Glastonbury 2015: From Jay Z to Metallica - best headline performances of the last 20 years

Foo Fighters and Kanye West have a lot to live up to in Somerset this summer

Jess Denham
Wednesday 18 March 2015 17:06
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Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008

This summer will see Foo Fighters and Kanye West headline Glastonbury, with one main act still to be announced.

More than 175,000 people attend each year, making it the largest greenfield festival in the world.

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Ever since 1970, the Somerset event has been attracting some of the best names in music for some memorable, all-time great performances.

The first Glastonbury kicked off with T-Rex, who replaced The Kinks at the final hour, and tickets cost just £1 (those were the days...).

Acts to follow in their wake have included David Bowie, The Smiths, Orbital, Oasis, The Cure, Pulp, The Who, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Beyonce and Radiohead.

Best headline performances from the past 20 years:

Pulp, 1995

Jarvis Cocker’s band were drafted in as a last-minute replacement for The Stone Roses and forced to camp as all the local hotels were full. But did that phase them? Nah.

“If you want something to happen badly enough then it actually will happen. That’s why we’re stood on this stage after 15 years. So if a lanky git like me can do it, you can do it too. On that positive note, this is “Co-mon Peo-ple.””

Oasis, 1995

Oasis are such a Glastonbury staple that Jay Z took the piss out of them (see below). Liam Gallagher’s hands-behind-back bobbing into the microphone stance is iconic in itself and this 1995 set shortly after the release of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? rocketed them to worldwide fame.

Radiohead, 1997

Mere weeks after Radiohead’s classic third album OK Computer hit shelves, the English quintet solidified their status as one of the greats.

Ever since, their 1997 performance has been labelled the greatest ever with some music magazines placing it ahead of Queen at Live Aid and the Beatles on the roof of Apple Records.

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If Jonny Greenwood’s blazing guitar solo in the seminal “Paranoid Android” is anything to go by, all the praise seems justified.

The Prodigy, 1997

You can officially feel smug if you attended the festival in 1997, despite the mud. Keith, Liam and Maxim were the rave heros of the Glasto kids then and they remain one of the most successful dance acts of all-time.

“Firestarter”’s 1996 release had helped the band break into the US and is still considered one of the most influential songs of its genre.

Coldplay, 2005

Coldplay were not all that well-established when Michael Eavis asked them to headline in 2005. Nevertheless, they were the talk of Glastonbury afterwards, for all the right reasons.

Their rendition of “The Scientist” saw Chris Martin label Jonathan Buckland “the best guitar player that ever lived…except maybe Slash”. Some nice ‘woah-oh’s from the crowd, too.

Jay Z, 2008

The US rapper’s booking was not a popular one at first. “Glastonbury has the tradition of guitar music, I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury, it’s wrong” snarled Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher.

So what did Jay Z do in response? Why, cover “Wonderwall” of course (awfully, which only made it funnier), followed by a much-cheered rendition of his own hit “99 Problems”. “He’s got 99 problems but Oasis ain’t one”, alright Noel?

Metallica, 2014

In similar vein to Jay Z, the metal group came under fire for not obviously fitting with Glastonbury's traditional ethos of peace and love.

They went on to convert a ton of haters and score rave reviews from previously dubious critics. For that remarkable feat alone they deserve a place in this list but the performance was bang on too.

Blur, 2009

Few Glastonbury headline sets can claim to have had throbbed with as much energy’s as Blur’s in 2009. From “Girls and Boys” to “Song 2”, the gig was a non-stop thrill.

So overwhelmed were the Britpoppers that Damon Albarn broke down in tears after “To The End”, making him suddenly so much more likeable than usual.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 2009

He’s not called The Boss for nothing. Springsteen unleashed a hit-ridden, two-and-a-half-hour long set with the crowd singing along to “Born to Run”, “Dancing in the Dark” and “Thunder Road”.

But what made this set refreshingly great was that it was designed for the real fans, and not just those waiting somewhat bored for the big tracks.

The Rolling Stones, 2013

When the Stones took to the Pyramid Stage two summers ago, their average age was 69. But they say it’s the life in your years that count and, boy, did Mick Jagger’s relentless strutting prove that.

Lisa Fischer’s sassy solo served to add yet more Seventies rock‘n’roll spice.

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