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The 8 Ball: Top 8 Super Bowl Halftime Shows

January 31, 2015 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

Top 8 Super Bowl Halftime Shows

Welcome once again to the 411 Music Zone 8 Ball! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

As you surely know, there’s a little sports game being played this weekend. Super Bowl XLIX takes place on Sunday between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, and there are certainly some people who are interested in it! I’m not one of them–not a sports guy–but I will be tuning in like most of America. Mostly I will be tuning in for the commercials, but also the halftime show.

The Super Bowl halftime show has grown since its original inception to become the single-most watched concert of the year. Since the late 1980s and particularly the early 1990s, the NFL has featured some of the biggest stars in the music industry during the halftime show, to the point that at times the performance has eclipsed viewership for the game itself. Of course, not all things are equal and there are some we’d all like to forget (hello, Black Eyed Peas). This week in honor of the big game, I’m taking a look at the best halftime shows in Super Bowl history.

Caveat: For the purposes of this list, I am including the halftime shows that primarily featured musical performances from known stars. This means that I didn’t consider any from before Super Bowl XXII in 1988; sorry, Up With People but you don’t count as “known stars.” I ranked my list based on performance, spectacle and the music itself; newsworthiness or pop culture impact didn’t count. As such–spoiler alert–you won’t be seeing the infamous Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake performance from Super Bowl XXXVIII, as it was all about Nipplegate and the performance was merely decent.

Just Missing The Cut

• The Who (Super Bowl XLIV)
• Tom Petty (Super Bowl XLII)
• Diana Ross (Super Bowl XXX)
• Shania Twain, Sting and No Doubt (Super Bowl XXXVII)
• Bruno Mars & Red Hot Chili Peppers (Super Bowl XLVIII)

#8: Paul McCartney (Super Bowl XXXIX)

First up on our list is one that basically came about because of the infamous Janet Jackson incident. Following the uproar that occurred over a flashed obscured nipple, the NFL decided to move into safer territory. That gave us Paul McCartney, who was the rare example of a rock star who was unlikely to share inappropriate parts of his body on a whim. McCartney delivered a performance that, while definitely safe compared to Janet and Justin, still managed to give us some great live music. Starting off with a rendition of “Drive My Car,” he went right into rousing takes of “Get Back” and “Live and Let Die” before a spectacular visual effect and performance of all-time great “Hey Jude.” With this set list, McCartney showed that you didn’t need to be young to really rock the Super Bowl and got the entire stadium to sing along with him to boot.

#7: Aerosmith & ‘NSYNC (Super Bowl XXXV)

This is likely going to be the most controversial pick of my list because…well, it was Aerosmith and ‘NSYNC with appearances by Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly. Who the hell would have thought that would have worked? Both before and after, people were shaking their heads at the lineup. But damn if it didn’t work, giving us a compilation of acts who were arguably at their hottest points ever. It was absurd and over the top and that’s exactly why it managed to come together right. I don’t even like “Bye Bye Bye” or “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” and I thought they came off sounding good. And when Steven Tyler comes in to close out “It’s Gonna Be Me,” that was a moment of sublime weirdness. Finishing off the whole thing with “Jaded” and Spears, Blige and Nelly coming in for the most out-there rendition of “Walk This Way” ever was a stroke of genius. Call me insane, but I loved this in spite of myself.

#6: The Rolling Stones (Super Bowl XL)

If there was ever a rock act that was perfect for the Super Bowl, it would have to be the Rolling Stones. The veteran rock group seemed to be a no-brainer to get booked for the halftime show at some point and in 2006 that became a reality. Playing on a stage formed like their iconic tongue logo, they didn’t need a lot of light shows or spectacle; they just went out there and rocked it like no one’s business. If they had chosen a song besides “Rough Justice” for the middle selection I would have likely had them a spot or two higher, but as it stands they still killed it. “Start Me Up” was as badass as ever and “Satisfaction” was a perfect closer, with Jagger racing and dancing around the stage but still sounding great. Parts of “Start Me Up” and “Rough Justice” had to be censored of course, but they couldn’t keep Jagger from being a sixty-two year-old sex symbol. Definitely an all-time great performance.

