10 of the most famous tours in rock history
17 December 2023, 19:00
Let's look at the most infamous, extravagant, tempestuous and debauched tours in rock history.
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What happens on tour, stays on tour. Yes, it’s a monstrous cliché but then the monstrous clichés tend to be the truest. Throughout rock history, the habit of sticking a bunch of musicians on the road for months on end has led to some real explosions of great music and even greater tempers.
Queen, News Of The World Tour, 1977
British audiences were already convinced by the stagecraft of Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor, while lifting singer Freddie Mercury to rock godhood as one of the greatest frontmen of all time. But the US was a tougher nut to crack - but 1977 saw Queen do it. The shows were almost as well-received as the aftershow parties were debauched.
David Bowie, The Glass Spider Tour, 1987
David Bowie was tired before this ridiculous, overblown tour began in support of one of his worst albums, the truly dreadful Never Let Me Down. As the poor reviews kept rolling in, Bowie added some old classic songs to the setlist in a bid to turn the tide but it was too late: Glass Spider has gone down as one of the few slip-ups in the man’s remarkable career.
The Rolling Stones, North American Tour 1969
When they last toured the US in 1966, the Stones had still been a relatively niche band. By 1969 they were megastars, widely hailed as “the greatest rock and roll band in the world”. This tour bore that up: the performances were electric and the crowds were wild for Mick and the boys. Back-up came from legends like Tina Turner, Janis Joplin and BB King and the shows normally went on past midnight. True rock and roll excess. The jaunt ended on a downer with a disastrous outddor gig at Altamont Speedway on 6 December that saw one concert-goer murdered during the Stones' set.
U2, Popmart, 1997-1998
A tour infamous enough to get pilloried by The Simpsons, Popmart was the last U2 album before the band returned to their self-serious “world’s biggest band" schtick. It featured Village People costumes, giant glitterball lemons and of course it made buckets of money. The giant lemon malfunctioned several times on the tour though, leaving the band trapped inside. It’s no wonder they decided to opt for simpler touring set-ups in the future.
Oasis, Festival Tour, 2009
If Oasis ever had a tour that went off without a hitch, we can’t find it. From band members quitting and then rejoining to huge punch-ups in Germany, the band just couldn’t keep their heads down while on the road. It was late in 2009 that things really exploded though, as Noel and Liam ran out of patience with each other and the older brother quit the band. “I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer,” said Noel in a statement. Seeing sad Oasis fans became a regular thing.
Arctic Monkeys, AM Tour, 2013-2014
History is very likely to record this as the moment that the Arctic Monkeys really sealed their place as new rock icons. Playing songs that spanned their career, including fan favourites and anthems like Fake Tales From San Francisco, the band ripped through their set each night. Alex Turner’s moment had come and he seized it with both hands, night after night.
The Cure, Prayer Tour, 1989
After five years of fun, lipstick and wacky videos, Robert Smith decided that it was time The Cure got serious again and embarked on his worldwide jaunt to support the introspective Disintegration album with every intention on calling it a day at the end. This meant epic sets of over two hours' length, intense emotion (with Smith in tears at the end of some shows), ridiculously obscure tracks being pulled out of the hat at random, a huge light show and some devoted followers that couldn't believe it was all about to end. Of course, Bob was still at it thirty years later, but fans still talk of the group's three nights at Wembley Arena with hushed reverence.
Led Zeppelin, United Kingdom Tour, 1972-1973
100,000 tickets priced at a quid sold out in four hours for this tour. Of course they did - this tour has been called the “end of an era” for Zeppelin, the last chance for British fans to catch the band in smaller venues before they truly exploded into megastardom. The perfect example of that is the reason the Preston show had to be cancelled: Robert Plant’s car broke down on the way there.
The Beatles, North American Tour, 1965
Imagine being in the biggest band in the world and not even being able to hear yourself play - it’s no wonder the Fab Four got sick of playing live after this tour. Their Shea Stadium gig in particular was a joke, with the band onstage unable to hear what they sounded like because the screaming was so loud. Fans wept, screamed and fainted and the tour made a fortune, but it was a real turning point for The Beatles.
Depeche Mode, Summer Tour, 1994
A million miles away from the synthpop days of Just Can't Get Enough, the Mode took their Songs Of Faith And Devotion album across the world. On the final leg, they hit North America with Primal Scream in tow as support. Unfortunately, this got the better of Depeche singer Dave Gahan, who found Bobby Gillespie and co's hard partying incompatible with his own spiralling drug issues. DM keyboard player Andrew Fletcher was absent on the dates due to "mental instability" and Alan Wilde quit touring shortly afterwards. Wow.