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c. 1968

The Rolling Stones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus

Long before they became a brand for profitable touring, the Stones put on a show

On the set of "Rock 'n' Roll Circus": Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Brian Jones.

A rock ‘n’ roll circus? More like a rock ‘n’ roll fiasco.

The point of the whole debacle had been to drum up interest in the Rolling Stones’ new record, Beggars Banquet, by creating a TV special. But why a circus? The director the Stones hired to create the show had drawn a circle on a piece of paper, and the idea just grew from there.

At 2pm on December 11, 1968, a hand-picked audience was invited into a deliberately low-rent-looking big top erected on a TV studio sound-stage, and performances from the Stones, and guests including The Who, Jethro Tull, and Marianne Faithful, began. Unfortunately for the audience, the performances did not end until 5 a.m. the following morning.

The audience—and the Stones—were completely shattered, to such an extent that Mick Jagger insisted the film be shelved. Or at least, that was his excuse. Others said that it was because the Rolling Stones had been massively upstaged by The Who. Whatever the reason, the film remained unscreened for almost thirty years.

It was also the last time Brian Jones would ever perform with the band before his death the following July, aged 27.

1968
Members of The Who and the Rolling Stones in the studio during the making of the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
1968
Mick Jagger, chatting with the drummer of the Who, Keith Moon, and the band’s chief songwriter and guitarist, Pete Townshend.
David Cairns/Express/Getty Images
1968
Musicians, including Brian Jones, Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Keith Moon, Charlie Watts, Yoko Ono, Julian Lennon, John Lennon, and Eric Clapton, watch a trapeze artist.
Michael Webb/Keystone/Getty Images
1968
John Lennon with his wife Yoko Ono on the set of the TV special.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
1968
Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Brian Jones.
Andrew Maclear/Redferns/Getty Images
1968
The Rolling Stones performing at the end of the show.
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
1968
A tiger with Mick Jagger.
John Downing/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
1968
Bill Wyman (second from left) and Brian Jones (second from right), with various clowns and entertainers on the set.
Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns/Getty Images
1968
Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, and Bill Wyman. Mick Jagger wears a circus ringmaster costume and top hat.
Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns/Getty Images
1968
Keith Richards (left) and Charlie Watts from The Rolling Stones pose on the set.
Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns/Getty Images
1968
Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, and Bill Wyman.
Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns/Getty Images
1968
The whole assemblage.
Mirrorpix/Getty Images

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