The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s annual induction ceremony is the only place you’d find Bruce Springsteen as just one member of a 21-piece backup band.
The rock hall’s latest class brought together Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Darlene Love, Dr. John and Leon Russell, and after all the speeches were done the musicians kept playing until the wee hours.
Springsteen brought his guitar to back Love, who created a modern-day “Wall of Sound” and dueted with Bette Midler on “He’s a Rebel” after her induction Monday night. Guitarist John Mayer supported Russell in his ballad “A Song for You.” Diamond had the crowd in the glittery ballroom of The Waldorf-Astoria hotel dancing to the 1960s-era “Cherry Cherry.”
Diamond had seemed a bit loopy in his acceptance speech, after traveling 25 hours from Australia for the ceremony and looking ahead to another trip Down Under to resume a concert tour. He criticized Paul Simon, who inducted him, for giving Simon’s upcoming album a difficult-to-remember title (“So Beautiful or So What”), then tried to recover by saying “I dare anybody in this room to make a better album.”
Diamond got a cheer from the New York crowd for recognizing his city roots while performing “I Am I Said.”
Simon noted that Diamond, who was born in Brooklyn, had first been eligible for the rock hall in 1991 and wondered, “What took so long?”
His theory: Diamond’s duet with Barbra Streisand, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”
“It’s Barbra Streisand,” he said. “It’s not rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t even think they let that DNA near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Alice Cooper is the stage name for singer Vincent Furnier and his band, known for 1970s-era hard rock songs “Eighteen,” ”No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “School’s Out.” Their concerts were steeped in horror movie theatrics, and Cooper wrapped a snake around his neck during his speech accepting induction. He performed a trio of the band’s hits in a shirt spattered with fake blood.
“We’ve always been a hard-rock band,” Cooper said. “We just wanted to decorate it a little differently.”
Cooper said he’d like to promise the rock hall that his band wouldn’t embarrass it.
“But I can’t make that promise,” he said. “After all, we are Alice Cooper.”
He was inducted by singer Rob Zombie, who recalled how he painted a portrait of Cooper dripping in blood when he was in fourth grade and was asked to make a picture of someone he admired — drawing attention from school authorities.
Songwriter Waits is well-versed in blues, poetry and ballads, with songs rough and romantic. Several of his Hall of Fame predecessors have recorded his work, including Springsteen (“Jersey Girl”), the Ramones (“I Don’t Want to Grow Up”), Rod Stewart (“Downtown Train”) and Johnny Cash (“Down There By the Train”). Neil Young said Waits is indescribable and “I’m here to describe him.” The two later performed together; taped highlights of the rock hall ceremony will be shown on Fuse on March 20.
Waits noted that his rock hall trophy was heavy and wondered if he could have a keychain version “that I can keep with me in case I hear somebody say, ‘Pete, take the cuffs off him. He’s a Hall of Famer.’ ”
“They say that I have no hits and that I’m difficult to work with,” he said, “and they say that like it’s a bad thing.”
Russell composed “A Song for You” and “Delta Lady,” but he said he was in “a ditch beside the highway of life” when Elton John called a year ago and suggested they record an album together. The result was nominated for a Grammy.
“After that album,” John said, “Leon came alive, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Russell, with a shock of long white hair and beard, walked haltingly onstage with the help of a cane and met John for a warm embrace.
Love, whose voice cut through Phil Spector’s heavy production, called her induction into the hall her best 70th birthday present. She praised Spector’s work but also tweaked him: “Phil Spector said God made two musical geniuses: Beethoven and Phil Spector,” she recalled.
Love lent her powerful voice to several of Spector’s hits, in acts such as the Crystals and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. Her “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is a holiday standard: She sang on U2′s cover and performs it every December on David Letterman’s show.
She was inducted with a comic ramble by Midler, who said she was a goner when she first heard Love’s voice on a transistor radio.
“Listening to her songs, you had to dance, you had to move, you had to keep looking for that rebel boy,” Midler said. “Suddenly nobody wanted the buttoned-down guy who was a good provider.”
New Orleans piano maestro Dr. John, born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack Jr., was inducted by singer John Legend, who recalled meeting him at a benefit for Hurricane Katrina relief. Legend said the new Hall of Fame member has been a leading global ambassador for New Orleans and its special musical gumbo.
“He has never stopped flying the flag of funk,” Legend said. “Tonight, he is definitely in the right place at the right time.”
That was a reference to one of Dr. John’s best-known songs, “Right Place, Wrong Time,” with Allen Toussaint and the Meters, which he performed as the ceremony slipped past midnight.
Dr. John wore a bright purple suit for his big night and was asked backstage where he had bought his shoes.
“The pimp store,” he replied.
Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman and Specialty Records founder Art Rupe also were inducted, in the non-performer category.
The inductees’ work will be celebrated in perpetuity at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.