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The 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place Saturday night at Cleveland’s Public Hall, a night that included tributes to some rockers we lost, as well as those being inducted.
The ceremony opened with The Killers performing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers‘ “American Girl” in honor of the latter band’s late leader, who died last year. Later on, Ann Wilson of Heart teamed up with Alice in Chains‘ Jerry Cantrell to perform Soundgarden‘s “Black Hole Sun” as an homage to another rocker who died in 2017, Chris Cornell.
The first induction of the night was the one that many fans had traveled to Cleveland just to witness: Bon Jovi. The band’s longtime friend Howard Stern ushered them in by making jokes about their “hair metal” days and even sang a bit of “Wanted Dead or Alive.”
When Jon Bon Jovi took the stage, his 20-minute speech acknowledged how many years the band had been waiting for the honor. “I’ve written [this speech] many ways and many times,” he said. “Some days, I write the ‘Thank you’ speech. Other days, I write the ‘F*** you’ speech. Writing it has been therapeutic in a lot of ways.” He also thanked the individual members of the band, and all the fans for their support.
“To all the fans who supported this band, we share this honor with you,” he said. “Because this life is a gift.”
Bon Jovi then performed “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “It’s My Life,” “Livin’ on a Prayer” and their new single, “When We Were Us.”
Dire Straits were next, and they inducted themselves, with bass player John Illsley doing the honors. There was no performance, owing to the absence of the band’s frontman, Mark Knopfler, and his brother, rhythm guitarist Dave Knopfler. Illsley said of Mark Knopfler’s failure to show, “I can assure you, it’s for personal reasons, let’s just leave it at that.”
Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard then paid tribute to inductee Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the late gospel and electric blues guitar pioneer who was an influence on what later became rock ‘n’ roll. Howard performed “That’s All” and “Strange Things Happen Every Day,” with Paul Shaffer on piano.
The Cars were up next, inducted by The Killers’ Brandon Flowers. “The Cars had it all: the looks, the hooks, beat-romance lyrics, killer choruses, guitar solos that p***ed off your parents, dazzling music videos,” Flowers said. Then, referring to the band’s song “Moving in Stereo,” used in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Flowers added, “Not to mention the best song in any movie scene that featured a girl slowly getting out of a pool and taking her top off.”
Cars frontman Ric Ocasek in his speech thanked his grandmother for making him sing when he was five years old. The band then performed “Moving in Stereo,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “You Might Think” and “Just What I Needed,” with Ocasek singing lead on the latter song in place of the band’s late bass player, Benjamin Orr. Weezer‘s Scott Shriner joined the band on bass for the set.
The late Nina Simone was inducted by Mary J. Blige, who called the pioneering R&B singer “bold, strong, feisty and fearless.” Simone’s brother, Dr. Samuel Wayon, accepted the honor on her behalf, but then warned that any artist who wanted to pay tribute to Simone by sampling her songs had better pay for the privilege.
R&B star Andra Day, backed by The Roots, then performed “I Put a Spell on You” and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” while Lauryn Hill sang “I Ain’t Got No Life” and one of Simone’s best-known songs, “Feeling Good.”
The E Street Band‘s Little Steven Van Zandt took the stage to introduce a new Rock Hall category called The Hall of Fame Singles, which serves to honor influential individual tracks. Among the first inductees into this category were “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, actually a pseudonym for Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. The track is often cited as the first rock ‘n’ roll song. Also inducted: Link Wray‘s “Rumble,” The Kingsmen‘s “Louie Louie,” Procol Harum‘s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and Steppenwolf‘s “Born to Be Wild.”
The evening concluded with the induction of The Moody Blues by Heart’s Ann Wilson. “The Moody Blues are not ‘cool’ or ‘ironic.’ They are not a construct,” she said. “There is a beautiful, approachable honesty about the poetry, and a natural intelligence in the music.”
The Moody Blues then performed “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Nights in White Satin” and “Ride My See-Saw.”
Unlike previous induction ceremonies, there was no all-star jam at the end. If you couldn’t make it to Cleveland, you can watch an HBO special featuring an edited version of the festivities that premieres May 5.
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