Classic Rock Corner

Five More Epic '80s Tours That Deserve The Wall Treatment

Ex-Pink Floyd bandleader Roger Waters celebrated his 71st birthday in typically dramatic fashion last Saturday: he premiered a new movie at the Toronto International Film Festival. Roger Waters: The Wall is a documentary chronicling the songwriter's massive, three-year world tour, "The Wall Live," featuring the famous tunes from one of rock and roll's greatest concept double-albums.

The new film is hardly the first time Waters has revisited The Wall, of course. The 1979 release spawned a cult-classic film version, a live album and even a home video of Waters and some famous pals performing it at the site of the Berlin Wall. But the most recent tour, which wrapped up just last year, was an unusual undertaking worthy of its own study. With two legs encompassing 219 shows, The Wall Live was the highest-grossing tour of all time by a solo artist, raking in nearly half a billion dollars.

And you'd better believe it cost money to make that money, too. An audiovisual extravaganza, the ultra-elaborate show required an estimated $60 million to stage and featured all of the inflatable puppets, projected animation, flying pigs and political demagoguery that one could ever want. Hell, it even featured a mega-super-rare guest appearance by Waters' estranged Pink Floyd ex-bandmates David Gilmour and Nick Mason at one London performance. If you don't want to hear the backstory on that little collab, you aren't a Pink Floyd fan.

Will all the behind-the-curtain mechanics and Waters' endless pontificating add up to a compelling documentary? We'll let you know when we see it. But it's certainly an idea with potential. Hell, "The Wall Live" ain't the only historic 1980s tour we'd like to see given the documentary treatment. In fact, it might not even be in the Top 10. Here are five more epic '80s productions on which we'd like to get the full, inside scoop:

5. The Use Your Illusion Tour When Guns N' Roses' mammoth Use Your Illusion Tour kicked off in 1991, they were the biggest rock band in the world. When it limped to a close two and a half years later, they were barely a band. Co-founder Izzy Stradlin had quit the group, never to return. Slash and Duff were drugged-out wrecks. And Axl Rose suddenly controlled 100 percent of the band's name.

There had been no shortage of incendiary performances given over Guns' marathon run of 194 shows across 31 countries, and maybe a good documentary film could shed some light on nights like their three-and-a-half hour scorcher at the L.A. Forum, or the night in Bogota when a gentle rain fell precisely for the duration of "November Rain." In fact, a ton of footage was shot during the tour for a doc entitled The Perfect Crime.

Naturally, it was never released or even discussed again after the tour's end. Guns N' Roses as we'd known them were simply over. All anyone cares to remember about the tour today are the late arrivals, last-minute cancelations and rioting in the streets.

4. The Jacksons Victory Tour The Jacksons Victory Tour was the fulcrum of Michael Jackson's career. He began the tour as a cog in his father's grandest scheme yet, but emerged from it as a solo superstar who would never again allow his performances to be dictated to him. And Michael being Michael, enough family drama and weird shit happened along the way to fill three or four documentary films.

It was promoted by freaking Don King, for example, who hatched a plan with Joe Jackson and stadium owner Chuck Sullivan to create a "ticket lotto" system that forced fans to buy $120 coupons to maybe get a ticket. The plot was not received well by the public or the media. Sullivan eventually lost so much money he had to sell the New England Patriots.

Michael, who only agreed to do the tour when his mother begged him to help his brothers earn some scratch, refused to rehearse or perform any songs from the Jacksons' Victoryalbum. He didn't need to. With Thriller in stores, he was becoming the world's biggest star. MJ was all fans wanted.

His brothers and father weren't pleased to be shuffled off to the side while Michael sang "Billie Jean" and the like, and they let him know it. They shouldn't have. It was the beginning of a lifetime of estrangement from one of the strangest (and richest) people in pop history.

