As much as football, wings or beer, the mega-event that is the Super Bowl has come to be defined by its epic halftime musical performances. This year, Beyoncé will take her turn in the spotlight, but she has some big shoes to fill: from Michael Jackson to the Rolling Stones, some of music’s biggest names have dazzled on football’s biggest day. We count down our 10 favorite Super Bowl halftime gigs.
Roger Daltrey's voice was showing its age, but the Who's Super Bowl gig was undeniably bold and brash all the same. Pete Townshend brought the house down with his trademark windmill chords on "Won't Get Fooled Again," while Daltrey, with backing support from bassist Pino Palladino, unspooled a wicked harmonica riff on "Baba O' Riley." These London guys still have crazy chops.
The 1995 Super Bowl halftime show was cheesy to the max – and yet also kind of awesome. The Disney-produced affair was meant to promote a new Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, so they got a Harrison Ford fill-in to act out an over-the-top action sequence. But it was Patti LaBelle, dressed as a bedazzled Egyptian princess and belting out "Release Yourself" – followed by Tony Bennett swooping in to croon "Caravan" – that turned this performance from shtick to superb.
Some argue that the Blues Brothers died with John Belushi in 1982. But Dan Aykroyd was out to prove that notion false. In 1997, the actor-singer rounded up the late Belushi's younger brother, Jim, and John Goodman, plus ZZ Top, for a bluesy halftime party featuring rowdy renditions of "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" and "Soul Man." And that wasn't all: special guest James Brown, rocking a pink satin suit and yelling "Get funky!" during "I Feel Good," stole the show.
Bruce Springsteen went all out for his 2009 halftime show, busting out classics from "Born to Run" to "Glory Days" with the E Street Band. But let's not kid ourselves: for many (if not most) viewers, this performance was all about Bruce's crotch slide. The next day, the Internet was teeming with animated GIFs showing his collision with a camera during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out."
Janet Jackson's Super Bowl performance is, alas, mostly remembered today for her "wardrobe malfunction" alongside Justin Timberlake. That alone made it one of the most talked-about halftime shows ever – leading to a five-second TV delay for all future performances, not to mention a protracted legal battle over FCC censorship that lasted until 2012. And, oh yeah, Nelly, Diddy, Jessica Simpson and Kid Rock also performed at that show. But really, who remembers those minor details?
Weeks after their Bigger Bang tour set the record for the highest-grossing outing in history, the Stones hit Motor City for a halftime rock riot. Mick Jagger rooster-walked his way through "Start Me Up," then Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood shredded on the new-at-the-time "Rough Justice." Jagger introduced "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" with a flash of deadpan humor: "This one," he said, "we could have done at Super Bowl I."
No one is cooler than Prince. It's a scientific fact. Exhibit A: in 2007, fighting off the Miami rain, he ripped through gnarly renditions of the Purple Rain classics "Let's Go Crazy," "Baby, I'm a Star," and, naturally, a mammoth "Purple Rain." But it was his funked-up cover of Foo Fighters' "Best of You" – totally random, yet completely awesome – that still had people buzzing weeks after this gig.
When U2 took the Super Bowl stage in 2002, only a few short months had passed since the tragedy of 9/11. But the band did its best to ease the pain everyone was feeling, at least temporarily. "Beautiful Day" jump-started the emotional performance, but it was "MLK" seguing into "Where the Streets Have No Name," as a list of 9/11 victims scrolled in the background, that guaranteed this performance a place in our collective memory.
The King of Pop's halftime performance is prime evidence of why Jackson was one of the best to ever grace the stage. There he was one minute, atop the Rose Bowl's scoreboard; seconds later, he was at mid-field, sliding into "Billy Jean." And let's not forget about his white satin shirt, blowing mightily in the California breeze. This performance was the stuff of legend.