On April 14th, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted its 33rd class: Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (in the Early Influence category), Bon Jovi, the Cars, Dire Straits and the Moody Blues. The induction ceremony, which took place in Cleveland, included tributes to Tom Petty and Chris Cornell, performances from several inductees and an exceptionally bawdy speech from Howard Stern. Now that the event is available on HBO, we look back at the night’s most unforgettable moments.
Lauryn Hill’s surprise appearance during the Nina Simone tribute
After Andra Day performed Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” and “I Put a Spell on You,” Hill made an unannounced cameo. She put a contemporary spin on the old folk song “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” completely reinventing the arrangement with her versatile band. Hill then remade “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” by filling it with nimbly rapped verses about racial injustice, shattering the apolitical tone of the event. Hill finished with a brassy, harmony-filled rendition of “Feeling Good,” ending the Simone tribute on a hopeful note: “It’s a new dawn/It’s a new day/It’s a new life for me.”
Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard covers Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Howard honored “the godmother of rock & roll,” with a version of “That’s All,” one of Tharpe’s thumping, bluesy cuts. Backed by a cheerful band that included the Roots’ Questlove on drums and longtime Late Show With David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer on piano, Howard was one of the night’s most commanding performers, picking out spindly lines on electric guitar and demonstrating impressive range as a singer.
Howard Stern’s wild induction speech
Stern was characteristically foul-mouthed during his address, which touted the commercial accomplishments of Bon Jovi. “The bubonic plague only killed 50 million people … peanuts compared to 130 million Bon Jovi albums!” Stern exclaimed. “Try to look at it this way: The average amount of sperm in one ejaculation is only 100 million – Bon Jovi beats sperm, ladies and gentlemen … Leonard Cohen used to sit at home alone beating off at night thinking about selling three million albums, let alone a hundred million.” Stern later complimented Richie Sambora for having the biggest penis in the band before leading the crowd through a surprisingly in-tune version of “Wanted Dead or Alive” and announcing, “Eat shit, Bob Dylan!”
Bon Jovi’s reunions
The lure of the Rock Hall brought two important ex-members of Bon Jovi back into the fold. First was Alec John Such, who parted ways with the group in the mid-Nineties and hasn’t appeared with them onstage since 2001. Second was lead guitarist and key songwriter Richie Sambora, who left Bon Jovi in 2013. Though Sambora’s return to the group was much discussed, he refused to milk his moment: His acceptance speech was a miracle of concision, especially compared with the lengthy address from frontman Jon Bon Jovi.
The Cars play for the first time since 2011
The surviving members of the Cars – whom Flowers described as “a slick machine with a 340 V8 under the hood that ran on synergy, experimentation and a redefined cool” – had not convened onstage for several years, but they made the effort for the Rock Hall. “I lived in Cleveland for a while – it was actually the first place I ever played music in front of people,” said Ric Ocasek. “I think it was about 20 blocks away. So I’ve only moved this far up the street for all those years.”
Weezer’s Scott Shriner lives out a childhood dream of playing with the Cars
Weezer’s debt to the Cars’ hooky rock has always been evident in their music, so it only made sense when Weezer bassist Scott Shriner joined the group onstage in place of original bassist Benjamin Orr, who died in 2000. Shriner’s melodic lines anchored the Cars’ various New Wave gems – “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” et al. – and the substitute bassist also chipped in to provide chirpy backing vocals.
Everyone from the Cars pays tribute to the late Ben Orr in his hometown of Cleveland
Most members of the Cars took a moment during their speeches to remember Benjamin Orr, who died in 2000. “Obviously it’s hard not to notice that Benjamin Orr is not here,” Ocasek said. “He would have been elated to be here onstage in his home town. It feels quite strange to be up here without him. We miss him and love him dearly.”
The Killers celebrate Tom Petty
In contrast to the Tom Petty tributes that took place at the Grammy Awards and Academy Awards, which were subdued, verging on soporific, the Rock Hall took a more festive approach to honoring Petty, recruiting the Killers to charge through “American Girl.” Lead singer Brandon Flowers, clad in a sharp crimson suit, brought his usual intensity to the stage, grinning widely at one moment and grimacing with effort the next. “Get on your feet,” he commanded. “Pay some rock & roll respect to the impenetrable, to the masterful, to the eternal Tom Petty.” Flowers and his two ace backup singers finished their performance by singing the chorus of “Free Fallin'” as the rest of the band tore through the end of “American Girl.”
Heart’s Ann Wilson, Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell Salute Chris Cornell
Wilson and Cantrell honored Cornell with a sparse, faithful rendition of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” The two veterans played without a band and eschewed fancy visuals – the backdrop suggested a night sky speckled with stars. Cantrell recreated the song’s swells and crashes with echoey, mournful lines on guitar, while Wilson handled Cornell’s dour lyrics, growling through the verses and surging through the track’s yearning hook. As the track progressed, Cantrell became Wilson’s backup singer, and the two brought the song to a close with solemn rounds of call-and-response.
The Moody Blues’ accomplished throwbacks
The Moody Blues were the only band on the bill who had hits during the 1960s. They served up faithful renditions of several of those songs with help from a flute player and grand string arrangements. Better still was Graeme Edge’s cheekily irreverent acceptance speech. He thanked himself – for putting up with his bandmates – along with “all the people in the world who ever helped me,” before adding: “All the people in the world who haven’t helped me, screw you.”