Eminent American rock combos R.E.M. and Van Halen, punk poet Patti Smith, pioneering hip-hop outfit Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and influential girl group the Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last night (March 12) during a ceremony at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. For the first time, the event was broadcast live on VH1 Classic.
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder inducted R.E.M., admitting he listened to its seminal debut, “Murmur,” more than 1,200 times in the summer of 1984 after seeing the group live. As Pearl Jam began its ascent to superstardom, he said R.E.M. “took us all under their wings. They became like big brothers.” R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe then paid tribute to his fellow nominees, saying, “The honor of being here is heightened four times over by the other artists here tonight.”
The group performed live with former drummer Bill Berry, who retired from R.E.M in 1997. First up was “Begin the Begin,” followed by “Gardening at Night” (which Stipe dedicated to his father) and “Man on the Moon,” with Vedder chipping in on vocals during the verses.
Van Halen, whose planned summer reunion tour with David Lee Roth derailed in recent weeks, was represented only by Roth’s replacement, Sammy Hagar, and original bassist Michael Anthony, who was unceremoniously booted from the band in the past year. Roth reportedly refused to attend the ceremony after squabbling with Rock Hall organizers about what songs he would perform, and neither of the Van Halen brothers were on hand (Eddie Van Halen entered rehab for undisclosed reasons last week).
Instead, Velvet Revolver performed a medley of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and “Best of Both Worlds,” while Hagar and Anthony jammed on “Why Can’t This Be Love” with the house band. “I can’t tell you how much I wish everyone was here tonight,” Hagar said. “[But] I think Eddie’s going to come out the other side a better person, and maybe we’ll get our buddy back. You couldn’t have kept me from here with a shotgun.” Added Anthony, “I’d like to say god bless you to Edward Van Halen. He’s home getting some help. I love you, man.”
Jay-Z read from his Blackberry while inducting the Furious Five, who took the stage for the first time in more than a decade for an amusingly disjointed medley featuring snippets of “Superrappin’,” “Freedom,” “White Lines” and “The Message.” Flash also put on a scratching display from his turntable perch.
Making a rare public appearance ahead of a reunion by his band Rage Against The Machine, Zack De La Rocha ushered Smith into the Rock Hall. “Expanding rock’s boundaries, Patti smith the poet revealed truth regardless of the political and social consequences,” he said. Smith promptly tore into a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” followed by the Bruce Springsteen-penned hit “Because the Night” and “Rock’n’Roll Ni**er,” which she said was her late mother’s “favorite song to vacuum to.”
Keith Richards inducted the Ronettes, recalling hearing them warm up for a show in England in 1964. “They touched my heart right there and then, and they touch it still,” he said. “We waited so long,” Ronnie Spector proclaimed at the podium, never mentioning her ex-husband, producer Phil Spector, who reared the group to superstardom. “I mean, we really waited long!” The group went on to play a medley of “Baby I Love You,” “Walking in the Rain” and “Be My Baby,” although without Estelle Bennett, who did not perform for health reasons.
Bandleader Paul Shaffer read a note from Spector, who is awaiting a murder trial in California, which said, “I wish them all the happiness and good fortune the world has to offer.”
Rock Hall co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, who passed away late last year, was saluted by Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, who dedicated the evening to his memory. “I think how lucky we’ve been to have had such a man,” he said. After remarks by Stephen Stills, Ertegun protege Aretha Franklin, decked out in pearls and giant rings on both hands, boomed through “Don’t Play That Song” and “I Never Loved a Man” in fine voice.
The evening ended with R.E.M. backing Smith on the Stooges’ classic “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and the entire evening’s cast taking the stage for Smith’s “People Have the Power.” Attendees were treated to the unlikely sight of Hagar and Vedder sharing a microphone while Stephen Stills and Richards soloed.