Grammy Sweep

A revived Eminem—who 10 years ago was picketed at the Grammys by GLAAD—is the favorite to sweep the awards’ Big 3 categories. Plus, a gallery of eight artists who’ve won the Big 3.

AP Photo

AP Photo

1971

THE ARTIST: Simon & Garfunkel, for Bridge Over Troubled Water and its title track

THE NARRATIVE: Biz saviors. Bridge was one of the first rock-era albums to sell 10 million copies; true to its title, it crossed the generation gap, appealing to both hippie kids and their parents.

THE COMPETITION: Bridge's fellow Album nominees—by Chicago, the Carpenters, CSNY, Elton John, and James Taylor—all had similar cross-generational appeal, but S&G's album stands up better than theirs. That's less true of Record—I'll take Taylor's "Fire and Rain" and the Beatles' "Let It Be" over "Bridge," though not the Carpenters' "Close to You" or Ray Stevens' "Everything Is Beautiful"—and Song (same nominees, subbing in "We've Only Just Begun" for "Close to You").

Jim McCrary, Redferns / Getty Images

1972

THE ARTIST: Carole King, for Tapestry and "It's Too Late"

THE NARRATIVE: Biz savior. King had been a hit songwriter (with then-husband Gerry Goffin) in the '60s— Tapestry includes her versions of "A Natural Woman" and "You've Got a Friend," big hits for Aretha Franklin and James Taylor, respectively—and Tapestry followed Simon & Garfunkel to the 10-million mark.

THE COMPETITION: Song for song, Tapestry holds up a lot better than the George Harrison (triple-LP), Carpenters (again!), Isaac Hayes ( Shaft is a great single plus soundtrack filler), and London cast ( Jesus Christ Superstar) albums it competed against. But I'll take "Theme from ‘Shaft'" over "It's Too Late" for Record, and Song-wise, would consider "Me and Bobby McGee" over it.

AP Photo

1981

THE ARTIST: Christopher Cross, for his self-titled album and "Sailing"

THE NARRATIVE: Hot-shot debut. Cross' unassuming friends-in-the-biz soft pop made him seem like an old-fashioned middle-of-the-road star-in-the-making. Then MTV came along, and the un-photogenic singer's career turned to toast.

THE COMPETITION: What a dire year. Today, most people would throw the Album vote to Pink Floyd's The Wall; so would I, and I'm not even a fan. Ditto Bette Midler's "The Rose" (for Record) and Irene Cara's "Fame" (for Song).

Nick Ut / AP Photo

1992

THE ARTIST: Natalie Cole, for Unforgettable . . . with Love and "Unforgettable"

THE NARRATIVE: Comeback. Cole hadn't had a hit in over a decade. The most controversial sweep ever, since the title song was a "virtual duet" with her father, Nat "King" Cole, in which she sings over his original recording, from 1951. Giving Song of the Year to a 40-year-old hit: not shrewd.

THE COMPETITION: R.E.M., with Out of Time and "Losing My Religion," should have swept.

Douglas C. Pizac / AP Photo

1993

THE ARTIST: Eric Clapton, for Unplugged and "Tears in Heaven"

THE NARRATIVE: Comeback. The win cemented Clapton as a rock elder statesman—not least because he was sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar rather than shredding on electric, just the way the Grammys like their icons.

THE COMPETITION: Achtung Baby is U2's best album—it's certainly better than How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which won in 2006. But "Tears" deserved its victory over some truly horrible competition. Three words: "Achy Breaky Heart." Four more: "Beauty and the Beast."

Reed Saxon / AP Photo

2000

THE ARTIST: Santana, for Supernatural and "Smooth" (featuring Rob Thomas)

THE NARRATIVE: Comeback and biz savior. Supernatural was then-Arista head Clive Davis' brainchild: pair a whatever-happened-to legend with a bunch of new jacks and watch the dollars come in. It sold more than 10 million, while "Smooth" became the longest-lasting No. 1 hit to that point.

THE COMPETITION: This should have been TLC's year: FanMail was up for Album, "No Scrubs" for Record. For Song, it's hard to argue with the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way."

Kathy Willens / AP Photo

2003

THE ARTIST: Norah Jones, for Come Away with Me and "Don't Know Why"

THE NARRATIVE: Biz savior and hot-shot debut. Like Christopher Cross, Jones won big with her first album (the two of them have the only clean sweeps in Grammy history—the fourth major award is Best New Artist, which each won as a matter of course), and unlike almost anyone since, she moved more than 10 million copies of it.

THE COMPETITION: Pretty bleh. Avril Lavigne's "Complicated" edges "Don't Know Why" in Song, but just barely, while Eminem's "Without Me" trounces it handily in Record; ditto The Eminem Show for Album.

Reed Saxon / AP Photo

2007

THE ARTIST: Dixie Chicks, for Taking the Long Way and "Not Ready to Make Nice"

THE NARRATIVE: Comeback. Not the Santana kind—the Dixie Chicks hadn't stopped being stars—but because of Nashville politics: the Chicks were given the cold shoulder by country radio after lead singer Natalie Maines criticized George W. Bush onstage in London. This was a triumph of a band sticking to its guns.

THE COMPETITION: Stronger than usual. Justin Timberlake and Gnarls Barkley both made great albums, and the latter's "Crazy" should have run away with Record of the Year. As for Song, Mary J. Blige's "Be Without You" was the most indelible.