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  • In recent years the Super Bowl halftime show has been the biggest gig in music, but it hasn’t always been that way (and sure it isn’t in 2019). Al Hirt? Up With People? Maroon Flickin’ 5? Here’s our list of the acts—from Elvis and Led Zep to Run DMC and Eminem—that should have played the Super Bowl, from I to LIII
By Mark Bechtel
January 31, 2019

This post originally ran in January 2018. It has been updated!

Maroon 5 will be the halftime entertainment at Super Bowl LIII, much to the chagrin of, well, just about everyone. What was once a highly sought-after gig has become one many acts won’t touch under any circumstances, and as polarizing as the rest of our public life.

Even before it became toxic, picking the right halftime act was never as easy as it should have been. 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. In later years it became a repository for rockin’ grandads.

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 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.


Super Bowl I (Jan. 15, 1967)

Los Angeles Coliseum
Real Life: Grambling State and Univ. of Arizona marching bands, Al Hirt, the Anaheim High School Drill Team and Flag Girls
Recast: The Beach Boys

The big question in the mid-’60s was Beatles or Stones? Stones or Beatles? The answer, for our purposes, is neither. In January of ’67, the Beatles had stopped touring, and the Rolling Stones had better things to do: They were in New York for the Ed Sullivan Show (their famous “Let’s Spend the Night Together” performance aired the night of the game). At the time—remember, we’re operating without hindsight—Sullivan was a much bigger gig than the Super Bowl. So who gets the call? The Beach Boys. Their non-threatening, feel-good California vibe is perfect for an event that’s trying to make a name for itself without scaring anyone off.

Setlist: Good Vibrations | Help Me, Rhonda | I Get Around | Do You Wanna Dance? | California Girls


Super Bowl II (Jan. 14, 1968)

Orange Bowl, Miami
Real Life: Grambling State marching band
Recast: The Rolling Stones

All that stuff about a non-threatening band goes out the window in the first post-Summer of Love Super Bowl. Granted, the Stones only played a handful of shows in ’68, but with a new album that desperately needed to generate some positive buzz (Their Satanic Majesties Request), this is a gig they’d probably book.

Setlist: Paint it, Black | Get Off of My Cloud | Let’s Spend the Night Together | She’s a Rainbow | (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction


Super Bowl III (Jan. 12, 1969)

Orange Bowl, Miami
Real Life: Florida A&M band, area high school bands
Recast: The Beatles

The Jets’ upset of the Colts came 18 days before the Fab Four ended their live hiatus with their final performance, on the roof of Apple Records. So it makes sense they’d be both ready and willing to play. What better way to knock off a little rust? As for what they’d play: The Apple show featured four versions of “Get Back” and a bunch of tunes that wouldn’t exactly get butts out of chairs. (Face it: No one’s dancing to “Dig a Pony.”) Plus, Let it Be’s most accessible number, the title track, hadn’t been recorded yet. And one senses they’d bristle at trotting out the moptop-era greatest hits. 

Setlist: Get Back | Day Tripper | While My Guitar Gently Weeps (with Eric Clapton) | Hey Jude


Super Bowl IV (Jan. 11, 1970)

Tulane Stadium, New Orleans
Real Life: Tribute to Mardi Gras (including Al Hirt and Doc Severinsen)
Recast: Creedence Clearwater Revival

In 1969, CCR released not one, not two, but three albums, a KISS-like display of prolificacy that’s even more impressive when you take into account the quality of the work: Bayou Country, Green River, and Willie and the Poor Boys. That, and their appearance at Woodstock, made them megastars—and a perfect NOLA performer.

Setlist: Born on the Bayou | Bad Moon Rising | Down on the Corner | Fortunate Son | Proud Mary


Super Bowl V (Jan. 17, 1971)

Orange Bowl, Miami
Real Life: Up With People
Recast: The Temptations

Motown makes it first appearance. The Jackson 5 easily could have been the pick, but we’re going with the Temptations, a slightly edgier selection given their foray into psychedelic soul. They slide in just under the wire: frontman Eddie Kendricks would leave the group early in ’71.

Setlist: Get Ready | Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) | Psychedelic Shack | I Second That Emotion | My Girl | Cloud 9


Super Bowl VI (Jan. 16, 1972)

Tulane Stadium, New Orleans
Real Life: Salute to Louis Armstrong (including Carol Channing and Ella Fitzgerald)
Recast: Led Zeppelin

The release of Led Zeppelin IV in November of ’71 pretty much solidified the band’s status as the premier rock outfit around. Even Carol Channing could see that.

