Steel Wheels

Steel Wheels is the 19th British and 21st American studio album by the English rock band the Rolling Stones. Released on 29 August 1989, it was the final album of new material the band would record for Columbia Records.

Steel Wheels
Studio album by
Released29 August 1989
Recorded29 March – 5 May 1989
ProducerChris Kimsey, The Glimmer Twins
The Rolling Stones chronology
Dirty Work
Steel Wheels
Singles from Steel Wheels
  1. "Mixed Emotions"
    Released: 17 August 1989
  2. "Rock and a Hard Place"
    Released: 4 November 1989
  3. "Almost Hear You Sigh"
    Released: January 1990
  4. "Terrifying"
    Released: 1990

Heralded as a major comeback upon its release, the project is notable for the patching up of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' relationship, a reversion to a more classic style of music and the launching of the band's biggest world tour to date. It is also long-time bassist Bill Wyman's final full-length studio album with the Stones, preceding the announcement of his departure in January 1993. Wyman's final tenure with the band would be on two studio tracks for 1991's Flashpoint. It was also the first album not to feature former member and frequent contributor on piano Ian Stewart, who died shortly before the release of their previous album Dirty Work. It was produced by Richards and Jagger along with Chris Kimsey, who had previously produced 1983's Undercover.

After the relative disappointment of their prior two albums, Steel Wheels was a hit, reaching multi-platinum status in the United States, reaching top-five status in numerous markets around the world, and spawning two hit singles: "Mixed Emotions," which peaked at number one in Canada and number five in the United States, and "Rock and a Hard Place," the band's last top-40 U.S. hit. Critics were generally lukewarm on the album, exemplified by Stephen Thomas Erlewine: "It doesn't make for a great Stones album, but it's not bad, and it feels like a comeback."


Following the release of 1986's Dirty Work, and Jagger's pursuit of a solo career, relations between him and the Stones-committed Richards worsened considerably. While Jagger released the tepidly received Primitive Cool in 1987, Richards recorded Talk Is Cheap, his solo debut, released in 1988 to positive reviews. The two years apart appeared to have healed the wounds sufficiently to begin resurrecting their partnership and band.

Meeting in January 1989, just preceding the Stones' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the chemistry between Jagger and Richards easily outshone whatever differences they had, and after composing some 50 songs in a matter of weeks, Ronnie Wood, Wyman and Charlie Watts were called in to begin recording what would become Steel Wheels, beckoning Undercover co-producer Chris Kimsey to perform the same role.

Recording in Montserrat and London during the spring, Steel Wheels was designed to emulate a classic Rolling Stones sound. One notable exception was "Continental Drift," an Eastern-flavoured piece, with The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar, recorded in June 1989 in Tangier, coordinated by Cherie Nutting. With much of the past disagreements behind them, sessions for Steel Wheels were fairly harmonious.

Release and receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [1]
Christgau's Record GuideB–[2]
The Great Rock Discography6/10[3]
Q     [5]
Record Collector     [5]
Rolling Stone     [6]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [7]
Tom HullB–[8]
Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music     [3]

The massive, worldwide Steel Wheels Tour was launched in late August 1989, concurrently with Steel Wheels' arrival and the release of lead single "Mixed Emotions," a partially biographical reference to Jagger and Richards' recent woes that proved to be the Rolling Stones' last major hit single in the United States, reaching No. 5. Critical reaction was warm, with Steel Wheels reaching No. 2 in the UK and No. 3 in the US where it went double-platinum. Follow-up singles were "Rock and a Hard Place," "Almost Hear You Sigh" and "Terrifying." The Steel Wheels Tour, which finished in mid-1990 after being re-titled the Urban Jungle Tour, was a financial success. In 1990, FOX aired a 3-D television special of the Steel Wheels tour. Unlike anaglyphic 3-D which requires the familiar red and green glasses, the method used was the Pulfrich Effect which permitted full-colour video. The film was shot by Gerald Marks of PullTime 3-D in NYC. An IMAX film of the tour was released the next year, which still[when?] plays sporadically at IMAX venues[example needed] around the world[where?].

Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone writes "All the ambivalence, recriminations, attempted rapprochement and psychological one-upmanship evident on Steel Wheels testify that the Stones are right in the element that has historically spawned their best music – a murky, dangerously charged environment in which nothing is merely what it seems. Against all odds, and at this late date, the Stones have once again generated an album that will have the world dancing to deeply troubling, unresolved emotions."

Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic writes "The Stones sound good, and Mick and Keith both get off a killer ballad apiece with "Almost Hear You Sigh" and "Slipping Away," respectively. It doesn't make for a great Stones album, but it's not bad, and it feels like a comeback – which it was supposed to, after all."

In 2000 it was voted number 568 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums.[9]

The album was the Rolling Stones' first digital recording. In 1994, Steel Wheels was remastered and reissued by Virgin Records, and again in 2009 by Universal Music. An SHM-CD version was released on 2 December 2015 by Universal Japan, mastered from the original British master tape.[10]

Track listingEdit

All tracks are written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except "Almost Hear You Sigh" co-written by Steve Jordan.

Side one
1."Sad Sad Sad"3:35
2."Mixed Emotions"4:38
4."Hold On to Your Hat"3:32
5."Hearts for Sale"4:40
6."Blinded by Love"4:37
Total length:25:55
Side two
7."Rock and a Hard Place"5:25
8."Can't Be Seen"4:09
9."Almost Hear You Sigh"4:37
10."Continental Drift"5:14
11."Break the Spell"3:06
12."Slipping Away"4:29
Total length:27:00


Song Single Writer
"Fancy Man Blues" "Mixed Emotions" Jagger-Richards
"Cook Cook Blues" "Rock and a Hard Place"
"Wish I'd Never Met You" "Terrifying"[11]


The Rolling Stones

  • Mick Jagger – lead and backing vocals, electric and acoustic guitars; harmonica, percussion, keyboards on "Continental Drift"
  • Keith Richards – electric, acoustic and classical guitar, backing vocals; lead vocals on "Can't Be Seen" and "Slipping Away"; bicycle spokes on "Continental Drift"
  • Ronnie Wood – electric and acoustic guitar, bass guitar and acoustic bass, backing vocals, dobro
  • Bill Wyman – bass guitar
  • Charlie Watts – drums

Additional musicians

Technical and design


Certifications and salesEdit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia 75,000[35]
Austria (IFPI Austria)[36] Gold 25,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[37] 3× Platinum 300,000^
Finland (Musiikkituottajat)[38] Gold 25,227[38]
France (SNEP)[40] 2× Gold 271,800[39]
Germany (BVMI)[41] Gold 250,000^
Japan (RIAJ)[43] Gold 167,000[42]
Netherlands (NVPI)[44] Gold 50,000^
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[45] Gold 50,000^
Sweden (GLF)[46] Gold 50,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[47] Gold 25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[48] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[49] 2× Platinum 2,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone


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