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Underdogs Rule at Wild Ceremony

From the Stooges to Abba, the class of ’10 is the most eclectic ever

Rolling Stone IN May 10, 2010

”˜Well, roll over, Woodstock,” said Iggy Pop, flashing a wicked smile as he stood onstage with the Stooges at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th annual induction ceremony ”“ which also honoured Genesis, the Hollies, Jimmy Cliff, David Geffen and some of the Fifties’ and Sixties’ greatest songwriters. For all of Pop’s cheeky punk boosterism, the Stooges’ performance was the most unabashed love-in that any induction dinner has seen: It concluded with a stage rush led by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament, plus the members of Green Day ”“ eager to show their gratitude toward a band that paved the way for their own music. “The Stooges are exactly what the Hall of Fame needs more of,” says Vedder, who danced onstage with abandon.

The evening’s standout performer was Jimmy Cliff, who won over the crowd from the moment he squeezed his eyes shut and hit the first velvety notes of ”˜You Can Get It If You Really Want,’ revealing a voice that is preserved to startling perfection. Bandleader Paul Shaffer had planned to lower the song’s key, assuming the singer couldn’t possibly match his youthful high notes ”“ but he did so easily. “He bowled us all over,” Shaffer says.

“We should put this night in perspective,” said the E Street Band’s Steven Van Zandt to a crowd including Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Meryl Streep, Michael Douglas, Robbie Robertson and all of Pearl Jam ”“ who bought a table to see the Stooges’ induction. “This is our best night – it makes us think about what we do, and this thing we do is beautiful.”

The Bee Gees saluted Abba; Phish paid loving tribute to Genesis, whom Trey Anastasio described in his induction speech as “quiet rebels”; performers from Rob Thomas to Peter Wolf hailed the Brill Building songwriters in a house-rocking finale. In a throwback to earlier years, the ceremony, at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria on March 15, relied heavily on Shaffer and his house band, who also backed the Hollies, Faith Hill with Abba’s Benny Andersson, and the closing tribute, where they recreated the ”˜River Deep, Mountain High’ arrangement with a 20-piece orchestra. “It’s like being bandleader in rock & roll heaven,” says Shaffer, who was honoured for his 25 years of Hall of Fame service.

“Each year, a theme emerges,” said Hall of Fame chairman (and Rolling Stone editor and publisher) Jann S Wenner. “The class of 2010 celebrates the diversity of influences and differences in style that make that river of rock & roll so deep and so wide.” More than usual, it was a night to celebrate some of rock’s underdogs, from prog and punk to Europop ”“ not to mention Cliff, who brought reggae to the US before Bob Marley. “I was out doing my thing long prior to Bob,” says Cliff, who helped popularise the genre with his soundtrack for 1972’s The Harder They Come. “Sometimes I have not quite gotten the recognition.”

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Phish kicked off the night with a worshipfully authentic version of Genesis’ 1972 epic ”˜Watcher of the Skies.’ Keyboardist Page McConnell took the song’s lengthy synth intro as a personal challenge, even buying a new keyboard to match Tony Banks’ sound. Anastasio’s speech was both impassioned and seriously geeked-out. “I spent hours and hours and hours sitting on the floor in 10th grade listening to Genesis,” he says backstage. “They opened a big door for us.”

The members of Genesis had barely heard Phish’s music (they were initially under the impression that they were being inducted by Fish from prog-rockers Marillion), but after watching the band cover their songs, a beaming Phil Collins gave each member of Phish a hug. “I was very moved,” says Collins. “I think we all were.”

The Hollies’ induction saw the return of Allan Clarke, whose sweet tenor was up front on most of their hits ”“ he had long been convinced that he had lost his voice, but he managed to sing backup at the show. “You gave me my life back,” Clarke told Graham Nash, who had pushed for the Hollies’ inclusion.