Setlist: Rock and Roll | Stairway to Heaven | Whole Lotta Love | Black Dog | Communication Breakdown


Super Bowl VII (Jan. 14, 1973)

Los Angeles Coliseum
Real Life: Happiness Is (which closed with Andy Williams singing “People”)
Recast: Elvis Presley

We’re taking a few liberties with reality here. January 14, 1973, wasn’t just game day—it was also the day of Elvis’s “Aloha from Hawaii” special. But we’re going to assume that by this time the Super Bowl had become a sufficiently desirable gig. So given the chance, the King would take it and get the same bump in popularity he did from his Hawaii show, which was finally aired worldwide three months later.

Setlist: See See Rider | Burning Love | Blue Suede Shoes | Hound Dog | Suspicious Minds | Can’t Help Falling in Love


Super Bowl VIII (Jan. 13, 1974)

Rice Stadium, Houston
Real Life: The Texas Longhorn Band with Miss Texas 1973 on fiddle
Recast: Stevie Wonder
This is an instance of Ground Rule 4 biting us. Wonder had just released Innervisions in the summer of ’73, an on the strength of that alone he’d be the perfect halftime act. He followed it up with Fulfillingness’ First Finale and Songs in the Key of Life. (That’s three Album of the Year Grammys right there.) So while, in retrospect, it would make more sense to wait to tap Stevie until, say, ’77, he gets the call here. Perhaps Miss Texas 1973 could throw in some fiddle on the improv funk stew in the middle of “Living for the City.”

Setlist: Higher Ground | Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours | Living for the City | Superstition


Super Bowl IX (Jan. 12, 1975)

Tulane Stadium, New Orleans
Real Life: Tribute to Duke Ellington
Recast: The Who (with special guests)

And now we come to our first product-plugging performance. In early ’75 the Who had wrapped filming of the movie Tommy, which would be released in March. Nothing like a garish halftime show to drum up a little interest. Also, Tina Turner makes alternate history as the first female halftime performer.

Setlist: I Can’t Explain | My Generation | Substitute | Acid Queen (with Tina Turner) | Pinball Wizard (with Elton John) | See Me Feel Me/Listening to You


Super Bowl X (Jan. 18, 1976)

Orange Bowl, Miami
Real Life: 200 Years and Just a Baby: A Tribute to America’s Bicentennial (featuring Up With People)
Recast: Rebel, Rebel: A Tribute to America’s Bicentennial (featuring David Bowie and Lynyrd Skynyrd)

How do you best celebrate America’s 200th birthday? Fireworks, parades and patriotic tunes are nice. But that’s a little light on the rock. And let’s face it: Bowie and Skynyrd provide a little something for everyone. They’re a musical melting pot, and that’s what America is all about. (The big question: Does Bowie join in on “Free Bird.” In my mind, Yes. Yes, he does.)

Setlist: Rebel Rebel | Young Americans (Bowie) | Sweet Home Alabama | Free Bird (Skynyrd)


Super Bowl XI (Jan. 9, 1977)

Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Real Life: Disney’s It’s a Small World
Recast: The Eagles

Five weeks after the release of Hotel California, putting the Eagles on at the Rose Bowl is probably the biggest no-brainer on the list.

Setlist: Hotel California | Victim of Love | Life in the Fast Lane | Take it Easy


Super Bowl XII (Jan. 15, 1978)

Superdome, New Orleans
Real Life: From Paris to Paris of America (featuring, you guessed it, Al Hirt)
Recast: Bee Gees

Remember, we’re casting this as if the decision is being made in 1978. And, like it or not, that means disco. The soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, released in November of 1977, hit No. 1 in January ’78 and stayed there for 24 straight weeks. There was no way to avoid it.

Setlist: Stayin' Alive | Night Fever | Nights on Broadway | You Should Be Dancing | Jive Talkin'


Super Bowl XIII (Jan. 21, 1979)

Orange Bowl, Miami
Real Life: Salute to Caribbean
Recast: KISS

Unless you lived through it, you can’t comprehend how big KISS was in the late ’70s. It had little to do with their music and everything to do with their marketing genius. Despite the fact that I was seven and couldn’t name a KISS song except “Beth” (the only one played on radio stations my parents listened to), I had the lunchbox and the T-shirt. There were comic books and figurines and, most gloriously, an October 1978 made-for-TV movie that only could have been made by a band that was unfamiliar with the word “No.” It was called KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. Each band member is imbued with a magical power—though, sadly, not the ability to act. According to Wikipedia, Ace Frehley was originally written as a largely silent character described as “an other-galactic Harpo Marx.” In one scene, Ace’s stunt double appears in his place; even behind the makeup, it’s clear that the stand-in is African-American. (Frehley is not.)

