Between The Tours: The Rolling Stones In The 1980s (Relix Revisited)
On the 50th anniversary of the first performance by the Rolling Stones, we look back to this piece from the September/October 1989 issue of Relix, which examined the band’s work over the course of a decade.
The Rolling Stones are presently undertaking their eleventh tour of North America, more than 25 years after they first played on this continent on June 2, 1964. The Stones toured North America twice in 1964, twice in 1965, and once in 1966, 1969, 1972, 1975, 1978, and 1981. The regularity of that touring was broken in the past decade, however, and it’s worth examining why. In the ensuing eight years, bandmembers would record, play concerts, and appear in films and videos. But the Rolling Stones, “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world,” would not do what they do best — perform together in concert.
When the Stones played the final date of their last North American tour, on December 19, 1981 at Hampton Roads Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia, the band was arguably at its commercial peak. Still in existence more than 11 years after their rivals, the Beatles, had broken up, the Stones were not only the longest-lived British rock band, they had also enjoyed the longest mass success. They had scored Top Ten hits in 12 of 16 years. Their last eight new studio albums had each topped the charts, and Tattoo You, featuring the Number Two hit, “Start Me Up,” was their biggest seller yet.
After the U.S. tour (a European tour concluded July 25, 1982), the first order of business on the recording front was to chronicle the American tour. On June 1, the Stones released the single “Going To A Go-Go,” which had been recorded at the Capital Center in Largo, Maryland the previous December, along with the album Still Life, which featured ten cuts recorded throughout the tour. The single went to Number 25, while the album reached Number 5 and went gold. A movie version, Let’s Spend The Night Together would be released in early 1983.
After taking a few months off, the Stones convened in October at Pathe-Marconi, EMI Studios in Paris to start recording their next album. The sessions continued into November, but the album wasn’t finished. In May, 1983, sessions were resumed at Compass Point Studios, on the island of Nassau in the Bahamas.
On November 1, 1983, the first single from the new album, “Undercover Of The Night,” was released, accompanied by an elaborate video shot by Julien Temple. Keyed to the song’s lyrics, the video depicted a South American kidnapping (of Jagger) and rescue (by Jagger, playing another character). The single reached Number 9 in the U.S. The album, Undercover, went to Number 4 and sold over a million copies.
These figures suggest a slight fall-off in the band’s popularity, as the single was one of the lower charting of the band’s leadoff singles, and the album was the first new studio release since 1969 to miss the Number One Spot. Also, the band did not tour behind Undercover, though that wasn’t unusual. With tours coming every three years, the Stones tended to tour behind every second album release.
On December 18, 1982, Keith Richards married Patti Hansen in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Mick Jagger was best man. In early 1984, Jagger (awaiting the birth of what would be a daughter, Elizabeth Scarlett, by his girlfriend of six years’ standing, Jerry Hall) began to write the songs that would appear on his first solo album, for which the Stones’ new record label, Columbia, had shown great interest.
July saw the release of Rewind (1971-1984), probably a contractual obligation greatest hits album. It reached only Number 86. It would be followed a year later by a one-hour video version, featuring Jagger and Bill Wyman strolling through a dusty backroom in a museum, looking at video clips.
In the latter part of 1984, Jagger completed has first solo album and went to Brazil with Julien Temple to shoot a series of videos for it. (The trip would result in a feature film, Running Out of Luck, that wouldn’t appear until 1986, too late to help the album.) Toward the end of the year, he began to give interviews to promote the album. In Rolling Stone, Jagger denied his interviewer’s comment that the Stones were “winding down.” He told the interviewer in the New York Times that a tour was “quite possible,” while the Stones’ American publicist, Paul Wasserman, said the Stones would tour the U.S. in the summer of 1985.
“Just Another Night,” Jagger’s first solo single, was released January 23, 1985. It would reach Number 12. The album, She’s The Boss, followed shortly, reaching Number 13 in the U.S. and going platinum.
Meanwhile, the Stones were back in the studio in Paris from January to April, with stories leaking of arguments between Jagger and Richards. Nevertheless, an album was recorded.
July of 1985 brought the Live Aid concerts, with members of the Stones participating. Two nights before the event, Richards and Ron Wood turned up unannounced onstage at New York’s Lone Star Cafe, where they jammed with guitarist Lonnie Mack. Jagger looked on from the club’s balcony, while Bob Dylan watched downstairs. Dylan arranged with the two guitarists to back up at Live Aid, but Jagger would appear separately, duetting with Tina Turner.
