When the Rolling Stones Performed on NYC’s Fifth Ave.

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There are promotional stunts and then there are Promotional Stunts (in capital letters and boldface type). To plug their upcoming American tour, the Rolling Stones pulled off a doozy on May 1, 1975.

Even in the now-“prehistoric” mid-1970s, before email, social media and digital distribution, most recording acts would have their publicists service a press release and the info would appear in the newspaper the next day. If the artist was really big, it might get a mention on the evening news. The Stones are not “most recording acts.”

The band’s management had invited the media to New York City’s 5th Avenue Hotel at 9th Street, ostensibly to see the Stones announce their Made in the Shade tour which was set to begin June 1 in Baton Rouge, LA.

The stars were in between studio albums and the Stones were releasing Made in the Shade, a compilation LP of tracks from the previous four albums. It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll had been released the previous October. They had recently completed the principal recording for what would be Black and Blue, which would come out nearly a year later in April 1976.

Scott Muni, Program Director and afternoon drive host of New York’s legendary WNEW-FM (“Where Rock Lives”), was in attendance with several other members of the station’s on-air staff, as they prepared a live remote broadcast.

The scene from the street as the flatbed truck with the Rolling Stones aboard turned down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re out on the street now, outside the restaurant on Fifth Avenue. This is the surprise… the Stones are coming up right now on a flatbed truck. They’re gonna make an announcement in front of the hotel. It’s raining heavily… And shortly we’ll have an announcement from the Stones themselves and maybe, if I’m looking at the flatbed truck correctly, we’re gonna have some music too and that’s the surprise. They’re gonna play a number live, right here in the middle of Fifth Avenue.

“We had to do some fast running, if we sound a little out of breath. Here comes the truck now into view. They’re gonna pull up right in front where we are now. There’s Mick Jagger and the Stones… they’re all here. Now you hear the sound; let’s pick it up!”

The Stones then launch into “Brown Sugar.”

The Rolling Stones performing “Brown Sugar” from a flatbed truck on NYC’s Fifth Avenue, May 1, 1975. (Photo: John Kalodner/Atlantic Records Archives; used with permission)

As the band are finishing, Muni says: “Alright, the truck is pulling away. And we’re being crushed… literally crushed. Mick Jagger has just thrown out the announcements of the tour.”

The tour and upcoming album would mark Ronnie Wood’s Stones debut.

Muni: “Did you notice who the new member was? I think it’s most significant.” Fellow ‘NEW DJ Dave Herman says: “Billy Preston was sitting there.” Muni interrupts: “But Ron Wood was on guitar with Jagger so the rumors and the things we’ve been reading, some of them semi-official of Wood doing the tour are true, obviously, or he wouldn’t have been on the truck.

“I hope you could feel some of the excitement that was in the air here. We literally were crushed. At this time of day, you know there’s gonna be a backup of traffic as there already is but what a sensational premiere announcement.”

There was no formal press conference. The promotional stunt had more than served its purpose. Looking back, longtime Atlantic Records exec Bob Kaus, now with the Warner Music Group, was in attendance as a music industry journalist: “We were invited to attend a press conference. The performance was a total surprise.”

Related: A book examines the Stones in NYC through the years

Years later, Wood notes: “The first gig I played with the Rolling Stones was on my birthday, June 1st. I had a sea of thoughts going through my head, along with all the songs I had to learn.”

Mick Jagger reveals who came up with the stunt. “I think it was actually Charlie’s idea. Jazz, in the old days in Harlem… they used to do promotions for their gigs on flatbed trucks. Every time we try to do a piece of promotion now, we always refer back to that as the best one.”

[Tickets to see the Stones in concert are available here and here.]

Related: Listings for 100s of classic rock tours

Greg Brodsky

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