Point is, KISS could get away with anything in 1979. No one was seeing the negative. Though we’re going to assume that the Super Bowl contract would include some sort of “no blood from the mouth” rider.

Setlist: I Was Made for Lovin’ You | God of Thunder (with flames) | Shout it Out Loud | Beth | Detroit Rock City | Rock and Roll All Nite


Super Bowl XIV (Jan. 20, 1980)

Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Real Life: Up With People
Recast: Down With People (featuring Pink Floyd and Joy Division)

The oil embargo. The Iran hostage crisis. Fourteen percent inflation. The end of the ’70s was not a time for annoyingly perky kids, and our halftime show reflects the mood.

Pink Floyd’s The Wall came out in late ’79 and immediately tore up the airwaves. They’re on board. And to lend additional gloom, fellow Brits Joy Division make the trip to America that, sadly, never would come to be in reality, after lead singer Ian Curtis’s suicide in May 1980. Thankfully for our purposes, the time limit prevents Floyd from playing “Comfortably Numb,” or the crowd might completely lose it.

Setlist: Love Will Tear us Apart | Transmission | She's Lost Control (Joy Division) | The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) | Run Like Hell (Pink Floyd)


Super Bowl XV (Jan. 25, 1981)

Superdome, New Orleans
Real Life: Mardi Gras Festival (sans Al Hirt)
Recast: Bruce Springsteen

This may seem like a bit of a cheat, using the Boss before Born in the USA (and saving ourselves a very tough pick for the 1985 game). But Springsteen was in the midst of his River tour, which packed huge venues on multiple nights and solidified his status as the patron saint of middle-aged men who like to play air drums.

Setlist: Born to Run | Hungry Heart | Out in the Street | Tenth Avenue Freeze Out | Thunder Road


Super Bowl XVI (Jan. 24, 1982)

Silverdome, Detroit
Real Life: Salute to the 1960s and Motown (featuring Up With People)
Recast: Salute to the 1960s and Motown (featuring Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Martha and the Vandellas, and Diana Ross)

A bit tone-deaf, having a bunch of white kids run around in tribute to Motown, especially when the real item was right down the street. And since we’re playing God, let’s have Marvin do the National Anthem as well, as he did most memorably the following winter at the NBA All-Star Game.

Setlist: Got To Give It Up | Baby Don’t You Do It (Gaye) | Nowhere to Run | Dancing in the Street (Vandellas) | I Second that Emotion (Robinson) | You Can’t Hurry Love | Come See About Me (Ross) | What’s Going On (All)


Super Bowl XVII (Jan. 20, 1983)

Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Real Life: Kaledio SUPERscope (footage does not exist, sadly)
Recast: Michael Jackson

Another no-brainer. Thriller had come out the previous November, and Jacko was everywhere. The big question here: Would Michael moonwalk? He didn’t unveil the move until two months later, but you’ve got to figure he had it up his sleeve.

Setlist: Billie Jean | Beat It | Wanna Be Startin’ Somthin’ | Human Nature | Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough


Super Bowl XVIII (Jan. 22, 1984)

Tampa Stadium
Real Life: Salute to Superstars of Silver Screen
Recast: Journey

A tough call here, as several bands—the Police, Van Halen, the Clash, Styx—would have worked. But how can you rewrite Super Bowl history and not have “Don’t Stop Believin’” somewhere in the timeline? Fresh off the Frontiers world tour, the kings of arena rock get their day in the sun.

Setlist: Don’t Stop Believin’ | Wheel in the Sky | Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) | Faithfully | Any Way You Want It


Super Bowl XIX (Jan. 20, 1985)

Stanford Stadium
Real Life: World of Children’s Dreams
Recast: Prince
Another one that could have gone several ways. With apologies to Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Van Halen, Duran Duran and a whole lot more (and remember, the Boss is ineligible), Prince has to be the call here. Before his later years, when he seemed content to stay in one spot and shred, the little guy was a ball of sweaty energy, arguably the greatest frontman there ever was. Arguably.

