When the Rolling Stones embarked on a US tour in 1981, it was absolutely massive. the jaunt was among the first to feature corporate sponsorship, with fragrance maker Jōvan Musk paying the band $1 million for advertising rights.
The shows featured major opening acts to help justify the average ticket price $16. When the tour rolled into Los Angeles on October 9, the Stones would be supported by George Thorogood and the Destroyers, J. Geils Band and... Prince. Prince as a critical darling at the time, having released his breakout 1980 full-length, Dirty Mind, and was soon to share the follow-up, Controversy. Stone singer Mick Jagger had seen Prince play at the Ritz in New York on the Dirty Mind tour, and was immediately taken with the rising star, leading to him being part of the Stones '81 stadium tour.
The Los Angeles concerts were daytime shows, and Prince hit the stage in the middle of the sweltering hot afternoon in front of nearly 95,000 people. As bass player Brown Mark remembered, it was a chaotic moment that quickly turned hostile:
"As the curtains opened, the drums started beating and all I can remember was the site of a massive herd of bodies all piled together like cattle; 94,000 if I can remember correctly. Everyone was hot and sweaty from the heat, screaming and dancing to the music, holding up beer cans and bottles. I couldn’t even hear the band, the crowd was so loud! On each side of the coliseum were these massive water hoses spraying every one down to keep them from dehydrating. As we finished the first song, I noticed people not liking what they were hearing. This was a crowd of Stones fans, predominately bikers, and they wanted to hear rock music. We changed up the set in an instant and started performing 'Bambi,' but the audience, not being familiar with this music, became very violent."
According to the bassist, the scene became one of enduring the crowd's growing anger at seeing this multi-ethnic band led by a man wearing bikini briefs under a trench coat.
"The scene shifted quickly as the crowed began to up their middle finger, hollering out all sorts of profanities. Next thing I noticed was food starting to fly through the air like a dark thunder cloud," Brown Mark continued. "Imagine 94,000 people throwing food at each other; it was the craziest thing I had ever seen in my life. I got hit in the shoulder with a bag of fried chicken; then my guitar got knocked out of tune by a large grapefruit that hit the tuning keys, and I knew then it was time to run. I dropped that guitar and started flying, but the funny thing was, everyone else was already gone! They were smart enough to get the heck out of there not knowing what was going to happen at that point."
A humiliated Prince fled back to Minnesota, and it took pleading from Mick Jagger himself to coax the artist back to L.A. for the second show. When Prince hit the stage for the second show, again the crowd booed him mercilessly, pelting the stage with trash. It would be the last time Prince would ever be an opening act.
"I wish him luck. He's got a problem with his attitude and it comes across on record," Keith Richards sniffed to MUSICAN magazine in 1983. "Prince has to find out what it means to be a prince. That's the trouble with conferring a title on yourself before you've proved it. That was his attitude when he opened for us on tour, and it was insulting to our audience. You don't try to knock off the headline like that when you're playing a Stones crowd. You'd be much better off just being yourself and projecting that. He's a prince who thinks he's a king already. Good luck to him."
In 1984, Prince would release Purple Rain, changing the face of contemporary music forever. In 2004, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.