The key vocal team of Clarke and Nash had rehearsed performances of ”˜Bus Stop,’ ”˜Carrie Anne’ and ”˜Long Cool Woman,’ backed by Van Zandt and Shaffer’s band, with vocal help from members of Maroon 5 and Train’s Pat Monahan. Terry Sylvester, who joined the group after Nash left to form Crosby, Stills and Nash, wasn’t invited to the rehearsal, an exclusion he calls “totally rude.” So Sylvester crashed the performance, persuading Monahan to hand over the mike during ”˜Long Cool Woman’ ”“ until Clarke pulled it out of his hand and gave it back to Monahan. (“It was weird,” says Monahan.)

The Stooges’ induction was even more emotional ”“ especially since the band lost guitarist Ron Asheton in 2009. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong inducted the group, declaring it “about fucking time” and rattling off the names of dozens of punk bands it inspired. As Pop gave his own speech, he teared up. “The group had a terribly rough time the first time around, and I’ve buried that very well,” says Pop. “Suddenly when we, in effect, have triumphed over ourselves, I get emotional about it.”

Vedder calls the Stooges “the true embodiment of rock & roll.” “One can only hope that the voting committee starts boning up on their Black Flag, X, Sonic Youth and Fugazi to keep it going in the right direction,” he says. “Iggy’s speech was right on. Appreciative, but delivered with the back of his hand. If it hadn’t taken so many years, Ron Asheton would’ve been there.”

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Though Pop was confrontational with the crowd, offering a middle finger and then singing in the faces of impassive VIPs in the front row ”“ at one point, only Vedder and Springsteen seemed to be enjoying themselves ”“ the Stooges eventually got the audience on its feet. By the time Armstrong and Pop shared chants of “I wanna be your dog,” everyone was moving ”“ Jackson Browne even started pogo-ing.

Browne presented Geffen with the Ahmet Ertegun Award, saying, “What Geffen did for artists was out of love.” Geffen’s speech had the night’s best line: “My mother, who made ladies’ undergarments for a living, said, ”˜I advise people on what bras to wear, but nowhere does it say, ”˜Batya Geffen presents Sadie Birnbaum’s tits.’”

Wyclef Jean inducted Cliff, calling him “the godfather.” “When we saw Jimmy Cliff, we saw ourselves,” he said. “Coming from Haiti and the Caribbean, you have to see someone do it for you to be inspired to think you could do it. When I saw Jimmy Cliff, I could see my face.” In his own speech, Cliff ”“ who also sang an impassioned version of ”˜Many Rivers to Cross’ ”“ thanked rock and R&B stars from Ray Charles to Sam Cooke for their inspiration.

Inducting Abba, the Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb said, “Two hundred years from now, they’ll be singing their songs ”“ hopefully with ours.” Andersson then joined country star Hill for a dramatic take on ”˜The Winner Takes It All.’

The evening concluded with Carole King inducting a group of songwriters: Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry; Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; Jesse Stone; Mort Shuman and Otis Blackwell. Backstage, Andersson credited Barry and Greenwich’s ”˜Da Doo Ron Ron’ with inspiring Abba’s breakthrough hit: “The ”˜Waterloo’ piano part is exactly the same style.”

Thomas sang Shuman and Doc Pomus’ ”˜Save the Last Dance for Me,’ in an arrangement that was personally tweaked by Wenner, while Eric Burdon belted Mann and Weil’s ”˜We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place,’ a hit for him with the Animals in 1965. Finally, all of the performers, including Wolf and newcomer Fefe Dobson, joined forces for Stone’s ”˜Shake, Rattle and Roll,’ with Wolf nearly stealing the tune with his offhand charisma. “I want to be Peter Wolf,” says Thomas.

At an afterparty at the Waldorf’s Bull and Bear bar, musicians continued to make some unexpected connections. Armstrong spotted Nash and pulled him into a long embrace. “Thank you,” said Armstrong, “for songs that will last an eternity.”

Additional reporting by David Fricke, Andy Greene and Austin Scaggs