Setlist: When Doves Cry | Let’s Go Crazy | 1999 | Purple Rain | Baby I’m a Star


Super Bowl XX (Jan. 26, 1986)

Superdome, New Orleans
Real Life: Beat of the Future (featuring Up With People)
Recast: Queen (with special guest)

Certain to be one of the most controversial picks, this one was cemented on July 13, 1985. That was the day of Live Aid, when the greatest rock stars in the world got together to be shown how it was done by Queen. (An industry poll by the BBC in 2005 named it the best performance in rock history.) Describing the performance sells it short: You see, there’s a mustachioed gent in a tank top and some tight mom jeans, and he shuffles around with a half a mic stand in his hand. But watch the tape. Look at the crowd at the 5:51 mark in the video. (O.K., maybe it would help to import several thousand Brits as seat fillers.) Freddy Mercury is one of the few performers who can give Prince a run for his money as arguably the best frontman ever. Arguably.

Setlist: We Will Rock You | Bohemian Rhapsody (snippet) | Radio Gaga | Crazy Little Thing Called Love | Under Pressure (with David Bowie) | We Are the Champions


Super Bowl XXI (Jan. 25, 1987)

Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Real Life: Salute to Hollywood’s 100th Anniversary (featuring George Burns and Mickey Rooney)
Recast: Run-DMC

Their 1986 “Walk This Way” cover with Aerosmith broke Run-DMC to a wider crowd, but the trio from Queens had already built a healthy following. It’s tough to imagine the NFL signing off on a rap act in 1987, but the group’s guitar-heavy sound, which became even more pronounced when producer Rick Rubin came on board in ’86, might just have ticked enough boxes to get the league’s blessing. (The presence of Aerosmith on stage wouldn’t hurt chances either.)

Setlist: King of Rock | Rock Box | My Adidas | It’s Tricky | Walk This Way (with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry)


Super Bowl XXII (Jan. 31, 1988)

Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego
Real Life: Something Grand (featuring Chubby Checker and the Rockettes)
Recast: U2

With most of the country thoroughly in the thrall of Joshua Tree mania, this is a pretty easy pick. Two things, though. First, U2 would be a much better pick in 1993, when they could draw from the punchier Achtung, Baby. The Joshua Tree, as well as it holds up, is pretty maudlin. So the setlist would likely rely on earlier, more anthemic numbers. Which brings us to point two: They pretty much have to play “Where the Streets Have No Name,” as it’s the most logical Joshua Tree song. That means that after the 2002 version of that same song, certain hater-types would be all, “Seen this before!” 

Setlist: Where the Streets Have No Name | I Will Follow | New Year’s Day | With or Without You | Pride (In the Name of Love)


Super Bowl XXIII (Jan. 22, 1989)

Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami
Real Life: Be Bop Bamboozled in 3-D (a salute to 1950s rock)
Recast: Guns N’ Roses

We’re now clearly entrenched in the Hair Rock Days. Def Leppard would be fine here, and Bon Jovi wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. But no one in the dying days of the ’80s matched the energy and electricity of GNR. Also, this would be good news for the FCC’s rank-and-file. Imagine the overtime.

Setlist: Welcome to the Jungle | Paradise City | Patience | Knocking on Heaven’s Door | Sweet Child O’ Mine


Super Bowl XXIV (Jan. 28, 1990)

Superdome, New Orleans
Real Life: Salute to New Orleans and 40th Anniversary of Peanuts
Recast: Madonna

There was an argument to be made for Madonna as far back as 1986. But in her Like a Virgin days, Madge probably wasn’t exactly the NFL’s cup of tea. (If anyone is going to dry hump Pete Rozelle’s stage, it will be Prince, thank you very much.) By the dawn of the ’90s, though, Madonna was making some of the most compelling and daring music to be found. She’s a natural to be the first female Super Bowl headliner, and her inclusion here allows us to ponder this question: On the outrage-o-meter, how would burning crosses stack up against a wardrobe malfunction or a bunch of guys kneeling for the anthem?

Setlist: Express Yourself | Open Your Heart | Live to Tell | Vogue | Like a Prayer


Super Bowl XXV (Jan. 27, 1991)

Tampa Stadium
Real Life: Small World (a salute to 25 years of the Super Bowl featuring New Kids on the Block and Warren Moon)
Recast: Janet Jackson

Unfortunately for Miss Jackson, her performance won’t air until after the game, on tape. No, it has nothing to do with her wardrobe malfuctioning. Super Bowl XXV is played shortly after the start of the first Gulf War, and ABC pre-empted the halftime show with coverage of Operation Desert Storm.

