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  • The Super Bowl halftime show is the biggest gig in music. But it hasn’t always been that way. Al Hirt? Up With People? Mickey Flickin’ Rooney? Here’s our list of the acts—from Elvis and Led Zep to Eminem and Public Enemy—that should have played the Super Bowl, from I to LI
By Mark Bechtel
January 31, 2018

Justin Timberlake will be the halftime entertainment at Super Bowl LII this Sunday, and he will be quite good. Most halftime acts these days are. It’s an extremely appealing gig, given the hype and the built-in worldwide audience, meaning the NFL can pretty much pick any artist it wants. But that hasn’t always been the case. For the first several decades of the Big Game, halftime seemed like an afterthought, with performances dominated by area marching bands, local crooners and all-too-frequent Up With People sightings.

The missed opportunities are staggering. The Super Bowl halftime, these days, is the ultimate stadium rock gig; alas, the NFL spent that golden era of denim foisting smooth jazz and standards on the masses. What follows is the ultimate What-If, a recasting of every Super Bowl halftime show.

Before you get apoplectic, here are the Ground Rules:

1. It’s a football game. It’s macho. There will be a lot of rock
2. It’s watched by dads. I am a dad. Hence, there will be a lot of dad rock. (But not the National or Wilco. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t justify them.)
3. Timing is important. We’re looking for acts that were in the spotlight at the time of their performance—so you can’t adopt the NFL’s early 2000s strategy and just say, “Get the Stones” if no one else comes to mind. The idea is that the Super Bowl is the showcase event for the biggest artist of the day, a crowning achievement of sorts.
4. To avoid Prince taking up permanent residency, no act can play more than once every 10 years.
5. We’re doing this without the benefit of hindsight. For instance, U2 is the pick in 1988. They’d be better in 1993, but we wouldn’t have known that in ’88. Ergo, they play in ’88.
6. Bonus points if the acts have a local tie-in.
7. Real-life events are taken into account (see Super Bowl I). Setlists are drawn only from songs that had been released (or at least written) and that were actually played live by the band (so the Beatles cannot play “A Day in the Life” with a 40-piece orchestra).
8. Multiple performers are allowed only if there’s a thematic reason for it.

O.K. Let’s rock.




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