The Rolling Stones American Tour 1981

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The Rolling Stones American Tour 1981
Tour by The Rolling Stones
Associated album Tattoo You
Start date 25 September 1981
End date 19 December 1981
Legs 1
No. of shows 50
Box office US $52 million (US$131,716,691 in 2016 dollars[1])
The Rolling Stones concert chronology

The Rolling Stones' American Tour 1981 was a concert tour of stadiums and arenas in the United States to promote the album Tattoo You. It was the largest grossing tour of 1981 with $50 million in ticket sales. Roughly three million concert goers attended the concerts, setting various ticket sales records.[2] The 5 December show in New Orleans set an indoor concert attendance record which stood for 33 years.


Initially, lead singer Mick Jagger was not interested in another tour, but guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood were, as were elements of the press and public, and Jagger eventually relented.[3] As with previous tours, the American Tour 1981 was promoted by Bill Graham.

The band rehearsed for the tour at Long View Farm, North Brookfield, Massachusetts, from August 14 to September 25, 1981.[4] The Stones pre-opened the tour with a warm-up show at the Sir Morgan's Cove club in Worcester, Massachusetts on 14 September.[5] Though billed as Little Boy Blue & The Cockroaches, word got out and some 11,000 fans pushed and shoved outside the 300-person venue.[5] The Mayor of Boston Kevin H. White stopped the notion of any further public rehearsals, saying "The appearance here of Mr. Jagger is not necessarily in the public interest."[5]

The tour's elaborate and colorful stage was the work of Japanese designer Kazuhide Yamazaki.[6] According to Mick Jagger, "Most concerts that took place outdoors at the time were played during the day, probably because it was cheaper, I don't know. So we had the bright, bright primary colors... and we had these enormous images of a guitar, a car and a record—an Americana idea—which worked very well for afternoon shows."[6] Most shows later in the tour featured a cherry picker and the release of hundreds of balloons at the show's end.[7] During the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum[8] stops on the tour, the band played a Friday and Sunday show and USC had a football game in between on Saturday. As a televised football game, viewers could see the full stage set-up and often field goals would land on stage at the East end zone. Two of the three opening bands, George Thorogood, and The J Geils Band were received well, but the third act, a still somewhat unknown Prince barely got through three songs before being booed off the stage.[9]

The 1981 Tour was the largest grossing tour of not only 1981, but for several years to come. The tour grossed $50 million in ticket sales when the average ticket price was $16. Roughly three million concert goers attended the concerts. The Stones set many ticket sales records that remain to this day unbroken. The ticket sales for Philadelphia's JFK Stadium shows received nearly 4 million request via post cards for tickets (a ticket selling method used at the time to prevent scalping); requests for the five arena shows in the New York metropolitan area were in the millions.[2] The New York Times stated that, "The tour is expected to be the most profitable in the history of rock & roll; its sheer size has been staggering...ticket requests for these shows ran into the millions..."[2] The tour indeed did turn out to be profitable: the Stones were estimated to have reaped about $22 million after expenses.[10]

The 1981 Tour also was an early milestone for the rock tour industry by selling advertising rights to Jōvan Musk.[11] Jōvan paid $1 million to put their name on Rolling Stones tickets.[12] This attracted considerable attention in the business media, as Jōvan's image of a pleasant fragrance was at complete odds with the Stones' bad boys image.[13] But the Stones behaved well on tour, and rock tour corporate sponsorships soon became the norm.[13]

In another marketing first, the 18 December performance at Virginia's Hampton Coliseum[14] was broadcast as "The World's Greatest Rock'n'Roll Party", on pay-per-view and in closed circuit cinemas.[15] It was the first such use of pay-per-view for a music event. Guitarist Keith Richards memorably hit a manic fan who ran onstage with his guitar.

