John Lennon Jams With Eric Clapton, Keith Richards & Mitch Mitchell at the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus (1968)

In 1968, Mick Jag­ger and Michael Lindsay-Hogg—director of the Let It Be film and sev­er­al pro­mo music videos for the Bea­t­les and the Rolling Stones—sat down to brain­storm ideas for a full-length tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion that would be unlike typ­i­cal con­cert films. Lind­say-Hogg drew a cir­cle on a piece of paper, and an idea was born for a rock and roll cir­cus: two shows fea­tur­ing the Stones, the Who, Mar­i­anne Faith­full, Taj Mahal, Jethro Tull, and John Lennon’s super­group Dirty Mac, with Yoko, Eric Clap­ton, Jimi Hen­drix’s drum­mer Mitch Mitchell, and Kei­th Richards on bass. That Decem­ber, the bands played on a cir­cus set in a Lon­don TV stu­dio to a live audi­ence.

Unhap­py with the result­ing footage, Jag­ger shelved the project, feel­ing like the Stones’ per­for­mance wasn’t up to snuff. (They went on ear­ly in the morn­ing, and some say Jag­ger felt upstaged by the Who.) Some film of the con­cert made it into the 1979 doc­u­men­tary The Kids Are Alright, but much of it was lost until 1989, when it turned up in the Who’s pri­vate archive. The full con­cert film even­tu­al­ly pre­miered in 1996 at the New York Film Fes­ti­val (and it’s now out on Blu­Ray-see trail­er below), where it appeared, wrote Janet Maslin, “straight out of its time cap­sule,” bring­ing back “the sleek young Stones in all their inso­lent glo­ry, recall­ing a time when they ruled the roost.” Despite Jag­ger’s mis­giv­ings, they real­ly did dom­i­nate that cir­cus stage, but the event is notable for a num­ber of oth­er rea­sons.

Of course, there’s the Lennon super­group, whose per­for­mance of his “Yer Blues,” sans Yoko (top) is “indis­pens­able,” writes All­mu­sic. That’s no over­state­ment. Clap­ton’s sin­u­ous leads and Mitch Mitchel­l’s busy fills sit beau­ti­ful­ly with Lennon’s con­fi­dent deliv­ery. Rock and Roll Cir­cus also fea­tures the only filmed per­for­mance of soon-to-be Black Sab­bath gui­tarist Tony Iom­mi in his tenure with Jethro Tull (“arguably,” Maslin says, “the most unbear­able band of their day.”)

As amaz­ing as so many of these per­for­mances are (Taj Mahal’s “Ain’t That a Lot of Love” seri­ous­ly rocks), as Maslin point­ed out, the Stones “ruled the roost,” and they knew it, even if they had to go on at five in the morn­ing to accom­mo­date dif­fi­cult setups between acts.

It just so hap­pens that Rock and Roll Cir­cus rep­re­sents Bri­an Jones very last gig with the band. (It was not, as Ulti­mate Clas­sic Rock reports, an ear­li­er show at Empire Pool that May.) He looks par­tic­u­lar­ly unen­thused above play­ing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and the rest of the band looks exhaust­ed as well—all except Jag­ger whose “fab­u­lous per­for­mance,” Maslin writes, “near­ly turns this into a one-man show.” Just above, see them do “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” intro­duced by Lennon in sign lan­guage (“one of two live ren­di­tions it ever got with Bri­an Jones in the line­up,” writes All­mu­sic). You can also see the bar­room blues tune “Para­chute Woman” here and below, a jumpy, funky “Sym­pa­thy for the Dev­il” (with Span­ish sub­ti­tles).

To see the full concert—including the Who’s quick appear­ance, more Dirty Mac (with Yoko), and a bunch of sideshow extras—pick up a copy of the Rock and Roll Cir­cus on Blu­Ray.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Lennon Writes Eric Clap­ton an 8‑Page Let­ter Ask­ing Him to Join the Plas­tic Ono Band for a World Tour on a Cruise Ship

The Last Time Lennon & McCart­ney Played Togeth­er Cap­tured in A Toot And a Snore in ’74

Gimme Shel­ter: Watch the Clas­sic Doc­u­men­tary of the Rolling Stones’ Dis­as­trous Con­cert at Alta­mont

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • Toad says:

    “Despite Jagger’s mis­giv­ings, they real­ly did dom­i­nate that cir­cus stage…”

    Well, except for get­ting blown off it by The Who, but hey, I guess we’re all hap­py with our own pair of ears.

  • JV says:

    Total­ly agree. The Who’s ren­di­tion of A Quick One While He’s Away is one of my all-time favorite rock per­for­mance clips. Just for Moon’s drumming/mugging/chucking a floor tom alone, but the whole band is on fire. The Who from this peri­od is the best live band of the rock genre, bar none. For fur­ther proof, see their 1971 con­cert at Tan­gle­wood.

  • KayBee says:

    I read this arti­cle expect­ing to see a final punch­line about The Who actu­al­ly hav­ing the most pow­er­ful and mem­o­rable per­for­mance (by far). It nev­er came and I felt com­pelled to com­ment … only to (thank­ful­ly) find oth­ers with the same opin­ion! But, Josh Jones, you are for­giv­en!

  • j238 says:

    The Stones did rule the roost, but they actu­al­ly did­n’t know it. They felt The Who stole the show & this video did­n’t see the light of day for decades.
    Today, it’s obvi­ous the Stones were per­form­ing some of their clas­sics, which were new at the time. The Who’s music just does­n’t hold up as well in the long term.

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