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Top Single Out Of Running For Grammy Song Of The Year

By Gary Graff

DETROIT (Reuter) - Thanks to a recent recording industry controversy, music fans are getting a rare look at the inner workings of the Grammy Awards.

The issue concerns ``It's All Coming Back to Me Now,'' a massive hit for Celine Dion and one of the most popular songs of the year. It's been on the charts for 17 weeks, peaking at No. 2 and is currently at No. 5.

But while it was submitted as a potential nominee for a couple of minor categories (Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Non-Classical Vocal Arrangement), it was not submitted for consideration as Song of the Year, a prestigious award that honors songwriters -- in this case Jim Steinman, the veteran of numerous hits for Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler and others.

Steinman and his manager, David Sonenberg, kicked up a fuss after they learned of the snub, providing a behind-the-scense glimpse of the Grammys, which take place Feb. 26 in New York. Nominations will be announced Jan. 7.

Submissions are made by record companies and by the more than 8,000 members of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which administers and produces the Grammys.

According to Sonenberg, Steinman's song was a victim of record company politics; Epic Records, part of the Sony empire and parent of Dion's label 550, held it back in favor of another Dion hit, the Diane Warren-penned ``Because You Love Me,'' which spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and was used in the film ``Up Close and Personal.''

It's not unusual for record companies to tailor their submissions -- from which the final Grammy nominations are chosen by a NARAS membership vote -- so that their releases don't compete against each other or even cancel each other out by splitting votes. Sonenberg says that Epic executives told him they were concerned that submitting two Dion songs in the category might lead to neither being nominated.

NARAS President and CEO Mike Greene says the organization did notice that the song had not been submitted and even contacted Epic.

``They chose not to submit it,'' Greene says, adding that NARAS' constitution prohibits the organization itself from submitting possible nominees.

Epic officials are not commenting on the matter. Neither is Steinman, who is in Washington, D.C., preparing for this weekend's opening of ``Whistle Down the Wind,'' a musical he wrote with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

And, of course, such strategic concerns don't take the sting out of the exclusion.

``Effectively what they did was elminated his song from the planet, as if it never existed,'' Sonenberg says.

It's arguable whether either of the numbers -- both lush pop songs crafted to show off Dion's impressive voice -- deserved submission more than the other.

Warren's did hit No. 1, but Steinman's is credited with driving Dion's album to No. 1 and turning it into a multimillion seller. It's also received the most airplay of any song published by BMI, one of the two major music publishing houses.

Sonenberg believes the incident shows the submission process should be taken out of the hands of record companies. At the very least, Sonenberg says, any song that appears on the Billboard chart should be submitted automatically for consideration -- in all categories, not just Song of the Year.

``It seems like it should not be a political game with the record companies setting the landscape,'' Sonenberg says.

But NARAS' Greene counters that the current system works because record company submissions are only part of the process. NARAS members, he says, are also allowed to submit entries.

``It's another case in point of why eligible people should be members of the academy,'' Greene says.

Steinman is not a NARAS member, but Sonenberg is. However, the manager says he assumed Epic would submit the song. He also feels the NARAS membership -- comprised of more than 8,000 performers, writers and other music industry professionals -- are not actively encouraged to participate in the process and that many would feel awkward submitting their own work.

Greene counters that the members do make submissions -- including their own music.

``The labels are a source,'' he says, ``but our membership is an equally large source.''

Whether NARAS will consider Sonenberg's proposed change in the submission process remains to be seen. But awards shows seem to thrive on controversy, and this year's Grammy issue has been established before the nominations are even announced.

Reuters/Variety

16:19 12-05-96