U2 won the 20th Grammy of its career, including album of the year for How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb – the same disc that earned them three awards last year.

Carey, one of the best-selling artists of all time, was nominated for a leading eight awards for The Emancipation of Mimi. She won three in the pre-telecast ceremony; no woman had ever won more than five in one night.

But she was shut out through the televised portion. Besides losing album of the year to U2, she lost best female pop vocal performance to Kelly Clarkson‘s triumphant “Since U Been Gone,” song of the year to U2 and record of the year to Green Day.

“If you think this is going to go to our head, it’s too late,” U2 frontman Bono said after the group won song of the year for “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own.” After winning the night’s big award, album of the year, Bono told Carey, “You sing like an angel.”

John Legend won three awards: best new artist, best R&B album for his debut, “Get Lifted,” and best male R&B vocal for the piano ballad “Ordinary People.” His mentor, Kanye West, also won three.

Clarkson won two, including best pop album. “I’m sorry I’m crying again on national television,” said the former “American Idol,” tearful and shaking as she held her first Grammy. “Thank you so much, you have no idea what this means to me.”

Carey was the sentimental favorite, overcoming personal difficulties and a career slump to emerge with the top-selling album and the most popular song, “We Belong Together.”

But her comeback was upstaged in every way. Not only did she lose in most of the major categories, even her performance was an afterthought – along with everyone else’s – after the appearance of Sly Stone, the mercurial, psychedelic pioneer who disappeared from the music scene decades ago and hadn’t performed in public since 1993.

Toward the end of a sizzling all-star tribute to Stone, the man himself emerged, sporting a pale Mohawk against his 61-year-old brown scalp, and made his way through “I Want To Take You Higher.” Though the tribute was planned, many didn’t expect Stone – who hasn’t performed in public in years – to show up.

Keith Urban was answering questions backstage when Stone’s performance began playing on a nearby monitor, and he had to stop talking.

“I think we just got upstaged,” Urban said in amazement. “Everything pales in comparison.”

Former Beatle Paul McCartney was featured in the night’s most intriguing mash-up, walking onstage to sing “Yesterday” with rockers Linkin Park and rap mogul Jay-Z. Earlier, he played one of the Beatles’ hardest rockers, “Helter Skelter,” but went home without a Grammy.

Aside from winning the most awards, U2 provided one of the more rousing performances in the jam-packed show as they sung their hit Vertigo, then collaborated with R&B queen Mary J. Blige‘s gospel-inflected fervor for their classic “One.”

West’s three Grammys matched his total for last year. The brash rapper/producer played up (or lived up to) his egotistical reputation as he won best rap album for Late Registration.

“I had no idea, I had no idea,” West said in mock shock as he pulled a huge sheet of paper that read “Thank You List.”

Alison Krauss & Union Station also had three awards, including for best country album, while Stevie Wonder, who released his first album in ten years last year, had two.

The show started off on a two-dimensional note as the cartoon-fronted rock group Gorillaz performed their record of the year contender, “Feel Good Inc.” with the help of animation, a blue screen and guest rappers De La Soul. The performance then segued into a Madonna moment, as the pop queen – who was not nominated for any awards – shimmied through the Gorillaz’ virtual space and then returned to reality with her traditional crew of dancers while singing her latest hit, “Hung Up.”

A brief, impromptu performance by Keys and Wonder was the first to energize the crowd. Wonder pulled out his harmonica and the two soulfully sang his classic “Higher Ground” as a tribute to the late Coretta Scott King, who was buried Tuesday.

“Let’s keep trying to reach that higher ground,” Keys said. “I forever want to reach that higher ground.”