I love set lists–the list of songs an artist puts together to perform at a particular concert. To me, they’re among the most compelling of all music collectibles — ideally, handwritten by a musician, used on stage during a performance, and documenting a specific moment in that artist’s evolution.
Some artists play the same songs every night. Others, Bob Dylan probably foremost among them, play different songs every night, to suit their mood, the city they’re in, what they think the crowd will react to, or for a hundred other reasons.
In the pre-computer age, set lists were always handwritten, and virtually never saved. That’s why vintage ones are so rare and sought after. Today they’re mostly computer printouts; far less exciting to see, and near impossible to tease meaning from.
Below are some extraordinary handwritten setlists from some very important artists. We hope you enjoy them, and should you be looking to add one to your collection, they’re all for sale.
A Velvet Underground set list in guitarist Sterling Morrison’s hand, from a show circa 1968/1969. Only a handful of Velvet Underground set lists have survived, all preserved by the late great Morrison. I don’t know the exact show this was from, but it includes songs from the Velvets’ first three albums, as well as some tracks unreleased until much later.
This is an exceptionally rare Rolling Stones set list handwritten by Mick Jagger, almost certainly for rehearsals for the group’s secret show as “The Cockroaches”, at Sir Morgan’s Cove, Worcester, Mass on September 14th, 1981. During August and September of that year, the Stones rehearsed for their first tour in three years at Long View Farm in nearby West Brookfield, Mass. On short notice, they decided to play a secret warm up date at a local club under an assumed name. At the last minute, word leaked and the area around the small club was mobbed by up to 4000 people. At the top, Jagger has written “Blues, CB’s + Encore” indicating this is a list of blues songs, Chuck Berry songs and possible encores. The list includes four Chuck Berry songs, six blues standards, and four Stones originals (most of the non-originals have been covered by the Stones).
Mick Jones’ handwritten set list for The Clash’s January 25, 1982 concert at the Festival Hall in Osaka, Japan. Written on a 3″ x 7″ torn piece of paper, as usual it differs slightly from the set the band played. As many bands do, The Clash used set lists as a plan, but regularly added the occasional unplanned song. The silver duct tape probably attached this to the stage or an amplifier. (We have a Joe Strummer set list from the same tour elsewhere on the site.)
A Bruce Springsteen handwritten set list from his acoustic performance at the first annual concert to benefit The Bridge School, at the Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, Ca., October 13, 1986. The Bridge School benefit concerts are annual non-profit, acoustic shows organized by Neil and Pegi Young. We acquired this set list from longtime Neil Young associate Joel Bernstein, who noted “At the time, I was working as a guitar technician and occasional musician on a tour of the U.S. with Neil Young and Crazy Horse…Bruce arrived from new Jersey in the late afternoon with, as I recall, eight acoustic guitars, four of them twelve strings, and all desperately needing new strings to be stretched and tuned (by me) in time for Bruce to do a soundcheck before doors..Bruce wrote out this list in his dressing room, brought it with him onstage, and placed it at his feet during the set. In the end, he added “Mansion On The Hill” between “Darlington County” and “Fire”, otherwise he held to this sequence. Between his set and encore…I made sure to retrieve the set list, as a memento of the day, and especially of Bruce’s short moving, and powerful set”.
A Neil Young handwritten setlist for the Shocking Pinks section of his July 1, 1983 show at the Kansas Coliseum (during his 1983 Shocking Pinks tour). Joel Bernstein was Neil’s guitar technician on this tour, and after Neil’s solo set, he would dash off stage and decide if he wanted [his band] the Shocking Pinks to play. If so, he’d quickly put together a setlist, have it delivered to Joel offstage, and he’d get his guitars ready for that sequence.
A setlist handwritten by Joni Mitchell, for her 1995 performance at the Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles on January 26, 1995. This was a date to promote her Turbulent Indigo album, and was broadcast live on the radio. Joni’s longtime friend and collaborator Joel Bernstein was her guitar technician at the time and she gave him this list to prepare her guitars for the show (at the left are her indications of the guitar she wanted for a particular song.)
For those interested in more, see our 2010 post on the subject.