The best Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performances of all time, ranked (2024)

Table of Contents
30. Alicia Keys, Tupac Shakur medley (2017) 30. Alicia Keys, Tupac Shakur medley (2017) 29. Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Bono, “Let It Be” (1999) 29. Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Bono, “Let It Be” (1999) 28. Etta James, “At Last” (1993) 28. Etta James, “At Last” (1993) 27. Neil Young and Pearl Jam, “Act Of Love” and “f*ckin’ Up” (1995) 27. Neil Young and Pearl Jam, “Act Of Love” and “f*ckin’ Up” (1995) 26. John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, and Robbie Robertson, “Born On The Bayou” (1993) 26. John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, and Robbie Robertson, “Born On The Bayou” (1993) 25. Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris, and Bonnie Raitt, “Blue Bayou” (2014) 25. Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris, and Bonnie Raitt, “Blue Bayou” (2014) 24. Bruce Springsteen and Axl Rose, “Come Together” (1994) 24. Bruce Springsteen and Axl Rose, “Come Together” (1994) 23. Wilson Pickett and Bruce Springsteen, “In The Midnight Hour” (1999) 23. Wilson Pickett and Bruce Springsteen, “In The Midnight Hour” (1999) 22. Elvis Costello & the Attractions, “(What’s So Funny Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” (2003) 22. Elvis Costello & the Attractions, “(What’s So Funny Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” (2003) 21. Roxy Music, “Out Of The Blue” (2019) 21. Roxy Music, “Out Of The Blue” (2019) 20. Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, “Honky Tonk Women” (1989) 20. Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, “Honky Tonk Women” (1989) 19. The Doors and Eddie Vedder, “Light My Fire” (1993) 19. The Doors and Eddie Vedder, “Light My Fire” (1993) 18. Carl Perkins and Keith Richards, “Blue Suede Shoes” (1987) 18. Carl Perkins and Keith Richards, “Blue Suede Shoes” (1987) 17. Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, “Train Kept A Rollin’” medley (1995) 17. Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, “Train Kept A Rollin’” medley (1995) 16. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble Tribute, “Pride and Joy” (2015) 16. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble Tribute, “Pride and Joy” (2015) 15. Aretha Franklin, “Don’t Play That Song,” Ahmet Ertegun Tribute (2007) 15. Aretha Franklin, “Don’t Play That Song,” Ahmet Ertegun Tribute (2007) 14. The Cure, “Boys Don’t Cry” (2019) 14. The Cure, “Boys Don’t Cry” (2019) 13. Ruth Brown and Bonnie Raitt, “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” (1993) 13. Ruth Brown and Bonnie Raitt, “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” (1993) 12. R.E.M. and Patti Smith, “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (2007) 12. R.E.M. and Patti Smith, “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (2007) 11. Al Green and Willie Nelson, “Funny How Time Slips Away” (1995) 11. Al Green and Willie Nelson, “Funny How Time Slips Away” (1995) 10. Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer” (2002) 10. Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer” (2002) 9. The Velvet Underground, “Last Night I Said Goodbye To My Friend” (1996) 9. The Velvet Underground, “Last Night I Said Goodbye To My Friend” (1996) 8. U2 and Bruce Springsteen, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (2005) 8. U2 and Bruce Springsteen, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (2005) 7. Chuck D, Rush, Dave Grohl, and John Fogerty, “Crossroads” (2013) 7. Chuck D, Rush, Dave Grohl, and John Fogerty, “Crossroads” (2013) 6. Jimi Hendrix induction jam, “All Along The Watchtower” (1992) 6. Jimi Hendrix induction jam, “All Along The Watchtower” (1992) 5. The Stooges, “Burning Up” (2008) 5. The Stooges, “Burning Up” (2008) 4. Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan, ”I Saw Her Standing There” (1988) 4. Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan, ”I Saw Her Standing There” (1988) 3. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richards, Neil Young, et al., “Roll Over Beethoven” (1986) 3. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richards, Neil Young, et al., “Roll Over Beethoven” (1986) 2. Nirvana and St. Vincent, “Lithium” (2014) 2. Nirvana and St. Vincent, “Lithium” (2014) 1. Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, and Dhani Harrison, ”While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (2004) 1. Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, and Dhani Harrison, ”While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (2004)

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The best Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performances of all time, ranked (1)

Back in the day, the concert and jam session held during the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies were invite-only. Whatever happened on that stage, stayed on the stage, something that only the elite members of the entertainment industry were lucky enough to witness. The advent of cable TV and the internet changed all that, of course, turning the induction ceremony into the reason to pay attention to the proceedings: with all that talent under one roof each year, there was an excellent chance that something interesting would happen.

