Country crooners. Grunge pioneers. Acoustic folksingers. Rush fans might not agree, but this year’s crop of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees is a pretty worthy bunch. To celebrate, we’ve been spending way too much time on YouTube, looking at the best (and worst) performances of these bands’ careers. Behold: eight Hall of Fame-worthy performances from the eight Hall of Fame inductees.
Nirvana, “Lithium” (Live from 1992, MTV’s VMA Awards)
Remember when Madonna and Britney Spears locked lips on the VMAs? That wasn’t shocking. This — Nirvana’s blistering, pissed-off performance of “Lithium” — was shocking. Krist Novoselic took an electric bass to the face, Kurt Cobain replaced his lyrics with improvised nonsense (“I’m so retarded, I can’t date la da la schmmmmlph”) and Dave Grohl tried to pick a fight with Axl Rose, who’d been taunting the band earlier that night. Cobain even kicked things off with a snippet of “Rape Me,” which MTV execs had forbidden the guys to play. Was this Nirvana’s best performance? Hell no. For a rock band that deserved the spotlight as much as they hated it, though, these five minutes are a masterclass in not giving a damn.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, “Born to Run” (Live from 1982, “The Complete Video Anthology, 1978-2000”)
Our editor calls this video “a giant E Street Band bro-down,” and we agree. The audio comes from a single performance in the mid-‘80s, but the video is a montage of highlights from Bruce’s Reagan-era glory days, meaning you’ve got Nils Lofgren playing a guitar solo one minute and Little Steven mugging for the camera the next. There’s also a pretty fantastic pantsuit that Clarence Clemons proudly rocks. It’s red and has no sleeves. How boss.
Hall & Oates, “Rich Girl” (Live from 1977)
Filmed while “Rich Girl” was sitting atop the Billboard charts, this clip feels like a time capsule from Hall & Oates’ early days. The band’s lineup is huge, with one guy who seems to be doing nothing more than banging the tambourine. Daryl Hall sounds great, though, nailing each funky phrase with a voice untarnished by the excesses of the ‘80s (although those excesses would eventually rear their heads — check out this clip from 1985 and confidently fronting a group that played cheesy music without actually sounding cheesy (although cheesiness would eventually rear its head, too).
KISS, “Black Diamond” (Live from 1974, “Dick Clark’s in Concert”)
This was KISS’ first TV appearance ever, recorded for an ABC TV special at the start of the band’s first tour. Sure, the guys were green, but the stage makeup did a pretty good job of covering that up. Everything else was pretty blatant: the talent, the spectacle, the promise of what was to come, and the painfully obvious fact that Dick Clark should’ve never booked these hellraisers for a family-friendly show. Props to Peter Criss.
Peter Gabriel, “Modern Love” (Live from 1978, Rockpalast)
There are some great videos of Peter Gabriel from the Genesis days, back when the guy would hit the stage wearing bat wings, fox heads, capes and suits of armor. This isn’t one of them. Here, Gabriel is dressed-down and amped-up, backed by a crackerjack rock band that includes Sid McGuiness (now known as “that guy who plays electric guitar on David Letterman) and Jerry Marotta (who once played drums for another Hall of Fame inductee, Hall & Oates). Gabriel’s shows became slicker and more synth-heavy as his solo career plowed into the ‘80s, but this is a raw, guitar-based performance, where the mistakes also double as the highlights. Case in point: the way McGuiness accidentally unplugs his guitar, then replugs it at 0:28, just in time for the first verse.
Cat Stevens, “My Lady d’Arbanville” (Live from 1970)
Performing for a French TV station in 1970, Cat Stevens delivered this ballad like an old-school madrigal singer. It must’ve been a shock for viewers, most of whom were used to Stevens’ older material, which painted him as some sort of teenaged, pop-singing heartthrob. This was something different, though, a sign that Stevens was growing up and writing songs that embraced the harsh realities of life and love. It wasn’t his first makeover, either — when he accepts his Hall of Fame induction on April 10, it’ll be as Yusuf Islam.
Linda Ronstadt, “When Will I Be Loved” (Live from 1975, “Midnight Special”)
The first lady of rock turned up the twang with her spot-on cover of the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved,” performed here with her best backup band to date (sorry, Don Henley and Glen Frey). The harmonies! The guitarmonies! The ‘70s camerework, which sorta brings to mind the Brady Bunch theme! Health problems have sapped Ronstadt’s voice in recent years, but the girl sounded great for decades, influencing (and wiping the floor with) generations of female country-rockers.