By Jonathan Takiff
Philadelphia Daily News
London bad boys the Rolling Stones!
Naw, you've gone scatty. It's the Fab Four from Liverpool, The Beatles!
Awright mate. Settle down, drink your bitter and cock an ear o'r 'ere. I propose we decide this age-old question with a vote of confidence. Fans should run out to their local record shoppe and buy one of the new collections just out by the two British supergroups. Count up the sales by Boxing Day and we'll see who reigns supreme, eh wot?
Ats right, mate, I said NEW recordings. Even though both albums (and companion videos) were recorded in the glory days of progressive rock in the late 1960s, it's taken 'til just now for this material to see the light of day. And the timing of their releases is no coincidence, I'm betting. After all, nothing fans the flames of pop commerce like a bit of rivalry. Remember when whole magazines were dedicated to the burning issue of who's better, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?
Available in two mediums, "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus" (Abkco) rates separate ratings: 3 stars for the audio version, 4 stars for the VHS tape and laserdisc, because seeing the lads in their prime, tarted up in carny ringmaster gear and having a jolly old time, adds a lot to the event.
A rather obvious response to the circusy spirit of "Sgt. Pepper" (and the Beatles' Christmas special "Magical Mystery Tour"), the idea of Stones manager Allen Klein was to film a combination rock concert and circus gala for showing as a British TV holiday treat.
Michael Lindsay Hogg (the "Ready Steady Go" TV director then filming the Beatles documentary "Let It Be") was called in to oversee the project, a tent was raised inside a huge TV studio in Wembley, and the cast assembled on December 11, 1968, for the overnight filming session.
The Stones were to close and ostensibly steal the show, but as you'll see andthe opening acts were nothing to sneer about.
Then newcomers Jethro Tull crank out a spirited "Blues for Jeffrey," though the audio on this (temporarily) lost-and-found footage is muffled mono.
The Who literally tear through their mini-rock opera "A Quick One While He's Away," worth the price of admission just to hear and see the "beats" of sweat pouring off manic drummer Keith Moon.
Taj Mahal injects a healthy dose of American soul with "Ain't That a Lotta Love."
Marianne Faithful, looking divinely catatonic, purrs "Something Better" to no one in particular.
And an instant super group dubbed The Dirty Mac - John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell and Keith Richards - rock out on John's "Yer Blues" until a caterwauling Yoko Ono pops out of her black bag and takes the music to the outer limits. (Almost three decades later, Ono's singing is finally starting to make sense!)
During breaks between the music, some typically British, second-rate circus acts take the center ring to swing on the trapeze or breath fire. Good for a few larfs. As to the Stones, you couldn't ask for a hotter little set of period music - from their then single "Jumping Jack Flash" to two from the "Beggars Banquet" album: "Parachute Woman" and "No Expectations," plus "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (from the then upcoming "Let It Bleed").
Best of the lot is the voodoo drums-charged "Sympathy for the Devil," with Witch Doctor Jagger seemingly ready to devour the camera. And for g'nights, the whole cast and audience swing and sway to the hearty anthem "Salt of the Earth." Does it matter that the Stones' playing was a bit ragged (especially guitarist Brian Jones, not long for this world), that the lighting was muddy, and that one of the film cameras had dirt in the gate (seen as hairs in the bottom of the picture)? Evidently so, because when all was said and done, the Stones refused to let this film be shown ... until now.
Methinks they protested too much. The music and banter - specially between Jagger and friendly rival Lennon - is supercharged. And decades of tinkering with the footage has produced a snappy little (65-minute) time capsule of Hail Brittania hippiedom.