Purple Rain in a deluge: How Prince stole the Super Bowl

Prince onstage at the Super Bowl
(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

For all the glitz and glamour attached to the Super Bowl's annual halftime extravaganza, there was a time when it wasn't the slickly choreographed celebration of pop culture that it is today. 

Who can ever forget 1995's tribute to Disneyland attraction Indiana Jones And The Temple Of The Forbidden Eye, with Patti LaBelle and Tony "I'd rather be anywhere else but they offered me free tickets to the game" Bennett fronting a wince-inducing mush of dance and costume? To be honest, we had.

By the 21st century it had all changed, with some of music's biggest names (The Rolling Stones, The Who, Paul McCartney, Beyonce) presumably offered attractive fees to perform short sets of greatest hits material, all of it polished to the standards required by international broadcasters and an audience of billions: Dancers, fireworks, Nipplegate.

Occasionally it's been great (Bruce Springsteen with his slickly choreographed knee-slide towards the camera, 2009; U2 paying tribute to the victims of 9/11, 2002). Occasionally it's been not-so-great (all of Maroon 5, 2019). But only once has it been jaw-droppingly, mind-bogglingly brilliant from start to finish: when Prince performed in 2007.

Prince was a man of many gifts: not merely content with being the world's greatest-ever mix of singer/dancer/songwriter/guitarist, he could rise to the occasion like no other, and he could do so without it appearing that he really cared. And at the Super Bowl – just as he had during his iconic solo during While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Dinner – Prince turned in a performance for the ages, all the while looking as relaxed as he might making breakfast at home in Paisley Park.

Another thing: it was raining. Not just a gentle, inconvenient shower, but the kind of once-in-a-season deluge that prompts meteorological warnings and sandbag shortages. 

Prince? He welcomed the rain.    

"The morning of the game I opened the curtains in my hotel room and I was like 'oh my god!'," production designer Bruce Rodgers told NFL cameras. "It was like a scene from Moby Dick. It was like the winds were blowing the palm trees and the rain was one of those Miami rain storms that just would not relent.

"We're in this truck sitting behind Don Mischer [director of the halftime show], and I remember Don said, 'Put me on the phone with Prince.' Don says, 'now, I want you know it's raining.'"

Prince's response? 

"Yes, it's raining. Can you make it rain harder?"

"I was just panicked," said directer Mischer. "Prince was using four separate live electric guitars. The stage was made out of a very slick tile which – when it got wet – was even more slippery. He had two beautiful dancers with him. They were wearing eight inch heels and I was just saying, 'oh my god! What's going to happen now?'

What happened now was that Prince turned in the greatest halftime show of them all. And, rather than keep to the time-honoured tradition of performing a set entirely comprised of the artist's best known material, he littered the set with covers, picking songs that befitted the occasion instead of those that directly benefitted his bank balance.

Of course he played his own classics: Let's Go Crazy, 1999, Baby I'm A Star. But he also played Queen's We Will Rock You, Creedence Clearwater Revival's Proud Mary, Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower and – perhaps most surprisingly – Foo Fighters' Best Of You. 

And then he topped it all with suitably epic version of his own Purple Rain, as the heavens pummelled the earth and the wind began to howl and the TV camera lenses fogged. Instead of wilting, Prince treated the terrible weather as if were an asset to be exploited, and it all ended with that solo, the crowd bellowing as if it was the last song they'd ever hear, and fireworks strafing the sky. 

"It was one of those times where things just worked magically," said Mischer. "And there's nothing you can do but just say thank you." 

Click here to watch the video of Prince's performance on YouTube (The NFL don't like people embedding their videos).


Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.