Setlist: Control | What Have You Done for Me Lately | Black Cat | Escapade | Miss You Much/Rhythm Nation


Super Bowl XXVI (Jan. 26, 1992)

Metrodome, Minneapolis
Real Life: Winter Magic, a salute to the 1992 Winter Olympics
Recast: AC/DC

Pop quiz: What is AC/DC's biggest American chart hit? “You Shook Me All Night Long”? Nope. “Hells Bells”? “Highway to Hell”? Wrong, and wrong. It’s “Moneytalks,” which hit No. 23 in 1991. The album it's from, The Razors Edge, went to No. 2 and sold 5 million copies. (And it either ignored rules regarding apostrophe usage, a la “Hells Bells,” or has a hidden meaning I’m not clever enough to divine.) Anyway, this is a perfect time for Angus and the boys to bring the thunder from Down Under.

Setlist: Hells Bells | Thunderstruck | Highway to Hell | Back in Black | Moneytalks | You Shook Me All Night Long


Super Bowl XXVII (Jan. 31, 1993)

Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Real Life: Michael Jackson
Recast: A Salute to Flannel, featuring Pearl Jam and Nirvana

Jacko technically is eligible for a repeat here, but the whole reason the NFL went to him in 1993 was to reimagine the halftime show. We’ve already done that. So we’re going with something more of the time: Grunge! It’s a chance for us to see if we can recreate one of the great live music moments ever captured on TV: Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic nearly braining himself as he tries to catch his own bass at the 1992 Video Music Awards (around the 4:20 mark here).

Setlist: Alive | Even Flow | State of Love and Trust (Pearl Jam) | Smells Like Teen Spirit | In Bloom | Lithium (Nirvana)


Super Bowl XXVIII (Jan. 30, 1994)

Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Real Life: Rockin’ Country Sunday
Recast: Rockin’ Country Sunday

The NFL gets one right! Going country in a country market is a good call, and I suppose Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt and the Judds are as good as any. (Though what Joe Namath was doing in the finale remains a mystery.)

Setlist: Tuckered Out (Black) | It’s a Little Too Late (Tucker) | T-R-O-U-B-L-E (Tritt) | No one Else on Earth (Wynnona Judd) | Love Can Build a Bridge (Judds with guests)


Super Bowl XXIX (Jan. 29, 1995)

Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami
Real Life: Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye (featuring Teddy Pendergrass and Tony Bennett)
Recast: Beastie Boys

While Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye was actually better than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate halftime fare. Might we suggest the Beastie Boys, whose Ill Communication confirmed that there was a lot more going on than the adolescent rhymes about beer and girls that launched them into the spotlight eight years earlier.

Setlist: Sure Shot | Pass the Mic | Root Down | So What’cha Want? | No Sleep Til Brooklyn | Sabotage


Super Bowl XXX (Jan. 28, 1996)

Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe
Real Life: Diana Ross
Recast: The Ramones

As they called an end to two decades of making music that’s perfect for blaring at a sporting event (though the practice didn’t really catch on until after the band hung it up and Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee were dead), the Ramones take time out from their farewell tour to play their biggest American show (at least until they hit Lollapalooza later in the summer of ’96). If nothing else, their set will be unsurpassed in the sheer number of songs. (You can fit a lot of two-minute numbers into 20 minutes.) Hey ho, let’s go!

Setlist: Teenage Lobotomy | Blitzkrieg Bop | Beat on the Brat | Rock N Roll High School | The KKK Took My Baby Away | Sheena Is a Punk Rocker | Rockaway Beach | Do You Wanna Dance? | Bonzo Goes to Bitburg | I Wanna Be Sedated


Super Bowl XXXI (Jan. 26, 1997)

Superdome, New Orleans
Real Life: Blues Brothers
Recast: Britpop (featuring Oasis, Blur and Pulp)

First, I don’t buy John Goodman and Jim Belishi as Blues Brothers. Second, I hear what you’re saying: “No one in America cares about Britpop!” I do, but that’s beside the point. What’s significant is that we’re in a very fallow period for actual rock-and-roll bands. The top song of the preceding year was “Macarena.” Do you want Blues Traveler? Dishwalla? Would you like to see a Super Bowl where “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is played at the half?
No, so you’ll get the best Britain has to offer. And you’ll realize that when it comes to the age old question of Blur vs. Oasis, the answer is, hands-down, Pulp. [Editor’s note: It’s actually Oasis.]

Setlist: Girls & Boys | Parklife (Blur) | Rock N Roll Star | Don’t Look Back in Anger (Oasis) | Disco 2000 | Common People (Pulp)


Super Bowl XXXII (Jan. 25, 1998)

Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Real Life: Salute to Motown’s 40th Anniversary
Recast: Puff Daddy and the Family (with guests)

Though he didn’t build his reputation as a live performer, Mr. Combs has had a knack for delivering memorable performances, including taking on “Mo Money Mo Problems” with Mace and teaming with Sting at the 1997 VMA’s.

