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15 Legendary Tours That Never Were

The most enticing road shows and residencies that nearly happened, from Guns N’ Roses and N.W.A to Lady Gaga and Kanye West

We all have our fantasy “dream tours” – favorite recording artists (or even combinations thereof) that we’d love to see performing live in concert, even if doing so would require the acquisition of a time machine. But even more tantalizing, in a way, are the “ghost tours” – those incredible tours that very nearly did come to pass, at least until fate, greed or (in some cases) common sense intervened. 

Here are 15 of the most memorable ghost tours from the last half-century of pop history; some of them have achieved almost mythological status, while others marked a turning point in an artist’s history, and still others simply exemplify the difficulties that can arise when you’re dealing with arena-sized egos. Regardless, we wish all of these tours had happened the way they were originally supposed to – and we really wish we could have been there for all of them.

ROCK 'N' ROLL HEROES (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images); 1990-The rap group N.W.A are shown in a studio pose. From left to right: Eazy-E (in straightjacket and sunglasses), Dr. Dre, MC Ren (bottom) and DJ Yella. (Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

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Guns ‘N Roses and N.W.A (1991)

On the cusp of the Nineties, there were no two groups more embattled or controversial than Guns N’ Roses and N.W.A, so it made perfect sense that Hollywood’s biggest rock band and Compton’s finest rap ensemble would see each other as kindred spirits. Axl Rose made it a point of wearing an N.W.A cap onstage and in videos, while N.W.A’s “Appetite for Destruction” – from their 1991 album Niggaz4Life – was partly inspired by the GN’R album of the same name. The two groups even socialized a bit, hanging out together at backyard barbecues and at GN’R’s L.A. Forum shows in the summer of 1991, and the idea of doing concerts together was briefly raised.

“We were supposed to do a couple of shows with them, but our manager got too greedy,” N.W.A’s DJ Yella told Rolling Stone in 2016. “They wanted to give us $25,000 for 10 minutes, but our management wanted $50,000 so it didn’t work.” Given the wide swath of devastation that both groups left in their respective wakes while on tour, one can only imagine the insanity that would have resulted from pairing them together on the road.

NETHERLANDS - JUNE 21: AHOY Photo of Jimmy PAGE and Robert PLANT and John Paul JONES and LED ZEPPELIN, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page performing live on stage (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Rob Verhorst/Redferns

Led Zeppelin: The 1980s, Part One (1980)

Led Zeppelin’s 1977 tour of North America was one of the darkest chapters in the saga of the legendary English rock band. Plagued by rioting fans, rampant drug use among band and crew, and ugly incidents like the one where band manager Peter Grant assaulted a security guard during a show at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, the trek came to a premature end when singer Robert Plant learned that his son had died of a mysterious stomach virus.

Though understandably reluctant to return to the U.S. after that experience, Plant finally agreed to a 19-date Led Zeppelin tour of the East Coast and Midwest in the fall of 1980, albeit with stipulations that the band would play smaller venues and have more time off between shows. Dubbed “The 1980s, Part One,” the tour would also feature set lists trimmed of the arena-rock excess that had characterized Zep’s performances in recent years, and (as with their tour of Europe in June and July 1980) showcase a more focused and energized musical attack. Unfortunately, a fatal drinking binge by drummer John Bonham forced the cancellation of the tour just three weeks before it was scheduled to open in Montreal, and caused the band to call it quits just a few months later.

Singer/actress Madonna performs onstage during the opening night of her "Re-Invention" World Tour 2004 at The Great Western Forum, May 24, 2004 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty; Prince performs at the 10th Anniversary Essence Music Festival at the Superdome on July 2, 2004 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Frank Micelotta, Chris Graythen/Getty

Madonna and Prince: The Royalty Tour (2010s)

One of the more surprising tidbits to emerge in the wake of Prince’s untimely demise was the revelation that Madonna and the Purple One had once entertained the possibility of a joint tour. According to an April 21st, 2016, Instagram post from Guy Oseary, Madonna’s manager, he had pitched the concept to both artists a few years before Prince’s death. Madonna was immediately on board with the idea; “I like it,” she told Oseary. “We can call it the Royalty Tour … the Queen and the Prince.” Prince, however, wasn’t completely sold on it. “The world isn’t ready for this,” he told Oseary. “It’s too big.”

The pairing of the two pop icons – who briefly dated in the mid-Eighties, and later collaborated on two tracks from Madonna’s Like a Prayer album – would have undoubtedly been a major event. “I always felt that one day we would pull it off,” Oseary wrote. Sadly, it was not to be.

