Rock Hall picks: Prine, Runt, Roxy, Stevie, Radio

Let the debate begin.

Tuesday the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum announced the nominees that have a chance to be a part of the Class of 2019.

This year’s list included six first-time nominees (even though they’ve all been eligible for more than a decade) — Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, Todd Rundgren, Devo, John Prine and Roxy Music.

They’re joined by several acts that have been passed over at least once before — Janet Jackson, Radiohead, The Cure, LL Cool J, Kraftwerk, Rage Against the Machine, Rufus & Chaka Khan, MC5 and The Zombies.

Probably five of the 15 will be announced in December as inductees at the ceremony on March 29, 2019, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The annual announcements triggers variations on the same arguments every year — Should rap or pop acts be inducted into the hall? How can (fill in name of critically acclaimed but poor-selling act) be considered when (fill in name of multi-platinum-selling arena rocker) is passed over once again?

In the past, I’ve tried to predict who Rock Hall voters would choose. I’m done with that. Below are the five acts I’d pick if I had a ballot this year. These are personal, maybe even indefensible choices, but music touches us on a personal, emotional level. If Def Leppard or Kraftwerk does that for you, I’m glad. Here are the ones who do it for me:

• John Prine — A country-tinged singer-songwriter is just the kind of nominee that rock fans who whine about the omission of Judas Priest hate.

But I’ve been listening to Prine longer than anyone on this list. In the ’70s, back when there were only four TV stations in most markets and music on television was a rarity, I remember seeing Prine on PBS’s “Soundstage” when I was about 13 years old. Even when I called Rush my favorite band in high school, I also was buying John Prine albums.

He’s one of the few singers who got tagged with the “next Dylan” handle who didn’t let it crush him. You can hear his influence in contemporary singer-songwriters like Jason Isbell. A decade before Napster and the seismic changes in the record industry, Prine formed his own record label and created a model that other artists have emulated. And after surviving a battle with cancer, he continues to record and tour.

I might put Warren Zevon ahead of Prine among overlooked singer-songwriters, but Prine’s on the ballot, and Zevon isn’t.

• Radiohead — More than any other nominee, Radiohead checks all of the boxes Rock Hall voters look for: innovation, critical acclaim, commercial success, endurance. They are one of only a handful of rock acts that started in the ’90s that can make that claim.

I was surprised they didn’t make it last year. Frankly, one of the reasons I think they were passed over is the band would have skipped the ceremony for an already-announced South American tour. That ceremony also is a TV show, and the Rock Hall likes its winners to be present. If Radiohead is available and willing to attend, look for them to be in Brooklyn.

• Todd Rundgren — How is this the Runt’s first nomination? Between the Billboard Hot 100 and its mainstream rock chart, Rundgren has had 10 top 40 hits, from “Hello, It’s Me” and “We’ve Got to Get You a Woman” to “Bang on the Drum All Day.” He also produced one of the top-selling albums of all time (Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell”) as well as hits for Grand Funk Railroad, Psychedelic Furs and others.

Rundgren always has been an innovator, embracing new technology and sounds, and 50 years after the release of his first album with Nazz, he’s still making music and touring. He’s also a great iconoclastic musician in the vein of Neil Young in the sense that he’s always followed his own muse instead of sticking to what was commercially safe.

• Roxy Music — If I’m making a list of the five albums that I most associate with being in college, “Avalon” makes that list.

• Stevie Nicks — Sure, she’s already inducted as a member of Fleetwood Mac, but I left with a greater appreciation for her body of work after seeing her career-spanning concert last year at the Covelli Centre. Hey, she’s had more solo commercial success than Ringo Starr, and he’s a double inductee.

I love The Cure, I like Rage’s politics and I’ve argued in the past why Janet Jackson is worthy of inclusion. And the only reason I didn’t pick Devo is that the Akron band should be inducted in a year when the ceremony is in Cleveland.

Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com

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