When The Rolling Stones released ‘Steel Wheels’ at the end of the 80s, they’d spent the better part of a decade coasting off the back of some average albums and a lot of goodwill. Although when heard many years later the album now sounds like the Stones on autopilot, in 1989 it sounded sharp and vibrant; streets ahead of both 1983’s ‘Undercover’ and 1986’s absolutely turgid ‘Dirty Work’. The singles ‘Rock & A Hard Place’ and ‘Mixed Emotions’ harked back to solid rockers like ‘Start Me Up’ and ‘Little T&A’ from almost a decade earlier, while tracks like ‘Hold On To Your Hat’ proved the veteran rockers were still more than capable of cutting loose.
A great album deserves a great tour, and in that department, the Stones really didn’t short change their fans either. The ‘Steel Wheels Tour’ of ’89 – renamed the ‘Urban Jungle Tour’ in 1990 – took the band around the globe and saw them visiting the US shores for the first time since 1981. Fans have already been able to revisit the Steel Wheels tour via a widely circulated show filmed at the Tokyo Dome in 1990, but the earlier show from Atlantic City in December ‘89 outdoes that in almost every respect.
Andrew Gold had a prolific career, but to many people he will be best remembered for three songs. The schmaltzy MOR pop of ‘Never Let Her Slip Away’ gave Gold a massive hit in 1978; his ‘Thank You For Being A Friend’ eventually became an evergreen number thanks to being re-recorded as the theme for hit US comedy The Golden Girls and 1977’s ‘Lonely Boy’ became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. A genuine pop classic, that song’s multi-layered kitchen sink arrangement ensures it sounds as good now as it ever did – a rival to the complex pop of 10cc and a track that gave Jellyfish every reason to exist. It’s a four minute joy: a world of stabbed pianos and a story-telling verse leads into a massive chorus full of whoahs, which in turn gives out some great staccato guitar work and ultimately one of the greatest guitar solos you’ll ever hear. If that sounds overly indulgent, it surely is – but it’s also power pop perfection.
‘Lonely Boy’ takes pride of place within this box set – presented in no fewer than four versions – but that’s only a small part of the picture. This anthology provides the ideal opportunity to explore Gold’s four albums for the legendary Asylum label, along with a host of extras within one lovingly curated package.
After three years of brilliant pop frivolity, 1987 has a huge contrast in mood with albums and singles that seem far more thoughtful and downbeat. U2 turned in a career best with ‘The Joshua Tree’; Pink Floyd made a huge comeback with the moody ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ and from a more alternative perspective, Sisters of Mercy and The Jesus & Mary Chain made huge waves with epic goth sounds.
After 1984’s gargantuan greatness with the dominance of Frankie and meteoric rise of Madonna and Prince, 1985 had a lot to measure up to. …And indeed, some have said it’s a rather more forgettable year for pop.
In terms of pop, 1982 was a strong year: Madness took a further step towards songwriting sophistication with their album ‘The Rise & Fall’, Prince made a huge breakthrough with his ‘1999’ double platter of much filthiness and Phil Collins showed us that the previous year’s ‘Face Value’ wasn’t just a one-off solo success when his “tricky second album” spawned a #1 hit single and a few of his best solo tunes.