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SoundTRAX: "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus"

Members of the Rolling Stones and their guests are illustrated in circus costumes.
ABKCO Music and Records

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

It took 28 years to see the light of day but The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus was finally released on this day in 1996.

Once upon a time Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg decided to do a circus-themed all-star star concert that was initially supposed to run as as a one-hour Christmas special on BBC-TV.

The audience was comprised of members of the Stones' fan club, contest winners, and yes, members of the Hells Angels— who would be associated with the band for far more sinister reasons at Altamont Speedway just over a year later.

Scheduled to perform were some heavy hitters: The Who, Taj Mahal, Eric Clapton, Jethro Tull, and Marianne Faithfull.

On paper, it looked flawless. In reality, well, less so.

Filming was only supposed to last just one day but instead ended up taking more than 15 hours. Everyone was exhausted, not the least of which, the audience.

You can also almost see the disintegration of Stones guitarist Brian Jones right before your eyes and this would be his final performance with the band. Seven months later he would be dead at just 27.

But on to happier aspects of the Circus.

Jethro Tull's performance of "A Song of Jeffrey" stands out mostly due to the presence of Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, who was a brief replacement for Tull's Mick Abrahams. Iommi wasn't even plugged in and kept his his hat pulled low, trying not to be seen.

Jagger's then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull lip-synched "Something Better" dressed in in a dramatic purple gown. Taj Mahal dazzled everyone, including The Who's Pete Townshend, who said Taj "was just, as always, extraordinary."

And speaking of The Who, they were a big part of the reason it took nearly three decades for the Rock and Roll Circus to finally be released: by all accounts they blew everyone else away— especially the Stones, much to the dismay of Jagger.

While the Stones hadn't played together in a while, The Who were fresh from touring and at the top of their game, performing a tight version of "A Quick One While He's Away."

Between being upstaged and the subsequent death of Brian Jones, the project was abandoned and some thought, lost forever.

But as luck would have it, some footage was found in Stones co-founder Ian Stewart's belongings following his death in 1985. A substantial portion of the film was also rediscovered in a vault belonging to The Who. The pieces were finally put together for us all to enjoy in 1996.

For today's SoundTRAX I feel compelled to showcase the Circus' one-off supergroup that referred to themselves as The Dirty Mac.

In honor of The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus finally being released 26 years ago today, it's The Dirty Mac— aka John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, with The Beatles' "Yer Blues."

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.

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