R.E.M., Van Halen, Grandmaster Flash Make Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

Patti Smith, the Ronettes will also be inducted in New York on March 12.

A groundbreaking college-rock band, a fractious group of hard rockers, a pioneering and political hip-hop act, a punk poetess and the greatest girl group of all time are readying their acceptance speeches.

On Monday (January 8), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation announced its 2007 class of inductees, an eclectic list that features R.E.M., Van Halen, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Patti Smith and the Ronettes. All five acts will be inducted into the Hall during a gala ceremony/concert at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel on March 12.

Of course, all five will also be expected to perform that night, which, uh, might prove interesting for a couple of acts.

R.E.M. — who burst onto the burgeoning college rock scene in 1981 with their jangly, lo-fi single “Radio Free Europe” and ascended to multiplatinum success and mega-buck contracts in the decades following — parted ways with original drummer Bill Berry in 1997, and have only played with him a handful of times (including a performance at the band’s induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame last year) since then.

But according to frontman Michael Stipe, fans can look forward to history repeating itself again in March. “Obviously, we’re really honored … and the thought of ourselves and Patti Smith and Grandmaster Flash all being there, it’s going to be a very exciting night,” Stipe told MTV News. “And of course, Bill will be there with us, he’ll definitely be onstage with us.”

The same probably can’t be said about Van Halen — the hard-charging rockeros who pretty much ruled the 1980s thanks to a string of sizzling radio hits, including “Panama,” “Hot for Teacher” and “Runnin’ With the Devil” — who, to put it nicely, have had their fair share of controversial lineup changes.

In 1985, at the height of their fame, the group split with flamboyant lead singer David Lee Roth, and in the 20 years since, the relationship between him and fleet-fingered guitarist Eddie Van Halen — unquestionably one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, who pioneered a mesmerizing two-hand tapping technique and enormously influenced the sound of heavy metal — has run the gamut from mildly chilly to flat-out acrimonious.

Roth was replaced by throaty margarita enthusiast Sammy Hagar and went on to score even more hits, including 1991’s “Right Now,” but in 1996 the group ditched Hagar for Extreme frontman Gary Cherone, who was ousted not long after (Hagar returned for a tour in 2004 but was again ejected, and Roth’s return has been rumored many times — often by Roth himself — over the last decade). More recently, Eddie Van Halen announced on Howard Stern’s radio program that he was replacing founding bassist Michael Anthony with his own son, Wolfgang.

It’s not known just who will represent Van Halen at the Hall’s induction ceremony (actually, it’s not even clear who’s in Van Halen at this point), but a trainwreck on the level of last year’s onstage spat between current and former members of Blondie certainly seems possible (see “Metallica Thud, Blondie Feud At Rock Hall Of Fame Ceremony” ).

But potential onstage dramatics aren’t the only reason this year’s crop of inductees is noteworthy. The recognition of R.E.M. and Van Halen find the Hall embracing overlooked genres, and by including Patti Smith, it continues to shine a light on punk and its many subgenres. And, frankly, it’s about time the Ronettes — who belted out the sublime, Phil Spector-produced R&B gem “Be My Baby” — got in. But the induction of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five is perhaps the biggest step of all.

When they take the stage in March, Flash and the Five will become the first true hip-hop act enshrined in the Hall. Anchored by DJ Flash, whose turntable dexterity and mastery of breaks made him an underground party legend in New York during the 1970s, the Five (which also included rappers Cowboy, Kid Creole, Melle Mel, Rahiem and Mr. Ness) signed to the seminal Sugar Hill Records and released a plethora of party cuts, including “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,” and scored their biggest hits with a pair of seething, political tracks, “The Message” and “White Lines (Don’t Do It).”

The full list of nominees for the Rock Hall was first announced in October (see “R.E.M., Van Halen, Stooges, Grandmaster Flash Top Rock Hall Nominees” ), and artists who failed to gain enshrinement include influential Detroit bludgeoners the Stooges, disco heavyweights Chic and British-invasion act the Dave Clark Five.

Artists become eligible for induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25 years after the release of their first record. Nominees are determined by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominating committee — comprised of rock and roll historians — and ballots are sent to an international voting body of around 750 “rock experts.”

For more on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, check out the feature, “So How Do You Get Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?”