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Rock Hall nominees trigger annual debate

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame could make everyone happy with its class of 2020.

Classic rockers would be thrilled if previously bypassed artists like Pat Benatar, the Doobie Brothers, Todd Rundgren and Thin Lizzy get inducted.

Slightly younger fans tired of the ballot being clogged by acts whose debut albums came out 40 or 50 years ago can cheer for ’90s acts like Dave Matthews Band, The Notorious B.I.G., Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode (who started in the ’80s but had some of its biggest hits in the ’90s).

The hall could respond to criticism for its lack of female representation by inducting Benatar, Whitney Houston and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. Or it could appease the headbangers who feel under-represented by recognizing Motorhead and Judas Priest.

Those who believe the hall should recognize artists more important for their creative impact than their record sales will champion the inclusion of Kraftwerk, T. Rex and MC5, and the latter two have enough big guitars to lure some of the headbanger vote.

And with the 2020 ceremony in Cleveland, the hall may want to throw a bone to the hometown crowd with a vote for Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor recorded NIN’s debut “Pretty Hate Machine” while living in Cleveland), Rundgren (who always has been a northeast Ohio favorite) or Benatar (whose husband, Cleveland native Neil Giraldo, will be inducted with her if she’s chosen).

Instead, what is likely to happen is we’ll get an act from column A, another from column B, etc. and end up with the eclectic bunch that will leave most fans agreeing with one or two inductees while screaming, “How could they pick (artist I don’t consider “rock”) over (artist I love)!”

The 16 nominees were announced Tuesday, and five will be included in the hall’s class of 2020.

It’s an intriguing mix of acts, and I can imagine just about any of them getting chosen … or getting bypassed for that matter.

The closest thing to a sure thing may be the Notorious B.I.G. He’s the only nominee on the ballot in his first year of eligibility (Oasis, Wilco, Weezer, Daft Punk and Elliott Smith were some of the other acts in their first year of eligibility who didn’t make it).

Tupac Shakur was inducted in his first year of eligibility, and it’s hard to imagine Biggie not joining 2Pac, even though it will make the head of every Doobie Brothers and Judas Priest fan explode.

I’m almost positive one of the female inductees will get in, probably two. Whitney Houston sold more albums than the other two combined, but except for a drug habit, is there a fraction of an ounce of anything that could in any infinitesimal way be connected to rock & roll in her body of work? Not that I’ve heard.

Benatar’s career stands up favorably compared to 2013 inductee Heart, and the respect for the soul / funk hits of Rufus and Khan’s success as a solo artist make make them feel like more worthwhile selections.

I argued for Todd Rundgren last year and nothing’s happened to diminish his credentials as a performer, producer and innovator. I’m certain Nine Inch Nails will get in eventually, so why not do it in a year when the ceremony is in Cleveland? Frankly, If Akron’s Devo, which was nominated last year, had made a return appearance this year, I would have predicted its inclusion. Then again, maybe voters feel they can’t vote in Devo until synth originator Kraftwerk is recognized.

As the one act on the ballot that regularly fills 20,000-seat amphitheaters, Dave Matthews Band would be a popular choice, and Matthews’ work with the annual Farm Aid benefit adds a little gravitas to his worthiness. Depeche Mode doesn’t tour as frequently, but it also has a massive following and could deliver the best performance of the night at the induction ceremony.

The five inductees won’t be announced until early 2020, and folks can vote for their top five at www.rockhall.com, and the winners of the fan vote will get an additional official vote that could be the one that puts them over the top.

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