Setlist History: Rolling Stones Kick Off 1981 Tour

The Rolling Stones kicked off their 1981 Tattoo You Tour on September 25, 1981 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia in an unusual way.

Supporting their brand new album, Tattoo You, perhaps their last perfect studio album, they decided to play a pair of shows at the city's football stadium where doors were at 11am.

And the opening show was on a Friday.

That's right, an 11am show at JFK with The Stones / Journey / George Thorogood.

Skip school, kids.

Thorogood's career was peaking thanks to the success of "Bad To The Bone" and its music video which was in heavy rotation; as was Journey who was also becoming an MTV staple themselves.

Rumor has it that Journey was "booed off the stage" at this show. While they did cut their set short two songs, compared to the 11 tunes they'd play the next night, the booing seems to have come from the start of the show when they were announced as "America's #1 Band."

Most of the Journey set. Only mild booing at the beginning and straight up applause after most of the other songs.

The denizens of the city of brotherly love disapproved of that proclamation, apparently.

The next day, the bay area group would simply be introduced with the standard, "from San Francisco: Journey." No booing occurred on that day.

There was booing a few weeks later in Los Angeles, but that was directed at Prince, infamously.

Jagger had personally invited Prince to open for them at the Coliseum. Little did either of them know the crowd of 90,000 Angelenos would hurl racial slurs as well as food at Prince and the Revolution.

The Stones took the stage around 4pm to 70,000 fans and began their set, which was also curious.

First of all, did they even know how good Tattoo You was? Opening with 1966's "Under My Thumb" on the Stone's first US tour of the '80s was... a choice.

Crazy idea, but why not "Start Me Up"? You know, the single they had released a month prior? It was tucked way down near the bottom of the set where it would stay for most of the tour. It wouldn't be until 1989 that it would be the show opener.

Oddly the first Tattoo You song comes in at #3 on Friday and #5 on Saturday, the rollickin "Neighbours" which they'd up playing 100 times in their career (about 1/9 what "Start Me Up" would receive.)

The band would unearth "Time is On My Side" which they hadn't played since '66. There were live debuts that day of "Tops," "Little T&A" and "Waiting on a Friend."

About a month before the tour kickoff, Jagger held a press conference on the empty field where he was asked if the Stones were going to break up any time soon. They'd been together for 19 years, an eternity for most groups.

The singer laughed off and made jokes while fielding questions. He soaked in the attention and reflected the rock star he is and will always be.

Listening to recordings from the two Philly shows, we hear a ragged, uneven, and rusty Stones. Watching the footage we see an energized band, a hyper singer, and an unusual stage that looked to be built by a broken ankle aficionado.

Weird stairs, strange corners, platforms, and conversation pits made up the brightly colored stage. It also looked way too snug for a headlining band performing to the largest venue in town.

When we see the Stones in December, just a few months later, in the Still Life doc, the stage is noticeably larger, far less dangerous, and the band is gelling live. Pianist Ian Stewart adding that little something extra we didn't know we needed.

The Stones in Arizona in December of 1981

"Start Me Up" would peak at #2 a little over a month after the shows in Philly. It would be stymied by Christopher Cross' Oscar-winning soft rock diddy, "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)."

The tour, promoted by the legendary Bill Graham, became the top grossing tour of the year. The perfume company Jovan spent $1 million to sponsor the tour, one of the first big dollar tour sponsorships.

Since it was the advent of pay-per-view cable TV, the December show in Virginia on Keith's 38th birthday was the first ever pay-per-view event that was simulcast on TV and numerous FM stations across the US.

That show would become infamous because it was there that Keith, seeing a fan jumping on stage and running towards Mick, unstraps his Telecaster and wallops him in the noggin.

Later Keith said he bailed the guy out of jail that night.

"He still owes me $200," he jokes.

The Rolling Stones were founded 61 years ago and two weeks ago released a new single and video, "Angry," from their forthcoming album, Hackney Diamonds which comes out in October.

Pre-order the album on the Stones' website.

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