Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus Deluxe: Review

by
Share This:

Sometimes it’s difficult to believe that an entire half century has passed since the 1960s. Other times—such as when you watch the frequently surreal Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus film—that decade can seem even further in the past than it actually is. In a 1970 Rolling Stone article that is reprinted in the book that accompanies a new deluxe version of the film, writer David Dalton notes that, “It is hard to imagine anything as loose as this happening in the States.” True—and it’s at least as hard to imagine anything like this happening in 2019.

The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus started as an idea for a concert tour that would involve The Stones, the Small Faces and the Who. When that didn’t work out, it turned into a December 1968 event that was filmed over two nights in London for a BBC television broadcast. In addition to the Stones, performers included Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, Yoko Ono, Marianne Faithfull (who was Mick Jagger’s girlfriend at the time), the Who, and a supergroup billed as the Dirty Mac that consisted of John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell.

All the performers dressed in circus garb with Jagger, for example, adorned like a ringmaster and his bandmate Bill Wyman appearing as a red-nosed clown. The audience—members of the Stones’ fan club, contest winners and other invited guests—wore bright-colored ponchos and silly-looking hats. Clowns and dwarves mingled with the artists; and, between musical acts, performers included acrobats and a fire-eater. Like the Beatles’ contemporaneous Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album and Magical Mystery Tour film, the whole thing seemed like a fantasy dreamed up on somebody’s acid trip.

John Lennon and Mick Jagger in Rock and Roll Circus (Photo courtesy of ABKCO Films)

Like many such fantasies, it didn’t exactly work out as planned: the film never aired on the BBC and in fact went unreleased for 28 years, reportedly because Jagger wasn’t satisfied with the Stones’ performance and also because of the departure from the band and subsequent death of the group’s Brian Jones. (This was his last formal appearance with the band before he was fired; he drowned only about seven months later.) The film finally had its theatrical release in 1996, when it also appeared on VHS and laserdisc and the soundtrack came out on CD. A DVD with assorted bonus features showed up in 2004.

Related: The Rolling Stones recently announced their rescheduled 2019 tour dates

Now, 15 years later, the circus is back in an edition that will be out June 7 and incorporates a hardcover book with 44 pages of notes, credits and photos. Expanding dramatically on the earlier releases, it includes the film on both Blu-ray and DVD and in original 4×3 and widescreen 16:9 aspect ratios. The audio (with a surround-sound option) and video have been remastered, and extras now include three commentary tracks: one with the Stones’ Jagger, Richards and Wyman, plus Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Taj Mahal and Ono; one with Faithfull, writer Dalton and a Stones fan who attended the show; and one with director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and cinematographer Tony Richmond.

Two CDs, also with remastered sound, respectively feature the film soundtrack and additional material, including three numbers by Taj Mahal and the Dirty Mac’s previously unreleased takes on the Beatles’ “Revolution” and “Yer Blues.”

The best music is in the original film though. You can see Pete Townshend working his way toward Tommy as he and the Who, featuring original drummer Keith Moon, deliver a blistering version of their early mini–rock opera, “A Quick One, While He’s Away.”

Another highlight is Faithfull’s baroque pop reading of Barry Mann and Gerry Goffin’s “Something Better.” But the biggest treat is the Stones, who dominate the film with six numbers: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Let It Bleed’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and four songs from Beggars Banquet, which had been released just a few days before the concert took place: “Parachute Woman,” “No Expectations,” “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Salt of the Earth.” (That show-closing final number is lip-synced but the other five are live.)

It’s difficult to understand why Jagger would have been unsatisfied with these renditions. (Rumor has it that he felt overshadowed by the Who.) He seems fully engaged with the audience and the music and delivers a consummate performance. The rest of the band is in fine form as well, with Jones’s slide guitar on “No Expectations” a particular treat.

As noted earlier, it’s hard to imagine anything like this concert happening today. As Dalton says in a 1995 article included with the package, “The Rock and Roll Circus captures the delirious optimism of an era. Depending on your point of view, it was either the high point in the history of the cosmos or a period of mass hallucination (or both). But call it what you will, for a brief moment it seems that rock ’n’ roll would inherit the earth.”

Indeed. And while rock may today seem less likely to take over and remake the world, most of this music still sounds just as good as it did in 1968.

The new versions, via ABKCO Films and ABKCO Music & Records, features Dolby Vision® and Dolby Atmos® restoration. The releases include a limited Deluxe Edition (including its first appearance on Blu-ray; more details below), an expanded 2-CD edition, and its vinyl debut (on 3-LPs). Pre-order the vinyl here and the Deluxe Edition here.

The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus Expanded Audio Edition Track List
1. Mick Jagger’s Introduction Of Rock And Roll Circus – Mick Jagger
2. Entry Of The Gladiators – Circus Band
3. Mick Jagger’s Introduction Of Jethro Tull – Mick Jagger
4. Song For Jeffrey – Jethro Tull
5. Keith Richards’ Introduction Of The Who – Keith Richards
6. A Quick One While He’s Away – The Who
7. Over The Waves – Circus Band
8. Ain’t That A Lot Of Love – Taj Mahal
9. Charlie Watts’ Introduction Of Marianne Faithfull – Charlie Watts
10. Something Better – Marianne Faithfull
11. Mick Jagger’s and John Lennon’s Introduction Of The Dirty Mac
12. Yer Blues – The Dirty Mac
13. Whole Lotta Yoko – Yoko Ono & Ivry Gitlis with The Dirty Mac
14. John Lennon’s Introduction Of The Rolling Stones + Jumpin’ Jack Flash – The Rolling Stones
15. Parachute Woman – The Rolling Stones
16. No Expectations – The Rolling Stones
17. You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones
18. Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones
19. Salt Of The Earth – The Rolling Stones

Bonus Tracks
20. Checkin’ Up On My Baby – Taj Mahal
21. Leaving Trunk – Taj Mahal
22. Corinna – Taj Mahal
23. Revolution (rehearsal) – The Dirty Mac
24. Warmup Jam – The Dirty Mac
25. Yer Blues (take 2) – The Dirty Mac
26. Brian Jones’ Introduction of Julius Katchen – Brian Jones
27. de Falla: Ritual Fire Dance – Julius Katchen
28. Mozart: Sonata In C Major-1st Movement – Julius Katchen

Watch the trailer for The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus

  • Sign up for the Best Classic Bands Newsletter




Jeff Burger

Jeff Burger's website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades' worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include the recently published Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters as well as Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.
Share This:

No Comments so far

Jump into a conversation

No Comments Yet!

You can be the one to start a conversation.

Your data will be safe!Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.