Entertainment | Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2023 highs and lows

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2023 highs and lows


Entertainment | Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2023 highs and lows


The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted its Class of 2023 Friday, celebrating the wide-ranging careers of , Don Cornelius, Sheryl Crow, , Missy Elliott, Chaka Khan, Al Kooper, , , Rage Against the Machine, the Spinners, , and Link Wray. The show was packed with powerful performances and speeches, but since it clocked in at a whopping four and a half hours, it was bound to feature some filler as well.

Below are the highs, lows, and head-scratchers of the marathon evening.

LOW: George Michael’s fans have no faith in Adam Levine

The posthumous and long-overdue induction of Michael, the winner of this year’s fan vote, was set to be the night’s most emotional moment — and it started off that way, with an eloquent induction speech by Michael’s former Wham! bandmate, Andrew Ridgeley, who called Michael “the dearest friend I ever had.” But then it came time for Michael’s all-star musical tribute. An actual gay male pop artist for whom Michael paved the way, like Sam Smith or Adam Lambert, would have been a logical choice for this segment, along with Michael’s onetime “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” duet partner, Sir Elton John — who was already in the building to induct his longtime collaborator, Taupin, and performed twice Friday. Instead, the Hall puzzlingly enlisted Miguel, Carrie Underwood… and Adam Levine, not Lambert. (And none of them covered “Freedom ’90,” either!)

Underwood, who called Michael one of her “all-time heroes and vocal inspirations,” did a lovely job with the ballad “One More Try,” and Miguel fared well with support from E Street Band saxophonist Jake Clemons on “Careless Whisper.” But the bizarrely trenchcoated Levine’s “Faith” was so limp, even Limp Bizkit might have been a better option. Michael’s fans were quick to express their outrage over this booking fail.

HIGH: Bernie Taupin thinks Friday night’s alright for fighting Jann Wenner

Mere weeks before the Class of 2023 ceremony, Rock Hall co-founder Jann Wenner shockingly told the New York Times that his recent compilation of Rolling Stone interviews, The Masters, only featured white male musicians because he felt none of his past female or Black interview subjects were “articulate” enough to warrant inclusion. His comments generated backlash, and he was swiftly removed from the Hall’s board of directors as a result. Wenner’s dismissal, not to mention his gatekeeping of the Hall during his 25 years as its chairman, was the elephant in the Barclays room Friday, but only Taupin — whose wife Heather had called Wenner’s comments a “slap in the face” to inductees — dared to mention the scandal. During his acceptance speech for the Musical Excellence Award, the legendary lyric-writer demonstrated his way with words, quipping, “I’m honored to be in the Class of 2023 alongside a group of such profoundly articulate women and outstanding articulate Black artists, along with all of the other music masters here tonight.”

HIGH: Big Boi has big love for Kate Bush

When Big Boi approached the podium to induct Bush, he wisecracked, “I know what some of you are thinking: What does Kate Bush have to do with hip-hop?” But the “obsessed” Outkast rapper has been one of Bush’s most ardent and vocal fans for years, so he was the perfect person to honor the art-rock goddess. “I can’t believe I’m up here like the White House press secretary for Kate Bush,” he chuckled. “I fell in love with Kate Bush in middle school. My uncle Russell, my favorite uncle, turned me on to her and I listened to ‘Running Up That Hill’ on my bike. I was that kid from Stranger Things! … Kate is a songwriter, producer, and performer without equal. If that’s not hip-hop, I don’t know what is.” Amusingly, Big Boi wrapped his speech by once again teasing their collaboration — which he excitedly dished about to Yahoo Entertainment back in 2020 — blurting, “Hey, Kate, the song is done. I sent you three versions. Pick one!”