HEMPSTEAD, NY - FEBRUARY 26: Bob Dylan plays a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar as he performs on stage at the Island Garden on February 26, 1966 in Hempstead, New York. (Photo by Alice Ochs/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Bob Dylan: U.S. ‘Blonde on Blonde’ Tour (1966)

Bob Dylan spent much of the first half of 1966 on the road, touring North America, Australia and Europe with four-fifths of the Hawks (formerly the backing band of rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins) and drummer Mickey Jones. But with the impending release of his new album, Blonde on Blonde, it was widely assumed that his boot heels would once again be wandering across U.S. stages. A concert date had already been scheduled for August 6th at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut; Jones had also been told that a show at New York’s Shea Stadium was in the works, with many other gigs to follow.

But Dylan’s motorcycle accident of July 29th effectively put the kibosh on all of that. The seriousness of the accident (and whether it actually even occurred) has been debated ever since, but it certainly served as a good excuse for Dylan to take a long hiatus from the speed-fueled treadmill of touring. And while Dylan fans were deprived of the opportunity to witness him and the Hawks playing more of Blonde on Blonde‘s incredible songs – only four of which had been performed live in the months leading up to the album’s release – Dylan’s vacation from the road did eventually result in 1967’s low-key masterpiece John Wesley Harding, as well as the evolution of the Hawks into the Band.  

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: Diana Ross (C) poses with Lynda Laurence (L) and Scherrie Payne (R) of the Supremes at a news conference to announce the Return of Love tour. Ross highlighted that she is touring with the Supremes but it is not a reunion tour. AFP PHOTO/Doug KANTER (Photo credit should read DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Doug Kanter/AFP/Getty

The Supremes: Return to Love (2000)

A reunion of Motown’s greatest girl group should have been the ultimate happening for Supremes fans, but 2000’s Return to Love tour ultimately resulted in nothing but heartaches. The initial concept behind the tour was that Diana Ross – who had left the Supremes for a successful solo career in 1970 – would reunite with her former singing partners Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong for a show consisting entirely of Supremes songs; the three women would also be joined at various points in the show by latter-day Supremes Jean Terrell, Susaye Greene, Scherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence. (Florence Ballard, an original member of the group, had passed away in 1976.)

Alas, negotiations fell apart when Wilson and Birdsong learned that they would be making significantly less money from the tour than Ross, who ultimately opted to go out with only Payne and Laurence. Despite heavy advance hype from VH1, Oprah and The View, Supremes fans – disappointed by the lack of Wilson and Birdsong – balked at paying the tour’s high ticket prices, and Ross and Co. found themselves playing to basketball arenas that were sometimes less than a quarter full. The tour was canceled after less than half of its 29 dates were completed; there have been no attempts at a Supremes reunion since.

The Velvet Underground perform on stage at Ahoy, Rotterdam, 9th June 1993, L-R John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison. (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Rob Verhorst/Redferns

The Velvet Underground: U.S. Tour (1993)

The unexpected news that Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker were reuniting for a tour sent Velvet Underground fans all over the world into a frenzy of excitement and anticipation. Unfortunately, the legendary and profoundly influential band only made it through six weeks of dates in Europe and the UK before Cale soured on the whole experience. “We could have done anything we wanted,” Cale told Marc Maron in 2013. “[But] it all suddenly became an exercise in revitalizing the catalog … instead of doing something that everybody would look up to us [for], and maintain the standards that we had.” Deprived of any stateside dates, disappointed U.S. fans had to make do with Live MCMXCIII, a live album recorded during the band’s three-night residence at L’Olympia in Paris.

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 23: In this handout photo provided by AEG, pop star Michael Jackson (C) rehearses for his planned shows in London at the Staples Center on June 23, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Jackson died two days later at the age of 50 in a hospital after going into cardiac arrest on June 25, 2009 in his Los Angeles home. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/AEG via Getty Images)

Kevin Mazur/AEG via Getty

Michael Jackson: This Is It (2009–10)

On March 5th, 2009, Michael Jackson announced that he would be staging 10 concerts at London’s O2 Arena, his first significant live performances since the HIStory World Tour had concluded in October 1997. International demand for the concerts – originally slated to begin on July 8th  – was so massive that an additional 40 shows were added at the venue; the dates were split into to legs, one running from July to September, and another running from early January to early March 2010. Jackson’s record-setting comeback shows were expected to be uniquely over-the-top spectacles, with a career spanning set list abetted by lavish choreography, video projections and 3D technology. Sadly, Jackson would not live to perform any of the shows; on June 25th, the King of Pop died of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication after suffering a cardiac arrest. Filmed during rehearsals for the O2 stand, the documentary film Michael Jackson’s This Is It offers a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been.

