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3 minute read
Richard Corliss

The old dears, those who survived, get together for high-priced reunions or shadow plays of their early luster. But thanks to the miracles of archival scholarship and entrepreneurial greed, you can still hear the Beatles, see the Rolling Stones, in their prime. The third and final Beatles Anthology double album has unpolished gems from the band’s last two years together. The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, on video and CD, is a long-lost 1968 concert that Mick Jagger & Co. shared with the Who, Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull and–guess who–John Lennon and his bride Yoko Ono. The Fab Four and Their Satanic Majesties–together again for the first time.

Anthology 3 could be called Beatles Unplugged. It has acoustic versions of many tunes from The White Album and Abbey Road, including a Why Don’t We Do It in the Road, in which Paul McCartney alternates verses of cooing falsetto and rapacious shout (he’s Smokey Robinson; no, he’s Howlin’ Wolf). John, Paul and George Harrison harmonize on a beautiful a capella Because. Lennon, high on his new love, intones, “Yoko o no-no, Yoko o no-yes during a rough sketch for Happiness Is a Warm Gun. He does a Yokoized What’s the New Mary Jane, a previously unreleased number with Lewis Carroll-like lyrics and avant-garde inventiveness. But there’s also an urgent I’m So Tired, still one of Lennon’s most potent songs–ennui, annoyance, panic and plea in two minutes flat. The mood of these sessions is serious fun. Songs tail into parody as the lads assume the IDs of sham bands: Ricky and the Red Streaks, or Los Paranoias (“Come on, enjoy us”).

It’s nice to think they were still friends. But by 1968, John, Paul and George were really three soloists working within the Beatles franchise, and within the sealed universe of the Abbey Road studio. In Circus, the Stones reached across that universe and invited others to join in–not just rockers but the fire eater and geezer trapeze artistes who fill out the bill. The Beatles were isolates; the Stones, this concert film argues, were family.

Inspired by the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg (who did the Beatles’ Let It Be the following year), Circus is a happy yank back to the days when the princes of rock’s second generation could still glory in their good fortune. Do we look goofy in our sad-clown makeup (Bill Wyman) and peekaboo cowgirl togs (Roger Daltrey)? Well, we have fun looking goofy and playing loud music.

So Lennon, backed by Eric Clapton and Keith Richards, rips into Yer Blues. Yoko, in one of her first rock gigs, wails like an abused hyena. And the Stones play a six-pack of their standards, including a pulverizing Sympathy for the Devil.

It’s a romp and a requiem. The Stones’ Brian Jones would die the next summer, the Who’s Keith Moon and Lennon a decade or so later. But on tape and CD, the stars are alive. So are the craft, magic and zip of ’60s rock.

–By Richard Corliss

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