December 09, 1996 12:00 PM

The Rolling Stones and friends

For two days in December 1968, pop music’s aristocracy ran away and joined the Circus, a musical happening, staged by the Rolling Stones, which they hoped would be a BBC-TV concert special. Alas, the 65-minute film, which showcased fire-eaters, bumbling dwarfs and low-rent trapeze artists between performances by the Stones, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, The Who, Taj Mahal, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithfull and Yoko Ono, never aired because the Stones were displeased with their own performance. Clearly they suffered from misguided perfectionism. On this recording from the 28-year-old jamboree, Messrs. Jagger, Richards et al get their ya ya’s out with sparkling renditions of “Jumping Jack Flash,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “No Expectations” (featuring Brian Jones’s nifty slide guitar) and a seductively sinister version of “Sympathy for the Devil.” But the warm-up acts are equally compelling, beginning with The Who and their rendition of “A Quick One While He’s Away,” a more than seven-minute long patchwork of rock-operatic vignettes that predated Tommy. The album’s defining moment, however, is “Yer Blues,” performed by the Dirty Mac, a one-night-only supergroup led by Lennon and backed by Clapton on lead guitar, Keith Richards on bass and Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell. Powered by Clapton’s extraordinary riffs and Lennon’s emotive wails, the song is followed, unfortunately, by Yoko’s unlistenable screechings. But that’s not enough to ruin the rockers’ day at the Circus. For one all too brief moment, it was the greatest show on earth. (Abkco)

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