Way back in 1968, around the time of the original release of Beggars Banquet, the Stones decided to promote it with a TV special built around the concept of a variety show, with guest performances and their own mini-concert set. It was then shelved immediately after filming completed, ensuring that Rock And Roll Circus became one of the most legendary unreleased projects of the rock era.
Its legend only grew when one of the performances, the Who playing a fantastic version of “A Quick One”, was included in their 1979 movie The Kids Are Alright. With its status as a notoriously incomplete event, it was particularly surprising when the film (and matching CD) was released intact a good 28 years after the original taping.
It was worth the wait. Rock And Roll Circus is an amazing snapshot in time, showing the Stones at a key place in their development, playing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and four songs from Beggars Banquet, and previewing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Even Brian Jones played with enthusiasm, adding some slide guitar despite one hand in a cast. (He’d be dead the following July; indeed the liner notes make mention of all the participants who’d passed on in the interim.) And of course, we always like hearing Nicky Hopkins play piano.
The guests are revealing, as well. Taj Mahal wasn’t well known anywhere yet, and Jethro Tull still sounds like a blues band. Marianne Faithfull sings one song sweetly, and the Who did indeed blow everyone else off the stage with their definitive take on “A Quick One”. The most surprising performance was that of a supergroup involving Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell and Keith on bass backing John Lennon for a rendition of “Yer Blues” from the just-released White Album. Unfortunately, the same combo continues playing behind Yoko Ono, in a sloppy jam you’ll be happy to skip.
When it finally came out, Rock And Roll Circus did indeed live up to its hyped legend. One only wishes that the bands could have played more songs, and longer. But what’s there is what there was, and the program flows nicely on CD. Finally.
The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus (1996)—4