The Rolling Stones‘ 1981 U.S. tour was more than just an artistic triumph. It was also a spectacular financial coup — the headiest windfall in rock & roll history. In its aftermath, Mick Jagger stands revealed as a master career strategist of the first order — the toughest, shrewdest businessman to emerge on the entertainment scene since Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. Some supporting facts:
¶ Ticket sales: More than 2 million people paid at least fifteen dollars apiece to see the Stones over the course of the twelve-week tour. The Stones’ cut of this approximately $34 million gross is reliably estimated to have ranged from seventy-two percent to as high as ninety percent, depending on the venue. Say $25 million to $30 million.
¶ Merchandising: Sales of Rolling Stones T-shirts, jerseys, bumperstickers, badges and tour programs constituted a separate bonanza in themselves. Midway through the tour, it was widely estimated that merchandising sales were averaging one T-shirt (ten dollars) per customer — a gross of more than $20 million. Toward tour’s end, however, at least one regional promoter insisted that the final figure would be double that. The Stones’ share — reckoned to be twenty-five percent — could thus be as much as $10 million.
¶ Record sales: The Stones’ tour gave a considerable boost to what was already the group’s strongest album in years. It was expected that by year’s end Tattoo You would have sold a total of 3 million copies in the U.S. alone; figuring that the Stones command a very high royalty rate — perhaps as much as $1.50 per album — this would add $4.5 million to the group’s income (exclusive of song-writing royalties, which accrue solely to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards). In this context, revenues from the two singles released so far from the album, and two past albums that have reentered the charts, seem like small change. Looming larger would be publishing royalties. In the Stones case, these will run about four cents per song — forty cents per album — for a total of $1,200,000.
¶ Video: The Stones’ Hampton Coliseum concert was scheduled to be broadcast live to cable-television subscribers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Ann Arbor, Boston and Miami. A half-million people were expected to pay ten dollars apiece for the pleasure of watching, yielding a gross profit of $5 million. At press time, the Stones’ percentage of this venture was unknown, but their immediate profit would only be preliminary, as the tape of the show seems certain to become a cable-TV staple, and probably a hot draw on the midnight-screening circuit.
¶ Tour sponsorship: Jovan, Inc., a major perfume manufacturer, gave the Stones “several million dollars” to help offset production costs and, it was said, to underwrite small-theater gigs that the group would otherwise have had to play at a loss. (Only one such intimate gig occurred, though — at the 4000-seat Fox Theatre in Atlanta.) In return for this upfront largesse, Jovan received permission to create and sell its own Stones tour poster at fragrance counters around the country, the right to have the company’s name printed on concert tickets and a large block of those tickets with which to run radio giveaways in each concert market. (According to Jovan’s advertising director, David Miller, the Stones’ audience now includes two distinct generations, ranging in age from midteens to midthirties. The radio tie-ins, he said, were particularly valuable in reaching the younger end of that spectrum, “fifteen, sixteen — people who are just starting to think about wearing fragrances.”) Estimates of Jovan’s promotional donation to the Stones have ranged up to $4 million.
The final tally: a possible gross of more than $50 million.
The key word here, of course, is “gross.” Tour expenses were unusually high. Promoter Bill Graham’s Raindrop Productions provided the Stones with state-of-the-art sound and lighting, as well as two custom-designed outdoor stages, a remarkable rotating indoor stage and a cumbersome, hydraulically powered cherry picker to swing Jagger out over the crowd during “Jumping Jack Flash.” Hotel and food bills for the Stones’ tour crew — sixty-eight people for the outdoor gigs, fifty-two inside — were also expensive. And the tab for the rented jet that carried the group and its entourage around the country — a 103-passenger Boeing 727 redesigned into a fifty-three-seat “executive configuration,” complete with built-in bars and couches — was said to total $500,000.
And though the Stones saved money by booking locally available bands in each region (rather than carrying one or two groups around with them), those acts still had to be paid. (Not much, however: James Brown, scheduled to open the New York City concerts, canceled out on the day of the first show after the Stones failed to come up with what he considered a dignified amount of dough.)
And then, of course, there is the Internal Revenue Service. Even after the inevitable tax bite, though — something that the Stones must by now be expert at minimizing — the founding members of the group must have walked away from the tour as multimillionaires once again. In the case of Jagger and Richards, the final tally would be even higher. (As for Ron Wood, the group’s happy-go-lucky — emphasis on lucky — slide guitarist, it’s doubtful that after only six years onboard he would merit a full stake in rock’s longest-running money-making machine.)
Clearly, the Stones tour was as much about money as about art — which is not to denigrate either aspect of such an astonishing achievement in their twentieth year. But artistic acclaim is nothing new for the Stones; what was new in 1981 was Mick Jagger’s obvious total control. After burning through some of the canniest management talent in the music business — Marshall Chess, Earl McGrath and Peter Rudge — Jagger has come out totally on top. No tour detail, however minute, escaped his appraising eye, from the number of T-shirts hawked outside the halls to the granting of press tickets and backstage passes at each stop on the tour. Even Bill Graham, the volatile take-charge promoter, apparently worked strictly for Mick, and one detected the singer’s budget consciousness in the generally spartan state of the tour’s backstage buffets (cold cuts, not caviar), and in the refusal that was politely conveyed to one promoter who inquired whether the band wanted its dressing rooms to be stocked with champagne.
If there were any considerations that Jagger — once a promising student at the London School of Economics — couldn’t handle, he turned to his personal financial adviser, Prince Rupert Loewenstein. Jagger supposedly met Loewenstein at a party in London five years ago, when the Englishman was still a private investment banker with the firm of Leopold Joseph and Sons. Today, it’s reported that Loewenstein handles just one account — the Rolling Stones — for a reported ten percent commission. Through Promotone B.V., the Holland-based holding company set up for the group, he has reportedly channeled their ever-accumulating capital into Japanese fish factories and other diverse enterprises. Taxwise, he has apparently made clear to them the wisdom of maintaining primary domiciles in the South of France or the U.S. (or, in Richards’ case, Jamaica).
