Duran Duran, Lionel Richie, Dolly Parton and Eminem enter rock's hall of fame
Lionel Richie soared, Pat Benatar roared, Duran Duran stumbled but stayed sophisticated and Eminem was Eminem, as the four acts found very different ways to celebrate being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
They were joined by Carly Simon, Eurythmics, Harry Belafonte, Judas Priest and Dolly Parton, who gave the honour an enthusiastic embrace after temporarily turning it down.
Duran Duran were the first act inducted at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles after a memorable speech from a shaven-headed Robert Downey Jr, and took the stage by launching into their 1981 breakthrough hit Girls On Film.
The shrieking crowd was there for it, but the music was not.
The band was all but inaudible other than singer Simon Le Bon, whose vocals were essentially acapella.
It was a fun if inauspicious beginning to a mostly slick and often triumphant show.
“The wonderful spontaneous world of rock ‘n’ roll!” the 64-year-old Le Bon shouted as the band stopped for a do-over.
“We just had to prove to you that we weren’t lip-synching.”
They kicked back in at full volume, playing a set that included Hungry Like The Wolf and Ordinary World, quickly snapping back into what Downey called their essential quality: “CSF – cool, sophisticated fun.”
Le Bon and bandmates John Taylor, Roger Taylor and Nick Rhodes provided what the singer said in his acceptance speech was the essence of their job over the past 40 years: “We get to make people feel better about themselves.”
Missing was original guitarist Andy Taylor, who is four years into a fight with advanced prostate cancer.
“I’m truly sorry and massively disappointed I couldn’t make it,” Taylor said in a letter read by Le Bon.
“I’m sure as hell glad I’m around to see the day.”
Lionel Richie brought both chill and warmth to the room hours later, opening his set with a spare rendition of his ballad Hello that seemed to make him nearly break down from the weight of the moment.
“His songs are the soundtrack of my life, your life, everyone’s life,” Lenny Kravitz said in inducting Richie.
“To name all of his brilliant songs would take, well, all night long,” he added, invoking the name of the hit Richie would light up the room with a few minutes later in a singalong set that brought the night’s most enthusiastic reaction.
After performing Hello, Richie breezed into his 1977 hit with the Commodores, Easy.
The vibe went from smooth to triumphant when Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl made a surprise appearance to play a guitar solo and swap vocals with Richie.
In his acceptance speech, Richie lashed out at those during his career who accused him of straying too far from his black roots.
“Rock ‘n’ roll is not a colour,” he said.
“It is a feeling. It is a vibe. And if we let that vibe come through, this room will grow and grow and grow.”
Eurythmics took the stage next with a soulful, danceable rendition of 1986’s Missionary Man.
“Well I was born an original sinner, I was born from original sin,” singer Annie Lennox belted out, bringing the audience clapping and to its feet four hours into the show.
It was followed by a rousing rendition of their best-known hit Sweet Dreams.
Moments later her musical partner, Dave Stewart, called Lennox “one of the greatest performers, singers and songwriters of all time”.
“Thank you, Dave, for this great adventure,” a tearful Lennox said.
As he has been throughout his career, Eminem was the outlier.
He was the only hip-hop artist among the inductees, the only one whose heyday came after the 1980s, and he brought an edge to the evening that was otherwise missing outside of the heavy metal stylings of Judas Priest.
Eminem also took the guest star game to another level.
After opening briefly with 1999’s My Name Is, he brought on Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler to sing the chorus of Dream On for 2003’s Sing For The Moment, which samples the Aerosmith classic.
Then he brought on Ed Sheeran to sing his part on the 2017 Eminem jam River as rain fell on the stage.
“I’m probably not supposed to actually be here tonight for a couple of reasons,” Eminem, wearing a black hoodie, said as he accepted the honour.
“One, I know, is that I’m a rapper and this is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”
He is only the 10th hip-hop artist among well over 300 members of the Hall of Fame.
Eminem was inducted by his producer and mentor Dr Dre, whom he credited with saving his life.
But hitmakers of the 1980s defined the night, with Benatar, Richie and Eurythmics accepting their places in the hall along with Simon.
“Pat always reached into the deepest part of herself and came roaring out of the speakers,” Sheryl Crowe said in her speech inducting Benatar.
“She rocked as hard as any man but still kept her identity as a woman.”
Benatar took the stage and displayed that power moments later.
“We are young,” the 69-year-old sang, her long grey hair flowing as she soared through a version of 1983’s Love Is A Battlefield with so much improvisation that most in the crowd did not recognise it until halfway through the first verse.
“This is the one that started it,” she said launching into the next song, 1979’s Heartbreaker, as most of the audience stood and sang along.
It included a blistering solo from Neil Giraldo, Benatar’s long-time musical partner, husband, co-grandparent and now fellow member of the Hall.
Carly Simon was also a notable absence among the inductees, with the ceremony coming two weeks after she lost sisters Joanna Simon and Lucy Simon, both also singers, to cancer on back-to-back days.
Simon was a first-time nominee this year more than 25 years after becoming eligible.
Presenter Sara Bareilles praised the legendary singer-songwriter’s “fierce intelligence and soulful vulnerability” before singing a version of her James Bond theme Nobody Does It Better in her place.
Olivia Rodrigo, 60 years Simon’s junior and by far the youngest performer of the night, then took the stage to sing her signature song You’re So Vain.
Harry Belafonte, 95, was another missing musical giant.
He did not make an appearance for his induction.
In a few cases the presenters were better known than those they inducted.
Janet Jackson appeared in a black suit with a massive pile of hair atop her head, remaking the cover of her breakthrough album Control, as she inducted the two men who made that and many other records with her, writer-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
The crowd welcomed Bruce Springsteen with shouts of “Bruuuce!” as he inducted Jimmy Iovine, founder of Interscope records and the engineer on Springsteen’s Born To Run album.
Judas Priest showed they could still bang their grey heads as they lit up the room with hits including Breaking The Law and Living After Midnight.
“They defined the sound we call heavy metal,” Alice Cooper said, inducting the group.
Singer Rob Halford praised the heavy metal community for being “all inclusive”.
“Hello, I’m the gay guy in the group,” Halford, who broke ground when he came out in 1998, said to open his acceptance speech.
He closed it by declaring: “We live for heavy metal, we live for music, and we live for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”
When the nominees were announced in May, Parton “respectfully” declined, saying it did not seem suitable for her to take a spot as a country-to-the-core artist.
She was convinced otherwise, and ended up the headliner on Saturday night.
“I’m a rock star now!” she shouted as she accepted the honour.
“This is a very, very, very special night.”
Parton said she would have to retroactively earn her spot.
She disappeared and emerged moments later decked out in black leather with an electric guitar and broke into a song she wrote just for the occasion.
“I’ve been rockin’ rockin’ rockin’ rockin’ since the day I was born,” she sang, “and I’ll be rockin’ to the day I’m gone.”
She closed the night leading an all-star jam of her fellow inductees on her country classic Jolene.
Le Bon, Benatar and even Judas Priest singer Rob Halford took a verse.
“We got a star-studded stage up here,” Parton said.
“I feel like a hillbilly in the city.”