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Top 5 Super Bowl Halftime Performances

Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Paul McCartney
Jamie Squire / Donald Miralle / Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Let’s face it, any proper list of the top Super Bowl halftime performances is going to be dominated by classic rock acts. If any good came from Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 halftime show, it’s that for the next half dozen years the NFL chose to give classic rockers such as Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney the home field advantage in terms of booking. Of course, the music chosen for halftime shows has inevitably swung back to the world of pop in recent years. So, as we prepare for this year’s big game, we take a fond look back at the Top 5 Super Bowl Halftime Show Performances:


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Super Bowl XLII



Tom Petty is more concerned with performing songs than he is about putting on a “show.” So if his 2008 appearance maybe lacked a bit in the way of visual stimulation, it certainly didn’t come as a surprise. He’s from the school of Bob Dylan; as the years go by that becomes more and more apparent in not only the way that he delivers his vocals, but also in his overall presence. As fans rushed towards the stage (which was visually very attractive), Petty opened with the fan favorite “American Girl.” A sea of yellow lights waving through a deep blue hue provided the backdrop for “I Won’t Back Down,” followed by “Free Fallin’,” which allowed guitarist Mike Campbell his moment to shine.



The Rolling Stones

Super Bowl XL



Let’s go to the Rolling Stones play by play! Mick Jagger blasted right out of the gate with “Start Me Up” and ran around the iconic tongue logo stage gyrating the entire way. There was a visual surprise in the fact that the tongue itself was merely a red blanketed cover that once lifted revealed a pit of fans underneath. The band made their presence known with guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood playing off one another, while Charlie Watts was – as always – the glue holding the entire operation together. Showcasing their then-new song “Rough Justice” seemed logical, but they may have fared better to play another mega hit. All was forgiven when Jagger commented, “This one we could have done at Super Bowl I you know, but everything comes to he who waits,” before ripping into a sassy version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” that led Jagger to dance around the stage like a banshee. Touchdown!



Bruce Springsteen

Super Bowl XLIII



A total showman, Springsteen projected a full 100 yards of charisma as he proudly introduced the E Street Band. Re-watching them open with “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” instantly reminds one of just how much Clarence Clemons is missed. Springsteen’s choice to play “Born To Run” seemed highly appropriate, as was “Working On A Dream,” which allowed a full-fledged choir and the audience to participate. Calling over guitarist Little Steven to duet on “Glory Days” capped off this high-energy performance, which even included a referee getting into the act. It was a top-notch halftime from beginning to end.




Super Bowl XLI



Okay, we’re gonna take some flack for this one, we know. But watch it again, and see if there’s isn’t more classic rock in here than you realized! Opening with a clip from Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” The Artist Formerly Known as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince quickly had the audience in the palm of his hand. The underrated guitarist immediately launched into “Lets Go Crazy” while strutting around on a wet stage (it was pouring rain) as if he hadn’t noticed. “Baby I’m a Star” was the cue for an entire marching band to get funky, and was followed by a version of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Proud Mary.” A sincere nod to Jimi Hendrix (and Dylan) followed as he played a piece from “All Along The Watchtower,” which seemed painfully short considering it merged into “Best of You” by the Foo Fighters. Typically rain is uncomfortable in an outdoor venue, but if you got soaked during the “Purple Rain” finale, this may have proved the exception to that rule.



Paul McCartney

Super Bowl XXXIX



McCartney looks as cool and collected as you might expect coming from a Beatle that had Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the bag well before the very first Super Bowl was played in 1967. Using large runways to project video, it at times seemed as if McCartney was a one-man show on a large, flashy, game board. The overall view was probably superb for those located in the nosebleed sections, while those close to the stage must have been thrilled when he sat at the piano for a fantastic version of “Live and Let Die.” Every hand in the house was high in the air as the fireworks started to launch. McCartney then ran his very own successful version of the two-minute drill, encouraging the crowd to accompany him for the closer, “Hey Jude.”



Paul McCartney Albums, Ranked Worst to Best




(And no, we didn’t forget about the Who’s halftime show performance in 2010. The stats don’t lie. Though the Who are clearly champions in our book, let’s just say that this wasn’t one of their best games.)


Next: Top Rock Concert Opening Songs

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