3. Motley Crue's Girls, Girls, Girls Tour Motley Crue should not have survived 1987. Either as a band -- Girls, Girls, Girls was barely an album -- or as human beings. In fact, songwriter Nikki Sixx very nearly didn't; he was pulled out of a dumpster after overdosing on heroin. Naturally, that didn't stop the band from nightly indulging in "Zombie Dust," an insane mixture of Triazolam and cocaine, or from having their dealer follow them around from town to town in a limo with a license plate that said "DEALER."

Whether they were indulging their drug habits or indulging increasingly twisted sexual larks with groupies dressed as Nazis and worse, the band was always indulging. The Crue was almost banned from Japan forever after Sixx nearly killed a man on a train by throwing a bottle of Jack Daniels at him. Eventually, a European leg was cancelled when the band's management feared someone was going to die.

Frankly, Behind the Music never cut it with Motley Crue. We'd like to see an uncensored, rated-R documentary about the most sordid and destructive point in Motley's career -- on VHS, if possible. After all, who wouldn't want to relive the closest we ever came to being rid of Motley Crue?

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2. Fresh Fest '84 Thirty years ago, the nascent hip-hop movement was fully blossoming at last, accompanied by an explosion of interest in anything resembling rap and breakdancing. Much of the excitement was generated by the arrival of a hard-hitting trio from Hollis, Queens, that would soon take the new sound from New York street corners to the highways and hamlets of Middle America.

To capitalize on RUN-DMC's growing popularity, manager Russell Simmons put together a package tour amounting to the greatest hip-hop traveling circus the world had ever seen. RUN-DMC would headline, supported by other early stars Whodini, the Fat Boys and Kurtis Blow. But he didn't stop there. The tour also included the New York City Breakers dance crew from Beat Street and Turbo and Ozone from Breakin', the greatest breakdancing movies of the era. Even the New York City Double Dutch Jump Rope Squad was along for the ride, literally hipping and hopping. It was the first major, successful rap tour ever and a watershed moment in the spread of the new style.

Exactly as conceived, Fresh Fest was a comprehensive exhibition that offered kids outside of New York and L.A. their first taste of real, authentic hip-hop in the flesh. Not every kid who attended the 27 concerts on the tour grew up to be a rapper or a breakdancer (or, uh, a double-dutcher), but every single one of them dreamed about it.

1. Queen's Magic Tour Queen's Magic Tour in 1986 saw the band at the very height of its powers, rocking Europe's biggest stadiums with a spectacular stage show that is still remembered by many as one of the biggest and best ever mounted. As a live act, it was the group's finest hour. It was also their last. Singer Freddie Mercury was officially diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, and the band made the decision to quit touring for good. Five years later, Mercury was gone.

Back there in front of thousands at Wembley Stadium, had Freddie already known he was sick? Is that why he seemed to put on the performance of his life each night in front of those massive crowds? Or was he still the same cocksure rock star, confident he would live forever? With Queen remaining as popular as ever these days, the time certainly seems ripe for some documentary crew or another to delve into what made his final, quintessential stadium-rock performances so indelible.


At the dawn of the '90s, U2's Thatcher-era salad days as overly earnest and austere critical darlings were drawing to a close. Rattle & Hum, the band's hilariously misguided album and documentary exploring American folk and blues, completed their transition into self-important laughingstocks, and the backlash was on.

The band responded by reinventing their sound completely, resulting in the unexpectedly theatrical Achtung Baby album and the blindingly flashy Zoo TV Tour. Conceived as a reaction to mass-media desensitization, the tour's technology-soaked staging was engineered to deliver maximum sensory overload, blasting audiences with 36 television monitors that showed live television transmissions (intercepted by a giant satellite dish the group brought on tour) alongside pre-recorded video and the typical concert close-ups. It took a traveling TV studio control room to make it all work.

It was like nothing seen before, especially from the "Sunday Bloody Sunday" guys. The tour was a stunning, $151 million success that forced even longtime fans and critics to reevaluate U2's creativity and vision. Some of them even liked it! Plus, any documentary about the major turning point in the band's career would just have to be better than Rattle & Hum. Yecch.


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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith