By Land, Air Or Sea: The History of the Rolling Stones’ Outrageous Tour Announcements
I was about 13 years old in May 1975, and already a diehard Rolling Stones freak. The rumor was out (and in a pre-Internet world everything was pretty much rumor at that point) that the Stones were about to announce a massive North and South American tour through summer and fall. A news conference had been scheduled on May 1st at a hotel located on Fifth Avenue right next to Washington Square Park. But as we all saw on the news that night, there was no press conference that day.
While journalists huddled inside the hotel, waiting for the Stones and getting out of the rain on a typically sweltering, muggy early summer day in New York, a rumbling was heard outside. And then screams. The writers and photographers rushed out to see what was happening, and then they realized what was causing what by now had become near-chaos in the streets. There they were, the Rolling Stones (along with keyboardist Billy Preston) on the back of a flatbed truck performing a raucous and wonderfully sloppy version of ‘Brown Sugar.’ At the end of the eight-minute performance, Mick Jagger, clad in blue jeans, white T-shirt and black leather jacket, reached into a plastic garbage pail and began tossing out flyers which contained all the tour dates. People clamored for the precious pieces of paper as they floated to the sidewalk. That is how the world learned where the Rolling Stones would be playing and when. (And yes, there was much discussion after the announcement about whether or not this would be the final Stones tour given the age of the band members at that point. After all, Jagger would turn all of 32 years old in July of that year).
The media had been had. But in tricking the media, the Stones had pulled off one of the great promotional tour announcements, if not the greatest announcement in history. Supposedly, the idea came from drummer Charlie Watts, who remembered that jazz bands up in Harlem used to ride around during the day performing on the backs of trucks in order to promote that evening’s concert. Little did Watts know that he created a new tour announcement standard for the band that they would try to one-up over the years.
As we’ll see, since then, the Rolling Stones have been inventive and even ingenious when it’s come to letting the world know that they are about to become ours again, at least for a summer or so. But whether or not anything will ever come close to topping what they executed on that dank, drizzly but ultimately dazzling May Day 1975, will certainly be up for discussion.
1989 – ‘Steel Wheels’ Tour Announcement:
In August of 1989, to announce what essentially was a comeback tour that point, the Stones took to the rails. ‘Steel Wheels’ would be the first Rolling Stones album in eight years, and to help promote the supporting tour, the group appeared by antique caboose — pulling up and New York City’s Grand Central Station to field questions from more than 300 members of the media in attendance. As Jagger said that day: “I don’t see it as a retrospective or a farewell or any thing like that. It’s the Rolling Stones in 1989.” The band also provided short sample of their upcoming single, ‘Mixed Emotions,’ with Mick Jagger holding his microphone up to a boombox the band had brought along.
1994 – ‘Voodoo Lounge’ Tour Announcement:
In May 1994, the band chose water as their mode of tour announcement, cruising by boat from the Manhattan docks at West 79th Street to Pier 60 at West 19th Street to announce their ‘Voodoo Lounge’ tour. This would be the first time that bassist Bill Wyman would not be along for the ride, replaced by Darryl Jones.
In somewhat tamer fashion, August 1997 saw the band arriving by red Cadillac convertible under the Brooklyn Bridge for the announcement of their ‘Bridges to Babylon’ tour in support of the album by the same name.
2002 – ‘Tip of the Tongue’ Tour Announcement:
Sensing that maybe the last couple of tour announcements had been too tame, in 2002 the Stones got back in stride with a spectacular entrance into New York City’s Van Cortland Park, arriving in a dazzling blimp emblazoned with their famed tongue logo.
Interestingly, the band has always made these announcements in New York City — and 2005 was no different. Maybe because it had been eight years since the last new album, the Rolling Stones didn’t just do a news conference at the Julliard School in New York to announce the ‘Bigger Bang’ tour on May 10, they also performed a mini concert. Once more, just like back in 1975, New Yorkers were treated to a free if slightly less spontaneous performance by the ‘greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.’
2005 – The ‘Bigger Bang’ Tour Announcement:
And that would be that for big, splashy tour announcements — at least as far as in-person events and spontaneous performances. As they prepared to hit the road last year for the ’50 & Counting’ tour celebrating five decades together, the Rolling Stones relied almost exclusively on social media to tease, hype and spread the word. Times have obviously changed in terms of how a tour is promoted. Still, we can fondly remember how this legendary band often went the extra mile to give us the satisfaction we wanted.