NEW YORK – For the first time in more than 20 years, there were four people onstage performing as the O’Jays, and not one missed a step as they were welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2005.

“It’s been a terrific journey and I thank the incredible fans who have been with us the whole way,” Walter Williams said.

“After 44 years in this extremely mean business, finally we’re here and it’s in order to thank God.”

The O’Jays and the Pretenders, led by Chrissie Hynde, were inducted Monday along with Percy Sledge, Buddy Guy and Irish rock band U2. Inducted in the non-performing category were promoter Frank Barsalona, credited with turning rock “n’ roll concerts into big business, and Seymour Stein, the founder of Sire Records.

The class of 2005 is the smallest in the hall’s 20 years of canonizing performers but it didn’t keep the ceremony from being four hours long.

In addition to the inductees, the Rock Hall Foundation celebrated itself by bringing back initial inductees Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis, who each performed their signature songs “Bo Diddley” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” respectively, backed by guitarists Robbie Robertson and Eric Clapton.

The 20th annual induction dinner got off to a late start but began humorously with the nonperformers. Barsalona was inducted by Miami Steve Van Zandt, who appeared as his Sopranos character Silvio Dante, along with Sopranos star James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano). Stein was inducted by Ice-T, whose profane and plain-spoken induction also provided a few needed moments of levity.

The O’Jays came next, giving the evening its first and perhaps best performance with a medley of their big hits “Back Stabbers,” “For the Love Of Money” and “Love Train” with former O’Jay Sammy Strain singing along with Williams, Eddie Levert and relative youngster Eric Grant.

Inducted by young pop singer Justin Timberlake, the O’Jays have never been secretive about wanting to get into the hall, and Levert was unabashed in how much the honor meant to him.

“With all the people who have been put in here before us, to be mentioned in the same breath as B.B. King, and people like U2 and the Beatles, this is a great honor and, hey look, you’re with the best and now I’m one of them!” Levert said.

Following a lengthy montage of some of the most entertaining moments from the past 20 induction dinners, Neil Young appeared to casually induct the Pretenders, saying that in 1980 when he and his band Crazy Horse were not sure what to do, they put on the Pretenders’ debut record.

Hynde, dressed in a white T-shirt and dark pants, praised original members and fellow inductees, original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon. “The Pretenders have looked like a tribute band, and we have been for 20 years. Tonight we pay tribute to James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, without whom we wouldn’t be here and who without us might still be here,” she said.

Irish rock band U2 was inducted by Bruce Springsteen, who praised the band – Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton – for their originality and democracy, of which he said, “Democracy?! In Iraq, maybe, in a rock band, no!”


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