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With the attention directed at the induction ceremony, the proceedings lost some of the shagginess of their early superstar jams, which is both a blessing and a curse. As much fun as it is to witness a surplus of legends on stage during the 1980s and 1990s ceremonies, recent years have benefitted from a clearer sense of focus (not to mention fewer stars onstage). To commemorate the Class of 2022 induction ceremony airing on HBO and HBO Max this weekend, The A.V. Club has selected 30 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performances that conjured a bit of magic or, failing that, a spectacle that was hard to resist.

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30. Alicia Keys, Tupac Shakur medley (2017)

30. Alicia Keys, Tupac Shakur medley (2017)

When the Rock Hall inducted Tupac Shakur in 2017, Alicia Keys performed a medley of several of his iconic songs—a sequence that included “I Get Around,” “I Ain’t Mad At Cha,” and “Dear Mama”—which helped strip away some of Tupac’s mystique and focused directly on his gifts as a songwriter with an unheralded knack for a melodic hook.

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29. Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Bono, “Let It Be” (1999)

29. Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Bono, “Let It Be” (1999)

Paul McCartney finally received a solo induction in 1999, nearly a year after the death of his wife Linda McCartney. Perhaps her recent passing is the reason why McCartney sounds particularly emotional when singing “Let It Be,” a song he plays on every momentous occasion. With Billy Joel taking the reins on piano, Paul is freed to focus on the vocal and the results are surprisingly moving.

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28. Etta James, “At Last” (1993)

28. Etta James, “At Last” (1993)

There was no way Etta James wouldn’t perform “At Last,” her slow-burning soul standard, at her induction in 1993, but it’s still a marvel to hear a master find an emotional connection in a song she’s sung countless times.

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27. Neil Young and Pearl Jam, “Act Of Love” and “f*ckin’ Up” (1995)

27. Neil Young and Pearl Jam, “Act Of Love” and “f*ckin’ Up” (1995)

Neil Young had been a mainstay at the Rock Hall induction ceremonies since the institution’s early years, so it’s not a surprise that when he received his own nod in 1995 he had something special up his sleeve. First, Young performed the new song “Act Of Love,” then he brought Pearl Jam out to jam on “f*ckin’ Up,” a song that carried particular resonance in the age of grunge. The two acts would then soon team up to record the collaborative album Mirror Ball.

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26. John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, and Robbie Robertson, “Born On The Bayou” (1993)

26. John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, and Robbie Robertson, “Born On The Bayou” (1993)

It would’ve been too much to ask for John Fogerty to bury the hatchet with the two other surviving members of Creedence Clearwater Revival upon their induction to the Rock Hall in 1993; the bad blood runs that deep. Fogerty chose instead to play his CCR classic “Born On The Bayou,” trading verses and solos with Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson in a thick, swampy jam.

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25. Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris, and Bonnie Raitt, “Blue Bayou” (2014)

25. Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris, and Bonnie Raitt, “Blue Bayou” (2014)

Due to Parkinson’s disease, Linda Ronstadt couldn’t attend her Rock Hall induction in 2014, so the Hall paid tribute to the trailblazing singer by having a number of stars sing her hits. The highlight was a version of “Blue Bayou” where Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris—the latter sang with Ronstadt in Trio with Dolly Parton—trade lead vocals and are supported with harmonies by Carrie Underwood. It’s a beautiful, moving moment.

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24. Bruce Springsteen and Axl Rose, “Come Together” (1994)

24. Bruce Springsteen and Axl Rose, “Come Together” (1994)

Axl Rose didn’t show up when Guns N Roses received their own induction into the Rock Hall in 2012, but he did agree at the last minute to fill in for Rod Stewart, who wound up not being able to honor John Lennon’s solo induction. So, Axl and Bruce Springsteen cooked up a version of “Come Together” with little preparation and there’s definitely a raw, awkward chemistry between the two that makes for compelling listening.

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23. Wilson Pickett and Bruce Springsteen, “In The Midnight Hour” (1999)

23. Wilson Pickett and Bruce Springsteen, “In The Midnight Hour” (1999)

Upon his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, Bruce Springsteen jammed with the wicked Wilson Pickett on his signature hit “In The Midnight Hour.” With an augmented E Street Band laying down an easy groove, everybody lets Pickett steal the spotlight with his joyous but fierce performance.