Another notable performance during the tour was the 14 December performance at Kansas City's Kemper Arena. Previous Stones lead guitarist Mick Taylor joined the band for a large part of the performance.[15] Ronnie Wood was not happy with Taylor's appearance, however: "[He was] bulldozing through parts of songs that should have been subtle, ignoring breaks and taking uninvited solos."[10] Other guests during the tour were Tina Turner (who would sing "Honky Tonk Women"), Chuck Leavell, Tower of Power and Sugar Blue.[15]

In general, there was less backstage madness on the 1981 Tour than on many previous outings.[2] This was largely due to Keith Richards having overcome his well-known drugs and alcohol problems;[2] The New York Times wrote of Richards that, "He looks healthy, he is playing brilliantly and his backup vocals are often so lusty that they drown out Mr. Jagger, who is working harder to hold up his end of things as result."[2]

Several of the concerts throughout the tour were captured and selected songs were released on the 1982 live album Still Life.[16] A Hal Ashby-directed concert film was also made from the tour, Let's Spend the Night Together, which grossed $50 million.[16] Possibly due to the film most of the shows on this tour ended up being professionally recorded. To bootleggers there are currently 35 of the regular 50 shows from this tour in which more than half of the concert is available directly from the soundboard.

This was the last tour of the United States the Stones would do until 1989.

The Rolling Stones[edit]

Additional musicians[edit]

Set list[edit]

The usual set list was:[15]

  1. "Under My Thumb"
  2. "When the Whip Comes Down"
  3. "Let's Spend the Night Together"
  4. "Shattered"
  5. "Neighbours"
  6. "Black Limousine"
  7. "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)"
  8. "Down The Road Apiece" (played 26–27 September; 3, 5 & 9 November)
  9. "Mona" (played only 26 September)
  10. "Twenty-Flight Rock"
  11. "Going to a Go-Go" (first played in Louisville, Kentucky, November 3)
  12. "Let Me Go"
  13. "Time Is on My Side"
  14. "Beast of Burden"
  15. "Waiting on a Friend"
  16. "Let It Bleed"
  17. "Tops" (Played 25 & 27 September, and 3 October)
  18. "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
  19. "Little T&A"
  20. "Tumbling Dice"
  21. "She's So Cold"
  22. "All Down The Line" (Only Played 18 Times)
  23. "Hang Fire"
  24. "Star Star" (Only Played 10 Times)
  25. "Miss You"
  26. "Honky Tonk Women"
  27. "Brown Sugar"
  28. "Start Me Up"
  29. "Jumpin' Jack Flash"
  30. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (played 25 September; 3 & 11 October until end of tour) [encore]
  31. "Street Fighting Man" (played from 25 September-9 October and 26 October) [encore]

For the first dozen or so shows most of the set list was moved around to find the most comfortable feel for the concerts.

Worcester show[edit]

  1. "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love"
  2. "Mona (I Need You Baby)"
  3. "Under My Thumb"
  4. "When The Whip Comes Down"
  5. "Shattered"
  6. "Neighbours"
  7. "Down the Road Apiece"
  8. "Let It Bleed"
  9. "I Just Want To Make Love To You"
  10. "She's So Cold"
  11. "Hang Fire"
  12. "All Down The Line"
  13. "Honky Tonk Women"
  14. "Start Me Up"
  15. "Sympathy for the Devil"
  16. "Jumpin' Jack Flash"

Irregular songs[edit]

Beyond the first five shows "Tops" and "Mona" were not played (though neither were ever played on the same night, they did not occupy the same location in the set list). Up until the shows in New Jersey "Down the Road Apiece" and "Street Fighting Man" both made a few appearances. "Star Star" was added into the set for every gig in between and including Boulder and both Orlando shows (with the sole exception of the second show in Boulder). "All Down the Line" was played 18 times in the first 24 regular gigs. The six exclusions were the first 4 regular shows and the 2 first shows in November.[7]

Tour dates[edit]

