New York – Irish rockers U2 were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, led by their charismatic singer Bono, whose work on behalf of Africa’s poor have also earned him status as a political statesman.
The 20th annual ceremony on Monday night at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel also honored The Pretenders, led by singer-guitarist Chrissie Hynde, soul veterans Percy Sledge and The O’Jays as well as blues-guitar great Buddy Guy as members of rock’s elite.
“(U2) are the keepers of some of the most beautiful sonic architecture in the rock-and-roll world,” said rocker Bruce Springsteen while inducting U2.
Bono, a born-again Christian, was a highlight of the Live Aid concert for Ethiopian famine relief in 1985 and has since campaigned tirelessly for the world’s poor.
This led to gossip that the Bush administration was considering him as the next head of the World Bank, but the singer again dismissed the idea at a post-gala press conference.
“Don’t quit your day job yet my friend, you’re pretty good at it,” Springsteen joked of the speculation about Bono, whom he called a “plain operator” and a “crazy Irishman.”
Bono, who inducted Springsteen in 1999, said as Monday night became Tuesday morning, “This is a bit of an Irish wedding… beautiful girls and beautiful frocks and fights in the bathroom.”
SALES-OBSESSED He then urged music executives to rethink how they do business, saying in the current sales-obsessed climate U2 would have been dumped during a slump after their second record, “October,” which included overtly religious songs.
“There would be no U2 the way things are now, that’s a fact,” he said. Stars such as Springsteen and Neil Young, who also failed to have early hits, also would have failed to make the grade with today’s music companies, he said.
Founded in Dublin in 1978, U2 penned political songs such as “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and uplifting rockers like “Where the Streets Have No Name.” They are now touring North America to promote their latest chart-topping album.
As the band played, Bono sang at first amid the tables, taking champagne from one table and dousing his band mates. Renditions of “Pride,” about civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and their recent hit “Vertigo” brought the crowd to their feet.
The Dublin quartet – Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer and heartthrob Larry Mullin Jr. – broke through with 1987’s “The Joshua Tree” and became one of the world’s most successful rock acts, with recordings and elaborately-staged tours which sought to always explore new ground.
“I’m just not sure I’m ready to accept institutionalization,” Mullin said after the ceremony. “If I’m to be really honest I would have liked this 10 years down the line.”
Nominees must have a 25-year recording history and are chosen by a group of industry insiders, leading some critics each year to complain about the bands left out.
TRIBUTE The Pretenders, with hits like “Brass in Pocket” and “Back on the Chain Gang,” and U2 burst on the scene in the aftermath of the punk-rock explosion in the late 1970s.
“We’re paying tribute tonight to James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, without them we wouldn’t be here,” Hynde said, referring to two original members who died of drug abuse in the early 1980s.
“Without us, they might have been here, but that’s rock and roll,” she said, before she joined her band to play a high-octane set.
The O’Jays, with matching suits and choreographed dance moves, formed in the late 1950s. They dominated the 1970s soul scene with such hits as “Love Train,” “I Love Music (Part 1)” and “For the Love of Money,” now the theme tune for the hit reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”
Sledge had his biggest hit in 1966 with “When a Man Loves a Woman.” He told black-tie crowd how he honed the song while improvising on stage. “I never in my life thought I could go so far on that one sentence,” he said.
Guy has been at the forefront of Chicago blues since the 1960s, influencing legends from Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton.
“If you don’t think you’ve got the blues, just keep living, and if you don’t think you’re drunk, just keep drinking what you’re drinking,” Guy said before donning his guitar to play with Clapton and B.B. King.