What all of this high-level financial positioning means is respectability with a vengeance. After twenty years as the bad boys of rock, the Stones are no longer boys and are hardly “bad” by the punk standards they themselves once set. It is a tribute to Jagger’s genius for manipulation that the media so eagerly embraced the band’s new, nonthreatening image. It did seem odd, at first. Gone were the fabled sex-and-drug orgies of yore; instead, there were the Stones celebrating Bill Wyman’s birthday in Orlando, Florida, by renting out a boat at Disney World for the night. In San Francisco, with Mayor Dianne Feinstein beaming by his side, Jagger genially solicited donations for the repair of the city’s deteriorating cable-car system. And Herb Caen, the San Francisco Chronicle columnist, spotted former hotel wreckers Jagger, Richards and Charlie Watts dining out at the exclusive Ernie’s Restaurant, eating “varied pâtés and soufflés,” talking to the maitre d’ in French and paying their $866 tab with a flick of Mick’s American Express card. When the tour hit Houston, Mick passed up a visit to Gilley’s, the renowned suburban honky-tonk; but with Texas-bred girlfriend Jerry Hall in tow, he made a beeline for a party for Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos.
But the media fell right into line. A full-page color photo in Life showed Jagger jogging down a country road with an intent, dedicated-professional look on his tanned face. He even agreed to sit for a TV session with gossip columnist Rona Barrett. And in the Los Angeles Times, a relaxed, healthy Keith Richards said he’d think about doing an antidrug commercial “if I could figure out the right way to do it.” In the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Ken Tucker devoted two pages to explaining the band’s old bad-boy image. “I just thought it would be worthwhile to remind people that the Stones used to be controversial,” he said.
There were some minor demurrals: Time published a two-page spread on why not to see the Stones; an L.A. television reporter petulantly complained that the press was more restricted at the band’s Memorial Coliseum show than at any other time he could remember (he then proceeded to announce the hotel at which the Stones were staying); and the Chicago Tribune told its readers how to locate the Stones, listing their favorite hangouts and even Mick Jagger’s scheduled dentist appointment. By and large, though, the message from the media was clear: you can come home now, boys, all is forgiven.
To the fans who snatched up every single ticket for every single concert, the Stones had done nothing that would call for amends, but they were happy to have the band back nonetheless. With the death of John Lennon (and, earlier, Keith Moon of the Who) and the collapse of Led Zeppelin, the Stones were left holding the field as the last of the big Sixties acts still creatively intact. And who knew what tragic news the next several years might bring? “See them now” was an operative impulse throughout the tour. (For those unable to do so this time around, a tour movie, directed by Hal Ashby and shot largely at the Stones’ concerts at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and Sun Devil Stadium in Phoenix, should be out before next summer. Ashby, who directed Harold and Maude and Shampoo, hopes to release the film in a seventy-millimeter, six-track-stereo format, which would make it the most elaborate rock & roll movie since Woodstock — and, given its commercial potential in Europe, where the Stones haven’t played for years, perhaps the most profitable, as well.)
So what did it all mean? The Rolling Stones have embraced total respectability — they seem to exist on a plush, parallel universe all their own. But they have reached a point where they can consider branching out in whatever directions they desire. For Charlie Watts, this could mean something as innocuous as recording with a good-time jam band like Rocket 88 and not worrying about how it might reflect on the Stones. For Bill Wyman, miffed after years of disregard for his songwriting talents, it means composing film scores and recording more solo albums. And for Mick Jagger, obviously uncomfortable at being perceived as an aging rock star, it may mean making it — at long last — in movies.
Whether or not Jagger — or any major rock star — is capable of the convincing intimacy required of a screen actor remains to be seen. His past film roles in Performance and Ned Kelly offered few clues, and his last attempt, in Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo — for which he spent three very trying months in the Peruvian jungle — was all for nought, as the film was never completed. (“He was so disappointed, poor bloke,” said Keith Richards.) But now Jagger has gotten serious: he’s purchased the screen rights to Gore Vidal’s novel Kalki, has commissioned Vidal to write a screenplay and hopes to begin filming the movie (under old pal Hal Ashby’s direction) within the next eighteen months. One suspects that, at this point in his life, the film’s success may mean more to him than all the Rolling Stones tours to come.
That there will be more Stones tours seems all but certain. For one thing, Keith Richards is unlikely to retire into some dainty dotage or otherwise hang up his rock & roll shoes. For another, the money is now too big to turn down — one of the many illuminations provided by the Stones’ 1981 U.S. outing. A man who knows this well is Jay Coleman, president of Rockbill, Inc., the company that put the Stones together with Jovan and has arranged similar deals between Charlie Daniels and Skoal tobacco, and the Marshall Tucker Band and Ron Rico rum. The Stones’ hookup with a multimillion-dollar corporation like Jovan and the band’s new, acceptably adult image gladden Coleman’s heart.
“There are advertising people my own age now who understand that music isn’t something that is far to the left or that wants to bring down the government or any of that,” he says. “They understand that it’s a positive thing. On the other hand, you’ve got the artists, who finally are no longer fearful of recognizing the fact that music is a business. And they’re not out there waving a flag against the Vietnam War, and so for them to associate themselves with a company doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody’s gonna think they’ve sold out.
“Rock & roll and Madison Avenue,” Coleman says with a gratified sigh. “Their paths are finally crossing.”
This is a story from the January 21, 1982 issue of Rolling Stone.