NEW YORK — Hard rock, new wave and blue-eyed soul each has its moment at the 18th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, but this year's ceremony belongs to punk rock.
The addition of punk icons the Clash to the Rock Hall provides the only emotional resonance in an otherwise stilted ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria that also features the Police, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, AC/DC and the Righteous Brothers. The ceremony took place Monday; VH1 taped the event for broadcast Sunday at 9 p.m.
Making the Clash's induction all the more poignant is the fact that Joe Strummer, the lead singer and guitarist, died unexpectedly in December of a heart attack at age 50.
Former band mates, fellow inductees and awed disciples praise Strummer, who "had just so much integrity and inspired us all and was really the real thing," as Clash guitarist Mick Jones says during the band's induction.
As the fiery flip side to the nihilism of punk contemporaries the Sex Pistols, the Clash passionately embraced social and political causes and released two landmark albums — a self-titled 1977 release and the seminal London Calling album in 1979. The band's later albums, Sandinista! and Combat Rock, showed the musicians' musical growth from the raw fury of punk to melodic reggae and rockabilly.
"In their heyday, they were known as the only band that matters, and 25 years later, that still seems about right to me," says Tom Morello, the guitarist for Audioslave, as he introduces a video montage of the Clash.
U2 guitarist the Edge is equally effusive about the band, which also included bassist Paul Simonon, drummer Terry Chimes and drummer Topper Headon.
"They are, next to the Stones, the greatest rock 'n' roll band of all time," he says in a speech presenting the band.
The Edge later credits the band with helping to inspire U2's biggest early hit: "There is no doubt in my mind that 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' wouldn't — and couldn't — have been written if not for the Clash."
Costello also praises Strummer during his induction speech, and Costello is one of a group of stars who paid tribute to the Clash last month at the Grammys, performing the song "London Calling."
Costello's three-song performance marks the ceremony's other highlight. He plays a seething version of "Pump It Up" before Elton John comes on for a lengthy and often self-referential (not to mention R-rated) speech about Costello's genius.
"My first album had one good song on it," John says. "His first album had 'Alison' and 'Watching the Detectives' on it — not a bad start."
Mentioning Costello's list of collaborators, who include George Jones, Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Nick Lowe and T Bone Burnett, among others, John says, "You can't pinpoint him."
Costello thanks John for the "very eloquent, very complimentary and deeply profane" introduction. He also thanks his parents "for making me listen" and his band mates — including Attractions bassist Bruce Thomas, with whom Costello has had a falling out.
"It's no big secret that we haven't always gotten along," Costello says. "But this is not the place to air petty grievances."
Perhaps not, but Thomas isn't part of the band that played "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" with a stirring Smokey Robinson interlude, or Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." The latter tune seems spontaneous, as if Costello decided to play it at the last second, as the rest of the band was apparently leaving the stage.
Neil Young echoes Costello's peace and love sentiments during his speech lauding record executive Mo Ostin, this year's lifetime achievement non-performing inductee.
"War sucks; it just sucks," says Young, who has long been a vocal opponent of armed conflict. "We're having a good time tonight, but we're going to kill a lot of people next week."
AC/DC performs two songs, "Highway to Hell" and "You Shook Me All Night Long." Presenter Steven Tyler, of Aerosmith, sings with the Australian hard-rockers on the latter tune after lauding AC/DC's unmistakable sound.
"Thank God for the power chord," Tyler says, praising the simple, chunky abbreviation of a standard guitar chord. "There is no greater purveyor of the power chord than AC/DC."
A star-struck Gwen Stefani, of No Doubt, who introduces the Police, tells a story about how she sought out an autograph from singer and bassist Sting when she was 13. When the too-long anecdote ends, she mentions the band's amalgamation of different musical influences, including punk, reggae, rock and jazz.
"They were like this fruit salad of sound, all coming together," Stefani says.
The band members keep their speeches short in favor of playing a three-song set, which opened with the group's first hit, "Roxanne." Perhaps the intervening years haven't entirely eased tensions among the members — when the song is over, Sting mentions drummer Stewart Copeland's enthusiastic playing, saying, "Was there enough drumming in that for you?"
Copeland responds by banging away even harder on the first few bars of "Message in a Bottle." The band also plays "Every Breath You Take," which included Stefani, Tyler and unannounced guest John Mayer at the end.
That is the closest the musicians come to an all-star jam this year, and the evening ends with the Police's performance.
The Righteous Brothers open the show with "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," which still sounds impressive nearly 40 years later.
Making reference to the "blue-eyed soul" label that has followed the duo over the years, presenter Billy Joel says, "Sometimes people with blue eyes transcend the limits of what their color and culture is. Sometimes, white people can be soulful."
This year's inductees also include sidemen Floyd Kramer, who played piano with Elvis Presley; Benny Benjamin, a Motown session drummer; and saxophonist Steve Douglas, who played most of the sax solos on rock songs recorded in Los Angeles in the '60s.