NEW YORK – Throughout his career, the prodigious Prince (search) has defied categorization. The androgynous rocker with a soulful bent blurred musical genres, racial boundaries and sexual attitudes with songs that broke barriers on an artistic and social scale.
Twenty-five years later, though, the musical maverick has finally been categorized — as a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (search).
The Purple One was inducted into the hall on Monday night along with Bob Seger (search), ZZ Top, Jackson Browne, The Dells and George Harrison (search), who became the third ex-Beatle inducted for his solo work.
However, of all the rock royalty on hand, it was clearly Prince's night. He opened the ceremony with a trio of his 1980s hits that caught the breadth of his work: the rock anthem "Let's Go Crazy," the topical "Sign O' the Times" and funk groove of "Kiss."
Later, he came out to upstage Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Harrison's son, Dhani, on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with a dazzling performance on guitar.
The 45-year-old singer, whose first album was released in 1978, became a superstar in the '80s with hits like "Little Red Corvette" and his groundbreaking movie and album "Purple Rain." But his star faltered in the early '90s after a bitter dispute with his label Warner Bros. He changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and wrote the word "slave" on his check during the bitter dispute, which ended when he left the label in 1996 and he started releasing his music independently.
But on Monday, he thanked Warner Bros. for not only giving him his start, but the freedom to do whatever he wanted.
"I embarked on a journey more fascinating than I could ever imagine," he said after R&B songstress Alicia Keys and rap funksters OutKast inducted him into the hall.
"But a word to the wise to the young artists — without spiritual guidance too much freedom can lead to spiritual decline," he said.
Another singer-songwriter inducted, Browne, co-wrote "Take it Easy" for the Eagles, then was successful on his own with "Doctor My Eyes," "The Pretender" and "Running on Empty," chronicling the turn of the 1960s utopian dream into the cynical '70s.
The "No Nukes" concert organizer has mixed the political with the personal throughout his career.
"I want to thank you for allowing me to put my personal politics in my songs," he said. "Music is a very empowering thing. I'm thankful for having had a lifetime doing it. Thank you for this job."
Bruce Springsteen inducted Browne, noting with some jealousy that while he and his E Street Band usually drew an audience filled with men — and not particularly good-looking men — Browne was a magnet for women. Springsteen called Browne a "bona fide rock 'n' roll sex star."
"Jackson was drawing more women than an Indigo Girls show," Springsteen said.
Backstage, Browne said while the induction was an honor, "to be perfectly honest, I've never really dwelled too much on this."
"I think it's a wonderful thing," he said, "but it hasn't been the motivating factor in my life."
Seger, who still lives in the Detroit area where he hails from, burst from regional to national fame with the hits "Night Moves," "Old Time Rock & Roll" and "Like a Rock," the latter a longtime Chevy commercial theme.
Fellow Michigan singer Kid Rock inducted Seger, calling him one of music's most overlooked performers.
"Bob Seger's music not only influenced me, it taught me to be proud of where I come from. I still am," he said.
Seger brought up his Silver Bullet Band for their first public performance in nine years. They sang "Turn the Page" and the wedding staple, "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll," made even more famous when Tom Cruise danced around in his underwear lip-synching the tune in the movie "Risky Business."
Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, two fellow members of the Traveling Wilburys, were on hand to salute Harrison. The guitarist joins John Lennon and Paul McCartney as Beatles also honored for their solo work.
Harrison's biggest hit, "My Sweet Lord," came in a burst of pent-up creativity following the Beatles' breakup. He recorded infrequently in the decade before his November 2001 cancer death, but a well-received posthumous disc came out in 2002.
"He often said he wasn't pursuing a solo career," Petty said. "He never hired a manager or an agent. He just loved playing music with his friends."
Hirsute blues-rockers ZZ Top were an early MTV staple with the boogie hits, "Legs" and "Sharp-Dressed Man," helped by the presence of little-dressed women in their videos.
Traffic were inducted by Dave Matthews. The band featured teen prodigy organist Steve Winwood, who later went on to solo success. The pastoral, jazzy Traffic had hits with "Glad" and "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys."
Although former Traffic member Dave Mason was inducted, he didn't perform with the band. However, he later joined his former bandmates during the evening's all-star jam, which also featured Keith Richards, The Dells, Kid Rock, ZZ Top and others.
The Dells, a vocal harmony quintet that hit with "Oh What a Night" in 1955, were the inspiration for the film "The Five Heartbeats." With only one personnel change, a group formed in high school is still performing together more than 50 years later.
Dells member Chuck Barksdale joked a bit about the group's long wait to get into the hall.
"We want to thank all the guys who voted for us, and to all the rest of y'all," he gestured with his fist.
Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner also received a lifetime achievement award.
Highlights of the awards ceremony will be shown on VH1 on Sunday.