Tom Waits went for laughs, Alice Cooper for shock value, Leon Russell was quietly humble and Neil Diamond may still be talking following their induction Monday into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The acts were joined by New Orleans piano maestro Dr. John and "Wall of Sound" singer Darlene Love at the annual black-tie dinner at The Waldorf-Astoria hotel. A tape of the ceremony is to air March 20 on Fuse.
Diamond appeared jet-lagged for his induction: He said he flew 25 hours from Australia and is due to fly back there Tuesday to resume a concert tour. He took pictures of the audience and promised to "tweet this and tell everybody out there that they really do love me in the Hall of Fame."
He criticized Paul Simon, who inducted him, for giving his upcoming album a hard-to-remember title ("So Beautiful or So What"). He then called it a great album and jokingly asked Simon for money for the plug. Simon handed over a bill.
The Brooklyn-born Diamond wrote pop-rock hits for himself ("Solitary Man") and others (The Monkees’ "I’m a Believer"). Presidential daughter Caroline Kennedy was the inspiration for "Sweet Caroline," now a Boston Red Sox anthem. Diamond settled into a comfortable career as a middle-of-the-road concert favorite, although he made some challenging recordings in recent years with producer Rick Rubin.
Simon noted that Diamond was first eligible for the rock hall in 1991.
"This has been 20 years," he said. "My question is, what took so long?"
Then he provided his own answer: "You Don’t Bring Me Flowers," Diamond’s duet with the un-rock ‘n’ roll Barbra Streisand.
Alice Cooper is the stage name for singer Vincent Furnier and his band, known for 1970s’ era hard rock songs "Eighteen," "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and "School’s Out." Their concerts were steeped in horror movie theatrics, and singer Rob Zombie, in his induction speech, said they had invented the rock show.
Cooper, the singer, wrapped a huge snake around his neck for his induction and performed a trio of the band’s hits in a shirt spattered with fake blood. A chorus of schoolchildren in gruesome black makeup joined them for "School’s Out."
"We’ve always been a hard-rock band," Cooper said. "We just wanted to decorate it a little differently."
Zombie recalled how he painted a portrait of Cooper with dripping blood when he was in the fourth grade and asked to do an art assignment, drawing him some special attention.
Songwriter Waits is well-versed in blues, poetry and ballads, with songs rough and romantic. Several of his Hall of Fame predecessors have recorded his work, including Bruce Springsteen ("Jersey Girl"), the Ramones ("I Don’t Want to Grow Up"), Rod Stewart ("Downtown Train") and Johnny Cash ("Down There By the Train"). Neil Young said Waits is "undescribable and I’m here to describe him."
Waits noted that his rock hall trophy was heavy and wondered if he could have a key-chain version "that I can keep with me in case I hear somebody say, ‘Pete, take the cuffs off him. He’s a Hall of Famer.’"
He described songs as "just very interesting things to be doing with the air.
"They say that I have no hits and that I’m difficult to work with," he said, "and they say that like it’s a bad thing."
Russell composed "A Song for You" and "Delta Lady," but said he was in "a ditch beside the highway of life" when Elton John called a year ago and suggested they record an album together. The result was nominated for a Grammy.
Russell, with a shock of long white hair and beard, walked haltingly onstage with the help of a cane and met John for a warm embrace.
"Thank you very much," he said. "I appreciate it and Hallelujah."
Love, whose voice cut through Phil Spector’s "Wall of Sound," called her induction into the hall her best 70th birthday present. She fought back tears in her acceptance speech, saying she had faith that the gift God gave her would sustain her for the rest of her life.
Love lent her powerful voice to several of Spector’s hits, in acts such as the Crystals and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. Her "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is a holiday standard: She sang on U2’s cover and performs it every December on David Letterman’s show.
She was inducted with a comic ramble by Bette Midler, who said she was a goner when she first heard Love’s voice on a transistor radio.
"Listening to her songs, you had to dance, you had to move, you had to keep looking for that rebel boy," Midler said.
Dr. John, born Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack Jr., wore a bright purple suit for his big moment. He was inducted by singer John Legend, who recalled meeting him at a benefit for Hurricane Katrina relief. Legend said the new Hall of Fame member has been a leading global ambassador for New Orleans and its special musical gumbo.
"He has never stopped flying the flag of funk," Legend said. "Tonight, he is definitely in the right place at the right time."
That was a reference to one of Dr. John’s best-known songs, "Right Place, Wrong Time," with Allen Toussaint and the Meters, which he performed as the ceremony slipped past midnight.
Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman and Specialty Records founder Art Rupe were also inducted in the non-performer category.