LOW: Kate Bush gets strange-ly short shrift

While Bush’s Hall induction was long overdue (this was her fourth nomination), it was always unlikely that the famously reclusive artist — who only toured once, in 1979, then did not perform any other full live shows until 2014 — would actually appear at this year’s ceremony, even remotely. (She accepted her award via a statement on her website, saying she was “completely blown away” by “this wonderful accolade.”) However, the fact that Bush was only represented at the ceremony with one song — the Stranger Things-popularized “Running Up That Hill,” of course, performed by St. Vincent — was disappointing. St. Vincent did a spectacular job with that 1985 hit, as seen below… but Bush does have many other brilliant compositions, and countless other admirers. Were Maxwell, Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel, Sarah McLachlan, David Gilmour, Lauren Mayberry, Florence Welch, or Caroline Polachek unavailable?

HIGH: Jimmy Page is ready to “Rumble” for Link Wray

While Bush was a no-show, the big surprise appearance of the night was by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. Page’s induction speech for his “hero,” late rockabilly guitar legend and 2023 Musical Influence Award recipient Wray, was pretaped… but when his recorded message ended and the video screen lifted, there was Page in all his very live and amplified glory on the Barclays Center stage, dexterously playing the iconic riff of Wray’s signature instrumental, “Rumble.” The moment left the audience dazed and confused in the best possible way.

HIGH: Sheryl Crow and Peter Frampton come alive

Page wasn’t the only guitar god in the building Friday. Frampton joined Crow for “Every Day Is a Winding Road” (along with special guests Stevie Nicks and Olivia Rodrigo), and in her acceptance speech, Crow endearingly gushed about this full-circle “pivotal moment,” reminiscing: “In 1976, you guys, when I was 14, my best friend Jo Beth’s mom drove us, me and six other little girls, to the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tenn., to see Peter Frampton. That was my first experience at a rock ‘n’ roll show. The six of us were way up in the nosebleeds section, and we managed to crawl all the way down to the floor. I smelled weed for the first time. I got to sing along with tens of thousands of strangers to ‘Do You Feel Like I Do.’ And who doesn’t dream of that being your life, after you’ve experienced it?”

LOW: Chaka Khan’s performance isn’t exactly something good

Soul-funk queen Chaka Khan had been previously nominated a combined seven times, solo and with her former band Rufus, so this should have been her much-deserved big moment. But Khan’s segment was a shambolic mess, plagued by technical issues. Common seemed to come in late, or wasn’t properly mic’d, when he did the Melle Mel rap in “I Feel for You”; H.E.R. had to do most of the heavy lifting on “Sweet Thing”; and when Sia trotted out for “I’m Every Woman,” her vision was so comically obstructed by one of her trademark Cousin It wigs that she couldn’t navigate the stage or find her microphone. Thankfully, Khan made it through the fire, so to speak, performing vivaciously regardless.

HIGH: New Edition put a fresh spin on the Spinners

Honoring Philly vocal group the Spinners, New Edition, looking superfly in crushed velvet suits as they absolutely crushed their choreography, gave one of the most dynamite performances of the night. Their groovy medley climaxed with a “Rubberband Man” ‘70s disco party that sensationally segued into the night’s tribute to Soul Train creator/host/producer and Ahmet Ertegun Award recipient Don Cornelius.

HIGH: DJ Kool Herc just can’t keep his cool

Introduced by LL Cool J as “one of the great founders of hip-hop,” Kool Herc, who DJ’d the historic Aug. 11, 1973 Bronx bash that “has come to be known as the birthplace” of the genre, received the Musical Influence Award. Assisted to the podium by his sister, Cindy Campbell, the 68-year-old was overcome by emotion, exclaiming, “I got tears in my eyes!” He collected himself to thank his parents and his idols, James Brown and Harry Belafonte, but then he graciously let Campbell — who threw that historic ’73 party to raise money for back-to-school clothes, charging a 25-cent entry fee for women and 50 cents for men — do much of the talking. Herc shed fresh tears later in the night when another history-making woman in hip-hop, Elliott, took the stage.

