There’s a perpetual schism at work with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony: It is an overlong, nigh-unbearable live event (often lasting well over five hours), but once in the hands of HBO’s crack team of editors, it becomes a pretty lively three-hour television spectacle.
Based on the relative inertness of this year’s special, the live show must have been absolutely torturous. Maybe it was this year’s crop of inductees (Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the “5” Royales, Bill Withers, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Ringo Starr, Lou Reed), or maybe it’s just the nature of this show, but there wasn’t enough entertainment to justify three hours of your time. Still, even Waterworld has a few cool scenes, so here are the 10 highlights from this year’s show.
Joan Jett Sings “Bad Reputation”
The show certainly started on the right note, with long-overdue inductee Joan Jett taking the stage to blow through “Bad Reputation,” one of her signature singles. Ever more than three decades later, Jett still manages to capture the adolescent aggression that fuels that song, and it still sounds as bracing as it did then. It’s almost a shame Jett had to cede the microphone to Tommy James (who wrote the original version of her hit “Crimson & Clover”), Dave Grohl, and Miley Cyrus. They’re all great, but Jett’s voice remains so singular and powerful that she could have easily held the stage by herself for three songs.
Fast-Forwarding Past Jann Wenner’s Introductory Speech
The beauty of watching this special on HBO Go is you can skip right over the Rolling Stone publisher and Hall of Fame chairman’s leaden welcoming remarks. One of the great joys of my life was attending the 2014 induction ceremony in Brooklyn, where Wenner was lustily booed on his introduction (those boos were, of course, edited out of the broadcast). Any problems you have with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can be traced back to Wenner, so go ahead and boo from your couch.
Bill Withers’ Laid Back Speech
The acceptance speeches at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tend to be really hit and miss—without the benefit of musical accompaniment, a lot of the recipients tend to ramble and have trouble stringing together eloquent thoughts. But Bill Withers came armed with bits, and his breezy approach delivered a charming and funny few minutes. Of his inductor, he said, “Stevie Wonder inducting me into the Hall of Fame is like a lion opening a door for a kitty cat.” Of the crowd, he noted, “This has got to be the largest AA meeting in the western hemisphere.” He also riffed on meeting Beck and made a reasonable case for Miles Davis and Jerry Lee Lewis being included in the same Hall. Withers, who retired from the life 30 years ago, ceded musical duties to Wonder and John Legend, but his performance behind the microphone was divine anyway.
Paul Shaffer Just Kind of Haunting the Place
The longtime David Letterman band leader was also guiding the house group, and his odd little head would pop up every once in a while. Schaffer is a delightful little sprite, and it was fun to play “Spot the Shaffer” during the less interesting performances.
Fall Out Boy’s Induction Speech For Green Day
Both Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz shared fawning words for Green Day, a band that clearly served as an influence and also was a clear object of affection during their wasted youth in the Chicago suburbs. In a very poetic turn of phrase, Stump compared the way Billie Joe Armstrong held his guitar to a Michael Jordan dunk, and Wentz defended Green Day’s punk rock bona fides. “Let some Reddit feed argue the definition of punk rock,” he said. All told, it was a genuine tribute from a band to a group without whom they would not exist.
Paul McCartney Shouting “Oi!” During “American Idiot”
Green Day’s three songs were all pretty great (“When I Come Around” remains one of the five best songs written in the entirety of the ’90s), but there was a particularly charming moment during “American Idiot” when Armstrong encouraged the crowd to shout “Oi!,” a classic punk rock exclamation. They cut to the crowd, and while not a whole lot of people were actually participating, Paul McCartney was not only doing it, but he was also encouraging other people to do it, proving Paul McCartney should be invited to every party.
John Mayer’s Blues Face
Stevie Ray Vaughan is no longer with us, so following a middling induction speech by John Mayer, Double Trouble took the stage with a cavalcade of SRV replacements, including his brother Jimmie as well as Gary Clark, Jr. and Mayer himself. It was a relatively listless blues wank-a-thon, but Mayer was flashing some incredible solo face, as though he had just bit into a lemon while being stung by a wasp and trying to cut a fart really quietly. If you must, hit the mute button and get hypnotized by his twisted visage.
Laurie Anderson’s Three Rules
Nobody knew Lou Reed better than Laurie Anderson, who spent 21 years at Reed’s side. So her induction speed for him was particularly heartwarming. She marveled at Reed’s dancing ability, and his skill with mechanical things (according to Anderson, he used to take apart watches and put them back together). She praised him for his lack of cynicism and talked very frankly about how profoundly she was moved when he passed away (literally in her arms, as it turned out). But the highlight of the speech was the revelation of the couple’s three rules of living: One, don’t be afraid of anyone; two, get a really good bulls–t detector; and three, be really tender. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful way to go through life?
Beck Performs “Satellite of Love”
Karen O and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs began the performance portion of Reed’s induction with a run through “Vicious,” which was simultaneously snarling and playful (not unlike Reed himself). But Beck really kicked it up a notch with “Satellite of Love.” Joined by Nate Ruess on high harmony vocals, Beck paid tribute to one of Reed’s most uplifting tunes but also made it his own—with it’ strummy stomping and hints of swirling psychedelia, it would not have been out of place on the Album of the Year-winning Morning Phase.
The Ridiculous Ringo Video
Let’s make one thing clear: Ringo Starr is only in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist because the other three Beatles are already there as solo artists. His induction is a participation prize, and even the producers of the show didn’t seem entirely convinced by the appropriateness of his inclusion. The video introduction for Starr included testimonials from a bunch of famous drummers (including Grohl, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, Stewart Copeland, and Max Weinberg) all making cases for Starr’s excellence. They all came up with really complicated reasons why Starr deserved this honor, as if to say, “No really you guys, he’s really good!” Starr did not do much to make his case: Though his speech was reasonable enough, his series of show-closing performances were downright embarrassing, no matter how many other people he invited onstage.