Kanye West (L) and Rihanna perform "FourFiveSeconds" onstage during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the at the STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Kanye West and Rihanna Tour (2015)

Though it was never officially announced, rumors flew throughout the winter of 2014–15 that West and Rihanna were gearing up to hit the road together. Between a tweet from RiRi about a “Kanye West Tour Experience” prize in her charity auction, a couple of premature postings by Live Nation and Ticketmaster that listed upcoming Kanye/Rihanna shows, and the fact that the two artists had recently collaborated on the song “FourFiveSeconds” with Paul McCartney, all signs seemed to point to a blockbuster tour.

And then … nothing. Several gossip mags claimed that Rihanna (who had previously opened for West on 2008’s Glow in the Dark tour) pulled out of tour talks because of her aversion to Kim Kardashian and worries that Kanye would “hijack” the whole thing, but we may never know for sure what really happened.

Buffalo Springfield: U.S. Reunion Tour (2012)

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

Buffalo Springfield: U.S. Reunion Tour (2012)

Forty-two years after the mighty Buffalo Springfield dissolved in a haze of ego and business problems, surviving members Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay finally reunited for a triumphant performance at the 2010 Bridge School benefit concerts. They reunited again in 2011 to play six West Coast dates and and perform at Bonnaroo, and Furay announced that they would be undertaking a 30-date North American tour in 2012.

Alas, the ever-fickle Neil Young decided forego further Springfield tours in favor of writing his book Waging Heavy Peace – so instead of getting to see one of the greatest American bands of the 1960s performing such classic songs as “Mr. Soul,” “For What It’s Worth” and “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” Springfield fans had to make do with Neil’s lengthy printed harangues about the horrors of digital sound quality. “I gotta say we probably lost a little bit of our momentum,” said Furay in 2012, after tour plans went down the toilet. “That isn’t to say it couldn’t be picked up again, but I certainly don’t see anything happening this year.” Five years on, the likelihood of another Springfield reunion seems slim at best.

WEMBLEY ARENA Photo of WINGS and Linda McCARTNEY and Paul McCARTNEY, and Linda McCartney, performing live onstage with Wings (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)

David Redfern/Redferns

Paul McCartney and Wings: Japanese and U.S. Tours (1980)

On January 16th, 1980, Paul McCartney arrived in Tokyo for Wings’ 11-date tour of Japan, his first visit to the country since the Beatles had performed there in 1966. But thanks to the nearly eight ounces of marijuana that he’d foolishly tried to conceal in his luggage, he wound up spending 10 days in jail instead. The former Beatle’s ganja gaffe not only forced the entire Japanese tour to be canceled, but also caused McCartney to drop his plans for Wings’ summer 1980 tour of the U.S., which would have been the band’s first stateside jaunt since 1976. The band unraveled from there without playing another gig, officially coming to an end when founding Wings member Denny Laine left in the spring of 1981.

ROTTERDAM Photo of Joy Division, Ian Curtis performing live onstage at the Lantaren (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Rob Verhorst/Redferns

Joy Division: First U.S. Tour (1980)

On the surface, at least, things were looking good for Manchester post-punk band Joy Division in the spring of 1980. Their acclaimed first album, 1979’s Unknown Pleasures, had effectively put Tony Wilson’s Factory Records label on the map, and resulted in a major tour of the U.K. opening for the Buzzcocks. Now, with their second album, Closer, newly in the can, the band was preparing to embark on their first tour of North America, with dates scheduled at such venues as New York’s Hurrah, Tuts in Chicago, Duffy’s in Minneapolis (with a young local band called Hüsker Dü opening) and the Starwood in Los Angeles.

But all was not so well with Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s lead singer. Beset by relationship issues, stress over the band’s touring commitments and epileptic fits that seemed to be getting increasingly worse, Curtis hanged himself in the early hours of May 18th, 1980, just a few days before the band was due to leave for America. The surviving members of the band, reconstituted as New Order, would arrive on U.S. shores later in the year; but Curtis’ suicide deprived American audiences of ever experiencing the live power of Joy Division in person.

Photo of XTC (Photo by Virginia Turbett/Redferns)

Virginia Turbett/Redferns

XTC: U.S. Tour (1982)

To those who were lucky enough to witness it, XTC’s April 3rd, 1982, show at San Diego’s California Theater was apparently an absolute stunner. The first date of the band’s biggest U.S. headlining tour yet featured expertly rendered versions of songs from the English band’s new English Settlement LP, as well as favorites from previous albums Black Sea and Drums and Wires – and given the band’s masterful performance, no one in the house could have imagined that it would go down in history as the last show that XTC would ever play in front of a live audience.

The following night, however, a crippling combination of anxiety and stage fright caused frontman Andy Partridge to bail out of a sold-out gig at the Hollywood Palladium; Partridge headed back to England, forcing the band to cancel the rest of their tour, as well as a subsequent one planned for Europe and the U.K. While XTC would continue to release brilliant records for another 18 years, their existence as a live band was officially over. 

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