HIGH & LOW: rages on, alone

Only one Rage Against the Machine member, Tom Morello, showed up Friday, which was a disappointment, especially since that meant there’d be no RATM performance. “I am deeply grateful for the musical chemistry I’ve had the good fortune to share with Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford, and Zach de la Rocha. Like most bands, we have differing perspectives on a lot of things… including about being inducted into the Rock Hall!” Morello quipped. But the guitarist and activist — introduced by Ice-T, who cited RATM’s “F*** you, I won’t do what you tell me” as his favorite lyric of all time — made the most of his time onstage, urging fans keep up the fight that Rage started three decades ago. “The job we set out to do is not over. Now you’re the ones that must testify,” Morello stated. “If you’ve got a boss, join a union. If you’re a student, start underground paper. If you’re an anarchist, throw a brick. If you’re a soldier or a cop, follow your conscience not your orders. If you’re bummed out that you didn’t get to see Rage Against the Machine, then form your own band, and let’s hear what you have to say.”

HIGH: Dave Matthews fires it up for Willie Nelson

Inducting 90-year-old country outlaw Willie Nelson, Matthews also got surprisingly political. “Willie likes to smoke weed, and according to several, or at least a couple of good sources, one time Willie smoked in the White House,” Matthews began. “And in his autobiography, he said it was with someone that worked there. But Jimmy Carter, who was president at the time, said that it was with Jimmy’s son. But I like to think that if Jimmy Carter had been elected for a second term, that weed would’ve been legal in the mid-’80s. And maybe we wouldn’t have exported all of our manufacturing jobs, if he had a second term. And maybe all the farmer subsidies and tax breaks that were afforded small family farms and small farmers in this country would not have been stolen by corporate and factory farm industries. But alas, so it goes. Farm foreclosures skyrocketed, and so did farmer suicide. And then Willie Nelson heard the voices of desperation. And he called John Mellencamp and Neil Young, and they did the first Farm Aid.” Matthews then joined Nelson — the oldest-living inductee to accept the Hall honor in person — for the night’s longest musical number, which also included Crow, Brittany Howard, and Chris Stapleton. Nelson, for his part, didn’t get political in his own speech, but he did use his time at the podium to urge the Hall to induct his fellow Highwaymen, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, next.

HIGH: The In Memoriam segment gets it right

The Grammys’ televised In Memoriam segment usually infuriatingly passes over artists who weren’t major names in the U.S., but the Rock Hall’s tribute gave equal time to indie artists like the Smiths’ Andy Rourke, the Specials’ Terry Hall, Television’s Tom Verlaine, Screaming Trees’ Van Conner, Pulp’s Steve Mackey, Luscious Jackson’s Vivian Trimble, Primal Scream’s Martin Duffy, Modest Mouse’s Jeremiah Green, and powerpop singer-songwriter Dwight Twilley. (If only the Hall would exercise the same amount of respect when considering its actual nominees and inductees…)

HIGH: Missy Elliott gets her glorious freak on

The Hall ceremony usually features a group finale, but no all-star medley could possibly top the one-woman star power of Friday’s final performer — and the Hall’s first female hip-hop inductee — Missy “Msidemeanor” Elliott. Closing the show with a magnificent and massive production, Elliott descended from a spaceship in a sequined tracksuit and was flanked by neon robot-dancers for a breathless medley of “Get Ur Freak On,” “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” “Work It,” “Pass That Dutch,” and “Lose Control.” As she took a victory lap through the crowd and zipped by the first row, Jimmy Page looked delighted, even downright star-struck. As Elliott’s elated inductor, Queen Latifah, put it: “If that ain’t rock ‘n’ roll, I don’t know what is.”

For the first time in its 38-year history, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony aired live this year, streaming on Disney+ (and now available on demand). An edited, three-hour version of the ceremony will air on ABC Jan. 1. Tune in then to find out if Levine’s lackluster performance, Taupin’s snarky remarks, or Morello and Matthews’s political statements make the cut.

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