Date City Country Venue Tickets Sold/Available Box Office
North America
25 September 1981 Philadelphia United States John F. Kennedy Stadium 181,564 / 181,564 (100%) $2,859,633[17]
26 September 1981
27 September 1981 Orchard Park Rich Stadium 75,000 / 75,000 (100%) $1,125,000[18]
1 October 1981 Rockford Rockford MetroCentre
3 October 1981 Boulder Folsom Field 120,000 / 120,000 (100%) $1,920,000[18]
4 October 1981
7 October 1981 San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium 70,000 / 70,000 (100%) $1,050,000[19]
9 October 1981 Los Angeles Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
11 October 1981
14 October 1981 Seattle Kingdome
15 October 1981
17 October 1981 San Francisco Candlestick Park 135,000 / 135,000 (100%) $2,092,500[20]
18 October 1981
24 October 1981 Orlando Tangerine Bowl 121,000 / 121,000 (100%) $1,887,600[20]
25 October 1981
26 October 1981 Atlanta Fox Theatre
28 October 1981 Houston Astrodome 65,000 / 65,000 (100%) $1,202,500[21]
29 October 1981
31 October 1981 Dallas Cotton Bowl 156,000 / 156,000 (100%) $2,695,332[21]
1 November 1981
3 November 1981 Louisville Freedom Hall 18,210 / 18,210 (100%) $287,540[22]
5 November 1981 East Rutherford Brendan Byrne Arena 61,035 / 61,035 (100%) $943,782[22]
6 November 1981
7 November 1981
9 November 1981 Hartford Hartford Civic Center
10 November 1981
12 November 1981 New York City Madison Square Garden
13 November 1981
16 November 1981 Cleveland Richfield Coliseum
17 November 1981
19 November 1981 St. Louis Checkerdome 18,770 / 18,770 (100%) $302,313[23]
20 November 1981 Cedar Falls UNI-Dome 24,000 / 24,000 (100%) $368,156[23]
21 November 1981 Saint Paul St. Paul Civic Center
23 November 1981 Rosemont Rosemont Horizon 55,230 / 55,230 (100%) $822,740[23]
24 November 1981
25 November 1981
27 November 1981 Syracuse Carrier Dome
28 November 1981
30 November 1981 Pontiac Pontiac Silverdome 152,696 / 152,696 (100%) $2,290,000[23]
1 December 1981
5 December 1981 New Orleans Louisiana Superdome 87,500 / 87,500 (100%) $1,531,250[24]
7 December 1981 Landover Capital Centre 54,765 / 54,765 (100%) $876,826
8 December 1981
9 December 1981
11 December 1981 Lexington Rupp Arena
13 December 1981 Tempe Sun Devil Stadium 74,637 / 74,637 (100%) $1,287,488[25]
14 December 1981 Kansas City Kemper Arena
15 December 1981
18 December 1981 Hampton Hampton Coliseum
19 December 1981


  1. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Robert Palmer (1981-11-04). "The Stones Roll On, Refusing to Become Show-Business Slick". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Sandford, Christopher (2003). Mick Jagger: Rebel Knight. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-9833-7.  p. 276.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c Sandford, Mick Jagger: Rebel Knight, p. 278.
  6. ^ a b Loewenstein, Dora; Philip Dodd (2003). According to the Rolling Stones. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-4060-3. 
  7. ^ a b Robert Palmer (1981-11-14). "Rock: Rolling Stones". The New York Times. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Rolling Stones Open 2-Day Stand In LA", Oxnard (CA) Press-Courier, 10 October 1981, p3
  10. ^ a b Sandford, Mick Jagger: Rebel Knight, p. 282.
  11. ^ Peter Newcomb (1989-10-02). "Satisfaction Guaranteed". Forbes. 
  12. ^ Brenner, Reuven (1987). Rivalry: In Business, Science, Among Nations. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-38584-9.  p. 84.
  13. ^ a b Jacobson, Michael F.; Laurie Ann Mazur (1995). Marketing Madness: A Survival Guide for a Consumer Society. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-1981-1.  p. 107.
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b c d "American Tour 1981". Rocks Off Setlists. Retrieved 2006-07-18. 
  16. ^ a b "The Rolling Stones: Biography". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2008-06-21. 
  17. ^ Billboard Magazine. Google Books: Billboard Magazine. 10 October 1981. 
  18. ^ a b Billboard Magazine. Google Books: Billboard Magazine. 17 October 1981. 
  19. ^ Billboard Magazine. 24 October 1981 – via Google Books. 
  20. ^ a b Billboard Magazine. Google Books: Billboard Magazine. 7 November 1981. 
  21. ^ a b Billboard Magazine. Google Books: Billboard Magazine. 14 November 1981. 
  22. ^ a b Billboard Magazine. 21 November 1981 – via Google Books. 
  23. ^ a b c d Billboard Magazine. 12 December 1981 – via Google Books. 
  24. ^ Billboard Magazine. Google Books: Billboard Magazine. 19 December 1981. 
  25. ^ Billboard Magazine. 26 December 1981 – via Google Books. 

External links[edit]