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Summing up the evening’s prevailing theme, Paul Simon complained that Neil Diamond had been eligible for two decades. “What took so long?” he asked.
PLAYING CATCH-UP, R&R HALL OF FAME HONORS OLD-TIMERS
Reversing Recent Trend, the Hall Reaches Deep Into the Past for This Year's Inductees
Beginning its second quarter century (my, how time flies), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame welcomed Dr. John, Darlene Love, Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper and his band and Tom Waits, Monday night at the Waldorf Astoria in Midtown Manhattan. Also joining the party were Specialty Records founder Art Rupe and Elektra’s Jac Holzman.

The speechifyin’ got started before the ceremony itself. Said Elton John of Leon Russell—who got in through the back door as a sideman—in the press room, "Tonight is the culmination of an effort on my behalf to try to get this man recognized for his incredible achievements. To see him here tonight is very emotional to me. There is no finer musician out there. Tonight, I'm so proud of him."

The inductions began with the honoring of Dr. John, who was described as "a living link to the New Orleans of Dixieland" by John Legend.

Introducing Darlene Love, Bette Midler said, “No voice drove me crazier than Darlene Love’s. From the moment I experienced the powerhouse that was Darlene, I was a goner…. She changed my view of the world. She picked us up by the scruff of our neck and shook the starch out of us. She has been robbed of royalties, but never of self-respect, and yet she lives without a trace of bitterness."

Love graciously thanked Phil Spector “for his recognition of my talent to be the main voice of his Wall of Sound.” Later, in the press room, a beaming Love said, "I never say it was about time, I say 'it was in God's time.’ Everything is just unbelievable tonight!"

Neil Diamond took the podium after a 25-hour flight from Australia. "Where the hell am I?" he quipped. "What are we doing here?" Later in his speech, Diamond got serious, acknowledging that "Being accepted by your peers and by people that you idolize is very special. So I'm very happy to be part of this shindig tonight. I wouldn't miss this for the world." He repeatedly raved about presenter Paul Simon's upcoming album before admitting, "I can’t remember the title. It's a tough album title, Paul." For the record, the title is So Beautiful or So What. Diamond then asked Simon for $100 for the endorsement before noting, "I'm flying back tomorrow to Sydney fucking Australia. Because they love me there, and I'm gonna keep coming back until they stop loving me."

Summing up the evening’s prevailing theme, Simon complained that Diamond had been eligible for the Hall for two decades. “What took so long?” he asked.

The second half began with a performance by Alice Cooper in full ghoul get-up. "I hope I never outgrow a Pete Townshend windmill chord," he said, a boa constrictor around his neck. "I hope I never outgrow a Jeff Beck lead guitar. I wish I could tell you that being in the Hall now, we'll never embarrass you, but I really can't make that promise. After all, we are Alice Cooper. It's what we do." Cooper was joined in his performance of “School’s Out” by inductor Rob Zombie and a choir of kids—all of them made up as well.

Tom Waits compared his induction to receiving the key to the city of El Paso: "They told me there was only one, but I found out there were a whole bunch of then, and they didn't open anything. So I hope there are some fringe benefits to this baby." Assessing his career in music biz terms, Waits said,“They say that I have no hits and I’m difficult to work with, and they say that like it’s a bad thing.” He later explained that “Songs are really just interesting things to be doing with the air.”

Leon Russell gave the evening's shortest and most heartfelt acceptance speech, saying, "About a year ago, Elton came and found me in a ditch at the side of a highway of life and took me up to the high stages with big audiences, and treated me like a king.”

The evening culminated with the traditional all-star collaborations. Young joined Waits and his band for "Get Behind the Mule." Legend traded verses and piano solos with Dr. John in "Such a Night." John Mayer played bluesy guitar with Russell, and Bruce Springsteen played a guitar solo alongside Love in the Spector-ized arrangement of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"; Midler then joined Love for "He's a Rebel." Dr. John, Russell and Elton all backed Lloyd Price in "Stagger Lee." For the finale, Love, Midler, Elton, Alice and Diamond joined forces on "Da Doo Ron Ron," with Russell on piano, just as he’d done at the original 1963 session.

The ceremony will be telecast Sunday at 9 p.m. on Fuse.

More coverage from Jon Pareles in the N.Y. Times and Randy Lewis in the L.A. Times.

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