In what's often the case at the glittery ceremony, the honor also brought together a long-estranged group, in this case the Police.
The British trio played publicly Monday for the first time in 18 years, singing the reggae-tinged "Roxanne," the obsessive hit, "Every Breath You Take" and "Message in a Bottle."
"I'd like to make it very clear that there is absolutely no ego in our band whatsoever," guitarist Andy Summers joked.
Ego splintered the band in the mid-1980s. And it hasn't dulled with time: singer Sting said Stewart Copeland grumbled about the song selection for the reunion because there wasn't enough drumming in them.
They were inducted into the hall in Cleveland by No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani, who praised their "fruit salad" of sound. Stefani showed a picture of herself as a chubby 13-year-old, getting a backstage autograph from Sting.
Hopes for another big reunion were dashed when Joe Strummer, lead singer of the Clash, died on Dec. 22.
The surviving members were saluted by guitarist the Edge of U2 and Tom Morello of Audioslave, who both recalled being awed by a Clash concert when they were teenagers.
The Clash, whose original lineup broke up shortly after recording "Should I Stay or Should I Go?," burned bright and fast.
"If they had been around 10 years earlier, they would have given the Beatles, the Kinks and the Stones a run for their money," the Edge said. "If they had arrived 10 years later, they might have resolved their internal conflicts and stayed the course."
Bass player Paul Simonon said he missed "my big brother Joe."
A third potential reunion, of Elvis Costello and his longtime backing trio, the Attractions, was scuttled by bad blood. Costello currently tours with two of its members, but has long feuded with bass player Bruce Thomas.
Handed his trophy, Thomas said, "thanks for the memories. That's it," and walked off stage and out the door.
Costello marked his departure with a lewd gesture.
He was saluted in a profane and funny speech by Elton John, his weaved hair teased in a punk style.
"He's like a chameleon, Elvis," he said. "He writes wonderful lyrics, and his songs know no musical boundaries."
Costello and his new band played their adrenalized anthem, "Pump it Up," and a medley of his own, "Deep, Dark Truthful Mirror" with the Smokey Robinson hit, "You Really Got a Hold on Me." They also played "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."
A more explicit anti-war message came from Neil Young, appearing to honor the longtime Warner Brothers Records executive Mo Ostin.
"Tonight we're having a good time," Young said. "But we're going to kill a lot of people next week. Let's not forget about that ... We're making a huge mistake."
Australian hard rockers AC/DC made the staid Waldorf Astoria paint peel with thunderous versions of "Highway to Hell" and "You Shook Me All Night Long," the latter joined by Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler.
Singer Billy Joel inducted Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley - the Righteous Brothers, whose smooth hits "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin"' and "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration" graced radio in the mid-1960s.
"Sometimes people with blue eyes transcended the limitations of what their color and culture can actually be," Joel said. "Sometimes white people can actually be soulful. This was a life-changing idea. It changed my life."
The Rock and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland but the induction ceremonies are held in New York. Highlights of the ceremony will be shown on March 16 on VH1, which along with CBS, is part of Viacom.
By David Bauder