Disco fever swept the house, Crosby, Stills and Nash dazzled with their crystal-clear harmonies, and Michael Jackson emerged to give a rare speech. It was a night filled with surprises at the 12th annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, held at the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland, where the Bee Gees, CSN and the Jackson 5 were inducted along with Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell, Parliament-Funkadelic, the (Young) Rascals, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe and King Records founder Syd Nathan. The soiree took place in Cleveland for the first time since the Hall of Fame and Museum opened in late 1995.
Parliament-Funkadelic kicked off the night with a house-shaking medley of hits, including "Tear the Roof off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)." Following their performance, the Artist, with wife Mayte in tow, inducted P-Funk (all 16 members made speeches) and cited their enormous influence on the Purple One's music. "One time, George [Clinton] sent me a tape and said, 'You pee on it, send it back to me and I'll pee on it. Then we'll see what we've got,' " the Artist said as his wife covered her face in embarrassment. (Later that night, he teamed with P-Funk for a jam at Cleveland's Odeon.)
Next up was Steven Van Zandt, who saluted blue-eyed-soul pioneers the Rascals. "To be white and sound that black," he quipped, "you had to be Italian." Van Zandt said that the first time he heard the band's "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore," he was making out with a girl: "It was the sexiest record I ever heard. Sexier than the sex I was having."
Shawn Colvin and Graham Nash inducted the absent Mitchell. After performing a stirring rendition of Mitchell's "Free Man in Paris," Colvin noted, "Joni used the word f--- long before it was fashionable."
The Bee Gees, presented by Beach Boy Brian Wilson and Tony Toni Ton\'e9 singer Raphael Saadiq, accepted their induction gleefully before giving one of the night's most popular performances: a sugar rush of disco faves like "Stayin' Alive" and "Jive Talkin'." "We are the enigma with the stigma," said Barry Gibb, referring to the group having been fricasseed by critics in the early days. With the Bee Gees' induction, he said, "we feel like we've come home."
An especially moving moment followed when Mavis Staples delivered a soaring gospel medley in tribute to the late Mahalia Jackson. "When she sang, you would just feel light as a feather," Staples said. "God, I couldn't get enough of her."
Staples' set was a nice lead-in for the night's most anticipated event: the Jackson 5. Michael Jackson bounded onstage ahead of his brothers to huge applause and said, "I'd like to say to our family, our children and, most of all, our mother and father: You were there to protect us with unselfish love, and because you were there, we are here."
The crowd was dead silent for a moment as Jackson stood on the stage with his arm around a young boy. Then he explained that the boy was his godchild and the son of the Bee Gees' Barry Gibb. (Whew!) At one point, Jackson admonished a cameraman. "I don't like that angle," he said, holding up his hand to the offending lens.
Motown Records' founder, Berry Gordy Jr., coaxed onstage by Jackson, said of the Jackson 5: "They not only had hit records, they were a cultural revolution. For the first time, young black kids had their own heroes in their own image to idolize and emulate."
The star power continued as Tom Petty inducted Buffalo Springfield with poetic praise: "They were bronze and brunette ... the city and the canyons ... electric and absolutely new acoustic ...They were immeasurably influential." Buffalo Springfield's Stephen Stills told the audience, "We were young, and our hearts beat wildly, and we ran amok on Sunset Strip." Stills became the first artist ever to be inducted twice in the same night. "I'm doubly blessed and doubly honored," he said backstage.
Besides Mitchell's no-show, the night's only other disappointment was the absence of Neil Young, who was in both CSNY and Buffalo Springfield with Stills. Earlier, Young had chastised the Hall of Fame for its $1,500 tickets and for allowing the event to be televised. Not that anyone cared. "This isn't about Neil Young," said his Springfield band mate Richie Furay. "It's about Buffalo Springfield." Added Stills: "Well, he quit again."
Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs inducted bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. Skaggs, who broke down in tears several times during his speech, described Monroe as "a musical father to me."
Elektra Records chief Seymour Stein honored the late Syd Nathan (who had ignited the careers of James Brown and Little Willie John, among others). James Taylor introduced Crosby, Stills and Nash. David Crosby was particularly moved by the honor, given the fact that he had a liver transplant in late 1994: "I'm honored to be here tonight. For a guy who was supposed to be dead a couple of years ago, I'm doing quite well."
As the clock struck midnight, the Rascals mobilized to jam on a scorching medley of songs, including "Good Lovin' " and "Groovin'." Taylor followed with a stunning acoustic version of Mitchell's "Woodstock," after which CSN gave another of the night's big highlights: dazzling versions of classics like "Teach Your Children" and "Wooden Ships." Petty then joined the group onstage, and the bash came to a rousing finale with an all-star version of Buffalo Springfield's signature song, "For What It's Worth."
Judging by the gleeful looks on the faces spilling out of the ballroom just after 1 a.m., the night was worth every penny.