It was 50 years ago today (December 11th, 1968) that the Rolling Stones and friends wrapped their two-day film shoot of their Rock And Roll Circus at London's Twickenham Studios. The Circus was originally envisioned as being a holiday TV special for the Stones to promote their latest album, Beggars Banquet, and featured the band's final performance with Brian Jones, along with along with performances by the Who, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithfull, Taj Mahal, and the Dirty Mac — a one-off supergroup with John Lennon, Eric Clapton, the Stones' Keith Richards, and Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell.
Not only was it Lennon's first gig apart from the Beatles, it was also his first live appearance with Yoko Ono, when she joined the Dirty Mac for an impromptu jam.
Many reasons have been given as to why the Stones eventually shelved the show — but the main one seems to be that the Who was reaching the peak of their performing career and were caught while limbered up from an exhausting series of UK dates. Simply put, the Stones' ragged set was completely upstaged by Lennon's first solo performance and the Who's incredible run-through of their 1966 mini-opera “A Quick One While He's Away.” To underline the fact that the Stones were not at their best, plans were in motion shortly after for the Who to purchase the rights to the special and release it as The Who's Rock And Roll Circus.
Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey were recently asked what they remembered about the Who performing on the TV special: (Daltrey): “Um, Brian Jones walking backwards most of the time. . . (Townshend): He was sick . . . (Daltrey): He was in reverse, he was in a very sad state. So it was kind of the last time I ever saw Brian Jones, which was incredibly sad. But all in all, it was chaotic event that turned out incredibly successful. (Townshend): And Yoko Ono. . . (Daltrey): Oh yeah, and Yoko was there and John (Lennon) had just broken up with his first — it was quite an event. (Townshend): I'm one of the select Yoko Ono fans (laughter). No but I really am a fan. I think she's amazing (Daltrey): Yeah, she's an amazing woman, that's for sure.”
Highlights include Taj Mahal — featuring Jesse Ed Davis — performing “Ain't That A Lot Of Love”; the Stones' live debuts of “Parachute Woman,” “You Can't Always Get What You Want,” “Sympathy For The Devil,” and “No Expectations” featuring Brian Jones on slide guitar; and Lennon, Clapton, Richards, and Mitchell tearing through the Beatles' then-recently released 'White Album' classic “Yer Blues.”
The Rolling Stones' Rock And Roll Circus was released on CD and home video in 1996. The 2004 DVD version contains bonus content, including interviews and some performances that weren't part of the film.
In conjunction with its 50th anniversary, ABKCO will release an expanded edition of The Rolling Stones' Rock And Roll Circus in Spring 2019. It will be the first concert film to be presented in both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound. The film’s 4K restoration was sourced from the 35mm internegative and, for the first time, presented in wide screen format — 16:9 for home and 1:85 for theatrical showings — supervised by original cinematographer Tony Richmond.
Mick Jagger credited director Michael Lindsay-Hogg for some of the more interesting ideas featured in The Rock And Roll Circus: “Michael Lindsay-Hogg is a very creative guy. We came up with this idea and the whole idea, obviously, is to make it a mixture of different music acts and circus acts, taking it out of the normal and making it slightly surreal. . . mixing the two up. And also we wanted as many different kinds of music as possible. So that’s why we thought about who would be the best kind of supporting acts.”