The Rolling Stones American Tour 1981

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 two million concert goers attended the concerts, setting various ticket sales records.[1] The 5 December show in New Orleans set an indoor concert attendance record which stood for 33 years.

The Rolling Stones American Tour 1981
Tour by The Rolling Stones
Associated albumTattoo You
Start date25 September 1981
End date19 December 1981
No. of shows50
Box officeUS $52 million ($146.24 million in 2019 dollars)
The Rolling Stones concert chronology


Initially, 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. Jagger eventually relented.[2] As with previous tours, the American Tour 1981 was promoted by Bill Graham.

The band rehearsed at Long View Farm, North Brookfield, Massachusetts, from 14 August to 25 September 1981.[3] and played a warm-up show at the Sir Morgan's Cove club in Worcester, Massachusetts on 14 September.[4] Although they were billed as Little Boy Blue & The Cockroaches, word got out and some 11,000 fans pushed and shoved outside the 300-capacity venue.[4] The Mayor of Boston Kevin H. White stopped the notion of further public rehearsals, saying, "The appearance here of Mr. Jagger is not necessarily in the public interest."[4]

The tour's elaborate and colorful stage was the work of Japanese designer Kazuhide Yamazaki.[5] "Most concerts that took place outdoors at the time were played during the day," recalled Jagger, "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."[5]

Most shows later in the tour featured a cherry picker and the release of hundreds of balloons at the show's end.[6] During the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum[7] 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 – a still somewhat unknown Prince – barely got through three songs before being booed off.[8]

The tour was the largest-grossing tour of 1981, and for several years to come. It grossed $50 million in ticket sales when the average ticket price was $16. Roughly three million attended the concerts. The Stones set many records that remain unbroken. The JFK Stadium shows in Philadelphia prompted nearly 4 million requests via post cards for tickets (a method used at the time to prevent scalping); requests for the five arena shows in the New York metropolitan area were in the millions.[1] The New York Times stated, "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..."[1] The tour indeed did turn out to be profitable: the Stones were estimated to have reaped about $22 million after expenses.[9]

The tour also was an early milestone for the rock industry by selling advertising rights to Jōvan Musk.[10] Jōvan paid $1 million to put their name on Stones tickets.[11] This attracted considerable attention in the business media, as Jōvan's image of a pleasant fragrance was at odds with the Stones' bad boys image.[12] But the Stones behaved well on tour, and rock tour corporate sponsorships soon became the norm.[12]

In another marketing first, the 18 December performance at Virginia's Hampton Coliseum[13] was broadcast as "The World's Greatest Rock'n'Roll Party", on pay-per-view and in closed circuit cinemas.[14] It was the first such use of pay-per-view for a music event. When a fan ran onstage during the show, Keith Richards hit him with his guitar.

Also of note was the 14 December performance at Kansas City's Kemper Arena. Former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor joined the band for a large part of the performance.[14] Ronnie Wood was not happy with Taylor, however: "[He was] bulldozing through parts of songs that should have been subtle, ignoring breaks and taking uninvited solos."[9] Other guests during the tour were Tina Turner (who would sing "Honky Tonk Women"), Chuck Leavell, Tower of Power and Sugar Blue.[14] Turner, People reported, had toured with the Stones in 1966, and Jagger admitted he had "learned a lot of things" from her.[15]

The 1 October performance at the Rockford MetroCentre in Rockford, Illinois was added to the tour as a result of a petition drive by local radio station WZOK, which attracted more that 35,000 signatures.[16]

In general, there was less backstage madness on the tour than on many previous outings.[1] This was largely due to Richards having largely overcome his well-known drugs and alcohol problems;[1] The New York Times wrote of Richards, "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."[1] However, this and the 1982 tour were the last tours on which Richards contributed the majority of backup vocals; for future tours, additional singers were enlisted.

Several of the concerts were recorded and selected songs were released on 1982's live Still Life.[17] The Hal Ashby-directed concert film Let's Spend the Night Together grossed $50 million.[17] Possibly due to the film, most of the shows on this tour were professionally recorded. Bootleg evidence suggests that for 35 of the regular 50 shows from this tour, more than half of each concert is directly from the soundboard.

