By Christine Kearney and Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Singer and songwriter Neil Diamond was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Monday, crooning his signature mellow rock songs in a stark contrast to fellow inductee heavy metal band Alice Cooper.
Diamond and Alice Cooper were honored alongside Tom Waits, Darlene Love and Dr. John at a black tie event at New York's Wardorf Astoria hotel, with Cooper performing in a typically theatrical fake blood-spattered shirt and eye makeup while thanking the crowd with a live snake writhing around his neck.
"We have always been a hard rock band, we just wanted to decorate it a little bit differently," Cooper said after his band performed the 1972 hard rock anthem "School's Out."
He later opined the "shock rock" style the band helped originate was gone -- "I don't think you can shock an audience anymore," he said.
Musician Rob Zombie introduced the band by comparing them to "more like a murderous gang of drag queens."
Diamond performed his rousing 1969 hit "Sweet Caroline" -- famed for being inspired by former U.S. President's John F. Kennedy's daughter Caroline -- as he walked among the audience. He also sang his singles "Cherry, Cherry" and "I Am ... I Said."
Singer Paul Simon introduced Diamond by noting artists for the Hall of Fame become eligible 25 years after their first record, making Diamond's induction a long time coming.
"My question is, what took so long?" Simon said, before Diamond stepped on the stage to receive his award.
Diamond, 70, has sold more than 120 million albums worldwide, as well as writing hits for other musicians including The Monkees' "I'm a Believer." He later teamed with Barbra Streisand for the easy-listening hit "You Don't Bring Me Flowers."
His successful live concerts were marked by his landmark live 1972 album "Hot August Night," and many of his songs, including "Solitary Man," "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon," "Red Red Wine", "Holly Holy," and "Song Song Blue" have been covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, UB40 and Chris Isaak.
SIXTIES TEEN SPIRIT
Singer-songwriter Tom Waits, 61, whose blues and experimental rock has won over fans since the 1970s, inflected his acceptance speech with offbeat remarks such as "songs are just very interesting things to be doing with the air".
He also joked about his profile over the years: "They say I have no hits and I'm difficult to work with -- and they say it like this is a bad thing."
Rhythm and blues singer Darlene Love, 72, whose 1962 No. 1 hit "He's A Rebel" with The Crystals gained fame as one of the most definitive girl group sounds of the time, thanked convicted record producer Phil Spector, who was behind her best-known songs.
Actress and singer Bette Midler paid tribute to Love, who worked with Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley and Dionne Warwick, by saying Love "changed my view of the world" and was "the very embodiment of teen spirit in the sixties."
The event started with the induction of New Orleans blues, funk and jazz singer songwriter Dr. John, whose real name is Malcolm Rebennack, who said music had been "a blessing" in his life. His 1972 landmark album "Gumbo" of New Orleans classics found a mainstream audience.
Songwriter and keyboardist Leon Russell received The Award For Musical Excellence and was honored by Elton John, who called him "my idol." The pair released a collaborative album last year, "The Union" after having not spoken for 38 years.
Industry executives Jac Holzman of Elektra Records and Art Rupe of Specialty Records also both received the Ahmet Ertegun Award.
The five performing artists and bands inducted at the ceremony were chosen by 600 music industry professionals. Inductees are represented in a permanent exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)