Setlist: Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down | Mo Money Mo Problems | Victory | I’ll Be Missing You (with Faith Evans and Sting)


Super Bowl XXXIII (Jan. 31, 1999)

Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
Real Life: Celebration of Soul, Salsa and Swing (with Gloria Estefan and Stevie Wonder)
Recast: Foo Fighters

It remains a mystery to me how Foo Fighters have never played the Super Bowl. Their particular brand of intelligent fist-pumping bombast lets one feel good about one’s self when one is, well, fist pumping. They’d probably be a better choice with a few more records under their belts, but in this exercise, they’re the best 1999 has to offer. And we’ll take it. If “Everlong” is good enough for Letterman to use as a swan song, it's good enough to take our minds off the dismal Broncos-Falcons game

Setlist: Everlong | My Hero | Big Me | I’ll Stick Around | Monkey Wrench


Super Bowl XXXIV (Jan. 30, 2000)

Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Real Life: Tapestry of Nations (including Phil Collins and Edward James Olmos as the narrator)
Recast: Beck

In a nutshell, this is everything that’s wrong with halftimes of this era. It’s produced by Disney and designed to make us think. Oh, and it’s narrated by Lieutenant Castillo from Miami Vice. Beck might seem like a desperate stab for hipness, but the guy has a commanding presence—and he beats a Disney instrumental called “Reflections of Earth” interspersed with talking points delivered by Crockett and Tubbs’s boss.

Setlist: Mixed Bizness | The New Pollution | Where It’s At | Loser | Devil’s Haircut


Super Bowl XXXV (Jan. 28, 2001)

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Real Life: The Kings of Rock and Pop
Recast: Eminem (with guest)

The 2001 show ended with a jam in which Aerosmith, ’N Sync, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly completely desecrated “Walk This Way,” which justifies our rule about not just throwing people on stage together for no good reason. You’d think Eminem—whose 2000 album, The Marshall Mathers LP, was the fastest-selling solo album of all time upon its release—would give censors the shakes, but he has a long history of doing nicely on network TV. 

Setlist: The Real Slim Shady (with all the guys dressed like Eminem) | The Way I Am | Forgot About Dre | Stan (with Dido) | My Name Is


Super Bowl XXXVI (Feb. 3, 2002)

Superdome, New Orleans
Real Life: U2
Recast: U2

Look, Bono can be a little over-the-top at times, but if you weren’t moved when he opened his jacket to reveal an American flag after the names of 9/11 victims scrolled behind him, then you are one cold, cold customer. Lost in all the praise for the set is how perfect the inclusion of "MLK" is.

Setlist: Beautiful Day | MLK | Where the Streets Have No Name


Super Bowl XXXVII (Jan. 26, 2003)

Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Real Life: Shania Twain, No Doubt, Sting
Recast: Bruce Springsteen

Do we need another 9/11-evoking performance after U2? Maybe not. But Rising-era Springsteen still gets it done, and it’s better than the musical stew the NFL served up. It’s like they picked the participants by closing their eyes and grabbing three discs from your Aunt Marge’s CD tower.

Setlist: No Surrender | The Rising | Lonesome Day | The Promised Land | Dancing in the Dark


Super Bowl XXXVIII (Feb. 1, 2004)

Reliant Stadium, Houston
Real Life: A bunch of people, but the only ones you’ll remember are Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.
Recast: Jay-Z (with guest)

The show that changed it all. The wardrobe malfunction ushered in an era of known commodities—no more of these kids with their backing tracks and their “nipple jewelry.” Could have been avoided if they had just gone to Hova to begin with. He didn’t really start touring in earnest for another few years, but at this point he could definitely knock out 20 memorable minutes.

Setlist: Public Service Announcement | Izzo (H.O.V.A.) | Crazy in Love (with Beyoncé) | Hard Knock Life | Encore | December 4th


Super Bowl XXXIX (Feb. 6, 2005)

Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville
Real Life: Paul McCartney
Recast: Green Day

As much as we’ve groused about old-timers, there’s really nothing wrong with a greatest hits set by Sir Paul. But the Super Bowl is grandiose, and nothing says “grandiose” like a rock opera, and Green Day was three months removed from the release of American Idiot.

Setlist: American Idiot | Jesus of Suburbia | She | Basket Case | When I Come Around | Shout


Super Bowl XL (Feb. 5, 2006)

Ford Field, Detroit
Real Life: The Rolling Stones
Recast: The White Stripes

Detroit’s favorite garage rock duo get the home-field call, where they open their performance with the newest entry into the book of arena rock standards. 