#5: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (Super Bowl XLIII)

Actually, check what I said about the Stones: Bruce Springsteen is literally the perfect choice for a Super Bowl rocker, if only by virtue of his blue collar American attitude. And in 2009, Springsteen made people put their chicken fingers down and rock it out in their homes. For just over thirteen minutes, Springsteen gave us an incredible performance that ran through a few of America’s favorites among his tracks coupled with a newer one in “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” “Born to Run,” “Working on a Dream” and “Glory Days.” Moving his way around the stage and putting everything he had into the mic, the Boss even decided to give America a little pelvic action when he did a slide down the stage and slammed his crotch into the camera. For the ladies, I’m sure. Springsteen is known for his epic-length performances; one gets the feeling that he took three hours of energy and compressed it all down to fit in half-time show length. Thanks, Boss.

#4: Michael Jackson (Super Bowl XXVII)

Where his sister’s Super Bowl performance was historic for all the wrong reasons, Michael Jackson’s 1993 gig was important for all the right ones. After Gloria Estefan’s 1992 performance found itself successfully counter-programmed against by In Living Color to the tune of 22 million viewers switching over, the NFL decided to switch gears and pick up top-tier talent. Since this was before scandal had tarnished his name, Michael Jackson was the obvious choice. Jackson was shot onto an elevated stage and stayed motionless, letting the crowd lose its mind for a over a minute before launching into the best setlist the halftime show has ever seen. “Jam,” Billie Jean,” “Black or White,” “We Are the World” and “Heal the World.” I mean, are you kidding me? This was spectacle on a new level for the Super Bowl and Jackson killed it. The King of Pop owned the Super Bowl that year and it completely changed the game for the halftime show going forward.

#3: Beyonce (Super Bowl XLVII)

We can talk about all the silliness regarding those shots her publicist tried to get taken off the internet, but that just obscures the fact that Queen B absolutely stole the show at the 2013 Super Bowl. Her performance was electric, dominating the stage even with her fellow Destiny’s Children joining her on the stage for a reunion. The performance was off the charts…literally, as the power required for the stage set is believed to have caused the electrical blackout in the Superdome that delayed the second half. She ran through amazing renditions of “Crazy in Love,” “End of Time,” “Baby Boy,” “Bootylicious,” “Independent Women,” “Single Ladies” and “Halo.” She had the crowd in the palm of her hand and the performance was one of the most-watched in Super Bowl history. It is likely to be quite a while until someone can top her for the best performance in recent memory.

#2: U2 (Super Bowl XXXVI)

U2’s performance was exactly what America needed in February of 2002. The country was still reeling from the September 11th terrorist attacks and the Bono-led band delivered a performance that was high on sentiment–honoring the victims by displaying each of their names on a screen behind the band–without being sappy or saccharine. They kicked it off with the soaring “Beautiful Day” before switching to “MLK” and then, finally, “Where the Streets Have No Name.” It was an incredibly-paced gig, getting the energy high and bringing things down slowly before swelling again. And to climax it all, Bono opened his jacket to reveal the American flag. It was a powerful performance that entertained and did its own tiny little part in helping America move on. I still get emotional watching this halftime show, a touching and heartfelt performance that is both a tribute to and honoring of the American spirit.

#1: Prince (Super Bowl XLI)

Man, you can’t even find THIS Prince performance on YouTube. Anyway, for my money no one has truly rocked the Super Bowl crowd like Prince has. The Purple One pop-rockfest veered wildly through covers (“We Will Rock You,” “Best of You,” “Proud Mary,” “All Along the Watchtower”) and all-time great Prince hits (“Let’s Go Crazy,” “Purple Rain”) but never got out of control. Prince was a tour de force, masterfully bringing the audience along with him on his little musical journey. He was vocally right on note in just about every moment, shredded on his guitar like no Super Bowl performance has, brought full on pageantry with the Florida A&M University Marching 100 Band and gave us the single-best song performance of Super Bowl history when he closed out with “Purple Rain.” I dare say we may never get a halftime show like Prince’s, and I’m okay with that because it’s an impossibly high mark to achieve.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.