Rock and Roll Circus

Steve Harnell cracks the whip over the soundtrack of the 1968 extravaganza, now including a previously unheard version of The Beatles’ Revolution featuring John Lennon with The Dirty Mac.

The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus

The Stones sat on this TV special recorded in December 1968 for almost 30 years, narked
by the fact they were upstaged on the night by The Who, Taj Mahal and one John Winston Lennon.

When they relented in 1996, the sheer weight of one-of-a-kind rock happenings contained within more than warranted it seeing the light of day. It marked Brian Jones’ last public show with the band, John Lennon’s first live performance outside of The Beatles (Quarrymen excepting, of course) and a headline-grabbing turn by the ‘Orrible ‘OO. On this expanded reissue, further fascinating extras add to its legend.

Jethro Tull – always an acquired taste – are first out of the blocks, although only the vocals here were recorded live; the band mimed their instruments to a pre-recorded backing track. Remarkably, this Tull incarnation includes a pre-Sabbath Tony Iommi on guitar – what a difference to metal’s future landscape that would have made if he’d remained at Ian Anderson’s side.

It’s not the right place here to rake over old ground, but The Who’s blitzkrieg performance of A Quick One… is now rather overshadowed by its questionable lyrical content. What a shame. More straightforwardly enjoyable is the bluesy soul of Taj Mahal, who tear through Ain’t That A Lot Of Love.

The Rolling StonesThe quite astonishing supergroup line-up of The Dirty Mac (Clapton, Lennon, Mitch Mitchell and Keith Richards on bass) rattle through The White Album’s Yer Blues and improve upon the studio original. Their muscular 12-bar blues backing on Whole Lotta Yoko stands up well on its own, too, if Mrs Lennon’s trademark wails aren’t your bag(ism).

By the time the Stones rock up at the end of an epic 15-hour shoot, the cracks are showing – there’s already been a change of audience by this point to keep off-stage energy levels up.

The Stones aren’t on blistering form, but their drug-addled grogginess adds a little dangerous insouciance to proceedings. They sound weary on Jumpin’ Jack Flash until Charlie Watts gradually digs in to build momentum. There’s more swagger to Parachute Woman, although Jones is in a fog and Keef is forced to do most of the heavy lifting. Brian at least brings his A-game to a wonderful No Expectations, laying down some subtle slide. A ragged You Can’t Always Get What You Want is bolstered by a mischievous Jagger. By Sympathy For The Devil, Jones is relegated to playing maracas, a sad end to his tenure in the band.

Of the extra tracks added to the 1996 tracklisting, there’s a tantalising rehearsal take of The Dirty Mac playing Revolution, if only they’d worked this up to full match fitness: “I can’t remember what happens in the solo!” exclaims Lennon as Clapton follows in his slipstream. An alternate (and equally fine) version of Yer Blues proves just what a juggernaut the supergroup would have been.

Harsh critics may see this as a night of missed opportunities, but there are enough diamonds in the rough for us to roll up for this big-top experience one more time.



1 Mick Jagger’s Introduction

2 Entry Of The Gladiators

3 Jethro Tull Intro

4 Song For Jeffrey

5 The Who Intro

6 A Quick One While He’s Away

7 Over The Waves

8 Ain’t That A Lot Of Love

9 Marianne Faithfull Intro

10 Something Better

11 The Dirty Mac Intro

12 Yer Blues

13 Whole Lotta Yoko

14 The Rolling Stones Intro & Jumpin’ Jack Flash

15 Parachute Woman

16 No Expectations

17 You Can’t Always Get What You Want

18 Sympathy For The Devil 

19 Salt Of The Earth

20 Checkin’ Up On My Baby

21 Leaving Trunk

22 Corinna

23 Revolution (Rehearsal)

24 Warmup Jam

25 Yer Blues (Take 2)

26 Julius Katchen Intro

27 De Falla: Ritual Fire Dance

28 Mozart: Sonata In C Major