion of some new blood, STAT.

Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group

Nominees: “Can’t Find My Way Home” (Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood), “Life in Technicolor II” (Coldplay), “21 Guns” (Green Day), “Use Somebody” (Kings of Leon), “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” (U2)

Will Win: Kings of Leon

Should Win: Kings of Leon

My Spidey Sense tells me that KoL will also win this category, with Grammy deciding to award the band that currently has the best balance between commercial recognition and “cool” factor. I wouldn’t count out either Green Day or U2, though. “21 Guns” was far and away the best thing on “21st Century Breakdown” (probably the most disappointing purchase I made in 2009) even though it was a bald-faced rewrite of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. U2 got a surprising amount of critical love for “No Line on the Horizon” (Rolling Stone named it the best album of the year), so…who knows? Whoever wins Best Rock Song will also win this award, so the most likely scenarios point to U2 or Kings of Leon winning this award.

Best Hard Rock Performance

Nominees: War Machine (AC/DC), Check My Brain (Alice in Chains), “What I’ve Done” (Linkin Park), “The Unforgiven III” (Metallica), “Burn it to the Ground” (Nickelback)

Will Win: AC/DC

Should Win: Alice in Chains

If Nickelback wins in this category, there will probably be a riot. Count them out immediately. I first picked Linkin Park to win this award (because Grammy voters honoring a live version of a 2-year old song sounds like something they would do), but then I thought about it some more and realized that now might be a good idea for the voters to finally acknowledge AC/DC’s contribution to rock and roll. With the double-platinum success of “Black Ice” and the probability that there probably won’t be another AC/DC album to nominate in the near future, if ever again, I say Angus, Brian and company finally walk away with a golden gramophone. Since Grammy folks like to award bands retroactively, this will be their consolation prize for not winning anything for “Highway to Hell” or “Back in Black” (although, to be fair, this category didn’t exist when those two classics were released). Personally, I don’t have a problem with AC/DC winning, but it would also be nice to see AiC rewarded for making a near-improbable comeback both creatively and commercially.

Best Metal Performance

Nominees: “Dissident Aggressor” (Judas Priest), “Set to Fail” (Lamb of God), “Head Crusher” (Megadeth), “Senor Peligro” (Ministry), “Hate Worldwide” (Slayer)

Will Win: Slayer

Should Win: I am NOT a metalhead

This is the one category in which I can safely say my familiarity with any of these songs is minimal. I know who all the bands are. I’ve heard music from all these bands before. I just haven’t heard the nominated works, and none of the bands ranks as anything I would listen to regularly. Metallica won in this category last year, and this year they have slid over to the Hard Rock category. Of the five nominated bands, Megadeth has seven nominations over their career without a win, while Ministry has six without a win. The only band in this category with an actual Grammy win to their name is Slayer, so my gut says they will prevail again and Dave Mustaine will continue to be the Susan Lucci of the Grammy Awards.

Best Alternative Music Performance

Nominees: “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” (Brian Eno and David Byrne), “The Open Door” (Death Cab for Cutie), “Sounds of the Universe”(Depeche Mode), “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” (Phoenix), “It’s Blitz!” (The Yeah Yeah Yeahs)

Will Win: Brian Eno and David Byrne

Should Win: Phoenix

Here’s another thing I don’t get. What qualifies as “alternative”? Alternative to what? That’s yet another amorphous category that has in the past awarded everyone from Green Day (post-punk) to Gnarls Barkley (R&B) to The Beastie Boys (hip-hop). This year’s nominees nod to the new wave of yesteryear while also giving a glance to morose singer-songwriter pop and French dance/rock. “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” was, after Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavillion”, the year’s best reviewed album in any genre, so Phoenix could be a sleeper winner here. However, in line with Grammy voters recognizing artists belatedly, this one could also go to either the very solid Depeche Mode album, or the Eno/Byrne collaboration. That said, the latter album was only released digitally, and it’s hard to think that the industry would award an album that was released as kind of a “F*ck you” to the current label distribution structure. Hell, even Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” (the album that won last year) was released through traditional distribution channels.

Anyhow, we’ve now wrapped up the rock categories (except for the Best Rock Instrumental Performance category, which doesn’t interest me and probably doesn’t interest you either). Next, we jump on the Soooooooooul Train and check out this year’s R&B nominees).