This year's induction class includes Nine Inch Nails, the Doobie Brothers, Depeche Mode, Whitney Houston, T. Rex, and the Notorious B.I.G.

By Sarah Rodman and Alex Suskind
November 07, 2020 at 10:00 AM EST
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Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Like so many other events this year, the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was upended by the pandemic. First, the live ceremony was hopefully postponed from May to November, and then, realistically, pre-recorded for broadcast sans performances — meaning no night-ending, all-star jam. We may (justifiably) criticize the Rock Hall for some of its choices (or omissions: Justice for Pat Benatar!) and cringe sometimes at epic speeches or pairings gone wrong or just how far from their peak any artist may have fallen. But we still always look forward to the show. So we were shocked to see just how well the producers of this year's telecast did in pulling off such an entertaining ceremony and highly recommend you watch tonight at 8 p.m. ET on HBO. It helps that this year's class — Nine Inch Nails, the Doobie Brothers, Depeche Mode, Whitney Houston, T. Rex, the Notorious B.I.G., and non-performers Irving Azoff and Jon Landau — is such a disparate-yet-solid group in terms of commercial success, creative quality, and far-reaching influence. Herewith, some highlights: 

Billy Gibbons hearts Depeche Mode

One of the only silver linings of the pandemic version of the induction ceremony is the deeper diving done by the mini-docs on each artist and the ways in which the producers reached out to refreshing voices. Whether it's Nancy Wilson from Heart opining on the Doobies or Saul Williams singing the praises of NIN, it's a great change of pace. But the high-water mark is reached and surpassed when the bearded Texan sage of ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons, goes in on why Brit synth rockers Depeche Mode matter so much: "Martin Gore is a gifted writer, a gifted composer, he said let's not make always a happy song, let's talk realistically about the human condition... They've done a wonderful job seeing things that we may not have seen before and listening to things that we had yet to hear." —Sarah Rodman

Guitar gods say farewell to one of their own

Moving quickly, the producers were able to gather six-string slayers Slash, Kirk Hammett, and Tom Morello to pay tribute to monster musician Eddie Van Halen, who passed away last month. Alongside great footage of Van Halen shredding onstage — always with that glorious, look-ma-no-hands! grin — the trio explain just how monumental his gift to the form was. —SR

(Clockwise from bottom left) Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, John Hartman, Patrick Simmons, Keith Knudsen, Tiran Porter, and Michael McDonald (center) of the the Doobie Brothers
| Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Nancy Wilson and Brad Paisley like to hear some funky Dixieland

Few songs in the Doobie Brothers' discography loom as large as "Black Water" — at least not for Nancy Wilson. "You know, every guitarist in the world has to know..." begins the Heart guitarist before playing the Pat Simmons' famed acoustic riff. "That’s what America feels like, that song. It just brought so many elements together that people could relate to." Country superstar Brad Paisley follows Wilson's thoughts up with his own mini-performance. “I mean, how many people have written chord changes that are iconic?" asks Paisley. "Pat Simmons’ acoustic on that is phenomenal." It was enough to get the band their first No. 1 hit on the Hot 100. —Alex Suskind

The wit and wisdom of Joe Walsh

-Eagles rocker Joe Walsh during the segment on uber-producer-mogul Irving Azoff. —SR 

Room Rater field day

We may all be over getting a peek into celeb homes but unsurprisingly the folks who get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have fun houses. During Depeche Mode's infectiously giddy acceptance speech — the best of the show — Martin Gore is ensconced in a sunny studio, Andy Fletcher is in an airy, spacious living room full of comforting neutral tones, and Dave Gahan addresses the camera from what really looks like your grandma's downstairs half-bath. And the pastoral/goth burgundy wallpaper is fantastic. (This speech also boasts love for both the Eagles and Anton Corbijn. Which, range.) —SR

St. Vincent's "Head Like a Hole" love

A wide range of guests (Rick Rubin, David Fincher) come through to honor NIN mastermind Trent Reznor, but the best descriptions come courtesy of singer-guitarist Annie Clark, otherwise known as St. Vincent, who delves deep into the band’s beginnings. “Nine Inch Nails came out of the industrial scene of the ‘80s and made heavy, corrosive, industrial goth music massively popular, and made it something that suburban kids were wearing t-shirts of,” she says. One of her favorite NIN songs? That would be 1990's "Head Like a Hole." “‘Head Like a Hole’” has two f---ing choruses. If you’re trying to think of that song, it’s like, ‘What’s the song that’s like Bow down before the… Oh wait no. It’s, Head like a hole.’ Both of those are great choruses, and they’re in the same song!” she says, before being rendered speechless and waving her hands around incredulously. —AS

Iggy Pop's poetic homage to Trent Reznor

We know that Iggy Pop ain't no stooge when it comes to public speaking but the sinewiest man in rock & roll outdoes himself in his induction speech homage to the leader of Nine Inch Nails, calling him: "a face straight out of 15th century Spain. I think Trent could've played Zorro. If he'd been alive at the right time I think he could've been painted by Velazquez or El Greco and his portrait would probably be hanging in the Prado." It just gets better from there. And if you're wondering if Iggy was shirtless while giving said speech, we'll give you one guess. —SR

The Notorious B.I.G. will become the seventh hip-hop artist to enter the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
| Credit: Clarence Davis/Getty Images

Biggie Smalls is still the illest

It was more than just a dream. Biggie's Rock Hall arrival including stories from his mother, Voletta Wallace, friends and fellow rappers Jay-Z and Nas, and a heartfelt acceptance speech from his two children, T'yanna and CJ Wallace. "When my dad passed away I was only three years old," said T'yanna. "Even though I didn’t get to know him as well as I wanted, through his fans and my family, I was able to see with my own eyes that his music transcended the hip-hop industry. He was able to not just become the king of New York but the king of the culture." Added CJ, "helped revolutionize what was a young art form for the Black community and for the world. I’m honored to share his name and his dedication to Black music, creativity, self-expression, and Black freedom." —AS

Rock & roll drum-off fan fiction

No, Rush's Neil Peart and Cream's Ginger Baker never participated in an epic drum-off in real life. But during the show's In Memoriam portion, the Rock Hall tries to imagine what it might have looked like, with a fun 60-second solo back-and-forth between the late rockers. —AS

All the glitters is glam rock

The cheetah-print one-piece suits and turquoise button-downs; the self-assurance and that fuzzy, gnarly, distorted guitar tone. T. Rex singer Marc Bolan was one of the most distinct frontmen of his generation, and the ceremony's archival footage (alongside bandmates and fellow inductees Steve Currie, Mickey Finn, and Bill Legend) is some of the evening's best, showcasing the late rocker at his most flamboyant, self-confident self. —AS

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2020 Inductions air tonight at 8 p.m. ET

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