Weirdly, one of this country’s most popular musical events is a football game - the annual Super Bowl Halftime show. It gets ratings far higher than any concert broadcast - five times the viewers of the Grammy Awards. A sports tournament is not the ideal time and place for an artistic statement. But still it’s worth asking: can the halftime show be a good musical experience?
You gotta sympathize, the NFL is in the business of organizing games, not promoting concerts. The early shows came off as time-fillers, mostly marching bands, drill teams and Up With People. But to sell ads they realized they’d have to up their game. The real turnaround happened in 1993, when Michael Jackson was brought in to turn the contest into a concert.
I have opinions about why previous mid-game shows have been good or bad. No disrespect to The Rolling Stones or Sting, but I think the performers should be as American as the sport. Pop and New-Country love songs don’t really match the raw energy of full-contact sports; I’d rather get the excitement and American flavor of the undiluted stuff - Rock, Hip Hop or Soul. Old-school country would be great, too, but they haven’t done that since 1994. And to really keep things as dramatic and unpredictable as the game, it has to be about live music: nothing too scripted, no shark costumes, and above all, no lip-synching. These are the reasons my favorites shows were the consecutive years 2007-2009; the respective headliners were Prince, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen. You could tell they came to play and stayed in the game through to the second kick-off.
Prince, “Purple Rain” Purple Rain (1984)
The audacity of ending a set with a slow song, in a rain and windstorm, no less.
Prince also wrote a song for the Minnesota Vikings 2010 Superbowl appearance, but by all accounts it’s a terrible song. It’s been suppressed - I can’t find an existing copy anywhere.
Bruce Springsteen “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” Born To Run (1975)
Opened with this tune 2009
Ten Yard Fight, “First and Ten,” 1995
“Ten Yard Fight was a straight edge, football-based band formed in 1995 in Boston, Massachusetts”