Though the rumor was already out, Paul McCartney surprised and delighted those attending the 31st Annual Songwriters' Hall of Fame Induction Awards at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers on Thursday when he popped up on stage to introduce inductee Brian Wilson. "Is this cool or what?" McCartney asked the crowd. "There's so many good vibes here. I just want to drink it all in."
Providing more good vibrations were pop group Hanson, who performed a somewhat faithful version of "God Only Knows" in honor of the Beach Boy, who called being inducted by Paul McCartney "the highest honor I've ever had." "I was so surprised," Wilson said of first finding out he was to be feted this evening, "I almost dropped dead."
Other inductees included Godfather of Soul James Brown, who did his own "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" after Bobby Womack covered "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World"; Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey, who had JD Souther perform "Best of My Love" in their absence; Curtis Mayfield, posthumously honored via Brian McKnight's medley of his songs; and James Taylor, whose longtime friend Carole King brought her daughter and son-in-law on stage to sing and play along on his "Shower the People."
Most of the inductees and the various artists who honored them on stage joined Ben E. King (on hand to honor songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who won the Johnny Mercer Award) in a group rendition of "Stand By Me" for the show finale. McCartney, Brown and King clustered around the main mike together, switching off on choruses. Not to be stopped, the group rolled straight into "Kansas City," with McCartney handling many of the lead vocals, before reprising "Stand By Me" once more. For the reprisal, it seemed they were singing more to each other than to the audience, huddled in a tight circle that didn't face the stage. Clearly having a good time, McCartney tried showing a few of his more soulful dance moves to Brown, who nodded and laughed in approval.
Calling songs "our greatest export," Songwriters' Hall of Fame chairman Hal David also awarded several other songwriters and artists with special distinctions. Neil Diamond received a Lifetime Achievement Award, marked by Jill Sobule's Monkees-like delivery of his "I'm a Believer," lesbian entendre intact. "Writing is forever," Diamond said of the distinction between singing and writing, "if you really like [a song]. And if you don't like it, they disappear, thank God. And it helps a lot when other people do your music. Then I don't have to work," he joked, "and it keeps it alive."
Further extolling the virtues of the songwriting craft was McCartney himself. "One of the things, when you first write a song," he said during Wilson's introductory speech, "is there's a magic moment, where you're like, 'That's it!' And so many of the great artists here tonight know that moment. And it's a great moment when you realize the effect that it has on people, 'You saved my life, man!' That's the way it is for me. You have a headache, you put on a record, and the headache's -- pft -- gone!"
Calling Wilson "one of the great American geniuses," McCartney credited the Beach Boy with the ability to stir his emotions. "Thank you, sir, for making me cry," McCartney said, clasping Wilson's hand. "Thank you for doing that thing you do. You got me any day."
"Music is my life," Wilson said, "and tonight, what you're saying is that my life has been well spent."