Rock acts U2 and the Pretenders, blues legend Buddy Guy, R&B mainstays the O'Jays and Percy Sledge, Sire Records co-founder Seymour Stein and agent Frank Barsalona were welcomed into the ranks of

Rock acts U2 and the Pretenders, blues legend Buddy Guy, R&B mainstays the O'Jays and Percy Sledge, Sire Records co-founder Seymour Stein and agent Frank Barsalona were welcomed into the ranks of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last night (March 14) during the 20th annual gala ceremony at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Highlights from the event will be broadcast Saturday on VH1.

In a memorable, self-effacing induction speech, Bruce Springsteen referenced the count-off at the beginning of U2's recent single "Vertigo": "Unos, dos, tres, catorce; that translates as 1,2,3,14. That is the correct math for a rock'n'roll band."

Springsteen, who was inducted to the Rock Hall by U2 frontman Bono in 1999, recalled seeing an early U2 gig in London with the Who's Pete Townshend and marveling at "the young Bono, single-handedly pioneering the Irish mullet. U2 hungered for it all and built a sound, and they wrote the songs that demanded it."

Bono waxed poetic about seminal moments in the band's past, from a 1976 practice session in drummer Larry Mullen Jr.'s kitchen, to a 1982 show in New Haven, Conn., when guitarist the Edge tried to break his nose, to a 1987 incident in the American south, when the group had received death threats for advocating that Rev. Martin Luther King's birthday should be honored with a national holiday.

"This is a bit of an Irish wedding," Bono said. "Beautiful girls in beautiful frocks, fights in the bathroom, lawyers with bloody noses." The group closed the evening with a set that found Bono waltzing into the audience and spraying champagne during "Until the End of the World," easing into the high notes of "Pride" and then tacking on a line from Springsteen's "The Promised Land" at the song's conclusion.

"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" epitomized U2's enduring restless spirit, highlighted by Springsteen and Bono trading verses as the band simmered behind them. A blistering rendition of "Vertigo" capped the performance, which came two weeks before U2 kicks off its Vertigo world tour in San Diego.

After an off-the-cuff induction speech from Neil Young, the Pretenders paid tribute to late members James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, "without whom we wouldn't be here," lead singer Chrissie Hynde said. "On the other hand, without us they might have been here, but that's the way it works in rock'n'roll."

NeilHynde told a characteristically off-color joke while drummer Martin Chambers got ready behind the kit. The group then rocked through "Message of Love," a sizzling "My City Was Gone" with a surprise guest appearance by Young and the wiry, sexy "Precious," the leadoff track from its self-titled 1980 debut.

B.B. King and Eric Clapton framed the influence of Guy, of whom Clapton remarked, "Buddy personified all that the modern bluesman needed to be. His technique is and was unique." Added King, "I never was as handsome as he is. I think [King's guitar] Lucille liked him better."

Neil"To be in company like this tonight, I'm just out of words," Guy said with a smile. "I just want to play for you." And that he did, strapping on his trademark polka-dotted guitar for an often hushed rendition of "Damn Right I Got the Blues" and then jamming with King and Clapton for nearly 10 minutes on "Let Me Love You Baby."

"Is anything possible when that man sings? It certainly is," Rod Stewart affirmed while inducting Sledge, who took the stage to perform his iconic 1965 soul ballad "When a Man Loves a Woman." "God knows that I sung my songs so deeply from my heart -- from all the love that I could give to you," Sledge told the audience.

The O'Jays ran through a medley of such hits as "Back Stabbers," "For the Love of Money" and "Love Train," which preceded an introduction by Justin Timberlake. "After 44 years in this extremely mean business, finally we're here, and it's in order to thank God," said group member Walter Williams.

As a special celebration of the Rock Hall's 20th birthday, Clapton and the Band's Robbie Robertson flanked rock legend Bo Diddley for the latter's eponymous stomper. Ahead of the expected summer release of his first new studio album since 1996, Jerry Lee Lewis then joined for his classic "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," playfully sitting on the piano keys at song's end.

A veteran of nearly 50 years in the music industry, including a formative stint at Billboard when he was still a teenager, Stein admitted, "it feels like my bar mitzvah" when he took the stage after an introduction from rapper/actor Ice-T. The executive is perhaps best known for revealing the New York punk scene to a worldwide audience in the mid and late 1970s and, years later, rearing the careers of such acts Madonna, the Talking Heads and the Smiths.

Dressed as his character Silvio Dante from "The Sopranos," E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt saluted Premier Talent founder Barsalona, who has worked with nearly every major rock act of the past four decades. "When I started Premier Talent, the whole industry was fighting against rock'n'roll, and the question was, will it survive?," Barsalona said. "The rock'n' roll spirit can never be killed."