Published March 13, 2007
NEW YORKNEW YORK – Two of the biggest rock bands of the 1980s took different paths to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Monday — indie favorites R.E.M. with a happy reunion and party band Van Halen with a fragmentary turnout.
Otherwise, the hall took on a New York flavor with the girl group sound of Spanish Harlem's the Ronettes, downtown poet Patti Smith and South Bronx's Grandmaster Flash, the first hip-hop act so honored.
The rock hall's 22nd annual induction ceremony was the first beamed live to the world, through VH1 Classic and aol.com.
Out of Athens, Ga., R.E.M. largely invented the college radio scene in the 1980s with songs like "Radio Free Europe," then became mainstream stars behind hits "Losing My Religion" and "Everybody Hurts."
"R.E.M.'s music is truly all-encompassing," said Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, who inducted them. "They used every color on the pallette, they invented colors on their own and they put up this huge mural of music and sound and emotion."
Vedder said singer Michael Stipe's voice touched his heart even though, in the early years, he couldn't understand a word he was singing.
R.E.M performed again Monday with its original quartet, welcoming back drummer Bill Berry, who had left the band in 1997 after suffering an aneurysm onstage two years earlier. They tackled a couple of songs from R.E.M.'s early years: "Begin the Begin" and "Gardening at Night."
Stipe said his late grandmother once grabbed him by the arm and said what R.E.M. means to her is "remember every moment. And this is a moment I shall never forget."
Only Van Halen's second lead singer, Sammy Hagar, and ex-bass player Michael Anthony turned up for their induction. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen has just gone into rehab and original lead singer David Lee Roth stayed away in a tiff over what he would perform.
Hagar said he wished his bandmates could be there, but "it's out of our control."
"It's hard for Mike and I to be up here to do this, but you couldn't have kept me away from this with a shotgun," Hagar said.
It took less to keep Roth away. He stood up the hall, reportedly because he couldn't agree on what to sing with the band Velvet Revolver, which offered a tribute. Joel Peresman, president and CEO of the Hall of Fame, said Roth was offered a chance to sing a song of his choice with the house band. "The decision not to come was solely his, not ours."
Hagar and Anthony joined Velvet Revolver to sing "Why Can't This Be Love."
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five represented the first of what may someday be many hip-hop artists. Flash's turntable scratching techniques and the memorable refrain of "The Message" — "don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge" — were recalled.
Hunched over a podium, present-day rapper Jay-Z read his induction speech off a PDA.
"Thirty years later rappers have become rock stars, movie stars, leaders, educators, philanthropists, even CEOs," he said. "None of this would have been possible without the work of these men."
Flash said he thought there was a time his induction wouldn't be possible because they were a hip-hop act. But he said there are plenty of rock influences in what he did.
Shy and fighting back tears as she accepted induction, Smith recalled friends and family who didn't live to see the day. Shortly before he died, Smith's husband Fred "Sonic" Smith asked her when she did make the hall of fame to "please accept it like a lady and not to say any curse words."
The bohemian poet straddled the hippie and punk eras, with her album "Horses" setting a standard for literate rock. She performed her biggest hit, "Because the Night," co-written with Bruce Springsteen, and the Rolling Stones' classic "Gimme Shelter."
Smith's mother also didn't live to see her daughter make the hall of fame, but passed on some instructions.
"I'm not going to make it," she recalled her mother saying. "When you do, sing your mother's favorite song, the one I like to vaccuum to."
Saying "this is for you, mom," Smith performed her 1977 song "Rock 'n' Roll N——-."
With jewelry dangling from his hair, a mustachioed Keith Richards inducted the Ronettes, the New York City girl group who sang 1960s era pop symphonies like "Be My Baby" and "Baby I Love You." He recalled hearing them the first time on a tour together in England.
"They could sing all their way right through a wall of sound," Richards said. "They didn't need anything. They touched my heart right there and then and they touch it still."
Lead singer Ronnie Spector thanked a list of people from Cher to Springsteen to her publicist — but made no mention of ex-husband Phil Spector, the producer whose gigantic "wall of sound" is synonymous with the act. Phil Spector's trial for the murder of an actress at his suburban Los Angeles mansion is due to start next week.
After the Ronettes sang a trio of their hits, bandleader Paul Shaffer came to the microphone to read a note from Phil Spector, who said "I wish them all the happiness and good fortune the world has to offer."
The hall's annual show-ending jam featured versions of Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and Smith's anthem, "People Have the Power."
Hall officials paid tribute to one of the institution's founders, record executive Ahmet Ertegun, who died in December. One of his top artists at Atlantic, Aretha Franklin, sang the first million-seller she made with Ertegun, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)."