In 1989, the world's oldest rock band set a concert record by selling $98 million in tickets for its "Steel Wheels" tours (and that was just in the United States and Canada). According to Pollstar, the concert industry journal, the Rolling Stones accounted for nearly $1 in every $10 spent on tickets, and four times what the surprising fifth-place finishers did.

Well, last year, the Stones worked overseas and the New Kids on the Block moved to the top slot in Pollstar's year-end survey, grossing $74.1 million from 152 shows in 122 cities. What Pollstar calls "the lean teen money machines" accounted for the second-highest-grossing tour ever and set a record for tickets sold, 3,291,987 (38,424 more than the Stones).

The magazine goes to great lengths to ferret out accurate information in a business that likes to keep its true numbers close to the vest.

The remaining Top 10 (with grosses and cities/shows):

2. Billy Joel ($43 million, 53/95)

3. Paul McCartney ($37.9 million, 21 cities/32 shows)

4. The Grateful Dead ($29 million, 27/63)

5. Janet Jackson ($28.1 million, 62/89)

6. Aerosmith ($27.4 million, 92/101)

7. M.C. Hammer ($26.3 million, 132/138)

8. Motley Crue ($24.7 million, 103/108)

9. Phil Collins ($23.8 million, 27/56)

10. Eric Clapton (20.7 million, 48/57)

Nineteen other acts grossed more than $10 million last year: David Bowie, Madonna, Kiss, Rush, Depeche Mode, Randy Travis, Whitesnake, Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Rogers, Alabama, Cher, Heart, Frank Sinatra, Anita Baker, Z.Z. Top, Kenny G, George Strait, the Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffett.

Paul McCartney had the top-grossing concert date of the year, $3.5 million for a two-night stand at the University of California at Berkeley's Memorial Stadium (the only concerts ever held there). McCartney's 21-city stadium tour generated six of the eight highest grosses and the highest average number of tickets sold per city (59,641). His average gross per concert was $1,803,875. Only two other acts hit that million-dollar mark: the Grateful Dead at $1,972,626 and Madonna at $1,333,767. Despite their top overall gross, the New Kids' average of $607,460 was only sixth on a per-show basis. None of the Pollstar figures factor in on-site merchandising sales, which in the Kids' case, probably doubled their revenues for the year.

A number of acts suspected of lip-syncing at least portions of their concerts did well: Janet Jackson's fifth-place finish in total grosses was especially impressive, since it was also the first time she had ever performed in concert. Milli Vanilli came in at No. 32, grossing $9.5 million with 75 shows in 74 cities. Still, though they sold lots of records, only five dance-oriented acts made the Top 50 tour list: New Kids, Jackson, Hammer, Madonna and Vanilli.

Of Pollstar's Top 50 tours, nine were headlined by women (Jackson, Madonna, Cher, Heart, Anita Baker, the Judds, Diana Ross, Reba McEntire and Linda Ronstadt) and two by bands fronted by women (Heart, Fleetwood Mac). Six featured black acts (Jackson, Hammer, Baker, Milli Vanilli, Ross and Luther Vandross). The only rap act in the Top 50 was Hammer, reflecting not only his crossover appeal but also the sad fact that rap tours have a hard time getting access to major arenas because of problems getting insurance. Such problems don't seem to extend to heavy metal bands, which landed eight of the Top 50 spots. Country stars also did quite well, with eight spots. The New Kids were the youngest act on the list; Frank Sinatra, who recently celebrated his 75th birthday, was the oldest.

According to Pollstar, last year's Top 50 tours generated $748 million in ticket sales, compared with $619 million in 1989 and $600 million in 1988. Add the next 50 top tours and the totals pass $1 billion. 1990 saw a 20 percent increase in the average ticket price, which may explain why 92 concerts grossed more than $1 million (up 10 from the year before). Also, in 1989, a gross of $395,000 put a show in the Top 200 Concert Grosses list; this year, you needed $650,000 to make the cut. As it was, the top five attractions accounted for 60 percent of the Top 200 grosses, the second five for another 25 percent. Washington-Florida promoters Cellar Door had 22 of the Top 200 shows, second only to John Scher's Metropolitan Entertainment (it had 26).

The magazine also points out that while 1990 started out strong, "business began to drop off as the touring volume cranked up with more acts on the road, and the economy began to weaken. The year may have started out strong but it finished on a down note.

"Few people seem bullish on the industry's overall prospects for at least the first half of 1991. ... Conventional wisdom has been that the industry was recession-proof because when money gets tight people still will spend some of their discretionary income on entertainment {but} the concert experience is no longer a minor expense to the average person. In these days of the $30 T-shirt and escalating ticket prices, surcharges and various forms of fees inflate the cost of the concert experience to the point most fans can't afford to see all the shows they would like. ... Bankruptcies in the U.S. are up more than 20 percent this year and economists aren't looking for things to improve soon. Unemployment rates in every region of the country are projected to increase next year. Conventional wisdom aside, none of that bodes well for the new year."