Madonna, Mellencamp Lead Rock Hall's '08 Class

Pop superstar Madonna, heartland rocker John Mellencamp, singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, British Invasion pioneers the Dave Clark Five and instrumental rock legends the Ventures were inducted into th

Pop superstar Madonna, heartland rocker John Mellencamp, singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, British Invasion pioneers the Dave Clark Five and instrumental rock legends the Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last night (March 10) during a ceremony at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The event was televised live by VH1 Classic.

Blues harmonica virtuoso Little Walter was posthumously inducted in the sideman category, while Philadelphia-bred producers/songwriters Gamble & Huff received the Ahmet Ertegun award in the non-performer category.

Timberlake, who collaborated with Madonna on half of her upcoming album, "Hard Candy," told the audience, "She's done it by working harder and being smarter than everybody else. As she made MTV the place to be seen, she racked up the greatest track record in music history -- 47 top 40 hits. She became the biggest name on the planet the old-fashioned way -- she earned it."

"It is a great honor to receive this award, and I'm grateful and appreciate for the acknowledgement that this implies," said Madonna, who thanked many of the Sire executives (Seymour Stein, Michael Rosenblatt, Liz Rosenberg) who helped get her career off the ground, and also quoted the Talmud during her acceptance speech.

Afterward, Iggy & the Stooges barreled through punked-up versions of Madonna's second single, "Burning Up," and her latter-day hit, "Ray of Light," with the artist bopping up and down in her seat as they played.

While inducting Mellencamp, Billy Joel humorously recalled playing flag football against the artist in the 1980s, a game in which Mellencamp was using players from nearby Indiana University as ringers. "Don't let this club membership change you, John," he said. "Stay ornery, stay mean. We need you to stay pissed off and restless."

"As long as I can hear a song that puts a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat, I know there's still hope," said Mellencamp, a longtime advocate for American farmers through the Farm Aid benefit concerts, which he helped create. He and his trusty band then took the stage to perform three of their most definitive songs: "Pink Houses," "Small Town" and the storming "Authority Song."

The evening began with Patti LaBelle belting out the Gamble and Huff-penned "If You Don't Know Me By Now," popularized by Harold Marvin and the Blue Notes, and Jerry Butler's rendition of the pair's "Only the Strong Will Survive."

"You must have a team, and we had a great team," said Gamble, who added that "just to mention Gamble & Huff in the same breath that you mention Ahmet Ertegun is just a wonderful honor to us." "This is the thrill of a lifetime. This is beyond my wildest dreams," Huff added.

Lou Reed inducted Leonard Cohen, saluting the influence of his poetry on his generation. Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice then performed the Cohen classic "Hallelujah," which has become closely associated with the late Jeff Buckley in the past decade.

The famously soft-spoken Cohen, looking dapper in a tuxedo and sunglasses, posed for photos solo and with Rice in the backstage press room, but did not answer any questions. The 73-year-old artist is returning the road this summer for the first time in 15 years.

In his induction speech, Tom Hanks recalled obsessing over the Dave Clark Five while growing up in suburban California, raising his voice to a fever pitch to declare, "the Dave Clark Five made a joyful sound!" The group's eponymous leader made special mention of singer Mike Smith, who died Feb. 28. He had been paralyzed in a 2003 accident.

"Mike tried desperately to be here tonight, but sadly he passed away just a few days ago," Clark said. "But at least he knows he's a Hall of Famer. Mike, you're with us in spirit, my friend, and always will be."

After receiving their trophies, the Ventures charged through two of their best-known compositions, "Walk, Don't Run" and the theme from "Hawaii Five-O."

"We just got back from Japan in January," founding member Don Wilson said backstage. "We did 17 shows in nine days without a day off, and I’m 75. People ask me, 'How do you do it?' My answer is, 'I don’t know.' I just do it. I’ve been doing it for so many years it just comes natural."

The ceremony wrapped with an all-star jam on the Dave Clark Five's "Glad All Over," featuring Mellencamp, Joel, Joan Jett and John Fogerty, among others.

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