Setlist: Seven Nation Army | My Doorbell | Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground | Fell In Love With a Girl | The Hardest Button to Button


Super Bowl XLI (Feb. 4, 2007)

Dolphin Stadium, Miami
Real Life: Prince
Recast: Prince

This one does some serious rule-bending. Price had released an album recently, but was something no one outside of the diehards would remember. He spent much of 2007 touring, but he was playing mostly greatest hits. So it’s a bit of a stretch that he’d qualify under our Byzantine rules. But it’s not like there are a ton of viable candidates, so we’ll pretend it all makes sense. The alternative is erasing the baddest halftime ever, showcasing Prince’s transformation from a guy with incredible moves to a guy who was basically the second coming of Hendrix.
Now, a note about the setlist. IRL, Prince played three songs he most likely would have played back in 1985. It was a long time ago, but still—we’re going to assume a couple of changes.

Setlist: We Will Rock You | Little Red Corvette | I Would Die 4 U | Proud Mary | All Along the Watchtower | Best of You | Let’s Go Crazy


Super Bowl XLII (Feb. 3, 2008)

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Real Life: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Recast: Justin Timberlake

Since the wardrobe malfunction has been retconned out of existence, the NFL would be happy to have JT take the stage. And the ground rules insure there will be no Janet Jackson with him. Still, a good idea to keep an eye on the dancers.

Setlist: Like I Love You | My Love | Señorita | Rock Your Body | Cry Me a River | SexyBack


Super Bowl XLIII (Feb. 1, 2009)

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Real Life: Bruce Springsteen
Recast: Beyoncé (with guests)

Not that we need more rules, but the judges (read: me) have deemed that Beyoncé’s cameo with Jay-Z in 2004 does not preclude her from this spot. Coming five years earlier than her actual Super Bowl performance, this one is just three years after Destiny’s Child split. That might not be long enough to wait for a reunion, but we’re going to say it still happens.

Setlist: Sweet Dreams | Crazy in Love | Baby Boy | Bootylicious (with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams) | Independent Women Part I (with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams) | Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) | Halo


Super Bowl XLIV (Feb. 7, 2010)

Sun Life Stadium, Miami
Real Life: The Who
Recast: Radiohead

Would Radiohead even do this? Thom Yorke does not look like the kind of man who would associate himself with people who eat buffalo wings while wearing styrofoam cheese wedges on their heads. But the band, which was pretty much only playing big gigs at this point in time, showed a playful side at the 2009 Grammys, playing “15 Step” with the USC marching band.

Setlist: 15 Step (with University of Miami marching band) | There There | Idioteque | The National Anthem | Creep


Super Bowl XLV (Feb. 6, 2011)

Dallas Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Real Life: Black Eyed Peas and others
Recast: Anyone but the Black Eyed Peas and others, but more specifically Arcade Fire (with guest)

The less said about the real-life performance, the better. As for Arcade Fire—they weren’t always too twee for their own good. Their early albums were rousing, anthemic creations, which made things like their insistence that fans come to shows in “formal attire or costume” a little more palatable. They were at their bombastic best in 2011; a week after the Super Bowl they’d become the first indie act to win the Grammy for Album of the Year.

Setlist: Ready to Start | Keep the Car Running | No Cars Go | Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) | Rebellion (Lies) | Wake Up (with David Bowie)


Super Bowl XLVI (Feb. 5, 2012)

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Real Life: Madonna, LMFAO and others
Recast: Kanye West (with guests)

Yeezy could have been tapped at any point after 2003, but the ’11 release of Watch the Throne finally makes it impossible to pass him over.

Setlist: Dark Fantasy | Power | Jesus Walks | Gold Digger | N---as in Paris (with Jay-Z) | Lift Off (with Jay-Z and Beyoncé)


Super Bowl XLVII (Feb. 3, 2013)

Superdome, New Orleans
Real Life: Beyoncé
Recast: Bruno Mars
With Queen Bey ineligible due to her 2009 appearance, the show will go on with Mars, who the week before the game saw “When I Was Your Man” become his fifth number one. Only Elvis had five number ones quicker. In real life, Mars wouldn’t get the Super Bowl call for another year. But he’s definitely ready now.

