The live album catalogue of the Rolling Stones is bigger than most bands ever amass with studio releases. It’s a collection that spreads from 1966’s Got Live If You Want It! all the way to the late 2016 memento of their historic Cuban concert, Havana Moon. On 20 April 1991, the band made the UK chart with what was already their fifth live set, Flashpoint, which commemorated one of their most memorable and epic tours.
It was recorded on the shows that, many feel, marked the beginning of the modern era of the Stones as a live force: a tour which was so huge, it had two names, Steel Wheels for the North American and Japanese legs of 1989 and early 1990 and, with a completely different set design, the European Urban Jungle shows of later that year.
Those tours raised the bar in spectacular stage design and production values, not just for the Stones but for all bands with aspirations to their stadium rock crown. They played no fewer than 115 shows, with dates spread over just six days short of a year; by the end of Urban Jungle, the extravaganza had realised a reported gross of an eye-popping $115 million.
Flashpoint not only gave fans a permanent record of those concerts, it offered up two brand new studio recordings. The live portion started, as the shows had, with the invigoratingly mystical ‘Continental Drift,’ the percussive passage from the Steel Wheels album.
That segued into the classic curtain-raiser ‘Start Me Up,’ the first of many staples on an album that also included live versions of the Steel Wheels tracks ‘Sad Sad Sad,’ ‘Rock And A Hard Place’ and ‘Can’t Be Seen.’ Eric Clapton made a guest appearance on ‘Little Red Rooster.’ The new songs were ‘Highwire,’ released as a single and featuring an outspoken Mick Jagger lyric that he was moved to write by the events of the Gulf War, and ‘Sex Drive,’ a distinct nod to his longtime admiration for James Brown.
The album entered the UK chart at its peak position of No. 6, spending seven weeks in the top 75; it went gold there and in the US, Germany and Canada. Rolling Stone’s review summed it up by observing that the Stones had “become what they’ve always aspired to be – rockers with the staying power of roots musicians, veterans who continue to practice their art with skill and verve and undiminished soul.”
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