Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers hold an honored place in American music, but so do the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and his Comets, and Chuck Berry, to name but a few. In other words, that honored place is a little dusty.
As recently as last year, Petty had an album that debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts, so he’s still relevant. Yet there’s something about having him as the halftime act for Super Bowl XLII that reeked of corporate compromise.
It felt like a band of league lawyers gathered in a Park Avenue boardroom to scour the music landscape and find a band that fits all the criteria for FCC compliance.
Petty and his cohorts did a perfectly commendable job Sunday at intermission. Much like the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Prince before them, they treated fans to a set featuring some of their biggest hits – “American Girl,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”
But throughout the performance, the shadow of Janet Jackson’s nipple hovered over the stage. It was a tiny nipple, but a huge shadow. And it served to remind what an absurd overreaction followed the misguided stunt involving Jackson and Justin Timberlake during the now infamous Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show.
There would be no nipple incidents Sunday unless Petty somehow went haywire, or if one of the young ladies among the orchestrated throng near the stage decided she wanted to become famous. But there was also little excitement. It was simply comfortable, risk-free background music for viewers as they headed to the fridge, used the toilet or phoned for more pizza.
That said, here are five acts that could liven up this annual festivity and generate buzz leading up to the game.
I know, I just complained about acts that have seen better days, and here I am suggesting perhaps the most prominent rock ‘n’ roll dinosaurs still roaming the earth. The difference is the mystery and excitement of Led Zeppelin, and the fact that the band’s performances are extremely rare. Since John Bonham died in 1980, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones have made only a few appearances together (with Bonham’s son Jason on drums), including December’s reunion show at London’s O2 arena, their first in 19 years. Since that show, there have been rumors of a Led Zeppelin reunion tour. Perhaps if the NFL steps in and offers to donate a bundle of its ungodly riches to charity, the band would consider getting together again for next year’s Super Bowl show. Believe me, nobody would leave the room at halftime if that happened.
Monty Python’s ‘Spamalot’ or the Beatles’ ‘Love’
Who says the Super Bowl halftime show has to feature a rock band? Why can’t it be a “show” in the true sense of the word? Perhaps the decision-makers feel that audiences tend to move too much at intermission and might not give the required attention to selections such as a sample excerpt from the brilliant Python Broadway show, or a slice of the wondrous Beatles’ Las Vegas extravaganza. But if you give people a reason to watch, they’ll watch. Either one of these staged productions would inject new energy into the tired format of the Super Bowl midway indulgence. And the chances of a nipple sighting would be remote.
Next to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Rock is the funniest standup comedian working today. Yes, he tends to lean more toward edgier observational humor, and his live shows are often X rated. But he is also the brains behind “Everybody Hates Chris,” so it’s obvious he can clean up his material to suit a mainstream network television audience while still creating raucous laughter. An appearance by Rock at the Super Bowl halftime is the kind of event that people might not initially salivate over, but it’s also something that most viewers would make sure to take in because they wouldn’t want to miss anything. Rock would give fans plenty to talk about. He might even make fun of Janet Jackson.
There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who get the Hannah Montana phenomenon and those who don’t. Either way, it’s a cash cow. Those who get it would tune in to see her (Miley Cyrus) perform. Most of them would be kids, but parents would have no choice but to watch, since they have no choice about buying tickets when Hannah comes to town. That’s a huge audience right there. But then you’d have the curious, the skeptical, the not-quite-sure-what-to-make-of-it crowd. People in that camp would check out the show just to discover what the heck all the fuss is about. Musically, it might not be in the same ballpark (or even the same universe) as Prince, McCartney, the Stones or Petty. But from the standpoint of creating buzz, it would go through the roof.
Yes, more creatures from the Stone Age. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker reunited as Cream for four shows at the Royal Albert Hall in 2005. They quickly sold out, and musically, they were well received. Three more shows at Madison Square Garden shortly after that also sold out, but the band didn’t seem as enthusiastic. The trouble with this option is that the NFL might not think Cream has the widespread appeal as U2, who performed at the Super Bowl a few years back. But they would be wrong. Cream has just the right number of familiar songs to qualify as pop music mainstays – “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Strange Brew,” “Crossroads” and “White Room,” to name a few – and they also have an edge associated with being rock gods. Of course, getting Cream to reunite might be harder than making Pacman Jones eligible for reinstatement.