But they were also treated to the evening's most humorous introduction, courtesy of Dave Grohl, and acceptance speech, from guitarist Alex Lifeson, who used the simple phrase of "blah blah blah" and a bit of charades to explain the journey of he and his bandmates to this point in time.
As expected, it was a lengthy affair -- it took nearly four hours to execute the inductions and performances after starting 50 minutes late. And while it lacked the fireworks of other ceremonies, it had its moments: The Foo Fighters, reduced to a trio, donning wigs and kimonos to play Rush's "2112"; Randy Newman, in a quiet, poignant moment, playing "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" with a string section. And Booker T. Jones joining Gary Clark Jr. and John Mayer to salute the late Albert King with Jones' "Born Under a Bad Sign." (Sadly, Jones was not introduced to the crowd.)
Public Enemy, performing as they did in those Def Jam revues in the '80s, rapped to the two men who first put them on record, Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, who wound up next to each other in the small VIP section of tables near the stage.
Don Henley wondered why "this peculiar, perplexing organization" had taken 20 years to induct Newman, who said backstage "I didn't think it would happen until I died or something." The families of Donna Summer and Albert King graciously accepted the awards on the late artists' behalf.
Producer and label owner Lou Adler was surrounded by people whose music he had recorded -- Herb Alpert, Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean, Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and Papas -- and the man he sits next to at Laker games, Jack Nicholson. After an induction from Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones saluted a dozen jazz musicians, among them Charlie Parker, Clark Terry and Lionel Hampton, saying "those cats were my Beatles and Rolling Stones." His 16-minute speech closely resembled the one he gave when his induction was announced in December.
Members of Public Enemy, inducted by Spike Lee and Harry Belafonte, took turns talking with Flavor Flav monopolizing the microphone. Chuck D admonished him to move on, but Flav fought back, saying there was only one night they would be getting inducted into the hall. He also saluted the PE leader, saying "I want to thank you for making great records. You've been the motor."
The Wilson sisters speech and induction was largely limited to discussions about the isolated world of Seattle and the unlikely arrival of two sisters who would not only rock, but persevere.
In introducing Rush, Grohl praised Rush's Neil Peart as "the most ripping drummer in the world," but also wondered aloud about "the most infamous band photo" ever -- the trio in kimonos and skintight pants.
"We've been saying for a long time this isn't a big deal," said Peart, who usually avoids any media attention. "Turns out it is."
Over the applause and cheers, Grohl noted they have a "fan based rivaled only by the Grateful Dead" and Lee thanked the fans before Lifeson launched into his "blah blah blah" speech that will surely become a YouTube favorite down the road.
HBO will air the ceremony on May 18.
The show and who played what:
"I Love LA" - Newman, Tom Petty, John Fogerty, Jackson Browne
"I Think It's Going to Rain Today" - Newman
"I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)" - Newman, Don Henley
"So Far Away" - Carole King
"Oh Pretty Woman" - Gary Clark Jr.
"Born Under a Bad Sign, Clark, John Mayer, Booker T.
"Bad Girls"/"Last Dance" - Jennifer Hudson
"Rock With You" - Usher
"Bring the Noise"
Freestyle jam with other nominees' records
"Fight the Power"
"Crazy on You"
"Barracuda" - Heart with Jerry Cantrell, Chris Cornell
"2112" - with Foo Fighters
"Crossroads" - Chuck D, Hank Shocklee, Rush, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Clark, Grohl, Hawkins, Fogerty, Tom Morello