The Grammys were supposed to be dominated by Mariah Carey, but the pop diva lost out to Irish rock veterans U2, who won five awards including best rock album for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb at the US music industry's biggest awards bash of the year.
Carey had the chance to make history with the most Grammys won by a woman in a single night after being nominated in eight categories. She scooped three awards but missed out in all the major categories, including record, song and album of the year at the cavernous Staples Centre in Los Angeles. U2 frontman Bono summed up the band's feeling as he received the Grammy for song of the year for Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own: "If you think this is going to go to our heads, it's too late."
The rapper-producer Kanye West also emerged triumphant, winning three Grammys, including best rap album and best rap song. American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson won two Grammys, including best pop vocal album.
British hopes were satisfied in the dance music categories, where the Chemical Brothers picked up the best dance recording and best electronic/ dance album awards. Less self-consciously modern but equally relevant, Monty Python's Spamalot won best musical show album, while the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis won the best opera Grammy for its recording of Verdi's Falstaff.
Probably the most notable classical award of the night went to the French conductor and composer Pierre Boulez, who picked up his 26th Grammy for best small ensemble performance. Only two people have won more Grammys than Boulez: Georg Solti and Quincy Jones. Another artist who habitually wins a Grammy every year did not disappoint: Jimmy Sturr won the best polka Grammy for the album Shake Rattle and Polka! His group has won 15 of the 20 polka Grammys awarded.
In the week Barry Manilow went to the top of the US album charts, the Grammys recognised the rejuvenation of other veteran artists. Les Paul, 90 and in hospital, received awards for rock instrumental and pop instrumental.
The composer and band leader Burt Bacharach won the best pop instrumental album Grammy. Bacharach injected a rare political note into the proceedings. "I've never seen times like we've got right now," he said. "I never like to be lied to by a girlfriend or agent, and certainly not the president of the United States. I'm very concerned, as we all should be. That's why the album is called At This Time."
The film director Martin Scorsese, yet to win a best director Oscar, won the Grammy for best long-form music video for his Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home. The Democratic senator Barack Obama won the best spoken word album Grammy for his reading of Dreams From My Father.
The live performances were dominated by two legends. Paul McCartney, who was nominated for album of the year, stormed the Staples Centre with a stirring rendition of the Beatles' Helter Skelter. However, the reclusive Sly Stone provided the highlight of the night with his performance of I Want to Take You Higher.