When it comes to the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, there are some cheers, some tears, some profanities, some interesting fashion choices… and then there’s the music.
It is a music hall of fame, after all; It wouldn’t quite work if at some point the inductees and their pals didn’t pick up instruments and do what got them into the shrine in the first place. And that’s been going on at Rock Hall ceremonies since 1986, from righteously shambolic early-year jam sessions to more polished and scripted performances as the ceremony has become a televised event. There have been almost too many to count, and it depends on what you actually call a performance (yes, Mike Love, we will be talking about YOU here).
But with a new Rock Hall class about to get its due this week (March 29 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn), we’re counting down the dozen best musical moments that have preceded it, from the heartfelt hubris to the reverent homages to the irreverent tributes.
12. The Case For Nina, 2018
Nina Simone was inducted in 2018, and it was charged to Ms. Lauryn Hill, Andra Day and the Roots to demonstrate, musically, why she fit. They did the job admirably in Cleveland. With acts such as Bon Jovi, the Moody Blues, the Cars and Dire Straits getting their long overdue recognition, the Simone crew gave the iconoclastic singer her place with powerhouse renderings of “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” and a medley of “Ain’t Got No” and “I Got Life” and “Feeling Good,” leaving the Cleveland crowd feeling just that by the end of the long and lovely set.
11. Jar Full O’ Chili Peppers, 2012
The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ very presence ensures a pretty good party, but the group certainly turned the heat up for its Rock Hall induction. After a few songs by the current lineup it brought former drummers Cliff Martinez and Jack Irons on stage along with other participants from the night — good pal George Clinton, Slash, Ronnie Wood, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, the Small Faces/Faces’ Kenney Jones — to end the show with their propulsive take on Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” tearing the roof off the sucka at Cleveland’s Public Hall.
10. Billy Joel Makes It Be, 1999
The 1999 ceremony — which inducted Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney as a solo artist and others — appeared to be over after an all-star jam on Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” when Joel took it upon himself to play the opening piano chords of the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” McCartney, who may or may not have been enjoying libations at his table throughout the night, returned to the stage, acquiescing to his fellow inductee’s command performance curtain call.
9. Beck Turns A Page, 2009
You can count on some six-string, and maybe interpersonal, sparks to fly when former Yardbirds mates Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck are in the same place, and especially on the same stage. They were in 2009 for Beck’s induction as a solo artist, and all was sweetness and warmth — and then real heat as they strapped on for Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and later joined Metallica, Ronnie Wood, Joe Perry, Flea and others for a pulverizing “Train Kept A-Rollin’.”
8. Mike Love Puts ‘Em Up, 1988
There have been so many memorable Rock Hall speeches over the years — from Jeff Beck flipping off his fellow Yardbirds for firing him to Blondie’s public discord and the “blah-blah” exposition by Rush’s Alex Lifeson. But Beach Boy Mike Love’s verbal rope-a-dope — inspired, he’s said, by having Muhammed Ali as a guest at his table that night — was a stream-of-consciousness performance unto itself as he challenged “mop tops” George Harrison and Ringo Starr to a battle of the bands among other head-spinning declarations. Bob Dylan subsequently thanked Love for not mentioning him, but the speech has become such a great part of Rock Hall lore that maybe he’s changed his mind.
7. Green Day’s Blitzkrieg Bop, 2002
Joey Ramone was gone and Johnny Ramone was not faring well when the group’s number came up. How best to serve the legacy? Green Day were the acknowledged acolytes who played “Teenage Lobotomy,” “Rockaway Beach” and “Blitzkrieg Bop” with the right balance of reverence and spirit. The real thing was missed, of course, but the substitute was more than acceptable.
6. Ringo Rules, 2015
There was a genuine feeling of bonhomie as Ringo Starr became the last Beatle to be inducted as a solo artist during a ceremony in Cleveland. Paul McCartney’s speech was warm and loving, and the love was saved, and shared, by a set of songs that had fellow inductees Green Day backing Starr on “Boys,” brother-in-law Joe Walsh joining for “It Don’t Come Easy” and a full cast (adding Beck, Miley Cyrus, Joan Jett, Dave Grohl, Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Bill Withers, John Mayer, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Peter Wolf) finishing the night with “I Wanna Be Your Man” and, of course, “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
5. Some Unforgettable Fire, 2005
After Bono did the honors in inducting Bruce Springsteen six years prior The Boss returned the favor for U2 at the Waldorf Astoria. And while the Irish quartet certainly delivered its usual goods with “Until the End of the World,” “Vertigo” and “Pride (In the Name of Love),” Springsteen’s guest appearance for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was a chill-inducing moment and arguably the most impactful of his many Rock Hall cameos over the years.
4. Led Zep’s Stairway To Hubris, 1995
There was a bit of an edge to Led Zeppelin’s induction at the Waldorf Astoria, coming shortly after Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had started working together again — pointedly without John Paul Jones. Jones took a shot during his speech, thanking the other two for remembering his phone number, but on stage the Celebration Day added Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, who served as inductors, and fellow inductee Neil Young for “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” “For Your Love,” “Bring It On Home,” “Reefer Head Woman,” “Boogie Chillen,” “Baby Please Don’t Go” and a truly leaden “When the Levee Breaks” — though, yes, a few cries for “Stairway to Heaven” could be heard in the ballroom.
3. Iggy and the Stooges Do Madonna, 2008
Madge opted not to take the stage for her induction, but Iggy Pop and the Stooges crew (James Williamson, Mike Watt, Steve Mackay and Toby Dammit) filled the bill admirably from left field, tearing through “Burning Up” and “Ray of Light” with the kind of punky irreverence that certainly paid homage to Madonna’s attitude, if not necessarily her polish.
2. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” 2004
Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison honored George Harrison’s posthumous induction as a solo artist with a sweet rendering of the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care,” but Prince fired up the Waldorf Astoria Hotel ballroom with his ferocious guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” a theatrical tour de force so defiant that it was hard to tell if he was paying tribute or venting about possibly being overshadowed on the night of his own induction. Either way it was a triumph and the most-played of any Prince clip after his death in 2016.
1. Nirvana, 2014
What do you do two decades after the passing of your iconic frontman? The surviving members of Nirvana faced that challenge by tapping four women — Joan Jett (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”), Kim Gordon (“Aneurysm”), St. Vincent (“Lithium”) and Lorde (“All Apologies”) — to stand in for the late Kurt Cobain at the Barclays Center, a stroke of genius that not only filled the bill but added new layers of meaning to the songs they sang. It got even better later that night when the troupe and its friends — adding J Mascis and John McCauley — played an even longer set at Brookyn’s St. Vitus Bar.
Honorable mentions: The first nine years or so of Rock Hall inductions were highlighted by evening-ending jams that were often raw but all the better because of that. Imagine a stage of wall-to-wall icons playing rock n’ roll classics, whether it was “Johnny B. Goode,” “The Twist” or “Bo Diddley,” always sounding like they were about to come unraveled but always looking like everyone was having the time of their life up there. Among the best for our money was the end of the 1987 show, when Jeff Beck started an unplanned “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” that culminated with Mick Jagger throwing his shoes into the crowd. The show is more polished now (a peeve of Neil Young’s, in fact), but the memories are indelible.