It was nearly 1:00 a.m. and Neil Diamond's three-song set at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's induction ceremony was over, but the singer was simply having too much fun to stop. He had just wrapped up a joyous sing-along rendition of "Sweet Caroline" by running into the crowd and having Robbie Robertson and Bruce Springsteen sing a bit of the chorus into the mic ("keep practicing and you'll go places!" he joked to Springsteen) when he stood on the chair in the center of the floor and made a seemingly spontaneous decision.
"What am I doing out here?" he said, turning to bandleader Paul Shaffer. "Hey Paul, can we do it one more time just to get me the heck out of here?" Diamond then proceeded to sing the entirety of "Sweet Caroline" again, and somehow it was even more euphoric the second time around.
About 15 minutes later, as the tipsy black-tie crowd at the Waldorf-Astoria looked like they were ready to collapse, Shaffer called Diamond, Alice Cooper, Bette Midler, Elton John and Darlene Love back to the stage as Leon Russell played the opening notes to Love's Wall of Sound classic "Da Doo Ron Ron Ron" – just as he did on the original 48 years ago. Standing side-by-side, the unlikely duo of Cooper and Diamond traded off lines with everybody on the stage. It was the perfect way to end the long, amazing evening.
Such unexpected collaborations are the greatest thing about the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. This year's class – Alice Cooper, Darlene Love, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Tom Waits and Leon Russell – seem to have very little in common. It's to the credit of the organizers that they constructed a show that highlighted the threads between them, while staging an incredibly fun concert. It was the 27th ceremony, and this time around the night was arranged very differently than in the past. Most of the speeches were at the beginning of the night, while the second half was basically one long concert.
The show began with John Legend inducting New Orleans piano legend Dr. John. "No other place has shaped our music and captured our imagination than the Crescent City," Legend said. "For more than 50 years the singer, musician, producer, songwriter and all-around instigator Dr. John has served as as leading local ambassador to New Orleans and it's incomparably funky musical gumbo."
Wearing a purple suit and a fedora, Dr. John seemed overjoyed by the kind words. "I feel like I'm blessed to be singing," he said. "To be breathing. Music is something and there ain't nothing like it. I don't care what you do with your life … Everybody in my life was a blessing to me."
After Dr. John stepped offstage the Ahmet Ertegun Award was presented to Specialty Records founder Art Rupe by Lloyd Price, and to Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman by Doors drummer John Densmore. The 93-year-old Rupe sent a letter saying he couldn't make it, but Holzman (looking spry at 79) showed up and gave a moving speech about the importance of music in his long life. "It's been a long, magical road," he said. "And the road beckons still."
Midler then took the stage to induct her longtime friend Love. "She has been robbed of royalties," Midler said, referring to Love's legal battles with Phil Spector. "But she is without bitterness…She's also one of the greatest voices in the history of rock and roll."
Looking radiant in a black dress, Love seemed to be holding back tears as she walked to the podium. "This year, in July, I will turn 70 years old," she said. "This is the best gift that I could ever had. I have given over 50 years of my life and talent to the music industry. I am so thankful for the genius of Phil Spector for his recognition of my talent to be the main voice of his Wall of Sound."
Things then took a dramatic shift when Rob Zombie stepped up to induct Cooper. "They were the most rock-star destroying band of all-time," he said. "They took everything to a new level … They were more than a band. They were more like a murderous gang of drag queens. Their mission was to destroy the hippie dream of peace, love and understanding."
When he finished, the original Alice Cooper band – minus the late Glen Buxton – ripped into a ferocious version of "I'm Eighteen." Many in the buttoned-up crowd didn't quite know what to make of the aggressive performance (much like the Stooges last year). Undeterred, the band carried on with "Under My Wheels" and "School's Out" with Rob Zombie guesting.
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