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22. Elvis Costello & the Attractions, “(What’s So Funny Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” (2003)

22. Elvis Costello & the Attractions, “(What’s So Funny Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” (2003)

Technically, the band playing at Elvis Costello’s 2003 induction is not the Attractions, it’s the Imposters—which is the Attractions minus bassist Bruce Thomas, who long ago burned bridges with Costello. Hardcore fans will note subtle differences in the bass lines, the rest of us will marvel at how Costello and the Imposters still can kick up righteous noise at the moment they’re enshrined into the Hall.

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21. Roxy Music, “Out Of The Blue” (2019)

21. Roxy Music, “Out Of The Blue” (2019)

For many years, it seemed like Roxy Music was among the kind of acts the Rock Hall doesn’t honor: they’re too arty, too glam, too British to get the nod. They finally, and rightfully, earned the honor in 2019, and the group—not a full reunion, but one with Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, and Eddie Jobson—hauled out “Out Of The Blue,” a song that gloriously confirmed all those suspicions: it’s transportive to hear these weird, stylish sounds in the settings of the Rock Hall.

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20. Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, “Honky Tonk Women” (1989)

20. Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, “Honky Tonk Women” (1989)

The Rolling Stones’ induction into the Rock Hall was inevitable, as was the selection of “Honky Tonk Women” for their jam session. Oddly enough, this rendition starts off a little rough—how could it not with Paul Shaffer humming the song’s signature riff—but when Mick Jagger catches his stride somewhere toward the end of the first verse, the band starts to cook … and then he and Tina Turner start sharing a mic. Tina doesn’t sing much on the song but the chemistry between the two singers is palpable, helping to make this overstuffed group of all-stars sound like a bar band.

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19. The Doors and Eddie Vedder, “Light My Fire” (1993)

19. The Doors and Eddie Vedder, “Light My Fire” (1993)

Eddie Vedder was still a new face when the Doors asked him to step into Jim Morrisson’s shoes during their Rock Hall induction in 1993. Vedder went on to become a familiar face in these sorts of events but the remarkable thing about this particular performance is that he’s still fresh enough to sing “Light My Fire” with sincerity and conviction, in a way Morrison never did.

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18. Carl Perkins and Keith Richards, “Blue Suede Shoes” (1987)

18. Carl Perkins and Keith Richards, “Blue Suede Shoes” (1987)

The second Rock Hall induction ceremony celebrated the induction of rockabilly cat Carl Perkins with a raucous jam on his signature “Blue Suede Shoes.” Perkins is clearly enjoying the spotlight but is happy to cede it to Keith Richards, who shows off some chicken-picking chops that he rarely reveals.

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17. Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, “Train Kept A Rollin’” medley (1995)

17. Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, “Train Kept A Rollin’” medley (1995)

Both Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith have a long history with “Train Kept A Rollin’,” a Tiny Bradshaw jump blues song that the Johnny Burnette Trio turned into a rockabilly standard. Both the bands used the Burnette version as a blueprint for their respective renditions, so when they teamed up for this epic jam in 1995—the year Led Zeppelin was inducted into the Hall—they knew the song so well they could play a game of one-upmanship that’s thrilling to witness.

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16. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble Tribute, “Pride and Joy” (2015)

16. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble Tribute, “Pride and Joy” (2015)

Jimmie Vaughan anchored this 2015 tribute to his dearly departed brother Stevie Ray Vaughan, helping to ground this superstar jam firmly within the realm of the blues. All the invited guitarists—Doyle Bramhall, Gary Clark Jr., and John Mayer—have a connection either to Texas blues or have a clear debt to SRV, so the results are a cut above a standard all-star jam; it’s robust and heartfelt, a real evocation of the open-hearted spirit of Stevie Ray.

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15. Aretha Franklin, “Don’t Play That Song,” Ahmet Ertegun Tribute (2007)

15. Aretha Franklin, “Don’t Play That Song,” Ahmet Ertegun Tribute (2007)

Aretha Franklin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 but this performance is from 2007 when she paid tribute to Ahmet Ertegun, the co-founder of both Aretha’s label Atlantic and the Rock Hall itself. Singing “Don’t Play That Song,” a 1970 single from her that bears an Ertegun co-writing credit, Franklin taps into her old Atlantic fire, delivering the song with a stirring spirit.

