Musicians Joan Jett (L) and Lorde perform Nirvana songs at the 29th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony. Photo: Getty Images
The hottest question in music was answered on Thursday: who would sing in place of the late, great Kurt Cobain when Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York, less than a week after the 20th anniversary of his death.
The answer was a major shock: not one but four singers and all women. Joan Jett (who was widely tipped), Kiwi teen superstar Lorde, Kim Gordon from alt-rock pioneers Sonic Youth and Annie Clark from current avant-garde act St Vincent each sang one song with remaining members of Nirvana.
Early reactions on social media suggests that Nirvana's Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear have pulled off what seemed too daunting if not impossible for the past 20 years: positive responses to someone else singing Cobain's songs. It has also been the first time that they have ever performed Cobain's music together since his death.
Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, Kim Gordon and Nirvana guitarist Krist Novoselic perform Kurt Cobain songs. Photo: Getty Images
Jett opened the band's mini-set singing the iconic song Smells Like Teen Spirit to a largely positive response in the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn. Gordon then took the microphone for Aneurysm, then Clark sang Lithium, before Lorde took the reins for All Apologies.
A picture of Jett's guitar sitting beside instruments belonging to Nirvana guitarists Novoselic and Smear was posted to the Foo Fighters' social media accounts on Wednesday, then an audio recording of Jett rehearsing with Nirvana was posted online yesterday.
Some tipped Michael Stipe, Cobain's friend and would-be collaborator, to sing with Nirvana on Thursday but his role was limited to inducting the band into the Hall of Fame. In an emotional speech he called Nirvana the band that "captured lightning in a bottle".
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2014
Courtney Love (C) speaks on the induction of Nirvana at the 29th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Ceremony. Photo: Getty Images
Nirvana's induction predictably turned into a remembrance service for Cobain, who died 20 years ago last Saturday. His widow Courtney Love joined Nirvana on stage during the ceremony and was at one point booed by the audience, but she would have won admirers for embracing Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. Love who manages Cobain's estate fell out with the band members after his death.
Six other acts were also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during the marathon five hour-plus ceremony in Brooklyn: Kiss, the E Street Band, Peter Gabriel, Linda Ronstadt, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) and Hall and Oates.
All acts but Kiss and Ronstadt performed several songs, with the most praise reserved for Peter Gabriel for his rendition of In Your Eyes (with Senegalese star Youssou N'Dour) and 1970s folk-pop superstar Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens), who received a standing ovation for his 1971 classic Wild World.
Bruce Springsteen's god-like status in the music world was underlined when he was the only artist to effectively welcome himself into the Hall of Fame. Springsteen inducted the E Street Band, which is technically his backing band. But as anyone who has seen them play knows the Boss isn't just part of the band, he's the engine room.
But an epic series of speeches honouring past and present E Street Band members – lasting nearly an hour and a half – tested the patience of audience and viewers alike, sending many scurrying to complain on social media. One tribute that didn't rankle was Springsteen's mention of the late founding member and sax player Clarence Clemons (who died in 2011 from complication after a stroke). "Miss you, love you, big man," Springsteen said. "We wish you were here with us tonight."
Earlier, the controversy over the Hall of Fame's decision to only induct the original members of Kiss – Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss – and not newer members (Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer), made it to the podium.
Original frontman Stanley, who openly criticised the decision took a swipe at the Hall of Fame's nominating committee in his speech after being inducted by Tom Morello.
"The people buy albums. The people buy tickets. The people who nominate do not," Stanley said.
Stanley, who has previously claimed the Hall of Fame organisers had blocked Kiss's nomination in the past, argued the decision not to acknowledge Thayer and Singer wasn't fair when several bands have had replacement line-ups honoured, including the Grateful Dead, Red Hot Chili Peppers and this year, the E Street Band.
During speeches by Kiss members, audience members heckled "play a song". Kiss refused to play when the Hall of Fame insisted the original line-up had to play. Stanley, now 62, told Rolling Stone: "That's not going to happen.' That band is long gone."
The only other inductee who didn't play was Linda Ronstadt, who has Parkinson's Disease. She is no longer able to sing because of the illness but didn't attend the ceremony, telling Billboard "I haven't given it one thought, I have to say ... I didn't go the last two times I was nominated for a Grammy, either. I don't have anything against it; you just don't do things for those reasons. If you're working for prizes, you're in trouble." But speaking at the event, Glenn Frey, who inducted her said "she just can't travel'.'
But a tribute to Ronstadt's music was performed by Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow and Carrie Underwood to a rousing reception.
2014 Inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:
The E Street Band
Hall and Oates
Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens)