No matter how much hyperbole is used, it’s hard to do justice to just how intrinsically tied the Rolling Stones are to New York City. From their early Ed Sullivan Show appearances to their legendary gigs at Madison Square Garden, the Stones have been creating memories in the Big Apple for over half a century. With guitarist Keith Richards releasing a new solo album, Crosseyed Heart, on September 18, as well as the Stones recently announcing they were headed back into the studio, it was only fitting to run down the U.K. rock legends’ ten most memorable NYC moments.
The Stones’ Ed Sullivan Show Debut, 1964
The Rolling Stones first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in October of 1964, and, having just released their third album, 12 X 5, there was no better way to promote it at the time. The shrieks of young girls were so loud during a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Around & Around” that Jagger had to tell the audience to quiet down multiple times. The Stones came back to close that evening’s show with their hit cover, “Time Is on My Side.” In addition to cementing them as superstars in the States, the appearance helped generate over a million dollars in ticket sales for the band’s fall concert tour that year.
Round Two With Ed Sullivan, 1965
Despite Ed Sullivan being furious at the Stones for making his audience unruly during the band’s debut on his show, even supposedly declaring, “I promise you they’ll never be back on our show! It took me seventeen years to build this show and I’m not going to have it destroyed in a matter of weeks,” there were the Stones again on his show in May of 1965 to perform “The Last Time.” It was the first time they sang a Jagger/Richards original on the show, and while the audience was still super lively, it was far tamer for the band’s second appearance than during its debut. The Stones were also on good behavior that evening: They cleaned up for the show and even wore sports jackets to help out their image.
The Recording of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, 1969
Before touching down at Madison Square Garden in November of 1969, the Stones had previously been unable to appear in the U.S. since 1966 due to visa problems stemming from the drug arrests of Jagger, Richards, and Brian Jones. They made up quickly for the lost time: Their momentous MSG shows that year, taking place six days before their doomed Altamont Speedway concert, were so epic they wound up immortalized as the live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! Released in 1970, the live LP featured ripping renditions of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Midnight Rambler,” as well as memorable opening sets from B.B. King and Ike and Tina Turner.
Mick Taylor’s NYC Debut, 1969
Not only were the Stones’ 1969 shows at MSG memorable for resulting in a killer live album, they also marked the NYC debut of guitarist Mick Taylor. Added to the fold in the wake of the departure of founding member Brian Jones, Taylor, just twenty at the time, would go on to become one of the band’s most consistent and revered cohorts. Sure, Taylor’s official debut had been at London’s Hyde Park for a show that turned into a tribute to Jones, who had died three days before the concert, but it was his Madison Square Garden gig that officially signaled the new era and lineup for the Rolling Stones.
Jagger Turns 29 in Style, 1972
To promote their landmark 1972 album, Exile on Main Street, the Stones spent the summer of that year selling out America’s stadiums. They ended the tour with a three-night run at Madison Square Garden. The tour, as legendary for its rock-star excesses and a bomb blowing up their equipment as for cementing them as the world’s greatest rock band, culminated with massive fanfare on Jagger’s 29th birthday. Naturally, it involved a blowout concert at MSG. To mark the occasion, Jagger was presented with a cake, a plush panda, and a custard pie in the face.
The Stones Make Their SNL Debut, 1978
By 1978, Saturday Night Live had become a cultural juggernaut. Who better than the Rolling Stones, arguably the biggest band on the planet at the time, to kick off the fourth season? Not only did the gig mark the band’s first SNL appearance — they’d turn in killer renditions of “Shattered,” “Beast of Burden,” and “Respectable” — but Jagger participated in a skit as Tom Snyder interviewed him for the Tomorrow show about dancing, barbecues, and wearing women’s clothing. As for Keith? He was supposed to appear in two sketches, but they were cut after dress rehearsal because he was too intoxicated to read the cue cards.
Tattoo You at Madison Square Garden, 1981
When the Rolling Stones put five New York–area arena shows up for sale for their 1981 Tattoo You tour, the ticket demand numbered in the millions. To that end, when they touched down at Madison Square Garden in November of that year, anticipation for their performances had reached a fever pitch. Having previously rehearsed for the tour at SIR at West 52nd Street and Eighth Avenue, the site of the former Cheetah Club, the band found MSG only a short walk away from their former stomping grounds. Highlights of the epic ’81 MSG show included a blistering “Under My Thumb” opener, “Little T&A” with Keith on lead vocals, and a new cover: the Miracles’ “Going to a Go-Go.”
Bridges to Babylon and the Brooklyn Bridge, 1998
The Rolling Stones were never ones to miss a good opportunity to go big. It was hardly a surprise, then, when the rockers announced their humongous Bridges to Babylon Tour via a press conference held underneath the Brooklyn Bridge in the dead of winter in January 1998. “When I was very young, before I got involved in music, I fancied myself as being a tough investigative journalist, and there’s always this one thing I’ve wanted to do,” Jagger said before running into the crowd and posing a question to his bandmates. “Is this going to be your last tour?” the singer asked. Richards replied, much to the crowd’s delight, “Yah, this and the next five!”
Shine a Light at the Beacon Theatre, 2006
In 2006, the Rolling Stones performed a pair of star-studded shows at the Beacon Theatre, both last-minute additions to their massive Bigger Bang Tour. The shows were later made into the 2008 Martin Scorsese documentary Shine a Light, which featured guest appearances from Bill and Hillary Clinton. But it was the musical collaborations those nights with Jack White, Buddy Guy, and Christina Aguilera that marked the performances as truly special ones.
The Stones Get Their Museum Moment, 2012
OK, so maybe it wasn’t as rowdy as some of their earlier NYC moments. But in 2012 the Rolling Stones finally got the museum treatment in the Big Apple. Yes, in November of 2012, the Paley Center for Media in New York opened a new photographic exhibit, “Rolling Stones: 50,” which celebrated the band’s golden anniversary and ran through the following year. The exhibit both explored how the Stones used mass media to reach a huge audience and documented the last half-century of the rock crew, including a video tribute highlighting the Stones’ most legendary gigs.