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14. The Cure, “Boys Don’t Cry” (2019)

14. The Cure, “Boys Don’t Cry” (2019)

Sometimes, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremony performance merely serves as a powerful reminder of why an act deserves to be enshrined in the first place. Take the Cure. The group has had its share of revolving band members over the years, yet thanks to the enduring presence of Robert Smith and steady touring, they seem like an immovable force, maybe even an act of nature. Certainly, they sound monumental here, performing the early single “Boys Don’t Cry” at a slightly slower tempo but with the same sense of urgency that is exhilarating to hear.

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13. Ruth Brown and Bonnie Raitt, “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” (1993)

13. Ruth Brown and Bonnie Raitt, “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” (1993)

The great R&B singer Ruth Brown—one of the first stars on Atlantic Records, which was founded by Ahmet Ertegun, who also founded the Rock Hall—could still tear it up in 1993, when she was inducted into the Hall. Bonnie Raitt supported Brown on “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” playing a slide guitar solo that brings the groove back to the blues.

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12. R.E.M. and Patti Smith, I Wanna Be Your Dog” (2007)

12. R.E.M. and Patti Smith, I Wanna Be Your Dog” (2007)

The connection between R.E.M. and Patti Smith runs deep—lead singer Michael Stipe was profoundly influenced by the punk poet and she’d later duet with him on the R.E.M. single “E-Bow The Letter”—so it was a serendipitous turn of events to have the acts inducted in the same year. They wound up covering the Stooges’ garage punk classic, complete with original R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry and Smith’s longtime lieutenant, guitarist Lenny Kaye, a combination that kicked up an unholy and invigorating noise.

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11. Al Green and Willie Nelson, “Funny How Time Slips Away” (1995)

11. Al Green and Willie Nelson, “Funny How Time Slips Away” (1995)

When soul legend Al Green was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, he performed “Funny How Time Slips Away” in a funkier fashion than he did on record. The arrangement would’ve been noteworthy enough but he also shared the spotlight with Willie Nelson, the song’s composer. Both singers are idiosyncratic, intuitive vocalists and their styles mesh seamlessly here, creating a performance that radiates warmth.

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10. Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer” (2002)

10. Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer” (2002)

It’s well known that there is little love lost between David Byrne and the rest of Talking Heads, which is why the reunion for their 2002 induction is so unexpected: these are four musicians that seemed destined to never share the same stage again. After shaking off a little rust, Talking Heads locks into their signature nervy, funky groove and it becomes apparent how much Byrne benefits from the support of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz, not to mention the adept rhythm guitar of Jerry Harrison.

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9. The Velvet Underground, “Last Night I Said Goodbye To My Friend” (1996)

9. The Velvet Underground, “Last Night I Said Goodbye To My Friend” (1996)

Months prior to the Velvet Underground’s induction in 1996, founding member Sterling Morrison died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—a death that arrived not long after the Velvet Underground had a brief, unexpected reunion in 1993. Emotions were riding high among surviving Velvets Lou Reed, John Cale, and Moe Tucker (Doug Yule was not among the members inducted), so they composed a sweet, open-hearted farewell to their departed bandmate, a song that can also be seen as a bittersweet coda to VU’s final act: this would be the last time the band ever performed on stage.

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8. U2 and Bruce Springsteen, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (2005)

8. U2 and Bruce Springsteen, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (2005)

U2 and Bruce Springsteen share a similar sense of generosity in their music, so the Boss was an ideal choice to induct the Irish rockers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. He also showed up during their live performance, singing the penultimate verse on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” a searching, empathetic song that thrums on a sense of wanderlust so familiar to Springsteen. Instead of resulting in a clash of egos, Bono and Bruce find a common ground that’s quite moving.

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7. Chuck D, Rush, Dave Grohl, and John Fogerty, “Crossroads” (2013)

7. Chuck D, Rush, Dave Grohl, and John Fogerty, “Crossroads” (2013)

Upon first glance, the artists that shared the induction stage in 2013 could almost seem like a parody of superstar jam sessions: that year’s inductees Rush, Heart, and Chuck D appeared alongside Hall mainstays John Fogerty and Tom Morello, Darryl DMC, Chris Cornell, Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins and Gary Clark Jr. What one song could bring them all together? “Crossroads,” the Robert Johnson blues track that Cream psychedelicized in 1968. Cream was a pivotal influence on Rush and Heart, who in turn influenced the alt-rockers, while Chuck D was keenly aware of the lineage connecting blues, rock, and hip-hop. All that theory gets thrown out the window during “Crossroads,” which is a hurricane of solos, heavy rhythms, and traded verses, a combination that by all logic shouldn’t work but sounds kinetic.

