Not Fade Away
In the early-Eighties, the Stones' releases continued to savage the charts with relative ease, but at times the band veered close to chronic over-exposure.
In June 1980, they released Emotional Rescue, recorded mainly in Paris, and the following year an anthology album was released on the Stones' label called Sucking In The Seventies. They also released a studio album, Tattoo You, that same year, comprising unreleased songs dating back to 1972, and even Keith Richard described this offering as 'a load of old scrapings. "
The album dutifully went to Number 1 in the U.S. It looked as if the band could do no wrong. Even Bill Wyman, who had previously been making noises about leaving, the Stones, managed a surprise hit single with the jokey '(Si Si) Je Suis Un Rock Star', reaching Number 14 in the U.K. He rejoined the band for rehearsals at long View Farm, in Massachusetts and on September 25, the Stones began their tenth American tour with a show at JFK stadium, Philadelphia, attended by 90000 fans. The 50- date tour was attended by more than two million people and "the audiences went crazy," said Jagger later. 'It was great to be back, feeling that electricity."
By 1982 Keith Richard had weaned himself off his ten-year dependency on heroin, and the Stones launched themselves into another European tour which included their first British shows, for six years. It was clear the group had regained much of their early vigour and were far from being up-staged by newer bands.
They were still an incredible force, going to greater strengths despite the demons and turmoil which should have reasonably finished them off years before. In July 1983 the Stones signed a new record deal with CBS, claimed to be worth $28,000,000 and in November released Undercover.
It boasted a powerful, modern production on songs like 'Undercover Of The Night' -it even caused some controversy, with the video, depicting Mick being shot by terrorists (one played by Keith Richard), being banned by BBC TV for being too violent.
"We're not trying to glamorize violence,' explained Mick. "We're trying to make something that has a valid point." But just at the moment when the Stones seemed more heavily defined as a coherent and challenging unit than they ever had before, Mick's solo album She's The Boss, was released in March 1985, accompanied by a single 'Just Another Night'.
Jagger wasn't the only Stone to branch out. In November, Charlie Watts achieved a life-long dream, playing the drums with his own jazz orchestra at a prestigious London venue, Ronnie Scott’s Club, a gig memorable –sadly - for marking the final involvement with the Stones of long-time cohort Ian Stewart.
The "sixth Stone" had helped Watts' band set up the gig, and not long after their successful debut, lan fell ill. He died from a heart attack on December 12, 1985.
The next Stones album was dedicated to "Stu" and included a remake of 'Harlem Shuffle', which hit Number 5 in the U.S. “Dirty Work” was released in April 1986, and served instead to highlight a growing rift between Mick and Keith.
Wheels of steel
Jagger refused to tour to promote Dirty Work, and it looked as if the Stones really were about to fade away. While Keith was determined to keep the band alive, Mick was embarked on his own tour. in 1987 he hammered another nail into the Stones' coffin with Primitive Cool, which peaked at Number 18 in the U.K. There was now a full-scale row going on between the two Stones' main men: among the tracks was the bluntly titled 'Shoot Your Mouth Off'.
Mick toured Japan during March, and Australia in September 1988, but after that his solo career began to falter. By this time, Keith had got round to the idea of being out on his own and October heralded the release of his own solo LP, Talk Is Cheap (Virgin).
He also founded another band, The X-Pensive Winos, who toured the U.S. during November. l appeared the row was an insurmountable one, until Jagger surprised Richard by calling a meeting of all five Stones at the Savoy Hotel, London.
'Mick suddenly called up and said 'let's put the Stones back together.' I was in the middle of making my own album,' recalled Keith, "but I love Mick and went to the meeting."
Whatever scores the two old rockers had must have been speedily settled, because Steel Wheels appeared in the U.S. just a few months later on August 29, 1989. Once again defying the pundits, critics and obituaries, the tracks -all Jagger/Richard originals -revealed the band were fighting fit.
'Sad, Sad, Sad' was a strong opener, 'Terrifying', an extended jam, and the stomping 'Hold On To Your Hat', showed how much the band had tightened up over the years, now really playing as a unit. The Steel Wheels U.S. tour, their first in seven years, open at the Veterans' Stadium, Philadelphia on August 31 to an ecstatic, 55000-strong crowd , and critics raved that Mick was dancing and singing as well as ever. The come- back was a huge success, hailed as the biggest-grossing tour in history. The album went straight to Number, 1 in the U.S. and Number 2 in the U.K., while the tour continued on to Japan in January 1990.
Into middle age
Away from the bright lights, there was equal drama in the Stones' personal lives, which remained as much in turmoil as ever after 27 years of stardom. In November Mick Jagger and his girlfriend Jerry Hall finally got married in Bali, and the same month Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith announced the end of a marriage which had lasted just 17 months, much of it conducted within the scandalized gossip pages of the British tabloid press, alleged the two had met when Mandy Smith was under the age of consent.
The band joined Virgin records in November 1991, and in 1994 roared back with one of their best albums in years, “Voodoo Lounge”.
They were now middle –aged men, with Jagger’s once youthful face as lined as Keith Richard’s (well, almost – there’s nobody else in rock who has quite that many lines)
By January 1993, Bill Wyman was no longer with the band -he'd carried out the threat he had frequently made in the early-Eighties: "I think I'll leave the band soon. I've had enough. I want to do other things," he had said in 1980. "I only got into rock'n'roll' - for a bit of fun and to see the world for a couple 'of years. It ended up becoming such a part of me. But I refuse to let it, dominate my life. I don't want to be a middle-aged rock'n'roller." He was replaced by Darryl Jones, a bassist who had previously played with jazz legend Miles Davis.
