There was enough invective about The Rolling Stones' age during their 1981 American tour that you'd mistake it for being scribbled down last week.
In his review of the opening show of the tour at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Kurt Loder states in Rolling Stone that the audience "couldn’t have cared less that the band was out of shape and two or three times older than many of those in the audience."
The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band had been at it for nearly 20 years. They reinvented themselves without self-destructing or sliding into irrelevancy. Let's Spend the Night Together, the 1983 concert film directed by Hal Ashby, marked this transitional period in the band's timeline. Tempe was a part of it. Over half the movie is from the December 13, 1981, show at Sun Devil Stadium.
With The Rolling Stones returning to Phoenix for the first time since 2006, it would be a good time to collate what everyone remembers from that day. People remember all sorts of crazy things almost four decades later.
Here is an approximation of what happened before and after the show to start you up.
(Editor’s note: Some quotes have been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity.)
Please Let Me Go!
There was so much excitement whipped up by the Stones that even underage fans wanted to go. In one case, a mom and her twin sons camped outside all night outside of Rolling Stone Records at Tower Plaza to get tickets when they went on sale.
My brother, Stefan, and I were in grade school, but really wanted to go. We figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime event as the Stones probably wouldn't be around that much longer and seeing them now would be a big deal years from now. However, my mom thought we were too little to go, so she offered to tag along. My mom had been to a Beatles concert in '63, so we knew were in good hands!
So, we had to camp out for tickets because that is how it was done back then for really big-name musical acts. A tumultuous, sleepless night on hard cement followed, but we all felt like released hostage survivors when it was all said and done. It was pretty festive, but wouldn't want to do it again. Disappointing there were so many like-minded ticket scalpers outside Sun Devil Stadium on the big day. I remember one guy had a stack of about 100 and was looking pretty desperate to unload. At that point, sleeping outside all night began to look like a complete waste of time. — Alexander Pietrzak, attendee
A man offered my mother cocaine and she politely declined. The tickets were $17.25, a scandalous price at that time. — Stefan Youngs, attendee
We got a great place in the stadium, but when the concert started everyone stood up and pushed forward. I had to hang on to the twins by their coats so we wouldn't get separated and had to work our way further back so that they could see. It was an amazing experience they and I have never forgotten! — Lee Wright, mother
The following year, we somehow got passes to see the Hal Ashby documentary at Harkins Camelview 5. Since I knew exactly where we had been standing and that my mom had very blonde Marilyn Monroe hair, it was actually fairly easy to spot us a number of times up on the big screen. — Alexander Pietrzak
I camped out all night with friends at Gammage to buy tickets. I was 15 years old at that show. Nosebleed seats ... had a buddy sell his ticket on the way to the show for more than he paid for it to a church trying to convert him. He went to their church for a couple of hours, then walked back to the stadium. Bought a better ticket for a lower price from a scalper. Then told me that God wanted him to have a better seat. — Larry Mac, future radio personality and attendee
If You Start Me Up I'll Never Stop (Booing)!
I remember being frustrated that the opening acts were not the "big name" bands we had hoped for (namely The Clash). George Thorogood and Joe Ely were what we got. — Alexander Pietrzak, attendee
The crowd chased Joe off after only a few songs. He was great, but the crowd was having none of it. George fared a lot better. We stayed up late the night before because we were making our own custom concert T-shirts to wear to the show, which was awesome. Stadium shows in Tempe just weren't that common in those days. It all seems quaint and nostalgic now. — Dave Insley, future lead singer of Dave Insley's Careless Smokers and attendee
Bill Graham was the tour promoter for the Stones then. I had had just started doing arena shows the year before, but had been promoting shows since 1977. Bill and I were friendly, and I went to him and said, "Are you gonna do show announcements today?" He said, "Of course." So I said, "Would you mind giving a little pop for my Devo show at Veterans Memorial Coliseum coming up?" He said, "Sure, no problem." He was excited that he had something local to talk about. He went up there and said Devo and got the biggest boo I ever heard for a show announcement. Maybe they hated that Devo version of "Satisfaction," because they did destroy that one pretty good. Bill was amazed. He said, "Where I come from, Devo is a pretty big band." And I said, "Not in front of these cowboys." — Danny Zelisko, concert promoter
Spread Out the Oil!
This tour marked a turning point in corporate sponsorship when Jovan Musk paid $1 million to the band to put its company name on tickets and merch.
James Vail, a 26-year-old account executive, engineered the agreement. "Jovan's image matches the Stones' almost identically," he reasoned. "They're young, aggressive, their products are controversial, innovative."
This tour and film also marked the beginning of the Benetton Stones. The band were decked out in primary colors. Bill Wyman couldn't even blend into the background wearing a canary yellow suit. This garish transformation would reach its I-can't bear-to-look zenith with the covers of Dirty Work and She's the Boss, Jagger's solo effort.