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6. Jimi Hendrix induction jam, “All Along The Watchtower” (1992)

6. Jimi Hendrix induction jam, “All Along The Watchtower” (1992)

What’s striking about this 1992 rendition of “All Along The Watchtower”—timed to coincide with Jimi Hendrix’s induction into the Rock Hall— is how it clearly isn’t made for a home audience. The clip opens with master of ceremony Paul Shaffer—who is later seen on camera conducting—rounding up members of the Experience to show up on stage, with the keyboardist openly wondering if Neil Young is still in the house. Neil is indeed still around and he winds up leading an absurd number of stars through an effective jam where Young spars with Jimmy Page and Carlos Santana.

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5. The Stooges, “Burning Up” (2008)

5. The Stooges, “Burning Up” (2008)

In a masterstroke of perversity, Madonna sent the Stooges in her stead when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. She sat in the audience alongside Justin Timberlake as she watched Iggy & the Stooges turn her early dance-pop masterwork into a gnarled noise rocker in the spirit of Fun House, complete with Steve Mackay wailing away on saxophone. It’s such an inspired subversion of expectations that it’s a wonder no other artist has attempted something like this either before or since.

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4. Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan, ”I Saw Her Standing There” (1988)

4. Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan, ”I Saw Her Standing There” (1988)

Paul McCartney didn’t attend the Beatles’ induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, but that didn’t stop the attendees from playing “I Saw Her Standing There,” one of his early rockers with the Fab Four. It’s still early in the Hall’s life, so the producers weren’t playing for a home audience: the stage is ludicrously overcrowded, the camera doesn’t know where to go and the audio mix is off. The busyness of the proceedings is part of the appeal of the performance, as you can’t help but marvel at all the odd moments that happen in a performance that lasts less than three minutes. Is that really Billy Joel taking the lead? Why is Mick Jagger singing instead of George Harrison? Why isn’t Ringo singing for that matter? Where did Jeff Beck come from? Why is Bob Dylan glowering at center stage? Is everybody avoiding Mike Love? That’s the charm of this overstuffed jam: it happened at a time when the rock elite was a small community and could all fit on a stage.

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3. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richards, Neil Young, et al., “Roll Over Beethoven” (1986)

3. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richards, Neil Young, et al., “Roll Over Beethoven” (1986)

The granddaddy of the Rock Hall’s all-star jams, the occasion for this version of “Roll Over Beethoven” was the induction of Chuck Berry into the institution but the rock and roll standard served as a way for many of rock’s first wave to take a spotlight supported by their disciples. The amateurishness of the clip is charming: the stage is so small it seems to jut up against the audience and there’s only one camera attempting to take in all the action, so it can be a surprise to see Phil Everly pop in from out of the blue. It’s also striking how relaxed the whole thing is: the rhythms swing, Jerry Lee Lewis keeps things loose, and Chuck gets a kick hamming it up with Keith Richards and Neil Young as they jam for over six minutes.

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2. Nirvana and St. Vincent, “Lithium” (2014)

2. Nirvana and St. Vincent, “Lithium” (2014)

When Nirvana was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2014, they enlisted four women to fill the role left vacant by Kurt Cobain, a move that helped underscore Cobain and Nirvana’s status as allies in feminist causes. It also resulted in four spectacular performances, with Joan Jett singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Kim Gordon shredding through “Aneurysm” and Lorde taking “All Apologies.” Yet it was St. Vincent’s steely, assured take on “Lithium” that brought out all of the ferocious, weird, and indelible aspects of Nirvana.

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1. Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, and Dhani Harrison, ”While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (2004)

1. Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, and Dhani Harrison, ”While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (2004)

George Harrison had the bad luck to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the same year as Prince. The Purple One opened the induction ceremony with “Let’s Go Crazy” but returned to play on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” sung by Harrison’s Traveling Wilbury bandmates Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne and featuring Harrison’s son Dhani on acoustic guitar. The group performs an expert, faithful rendition of the White Album classic for about three and a half minutes, bringing the song to the point where Eric Clapton played the solo on the Beatles’ original recording. That’s when Prince steps in and positively demolishes the place, wailing for two and a half minutes, sometimes summoning the spirit of Hendrix but playing distinctive, idiosyncratic phrases that are anything but gentle. It’s a tour de force, the single greatest moment to happen during a Rock Hall induction.

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The best Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performances of all time, ranked (2024)
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