Setlist: Billionaire (intro with children’s choir) | When I Was Your Man | Locked Out of Heaven | Treasure | Runaway Baby | Just the Way You Are


Super Bowl XLVIII (Feb. 2, 2014)

MetLife Stadium, E. Rutherford, N.J.
Real Life: Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Recast: Katy Perry (with Missy Elliott)

Perry played a nice set in 2015. Just moving it up a year (though we’re throwing Lenny Kravitz out for a violation of the random-pairing ground rule and bringing in Snoop Dogg, who really needs to perform at a Super Bowl before I die). Hopefully the change in timing doesn't affect the availability of Left Shark.

Setlist: Roar | Dark Horse | I Kissed a Girl | Teenage Dream | California Gurls (with Snoop) | Get Ur Freak On (with Missy Elliott) | Lose Control (with Missy Elliott) | Firework


Super Bowl XLIX (Feb. 1, 2015)

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Real Life: Katy Perry
Recast: Sonic Highways (Foo Fighters)

Late in 2014, Foo Fighters released Sonic Highways, and the record’s companion documentary series premiered on HBO. The idea was that Dave Grohl would travel America, exploring regional music. In keeping with that mission, the Fighters will tackle the sounds of the host state and the homes of the two teams, Seattle and Boston.

Setlist: School’s Out (Alice Cooper cover in honor of Arizona) | Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix cover in honor of Seattle) | More Than a Feeling (Boston cover) | Best of You | Times Like These


Super Bowl 50 (Feb. 7, 2016)

Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
Real Life: Coldplay, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars and others
Recast: Metallica

Look, it’s the 50th anniversary of the most distinctly American sporting event there is. And you’re giving the gig to Coldplay? We won our independence from the Brits so we wouldn’t be subjected to stuff like "Fix You" on our home turf. No, for the golden anniversary we need something heavy. It’ll be a nice homecoming show for the East Bay boys.

Setlist: Hardwired | For Whom the Bell Tolls | One | Master of Puppets | Enter Sandman


Super Bowl LI (Feb. 5, 2017)

NRG Stadium, Houston
Real Life: Lady Gaga
Recast: Lady Gaga

On the heels of the release of Joanne—and just ahead of a world tour she’d announce after the Super Bowl—Gaga was still as big as it gets in early 2017, and she delivered plenty of rocking tunes and explosions.

Setlist: God Bless America | This Land is Your Land | Poker Face | Born This Way | Telephone | Just Dance | Million Reasons | Bad Romance


Super Bowl LII (Feb. 4, 2018)

U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Real Life: Justin Timberlake
Recast: The Hold Steady, Hüsker Dü, The Replacements

When I was a senior in high school, I loved the Replacements, but I had never seen them perform live—even on tape. There was no YouTube, and the only time they played live on TV was an ill-fated Saturday Night Live gig that saw them so drunk they were banned for life from the show. Then in 1989 they were booked on something called the International Rock Awards. They played a song called “Talent Show,” which makes a reference to “the pills we took.” The line was censored during the live broadcast, but lead singer Paul Westerberg—who began the performance by slurring, “What the hell are we doing here?”—got the last laugh. For the song’s coda, instead of singing “It’s too late to turn back, here we go,” he sang, “It’s too late to take pills, here we go,” over and over, which got past the unsuspecting censor. I’m not the only one who thought it was great; at the end of the song, the camera pans the crowd to Matt Dillon, who jams four fingers in his mouth and gives a very audbile whistle. I finally saw them in person two months later opening for Tom Petty. They came out in drag (supposedly they raided the Heartbreakers’ wives and girlfriends wardrobes), played a very long, nearly comprehensible version of “Walk on the Wild Side” and staggered off after about 20 minutes.

What’s the point? I’m not sure that there is one other than this is a risky pick. But the Mats, Hüsker Dü and the Hold Steady all hail or hailed from the Twin Cities, and they all know how to rock. You can argue that we should keep it old school and leave the Hold Steady out of it, but the death of Hüsker Dü drummer and second vocalist Grant Hart in 2017 means that Bob Mould and Greg Norton will need some help filling out their sound.

Setlist: Stuck Between Stations (The Hold Steady) | New Day Rising | Flip Your Wig | Makes No Sense at All (Hüsker Dü) | I Will Dare | Color Me Impressed | Alex Chilton | Can’t Hardly Wait (The Replacements) | Mary Tyler Moore Theme/1999 Tribute to Minneapolis Medley (all)


Super Bowl LIII (Feb. 3, 2019)

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

Real Life: Maroon 5, Travis Scott, Big Boi
Recast: Grambling State World Tiger Marching Band

All things considered, maybe the best call. Anyway, marching bands are actually pretty great.

Comments? Complaints? Your own picks? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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