Duran Duran stumbled into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Freshly inducted into the hall by Robert Downey Jr. at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Saturday night, the English faithful of the 1980s took the stage and kicked off 1981 with their breakthrough hit Girls on Film. The screaming crowd was there for that, but the music wasn’t. Aside from vocalist Simon Le Bon, whose vocals were essentially acapella, the band was all but inaudible. It was a fun if awkward start to a mostly smooth and often triumphant show that also included Pat Benatar, Carly Simon and Judas Priest, while Eminem, Dolly Parton and Eurythmics were yet to come. “The wonderful spontaneous world of rock n’ roll!” exclaimed 64-year-old Le Bon as the band stopped for a repeat. “We just had to prove to you that we weren’t lip-synching.” They laid back at full volume and played a set that included “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Ordinary World” quickly back to what Downey called their essential quality: “CSF – cool, sophisticated fun”. To a room full of Duran-Duran stans, Le Bon and bandmates John Taylor, Roger Taylor and Nick Rhodes delivered what the singer described in his acceptance speech as the essence of their work over the past 40 years: “We make people to feel better about themselves.” It was missing original guitarist Andy Taylor, who has been battling advanced prostate cancer for four years.
“I’m really sorry and very disappointed that I didn’t make it,” Taylor said in a letter read by Le Bon. “I’m damn glad I’m here to see the day.” The ’80s hitmakers ruled the night, with Pat Benatar, Lionel Richie and Eurythmics taking their places in the hall along with Eminem and Carly Simon. “Pat would always reach into the deepest part of herself and roar out of the speakers,” Sheryl Crowe said in her speech introducing Benatar. “She rocked as hard as any man but still maintained her identity as a woman.” Benatar took the stage and showed that power moments later. “We are young!” sang the 69-year-old, her long gray hair blowing as she soared through a 1983 version of “Love is a Battlefield” with so much improvisation that most of the crowd didn’t recognize it it until halfway through the first verse. “That’s the one that started it!” she said, kicking off the next song, 1979’s “Heartbreaker,” as most of the audience stood up and sang along. It featured a sizzling solo from Neil Giraldo, Benatar’s longtime musical partner, husband, co-grandparent and now a member of the Hall.
Carly Simon was also a notable absence from those in the know, as the ceremony came two weeks after she lost her sisters Joanna Simon and Lucy Simon, both also singers, to cancer on consecutive days. Carly Simon was nominated for the first time this year, more than 25 years after becoming eligible. Presenter Sara Bareilles praised the legendary singer-songwriter’s “grim intelligence and soulful vulnerability” before singing a version of her James Bond track “Nobody Does It Better” in her place. Olivia Rodrigo, 60 years Simon’s junior and by far the youngest performer of the night, then took the stage to sing her signature song ‘You’re So Vain’. Harry Belafonte, 95, was another missing musical giant. He did not show up for his call-up. In a few cases, the moderators were better known than those they introduced. Dressed in a black suit with a huge mop of hair on her head, Janet Jackson redesigned the cover of her seminal album Control as she introduced the two men who made this and many other records with her, writers and producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The crowd greeted Bruce Springsteen with “Bruuuce!” as he introduced Jimmy Iovine, founder of Interscope Records and engineer on Springsteen’s Born to Run album. Judas Priest showed they could still bang their gray heads as they lit up the room with hits like “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight.” “They defined the sound that we call heavy metal,” Alice Cooper said, introducing the group. Vocalist Rob Halford praised the heavy metal community for being “all inclusive” in the speech. He concluded by saying, “We live for heavy metal, we live for music and we live for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”
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