35 Years Ago: Rolling Stones Rush Out the Hit Concert LP ‘Still Life,’ But Issues Loom
After outlasting most of their peers, the Rolling Stones caught a second commercial wind in the late '70s and early '80s. So, it was only natural that the group opted to capture the 1981 tour on their fourth live album, Still Life.
Released June 1, 1982, Still Life arrived less than a year after Tattoo You gave the group their eighth consecutive No. 1 album in the U.S., while spawning one of the band's most memorable hits – the transatlantic Top 10 hit "Start Me Up."
Yet as popular as that LP proved, its contents spoke to a brewing problem in the Rolling Stones' ranks: The tracks were largely assembled using leftover cuts from the previous decade, finished off to give the band something to promote on its 1981 tour. That sort of commerce-first approach fed into the Still Life record, which was ushered to market in time for their 1982 European dates.
Still Life's reason for being was further undercut by the fact that it had only been five years since Love You Live, the band's previous concert recording, arrived in stores — and given that the Stones were already working with a deep catalog of classic hits by the time they took to the road in 1981, there wasn't much room in the setlist for current material. As it turned out, Still Life's track listing only included a trio of newer songs — "Shattered," "Let Me Go," and of course "Start Me Up" — nestled among Rolling Stones favorites and covers like "Twenty Flight Rock" and "Going to a Go-Go."
It all added up to a rather perfunctory-sounding recording, one that's been scorned as one of the Stones' worst pieces of product in the years since its release.
Listen to the Rolling Stones Perform 'Start Me Up'
Larded with meaningless stage patter and further padded with intro and outro noise, the record functioned as a perfectly serviceable live document at a time when the Stones were a perfectly serviceable live act. Having moved past their most frightening excesses of the '70s, they delivered dependable performances of songs the audience knew by heart, augmented by a stage show that was rapidly becoming one of rock's finest — but they lacked the unpredictable fire that made them so irresistibly dangerous during their formative era, and it was hard not to hear what was missing in Still Life's grooves.
That lack of a creative spark would dog the Rolling Stones for the majority of the '80s, dampening sales for 1983's Undercover LP and keeping the group sidelined with squabbling and various solo projects for much of the remainder of the decade. In the short term, however, Still Life only added another hit to the band's already impressive tally, breaking the Top 10 on either side of the Atlantic and sending that "Going to a Go-Go" cover into the Top 40 in the U.S. as well as their native United Kingdom.
In retrospect, Still Life sounds like a harbinger of the tough times the Stones were about to face, but it's also an early sign of the band they'd so frequently become over the ensuing years — a performing unit whose most exciting creative movements had arguably already been made, but who could still be counted on to make fans feel good with solid renditions of the hits. As the airwaves increasingly proved, nostalgia drove a growing portion of the Rolling Stones' continued relevance.
So, while Still Life has been rightly maligned over the years, and superseded by more consistently satisfying live sets, it's also a fairly representative recording of the band as its members settled into rock 'n' roll statesman status.
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