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Todd Rundgren and Stevie Nicks: The only no-brainers on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2019 ballot

October 9, 2018

Todd Rundgren and Stevie Nicks: The only no-brainers on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2019 ballot

CLEVELAND, Ohio – In darts, there’s something called a “splash.” You take all three darts, throw ’em all at the center of the board, and whatever sticks is how many points you get.

Something tells me the 30-member nominating committee for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame knows the game. It’s the best explanation for the diverse list of 15 nominees for the Class of 2019, which was announced Tuesday.

Up for induction in ceremonies at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Friday, March 29, are Def Leppard, Devo, Janet Jackson, John Prine, Kraftwerk, LL Cool J, MC5, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, the Cure, Todd Rundgren, Rufus & Chaka Khan and the Zombies.

Fans can pick their top five at rockhall.com/vote. That collective tally will count as one ballot among the more than 900 official ballots – from living Rock Hall inductees, industry insiders and select music journalists. Mathematically speaking, with nearly 7 million individual fan votes last year, our opinions won’t matter much. But it feels good to have some say rather than none.

And maybe that is why at long last Rundgren is getting a little respect. It’s hard to understand why a rock ‘n’ roll icon – in the studio, in the control room and on the stage – has been ignored since becoming eligible in 1995.

Now granted, as Cleveland residents, we’re a little biased, since some of his greatest work was as a producer for Meat Loaf in “Bat Out of Hell,” made for the late, great Steve Popovich’s Cleveland International Records in 1977.

Not so coincidentally, that was the original heyday for Cleveland’s love affair with classic rock, perhaps best exemplified by the Belkins’ World Series of Rock at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, as well as the Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny days at the old Cleveland Agora.

That era – more than one-time Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed’s coining of the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll,” and the old WMMS Buzzard support – is why the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame museum is in this city.

Rundgren’s fan base here is aging – hey, if you’re lucky, that happens to all of us – and the dominant hair color for men is “receding.” But it remains devout and loyal. He’s a frequent visitor to local stages, and sells them out every time.

But will Cleveland’s affection for him be enough to put Rundgren over the top? Yes and no. I’m convinced he will be inducted this time, as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation (the New York-based sister entity of the museum) rights a longtime wrong.

But . . .

As much as Rundgren is the single most deserving artist on the ballot, he’s not going to be the most popular. That will be Stevie Nicks. Early returns on fan balloting put the Fleetwood Mac siren solidly in the lead for induction.

But here’s something you may not know – and in some ways, it speaks to inductee Steve Miller’s criticism a few years ago of the Rock Hall as an aging board of white men voting for other white men (any and all parallels to the current political situation are purely coincidental):

If – when – Nicks is inducted, she will be the FIRST female two-time inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Twenty-two men already share that honor – former Beatles and Kent State alum Joe Walsh among them.

Some folks might wonder why it took so long to recognize a woman in the same way that a man has been – and did I mention 22 times? – but I’m not among them. Quite frankly, one reason is that women are not as prone to flit from band to band like we guys do. They normally find and stick with a band – Joan Jett, Ann and Nancy Wilson and Chrissie Hynde come to mind – or they start and finish as solo artists and frontwomen, like Patti Smith, Aretha Franklin and – gack! – Donna Summer.

(And yes, you can take that “gack!” as disapproval of the disco queen’s induction, but that’s a different story.)

That being said, I can certainly make a case for the individual inductions of Jett, Ann Wilson and Hynde and especially Tina Turner (who was inducted as part of Ike & Tina Turner), all of whom had more than respectable careers on their own.

However, from a personal standpoint, I’d rather see the focus on some of the induction-worthy bands get in before individual honors get passed out. I can’t see overlooking Jethro Tull, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Nine Inch Nails, the Pixies, the Replacements and King Crimson in particular in favor of an individual, male OR female.

As for the rest of the nominees for the Class of 2019, it’s a mixed bag at best. Probably the most deserving of the remaining acts are Kraftwerk, who essentially created electronic music, and did so decades before it became popular, and the Zombies.

Naturally, there will be a big push for Janet Jackson, and she’ll probably make the cut this time around. Worthy? Let’s put it this way: If she were in a group of nominees that included Tull, Priest, Motorhead, NIN or King Crimson, she would finish sixth on my ballot. Ergo, I suspect Jackson fans are probably glad I don’t have a ballot.

Having lived in Cleveland for nearly 30 years, I have a soft spot for Devo, too. However, my heart and my head are at different places. I just don’t see it happening, not while the inductions are in New York. Next year, when the ceremonies return to Cleveland? If they’re on the ballot, bet on it.

LL Cool J is becoming the next Chic and/or Susan Lucci, with all kinds of noms but no wins . . . including this year. The Cure, Roxy Music and MC5 have devoted and passionate fan bases, but not the votes among official balloters.

Like all journalists, though, I have to hedge: John Prine is the best pure songwriter on the ballot, and could be a dark horse, and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello is both a member of the nominating committee and a man respected as much for his intellect as his musicianship, so RATM is always lurking.

So, which five (normally, the Rock Hall taps five to seven inductees, and that usually includes a couple of non-performers who are not on the ballot) getting in this time around? Bottom line is Nicks and Rundgren are the no-brainers. Popularity will make Jackson No. 3. Metal gets a win with Def Leppard – even though the unnominated Priest, which finished fifth in last year’s fan vote, is more deserving, and Kraftwerk gets the No. 5 spot, courtesy of music pros who finally give the band their due.

What are the odds of any of those darts hitting the bull’s-eye?

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