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


The Rolling StonesEdit

Additional musiciansEdit

  • Lee Allen – saxophone (1 October, Rockford, Illinois, and on 3 and 4 October at Folsom Field, in Boulder, Colorado)
  • Ian Stewart – piano
  • Ian McLagan – keyboards, backing vocals
  • Ernie Watts – saxophone (7 October, San Diego, CA through last show of US tour, 19 December 1981, Hampton Roads Coliseum, Hampton, VA)
  • Bobby Keys – saxophone (on 'Let it Bleed', 'Brown Sugar', 'Tumbling Dice' and 'Honky Tonk Women')

Set listEdit

The usual set list was:[14]

  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, 3 November)
  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. "Street Fighting Man" (played from 25 September-9 October and 26 October) [encore]
  31. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (played 25 September; 3 & 11 October until end of tour) [encore]
  32. "Outro The Star-Spangled Banner (version Jimi Hendrix in Woodstock 1969)" [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 showEdit

The set list for the 14 September 1981 show is unverified, but is reported to include:[citation needed]

  1. "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love"
  2. "Mona (I Need You Baby)"
  3. "Under My Thumb"
  4. "Down the Road Apiece"
  5. "Let It Bleed"
  6. "I Just Want To Make Love To You"
  7. "She's So Cold"
  8. "Hang Fire"
  9. "All Down The Line"
  10. "Honky Tonk Women"
  11. "Start Me Up"
  12. "Jumpin' Jack Flash"
  13. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"

Irregular songsEdit

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.[6]

The 21 November concert in St. Paul, MN was memorable because Jesse Ventura did the introduction, as he had on their 1978 North American tour.

Tour datesEdit

List of tour dates with date, city, country, venue, references
City Country Venue Attendance Gross Support act(s)
25 September Philadelphia United States John F. Kennedy Stadium 181,564 / 181,564 $2,859,633[18] Journey
George Thorogood & the Destroyers
26 September
27 September Orchard Park Rich Stadium 75,000 / 75,000 $1,125,000[19]
1 October Rockford Rockford MetroCentre The GoGos
3 October Boulder Folsom Field 120,000 / 120,000 $1,920,000[19] Heart
George Thorogood & the Destroyers
4 October
7 October San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium 70,000 / 70,000 $1,050,000[20] The J. Geils Band
George Thorogood & the Destroyers
9 October Los Angeles Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Prince
The J. Geils Band
George Thorogood & the Destroyers
11 October
14 October Seattle Kingdome 138,264[21] The J. Geils Band
Greg Kihn Band
15 October
17 October San Francisco Candlestick Park 135,000 / 135,000 $2,092,500[22] The J. Geils Band
George Thorogood and the Destroyers
18 October
24 October Orlando Tangerine Bowl 121,000 / 121,000 $1,887,600[22] Henry Paul Band
Van Halen
25 October
26 October Atlanta Fox Theatre Stray Cats
28 October Houston Astrodome 65,000 / 65,000 $1,202,500[23] The Fabulous Thunderbirds
ZZ Top
29 October
31 October Dallas Cotton Bowl 156,000 / 156,000 $2,695,332[23] The Fabulous Thunderbirds
ZZ Top
1 November
3 November Louisville Freedom Hall 18,210 / 18,210 $287,540[24] The Neville Brothers
5 November East Rutherford Brendan Byrne Arena 61,035 / 61,035 $943,782[24] Tina Turner
6 November
7 November
9 November Hartford Hartford Civic Center 30,389 / 30,389 $455,835[25] Garland Jeffreys
10 November
12 November New York City Madison Square Garden 39,200 / 39,200 $580,000[25] Screamin' Jay Hawkins
13 November
16 November Cleveland Richfield Coliseum Etta James
17 November
19 November St. Louis Checkerdome 18,770 / 18,770 $302,313[26] The Lamont Cranston Band
20 November Cedar Falls UNI-Dome 24,000 / 24,000 $368,156[26] The Lamont Cranston Band
Stray Cats
21 November Saint Paul St. Paul Civic Center Stray Cats
23 November Rosemont Rosemont Horizon 55,230 / 55,230 $822,740[26] The Neville Brothers
24 November
25 November
27 November Syracuse Carrier Dome Molly Hatchet
Henry Paul Band
28 November
30 November Pontiac Pontiac Silverdome 152,696 / 152,696 $2,290,000[26] The Clash
Iggy Pop
1 December
5 December New Orleans Louisiana Superdome 87,500 / 87,500 $1,531,250[27] George Thorogood and the Destroyers
The Neville Brothers
7 December Landover Capital Centre 54,765 / 54,765 $876,826 Bobby Womack
Ian Dury and the Blockheads
8 December
9 December
11 December Lexington Rupp Arena 22,954 / 22,954 $363,424[28] Meter
13 December Tempe Sun Devil Stadium 74,637 / 74,637 $1,287,488[29] Joe Ely
George Thorogood and the Destroyers
14 December Kansas City Kemper Arena 35,026 / 35,026 George Thorogood and the Destroyers
15 December
18 December Hampton Hampton Coliseum 26,000 / 26,000 $409,500[28]
19 December
TOTAL 1,762,240 $25,351,419