Keith contributed outstanding lead vocals on 'The Worst', while Mick sadly sang 'New Faces' widely believed by critics to be a sign of the sex symbol facing up to his age and even expressing jealousy toward new, younger guys in town. It was one of Jagger's best offerings in years. Mick's range probed deeper and revealed more sonorous tones on the sensual 'Love Is Strong', and he interpreted lyrics with newfound skill and maturity, notably on the mysterious 'Moon Is Up'. This was certainly mature Stones, but not bland Stones: a sticker on the CD warned against -offensive language," and indeed Mick slipped the odd "fuck" into 'Sparks Will Fly'.
High levels of production and performance distinguished songs like 'Out Of Tears', a sharp contrast to the messy sessions the band often got away with in the Seventies. The guitars of Richard and Wood maintained their bluesy feel, slipping and sliding through the raunchy 'I Go Wild', with its Def Leppard style hook line. The rhythm section was more restrained, new bass player Darryl seeming determined not to play anything that might be interpreted as upstaging the departed Wyman, while Charlie Watts drumming was tight and confident.
There had been endless pretenders to the Stones' throne over the years, but when the war-horses announced they were going to tour again, the public’s excitement was intense and their tour was announced as the major rock'n'roll event of the year. It began at the RFK Stadium Washington DC on August 1994, their twelfth U.S. tour.
( Earlier they had played a surprise warm-up gig at the RPM Night Club in Toronto, which drew ecstatic reviews.
Fans at their Washington show were stunned by a typically outrageous Stones' stunt. The audience of 60000 saw a scene on a giant projection screen depicting, a couple performing oral sex, while the band stomped their way through, 'Honky Tonk Women'. The veteran Stones showed they had lost none of their energy. There were few who could have argued with the irrepressible Jagger as, halfway through the gruelling two -and-a- half hour set, be yelled: "We’re not bad for old farts, are we?"
No expense had been spared to provide a spectacular show. The show set, 240 feet wide, took 170 tons of steel and aluminium to build. It had twin convex towers and catwalks as well as giant mobile screen, which showed live action from the show, archive movies of the group, porno clips and animated symbols from the band's new album (one critic swore he saw a sequence featuring Bill Wyman in drag) Another incredible structure in the middle of the set was equipped with 1000 moving lights to beam onto the performers.
The set was designed by Mark Fisher who had worked on the Stones' 1989 Steel Wheels U.S. tour, and their 1990 Urban Jungle European Tour. He also designed U2's Zoo TV shows and worked with Pink Floyd on their 1994 tour. Fisher's criteria for building the Voodoo lounge set was simply "that Barbara Streisand shouldn't be able to sing on it, and that Prince Charles shouldn't like it"
At 9:10pm, the Washington show kicked off with an explosion of light and sound that revealed Mick Jagger dancing and wriggling with all the energetic passion of an 18-year-old.
The band roared through some 27 numbers, including a hefty set of classics, as well as new songs from Voodoo Lounge, kicking off with the appropriate 'Not Fade Away', sheets of flame and explosions adding to the old R&B excitement. During 'Love Is Strong' -the first single from their most recent album-a bunch of fearsome inflatable dolls appeared. Depicting Hindu gods, devil babies and skeletons in top hats, they danced around, Jagger accompanying them in a coat and tails. Into all this madness stalked a 40-foot-high inflatable Elvis, complete with guitar.
The crowds went wild as the band stormed into 'Satisfaction' and sang along with such gusto they almost drowned out the music. Mick Jagger wasn't averse to teasing the audience and encouraging the mayhem:
"Thank you Washington! Welcome to the Voodoo Lounge. We always get nervous on the first night, but you can't be a virgin for ever!" he bellowed.
While Mick remained the focus of attention, Keith Richard also had his own solo spot, and the rest of the Stones played with customary gritty determination. lt was their first show without Bill Wyman, who was the subject of a few ageist jokes from Jagger: "We've only been in Washington a week and I haven't heard so much talk about health care for the elderly since Bill left the band." The core Stones were backed up by Chuck Leavell (keyboards), Darryl Jones (bass-performing in a much more exciting and groovy style than the immobile Wyman ever had), Bobby Keyes, (saxophone), together with backing vocalists and The New West Horns.
The show climaxed with a string of classics accompanied by an explosive fireworks display. Keith Richard, wearing a red pirate's jacket, hammered his guitar to produce a wail of noise for the welcome encore, a storming version of 'Jumping Jack Flash'. As Keith commented later to any would-be still rockin'rivals: "Hey, if you can come up
with something better, we'll get out of the way. ". A sad coda to the gig was that, less than three months tater, the producer of the single 'Jumping Jack Flash', Jimmy Miller, died from liver failure in Denver, Colorado. His death came only a month after that of Nicky Hopkins, one-time Stones' tour session pianist.
The Stones won positive reviews for their U.S. shows despite inevitable moans about their age. The Washington Post called it "alternatively rocky and rolling," and the London Independent paper enthused "Hey' we had fun; noisy, spectacular, nostalgic fun. "
The 43-city world tour would keep the band in America right up to Christmas 1994, and they were due to visit Asia and Europe during 1995.
As the band tore around America, it was unbelievable they had been entertaining the world and causing havoc and hysteria for more than 30 years. The Stones' excesses had provided a vicarious thrill for those who had always envied but never dared emulate their life-style. They had been equally reviled as architects of the collapse of civilisation and hero-worshipped as the very embodiment of rock music.
With every album, the band continue to prove that they still have something to offer the rock world and aren't ready to retire. They have managed to produce an album and put on an extravagant world tour in their fifties, and it would be foolish to guess that they'll stop playing music just yet. The Rolling Stones have always been a band out to entertain. First and foremost, that's all that matters-because, ultimately, it really only ever is... rock'n'roll.
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