Rolling Stones Debut 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' in 1968 - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: Rolling Stones Debut ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ in 1968

‘Let It Bleed’ classic was first performed live at the band’s ‘Rock and Roll Circus’ special, which was also the last time they played with guitarist Brian Jones

The Rolling Stones went into 2020 thinking they’d once again be playing to sold-out football stadiums across North America on their ongoing No Filter tour. It’s still theoretically possible that they’ll find a way to squeeze in those dates before the end of the year, but it’s far more likely that they’ll have to wait until 2021 or even 2022 to play make-up shows.

Fans did get a brief chance to see the Stones play live over the weekend when they appeared at Global Citizen’s “One World: Together at Home” event. They performed “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” from their separate homes, though Charlie Watts seemed to be playing air drums, confusing many fans. (A rep for the Stones declined to comment on what was actually going on with Watts’ performance.) The song was a logical choice for the occasion since so many people aren’t getting what they want during the global COVID-19 shutdown.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” appeared on Let It Bleed in 1969 and has been a staple of their live shows since the Exile on Main Street tour in 1972. They’ve played it a grand total of 754 times, more than any other song in their catalog besides “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Brown Sugar,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Satisfaction,” “Start Me Up,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It).”

The first of those 754 live performances took place on December 11th, 1968, at the taping of the band’s Rock and Roll Circus special. They assembled an incredible lineup of talent for the show that included Jethro Tull, the Who, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithful, and one-time-only supergroup the Dirty Marc featuring John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Mitch Mitchell, Yoko Ono, and Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis.

Check out this video of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” from the show where the Stones are joined by pianist Nicky Hopkins and percussionist Rocky Dzidzornu. This is the last time that Brian Jones played with the band and he died just seven months later. At the very end, you see that John Lennon and Yoko Ono are wearing brightly colored capes and singing along like everyone else in the crowd.

The movie was ultimately shelved and not seen in full until its release on DVD in 1996. Explanations for the long delay have varied over the years, but most point to Mick Jagger feeling that the Stones were drained after a very long day of filming and subsequently put on a sub-par performance. It’s also been claimed that he felt they were upstaged by the Who, who played a ferocious rendition of “A Quick One (While He’s Away).” The sad image of a diminished Brian Jones on the stage probably played a role as well.

It’s impossible to say when the Stones will play in public again. Many health experts say that mass gatherings are the last thing that will return as the nation slowly gets back to normal. There are few gatherings more mass than a Rolling Stones concert. That means the ultimate sign that the world is back to its pre-coronavirus state is when the Stones are once again onstage.

Charlie Watts will probably be in his eighties by the time that happens. Don’t let his recent air-drumming experiment fool you, though. He still powers the band through two-hour shows whenever they play and never even looks winded when they take their final bows at the end of the night. Whenever they return to the stage, he’ll be there. And this time, the drums will be real.

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