Lionel Richie soared. roared Pat Benatar. Duran Duran stumbled but remained sophisticated. Eminem was Eminem.
The four artists found very different ways to celebrate Saturday night, but now all can say they’re members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame forever. The same goes for Carly Simon, Eurythmics, Harry Belafonte, Judas Priest and Dolly Parton, who gave the honor an enthusiastic embrace after temporarily turning it down.
The first act inducted into the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles after a memorable speech by a shaved-headed Robert Downey Jr., Duran Duran took the stage and launched into their breakthrough 1981 hit “Girls on Film.”
The screaming crowd was there for that, but not the music. The band was virtually inaudible except for singer Simon Le Bon, whose voice was mostly acapella.
It was a fun but inauspicious start to a rather slick and often triumphant spectacle.
“The Wonderful Spontaneous World of Rock ‘n’ Roll!” shouted Le Bon, 64, as the band pulled over for a revamp.
They returned at full volume, playing a set that included “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Ordinary World,” quickly returning to what Downey called their essential quality: “CSF – fun, cool and sophisticated.”
Lionel Richie brought both cold and heat to the room hours later, opening his set with a spare rendition of his ballad “Hello” that seemed to almost make him crumble under the weight of the moment.
“His songs are the soundtrack to my life, your life, everyone’s life,” Lenny Kravitz said during Richie’s induction.
After “Hello,” Richie kicked off his 1977 hit with the Commodores, “Easy.” The mood turned from mellow to triumphant when Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl made a surprise appearance to play a guitar solo and swap vocals with Richie. This led to a unique, celebratory rendition of 1983’s “All Night Long” that elicited the biggest reaction of the night.
In his acceptance speech, Richie lashed out at those who throughout his career have accused him of straying too far from his black roots.
“Rock & roll is not a color,” he said. “It’s a feeling. It’s a vibe. And if we let that vibe through, this room will grow and grow and grow.”
Eurythmics then took to the stage with a moving, danceable rendition of 1986’s “Missionary Man.”
“Well, I was born original sin, I was born original sin,” singer Annie Lennox said, leading the audience to cheer and stand four hours into the show. It was followed by a catchy rendition of their best-known hit, “Sweet Dreams.”
Moments later, his musical partner, Dave Stewart, called Lennox “one of the greatest performers, singers and songwriters of all time.”
“Thank you, Dave, for this great adventure,” Lennox said in tears.
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 night that was otherwise lacking outside of the heavy metal style of Judas Priest.
He also took the guest star game to another level. After briefly opening with 1999’s “My Name Is,” he tapped 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 tapped Ed Sheeran to sing his part in the 2017 Eminem jam “River” as the rain poured down on stage.
“I’m probably not supposed to be here tonight for a couple of reasons,” Eminem said, wearing a black hoodie, as he accepted the honor. “One I know is I’m a rapper and that’s the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”
He is only the 10th hip-hop artist among more than 300 Hall of Fame members.
He was inducted by his producer and mentor, Dr. Dre, whom he credits with saving his life.
But the hitmakers of the 1980s defined the night.
“Pat always reached to the deepest part of herself and came out roaring from the speakers,” Sheryl Crowe said in her Benatar induction speech.
Benatar, inducted with her longtime musical partner and husband Neil Giraldo, took the stage with him and showed off that power moments later.
“We are young!” sang the 69-year-old, her long gray hair flowing as she glided through a version of 1983’s “Love is a Battlefield.”
Among the inductees absent from the ceremony were Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor, who has battled advanced prostate cancer for four years, Belafonte and Simon, 95, who lost their sisters Joanna Simon and Lucy Simon, both also singers, to cancer on consecutive days.
Carly Simon was nominated for the first time this year more than 25 years after becoming eligible. Olivia Rodrigo, Simon’s 60-year-old junior and by far the youngest performer of the night, then took to the stage to sing Simon’s signature song, “You’re So Vain.”
Janet Jackson appeared in a black suit with a huge pile of hair on her head, redoing the cover of her breakthrough album ‘Control’, as she inducted the two men who made this and many more records with her, writer-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
When the nominees were announced in May, Parton “respectfully” declined, saying it didn’t seem appropriate for her to take a spot as a country to the core artist. She was convinced otherwise and found herself headlining Saturday night.
“I’m a rock star now!” she cried, accepting the honor. “It’s a very, very, very special night.”
Parton said she would have to earn her spot retroactively.
She disappeared and emerged moments later dressed in black leather with an electric guitar and burst 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’ ’til the day I’m gone.”
She closed the night by leading an all-star jam of her fellow inductees to her country classic “Jolene.” Le Bon, Benatar and even Judas Priest singer Rob Halford took a verse.
“We have a star-studded scene here,” Parton said. “I feel like a hillbilly in the city.”
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