The tour was so hyped up we even sent away for a Jovan tour poster in People magazine. I remember it was very pastel related, a lot of abstract art, too, like a big, horrible pink skateboard that looks like it was painted by a monkey. It was hideous. — Eric Braverman, future founder of Heavy Metal Television and attendee
One backstage attendee brings up a curious sighting. She swears she and a friend saw Andy Warhol getting in a white van and driving off, not even staying to watch the show.
We were backstage because we knew someone who
Everything written about the tour credits a Japanese designer, Kazuhide Yamazaki,, with the stage and tour artwork. Warhol's published diaries have him in New York watching Apocalypse Now on TV the night of the show. The night before, he'd been to dinner with Bianca and Jade Jagger. Maybe working with Bianca's ex was verboten and he didn't want his involvement known. And there's not a whole lot about Yamazaki online beyond some prints he made in the early '80s. So, has anyone has ever actually seen Andy Warhol and Kazuhide Yamazaki in the same room?
Run Like the Wind at Double Speed!
In Gimme Shelter, the Stones lurched into a chilled-down version of "Under My Thumb," the only time that Jagger ordered an audience to sit down. Infamously, the songs ended with Meredith Hunter, a black man in a lime green suit, pulling out a revolver and aiming it at the stage before being stabbed to death by Hell’s Angels.
Here, the group make the track the show opener and somewhat to its 1966
Jagger and Richards were not getting along at this point, so you don't see any of the iconic Glimmer Twins sharing the mic. It's as if the elaborate stage ramps were designed to keep the duo as far away from each other as possible.
I had obstructed-view tickets. Last-minute promoters/venue moved the stage back, and my obstructed-view seats became very near front row. I was a naive young man. Not well versed in rock 'n' roll. From the second Keith came out, I was blown away, mesmerized the entire concert. — Lawrence Zubia, future singer of The Pistoleros and attendee
Mick must have run five miles or more throughout the show. Ronnie and Keith were their usual selves, acting like they were having the time of their lives, which was awesome to see. — Mike G. Murphy, future singer
Some drunk kid in the seats behind us threw up on my friend's back. — Jo Dina, attendee
I'll Take You Places That You've Nevah, Nevah See!
The lines for the girls' bathroom were
I worked for Bill Graham. One thing with Bill is you multitasked. I did backstage security, grid work. That particular show, I was in charge of the paint crew. Here's what we did: We took Legend City's estern town and moved it backstage and set it up. We painted it with the Tattoo You vibe of that tour. When you do that show, it would take a week to set up. Bill would pick different themes with every location and this show's Western backstage area was for the band, friends, and celebs. Everyone on the show was dressed in Western garb. The Stones didn't do a soundcheck. They didn't need it. They came in the night before they played soccer in the stadium. One thing the Stones would do is they would meet the crew. They'd high-five you and whatnot. Bill encouraged that. — Mike Odle, then-musician with The Nervous and part of Bill Graham Presents local crew
My friend Jeff had a backstage pass from his friend Mark who was the coordinator for all the medical staff. He remembers sitting at the 50-yard line at 11:30 p.m. (the night before) with a pair of field glasses watching a limo pull into the field and Mick and Keith getting out with two black supermodels and someone who looked like Bill Graham. Another thing he remembers is that the show took a long time to start because Mick was wasted and they had to Narcan him. — Maggie Keane, future muralist
The Honky Tonk Women!
Estimates vary, but there were anywhere from 80 to 100 girls selected from ASU to dress up like saloon whores and floozies. If you look closely, one of them is Jerry Hall, Mick's then-girlfriend of several years. There's one memorable bit during "Honky Tonk Women" when Hall throws a pile of fake money at Jagger. He walks by and doesn’t even look at her.
I do remember that Mick ignored her. It seemed like she was there to keep him away from the dancers. — Jamie Ferrari, attendee
I was a Honky Tonk Woman. We had to audition in the ASU gymnasium, basically just stand there and then turn around and be fitted for a costume. I was stage left, in a fuchsia pink dress with platinum hair done up high and had a lot of purple eye shadow. We were kept backstage for the show and I got my picture taken with Mick on the buggy. — Dori Stevens, Honky Tonk Woman
The girls had a four-hour layover because they had to wait through Joe Ely, George Thorogood and The Destroyers, and then the Stones. So they were milling about, so we got them a couple of kegs and brought them backstage. We had a jail backstage, and Mick went in the jail and the girls took pictures and video with him and whatnot. But the girls started getting a buzz; some of the girls couldn't make it up the stairs to get on stage because they'd been drinking that beer for four hours. — Mike Odle, Bill Graham Presents crew
I seem to remember seeing vodka and Quaaludes backstage. I drank beer. — Dori Stevens
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
You Make a Grown Man Cry!
Before setting off $100,000 in fireworks, the show concluded with an encore of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" featuring Jagger in a cherry-picker tossing out flower petals, because that's what one does in any crossfire hurricane.
I looked up, and he was about 10 feet from me. I thought, "Wow, he sure looks old." Of course, I was 16 at the time, and anyone over 40 was ancient to me. — Lisa Kelley, attendee
The Rolling Stones are scheduled to perform on Monday, August 26, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. Tickets are $62.25 to $442 via Ticketmaster.