Five musical acts that should have played the Super Bowl

It’s impossible to predict what will happen once a Super Bowl gets underway.

Some games are cliffhangers that go down to the final seconds on the clock. Others are blowouts, so the only drama involves the commercials on our television sets, not the action on the field.

But there is one thing we can predict. Regardless of the score, the Super Bowl halftime show will feature some of the most popular entertainers in the world.

Over the years, artists such as Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Prince and Madonna have provided halftime entertainment at Super Bowls. This year’s game will feature performances by Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz.

I’m a football fan and a music fan. Like many Americans, I look forward to the game, the halftime show and everything else that makes Super Bowl Sunday special. But I can’t help feeling a tinge of disappointment that some of my favorite recording artists never had an opportunity to showcase their talents before an audience of more than 100 million TV viewers (in addition to thousands in the stands at the game itself).

My musical tastes tilt heavily to the late-1960s and the early 1970s, a time when the Super Bowl was in its infancy and the halftime entertainment was limited to marching bands, choral groups and an occasional vocalist. It was not until the 1990s that popular recording artists became a staple of the halftime shows. But what if that custom had begun with the very first Super Bowl in 1967? Here are the acts I would have liked to have seen in the first five years of the big game.

Super Bowl I (1967): Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan? A folksinger at the Super Bowl? I know what you’re thinking, but let me explain.

First of all, it’s wrong to characterize Dylan as a folksinger — or as anything else for that matter. In fact, that was a message he was delivering at this very time when he stunned the folk music world and added a full-blown electric band to his performances. Granted, it would have been 18 months since he first went electric — to a chorus of boos — at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, but in the ensuing time he continued to snub his nose at angry folk purists and embarked on a world tour backed by the Hawks, a group that later became The Band.

Dylan’s defiance of tradition is one reason why he would have been perfect for Super Bowl I. For years the NFL and the upstart AFL had been bitter rivals. The game marked the first time teams from the two rival leagues played against each other. To put it into today’s context (well maybe not exactly), try to imagine Bill O’Reilly and Al Sharpton joining forces to start their own political party.

Dylan’s iconic stature also would have made him an appropriate choice. The significance of this game was no place for an artist with a less impressive resume.

Of course, Dylan was not making concert appearances at the time. After a 1966 motorcycle accident near Woodstock, N.Y., he became somewhat of a recluse, fueling speculation and rumors about his physical and mental condition. His surprise appearance at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 was a major news event. A performance at Super Bowl I, coming just a few months after the accident, would have had a similar, if not greater, impact.

Most importantly, however, Dylan would have rocked the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the game was played. Controversy aside, the musicians Dylan chose to back him up — the Hawks and folks such as Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield – played exciting rock’n’roll. Just listen to the musicianship in some of those performances that elicited the boos.

Had Dylan and an all-star band performed at Super Bowl I, the talk around the water cooler the next day might very well have been the eclectic halftime show, not the Green Bay Packers’ easy and expected 35-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Super Bowl II (1968): The Doors

The late 1960s were the Psychedelic Era, a time of love, drugs and rock’n’roll. Bands such as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead rose to popularity, but truth be told, their music was well suited for crowds of tripping hippies, not for raucous football fanatics.

The Doors, though, were a different story. By January 1968, the band already a few hit singles and two popular albums. Their songs, such as “Break on Through” and “Love Me Two Times,” had the ability to rile up a crowd. They had not yet recorded “Roadhouse Blues,” but try to imagine that type of energy in a performance at the Orange Bowl, the site of Super Bowl II.

In Jim Morrison, the band had a photogenic and controversial leader. By 1968, he already had ticked off Ed Sullivan by refusing to remove the word “higher” from the group’s performance on the Sullivan show. And just a month before Super Bowl II, he was arrested during a performance in New Haven and charged with inciting a riot, indecency and public obscenity.

Given Morrison’s unpredictability, coupled with the popularity of the band, booking the Doors for Super Bowl II’s halftime show would have created considerable interest, spirited debate and a strong sense of anticipation. It’s unlikely Jim Morrison and the band would have disappointed.

Super Bowl III (1969): Cream

The prospect of a British band headlining the halftime show at America’s championship football game may have rubbed some people the wrong way in 1969, but Cream was no ordinary British band. It was comprised of the leaders of three popular bands whose talents gave the band its name since they were considered “the cream of the crop.” Who better to play a Super Bowl than a super group?

By 1969, Cream had three popular albums and loyal fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite their roots in Great Britain, the band was heavily influenced by American blues and included songs by Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon along with original compositions such as “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room.”

Wheels of Fire, released in the summer of 1968, became the first platinum-selling double album and still was extremely popular in January 1969 when Broadway Joe Namath boldly (and accurately) boasted that his New York Jets would defeat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Although Cream already had broken up and played its farewell concert in November of 1968, an invitation to make a Super Bowl performance its swansong might have convinced Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton to remain together for a few more weeks. And if we were lucky, that performance would have been more reminiscent of the band in its heyday than Cream’s actual farewell tour and album, which left audiences and music critics disappointed.

Super Bowl IV (1970): Jim Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was many things – a guitarist, singer and songwriter, but most significantly he was an innovator. He did things with a guitar that never had been done before — and his influence on musicians still is apparent nearly 45 years after his death.

By January 1970, the Jimi Hendrix Experience had established itself with three platinum albums. The group disbanded in 1969, and Hendrix was exploring new musical avenues with projects such as the Band of Gypsys album and the Cry of Love tour.

In addition to his riveting live performances and creative guitar work, Hendrix was a man who knew how to seize the moment. Never was this more evident than when he closed the historic Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969. As the culmination of an epic counterculture event, he played the most unlikely song, “The Star Spangled Banner,” in a manner that never had been done before – and it was the perfect set choice.

Give him the stage at Super Bowl IV and who knows what might have happened? Perhaps one more legendary performance before his life came to close later in 1970.

Super Bowl V (1971): The Who

Actually, the Who did take the stage at a Super Bowl – Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, and Rolling Stone included that performance on its list of the 10 best Super Bowl halftime shows. But only two members of the band’s classic lineup were still alive to perform – and those two, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, were in their mid-60s.

In 1971, the full lineup was in force, and the Who was enjoying perhaps its greatest years of popularity. During this period, the band recorded and released the groundbreaking rock opera Tommy and provided one of the more memorable sets at Woodstock. They followed that with Live at Leeds, a record considered as one of the best live albums in rock history.

All of this could have played out at Super Bowl V, and perhaps we would have caught a preview of Who’s Next, which was released later in 1971.

* * *

Dylan, the Doors, Cream, Hendrix and the Who. That’s quite a lineup, even when spread out over five performances.

Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz are unlikely to disappoint this year, but let’s hope Super Bowl XLIX gives us something more memorable – like a game that keeps America entertained from start to finish.

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