  1. ^ a b c d e f Robert Palmer (4 November 1981). "The Stones Roll On, Refusing to Become Show-Business Slick". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Sandford, Christopher (2003). Mick Jagger: Rebel Knight. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-9833-7. p. 276.
  3. ^ Zentgraf, Nico. "Rolling Stones database 1981". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Sandford, Mick Jagger: Rebel Knight, p. 278.
  5. ^ a b Loewenstein, Dora; Philip Dodd (2003). According to the Rolling Stones. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. p. 222. ISBN 0-8118-4060-3.
  6. ^ a b Robert Palmer (14 November 1981). "Rock: Rolling Stones". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Times, Los Angeles (23 February 2016). "1981 Rolling Stones concert at the Coliseum". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  8. ^ "Rolling Stones Open 2-Day Stand In LA", Oxnard (CA) Press-Courier, 10 October 1981, p3
  9. ^ a b Sandford, Mick Jagger: Rebel Knight, p. 282.
  10. ^ Peter Newcomb (2 October 1989). "Satisfaction Guaranteed". Forbes.
  11. ^ Brenner, Reuven (1987). Rivalry: In Business, Science, Among Nations. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-38584-9. p. 84.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "YouTube". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d "American Tour 1981". Rocks Off Setlists. Retrieved 18 July 2006.
  15. ^ Arrington, Carl (7 December 1981). "Tina Turner, the Woman Who Taught Mick Jagger to Dance, Is on the Prowl Again". People. Vol. 16 no. 23.
  16. ^ "Rolling Stones accept fans' invitation", United Press International, 19 September 1981
  17. ^ a b "The Rolling Stones: Biography". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 21 June 2008.
  18. ^ Billboard Magazine. Google Books: Billboard Magazine. 10 October 1981.
  19. ^ a b Billboard Magazine. Google Books: Billboard Magazine. 17 October 1981.
  20. ^ Billboard Magazine. 24 October 1981 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ The Kingdome's Biggest Events. Seattle Pi. 1 June 2011.
  22. ^ a b Billboard Magazine. Google Books: Billboard Magazine. 7 November 1981.
  23. ^ a b Billboard Magazine. Google Books: Billboard Magazine. 14 November 1981.
  24. ^ a b Billboard Magazine. 21 November 1981 – via Google Books.
  25. ^ a b Billboard Magazine (PDF). 21 November 1981 – via World Radio History.
  26. ^ a b c d Billboard Magazine. 12 December 1981 – via Google Books.
  27. ^ Billboard Magazine. Google Books: Billboard Magazine. 19 December 1981.[page needed]
  28. ^ a b Billboard Magazine (PDF). 9 January 1982 – via World Radio History.
  29. ^ Billboard Magazine. 26 December 1981 – via Google Books.[page needed]