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Readers’ Poll: The Greatest Super Bowl Halftime Shows

Your picks include Madonna, Prince, U2 and Bruce Springsteen

Prince Madonna U2 superbowl

Prince, Madonna, and Bono of U2.

Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images; Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images; KMazur/WireImage

The Super Bowl halftime show is a very tough gig. About 160 million people are watching, and the performers have about 14 minutes. Some opt to play three or four of their best songs, while others do a big medley that packs in as many of their hits as possible. No matter what they do, a good chunk of the crowd will hate it, or at least switch over to the Puppy Bowl midway.

If done right, however, it's a great way to revive a career, or at least sell a ton of tickets to the artist's next tour. We asked our readers last week to select their favorite halftime shows of all time. Click through to see the results. 

paul mccartney

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10. Paul McCartney

The NFL knew they had to make a very safe choice for the 2005 Super Bowl halftime show. Janet Jackson (and her nipple) were on the previous year's broadcast, so they couldn't have anything with even the slightest hint of scandal. Enter Sir Paul McCartney. Nearly every late-night host was cracking jokes about the possibility of him whipping out one of his man-boobs, but everyone knew Macca would put on an extremely family-friendly show. He broke out "Drive My Car," "Get Back," "Live and Let Die" and "Hey Jude." It was such a success that the NFL started looking for other A-list classic rock acts to fill out the next few years. 

janet jackson

Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

9. Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" is far and away the most famous moment in the history of the Super Bowl halftime show. Most people don't even remember anything else about the set. The show was produced by MTV, and they brought out P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock and Justin Timberlake. It was a mega-medley of hits such as "Hot in Here," "Bawitdaba" and "Rhythm Nation" that culminated in "Rock Your Body" and an exposed nipple. Janet's career has yet to recover, and that was the last time the NFL put MTV in charge of the halftime show. 

tom petty

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8. Tom Petty

According to the rumor mill, the Eagles were approached about playing the 2008 halftime show, but they ultimately couldn't come to a deal. Whether or not that's true, Tom Petty says they phoned him very late in the game and he happily agreed. It became the perfect way to promote his upcoming summer tour and, since Petty wasn't promoting a new album at the time, the set was focused entirely on his hits. He and his band opened with a slightly shortened "American Girl" and then tore through three consecutive hits from Full Moon Fever. It was a set they could have done in 1989, but people don't exactly tune into a halftime show to hear unfamiliar songs. 

the who

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7. The Who

The Who did everything they could to stuff an entire two-hour concert into 12 minutes. The result was a medley of hits that won't exactly rival Live at Leeds as the greatest concert moment in the band's history, but it was nonetheless an enjoyable performance. It's very hard to go wrong with "Baba O'Riley," "See Me Feel Me" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" – they've been anchoring the band's shows for over 40 years. The performance was supposed to kick off a world tour, but Pete Townshend's hearing problem flared up and everything got pushed back about two years. They're on tour right now performing Quadrophenia

the rolling stones

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6. The Rolling Stones

Paul McCartney's 2005 Super Bowl set was very well received, so the obvious move for 2006 was to invite the Rolling Stones. They were promoting a world tour at the time, so the timing worked out very well. Unlike many of their peers, the Stones didn't overthink the performance. Playing on a tongue-shaped stage, the band stuck to three songs: "Start Me Up," "Rough Justice" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." The second song is one of the strongest tracks from their 2005 LP A Bigger Bang and it fit in nicely with the classics, even though it almost certainly inspired about 300 million people to take a bathroom break or pick up some more nachos. 

michael jackson

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5. Michael Jackson

For the first three decades of the Super Bowl, the halftime show was almost an afterthought. Marching bands would play Disney or Duke Ellington songs and they'd call it a day. It wasn't uncommon to bring out state fair acts like Chubby Checker or Up With People. That slowly started to change in the early 1990s with acts like New Kids on the Block and Gloria Estefan, but the first true superstar to put on a spectacular show was Michael Jackson in 1993. Wearing a military outfit, Jackson stood nearly motionless on the stage for a full 90 seconds. He then burst into "Jam," "Billie Jean," "Black or White" and "Heal the World." It was his final flawless performance. Months later, allegations of child abuse surfaced and his life slid into a downward spiral. 

Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

4. Prince

It's impossible to know what to expect at a Prince concert. Some nights, he plays all the classics and the show lasts for hours; other times, he focuses on new material and it's over before you know it. At the 2007 Super Bowl, he delivered a truly amazing set, though nobody had imagined that he'd somehow squeeze Bob Dylan, Queen, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Foo Fighters covers into the show. He opened with "We Will Rock You" and then tore into snippets of "Let's Go Crazy," "Baby I'm a Star," "Proud Mary," "All Along the Watchtower," "Best of You" and "Purple Rain." Dave Grohl was as shocked as anybody to hear his song in there, but it somehow worked. Prince fans often complain that he does too many medleys at his shows but, in this context, he had little choice. 

U2

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3. U2

The 2002 Super Bowl was just four months after 9/11, so a wild show like the Aerosmith/N'Sync/Britney Spears/Nelly clusterfuck of the previous year just wasn't an option. The NFL wisely brought in U2. They were midway through their Elevation comeback tour, and Bono always knows how to balance spectacle with a sense of higher meaning. They opened with "Beautiful Day" and then played the mournful "MLK" while the names of the 9/11 victims ran on a screen. They wrapped up with a triumphant "Where the Streets Have No Name." It was classy and deeply moving. 

bruce springsteen

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2. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen's former manager, Mike Appel, tried to book him at the Super Bowl back in 1973. The NFL went in a slightly different direction that year by booking Andy Williams and the University of Michigan Marching Band. About two decades later, it was the NFL who was chasing Springsteen, but the singer declined numerous times.

By 2009, however, the Boss had toured so heavily over the last few years that some markets were soft. He also had a new album to promote, so he finally folded and agreed. The band rehearsed for days and days at New York's Terminal 5, making sure they had the show down to the second. The band's late saxophonist Clarence Clemons was recovering from knee surgery and in incredible pain; it was unclear if he would even be able to stand onstage but, when the cameras began rolling, he managed to not only stand but even take his first steps since the operation. They opened with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and then went into a shortened "Born to Run" and the title track from Working on a Dream. They wrapped up with "Glory Days," though the next day, all anyone was talking about was Springsteen's crotch slide into the camera. 

madonna

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1. Madonna

Madonna had a very ambitious tour plan for 2012, and the single best way to promote it was a Super Bowl halftime show. She went all out for the performance, bringing in Cee Lo Green, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A. and even acrobats. The set was wall-to-wall hits with her pretty flaccid new single "Give Me All Your Luvin'" in the middle. M.I.A. tried to perk up the song by sticking her middle finger up on camera, which didn't exactly thrill Madonna or the NFL – though next to Nipplegate, it was a pretty tiny scandal. The next day, tickets went on sale for her world tour and sold out everywhere.