On December 12, perhaps the most important event in the decline of the Stones as a band occurred when Ian Stewart, an original member of the group always kept in the background, died of a heart attack. The upcoming album would be dedicated to him.
The disagreements between Jagger and the rest of the band went public with the interviews the Stones did to mark the release of Dirty Work in March, 1986. Notably, everyone except Jagger was quoted as expecting a tour. No tour occurred.
Dirty Work sold a million copies and peaked at Number 4, with the singles “Harlem Shuffle” (#5) and “One Hit (To The Body)” (#28) also finding success.
In the absence of a tour, the Stones dispersed again. Wood turned up on Bob Dylan’s summer tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Jagger, back in the studio, emerged with the title track to the movie soundtrack, Ruthless People, which peaked at a disappointing Number 51. Richards helped Aretha Franklin record a cover version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” for the movie of the same name, a record that went to Number 21, and started work on organizing a 60th birthday concert for Chuck Berry. And Charlie Watts recorded an album, Live At Fulham Town Hall, with his big band.
Jagger’s recording resulted in his second solo album, Primitive Cool, which was released on September 10, 1987. By this time, Richards had signed a solo recording contract with Virgin Records and gone into a studio in Toronto. Primitive Cool was a disappointment, reaching only Number 41 in the U.S., with its single, “Let’s Work,” barely making the Top 40. Jagger nevertheless embarked on his first solo tour of Japan.
At the start of 1988, Taylor Hackford’s film, Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll, with significant contributions from Keith Richards, appeared. Having completed his solo album, Talk Is Cheap, Richards gave the usual round of interviews in August, 1988, presenting his side of the Stones’ “hiatus” and revealing that Jagger, despite a planned tour of Australia, had phoned him to initiate a Stones reunion. After telling Rolling Stone that Jagger wanted to put the group back together “because there’s nowhere else to go,” he indicated the group would reform for an album and tour in 1989.
Although much praised by critics, Talk Is Cheap, which Richards supported with a brief tour, did not sell much better than Jagger’s last solo album.
But by the time the album slipped off the charts in March, 1989, it was apparent that the Stones would be back on the road. They were already in the studio, after having been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in January. By summer, they had emerged at a July press conference at New York’s Grand Central Station to announce the late August release of Steel Wheels and the September start to the tour.
So, from that peak at the end of 1981, the Stones have had their ups and downs, only to discover what their fans knew all along, that they are at their best together, and playing live. Maybe this time they won’t forget it, and maybe they’ll go back to touring a little more often than twice a decade.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
- Jim Weider’s Project Percolator at the Inn On The Blues
- Electric Daisy Carnival New York (A Gallery)
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "Friend of The Devil" at the Beacon
- Dame "Sugar Muffin"
- Dead Confederate: In The Marrow
- Interlocken Adds Widespread Panic and John Fogerty, Furthur to Play Workingman’s Dead
- Iron & Wine at The Beacon (A Gallery)
- The National "Don’t Swallow the Cap" on Letterman
- Interlocken Festival to Feature Neil Young, Furthur, String Cheese Incident, Black Crowes, Zac Brown and More
- The Salvation of Page McConnell (Relix Revisited)
- Interlocken Adds Widespread Panic and John Fogerty, Furthur to Play Workingman’s Dead
- Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa "If Heartaches Were Nickels"
- The Final Ingredient in Dogfish Head’s Grateful Dead Tribute Ale Is…
- Stone Gossard Readies His Moonlander
- Trey Anastasio Band at The Hangout (Video Stream)
- Allie Kral Says Goodbye to Cornmeal
- Doctor’s Orders: So what should we call the Super Ball IX Newspaper?
- John Kadlecik Posts Statement on Bob Weir’s Collapse
- "I Wanne Be In moe.": The Latest Volunteers
- Bob Weir Escorted Off Stage During Furthur Show
- Furthur Cancels BottleRock Show as Bob Weir Is Out Of Commision
- Vote for Your Favorite "I Wanne Be In moe." Contestant
- Doctor’s Orders: What’s Your Favorite Furthur Song? (Win Copy of Relix Signed by Phil and Bobby)
- On The Verge Poll