The Rolling Stones’ U.S. tour of 1972 was a big fucking deal. Let us count the ways: The Stones had not played live shows in America since the infamous final show of their 1969 tour, at Altamont. The album they were supporting was one of the most epochal in all of rock and roll history, Exile on Main Street—which was released in America just a couple of weeks before the tour. (None of the Beatles’ late albums were supported by touring, keep in mind. Exile was, as were Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed in 1969.) With the Beatles scattered to the winds, the Stones had the pinnacle of rock and roll all to themselves—no coincidence, then, that their sobriquet “the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band” really began to be a thing around this time.
This was the tour memorably captured in one of the all-time great rock and roll books, Robert Greenfield’s S.T.P.: A Journey through America with the Rolling Stones. Robert Christgau’s account of one of the NYC shows is worth reading as well. The tour also spawned two documentaries: that Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones! and the outlaw verité flick Cocksucker Blues.
By this time Mick Jagger had made the crucial transition from “mere” rock frontman and quasi-proto-punk to a bona fide celebrity of the first order. In the 1960s Jagger’s closest peers and pals were John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan; by 1972 he was hanging out with Truman Capote and Hugh Hefner and Zsa Zsa Gabor. (From here, the trajectory to Studio 54 was inevitable.) Not for nothing was the tour nicknamed the “Stones Touring Party”—so much more easygoing than the Hells Angels of Altamont, although Keith Richards did carry around a .38 caliber revolver just in case those same Hells Angels sought retribution. It was simply a massive tour without the element of danger that their (arguably) even more mythic 1969 tour—in other words, tours of this type were becoming standardized. The Stones were the talk of the country and, when they hit Madison Square Garden in late July, the talk of the town. Stevie Wonder was the opening act; how can you beat that?
Capote quit covering the tour in New Orleans and then went on The Tonight Show and The Dick Cavett Show to tell tall tales about it before showing up for the last city of the tour, at Madison Square Garden. Cavett, whose show was on ABC, also received accreditation for the Stones’ appearance in New York, and secured some backstage interviews between the two (!) concerts held on Tuesday, July 25, 1972. An entire episode was dedicated to the Stones that featured substantial interviews with Jagger and Bill Wyman as well as two full songs from the concert.
You have to give credit to Cavett for his unflappable cool. Whether interviewing the Stones’ adoring fans outside the venue or Jagger himself, Cavett has a knack for putting his subjects at ease. Noteworthy moments from the Stones interview: Cavett inquires what Jagger, a former student at the London School of Economics, for his take on John Maynard Keynes. While chatting with Cavett, Wyman puffs on a “cigarette” that some have insisted was a joint. I can’t tell, but certainly their cheeky repartee about the smoky treat would seem consistent with that interpretation. Later Cavett and Jagger jokingly entertain the engagingly silly notion of Cavett, a Yalie to the bone, joining the Stones onstage to do a rendition of some GIlbert & Sullivan. (This last seems entirely true to Cavett’s preppy essence. I once saw Cavett at the Dave Hill Explosion in New York do a kind of duet with the Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano: Gano performed “Blister in the Sun” while Cavett interrupted with verses by Rudyard Kipling.) Most amusingly, Wyman insists that he and the Stones will be retired by the time they reach the age of fifty.
In his studio bits taped later, Cavett treats the event much as a sociologist would, reading lyrics from “Brown Sugar” aloud for the attentive middle-aged midwesterners in the television audience and explaining that the frenzy in the audience was actually “peaceful.” Good for me, because I look at these clips much the same way: so that’s what a Stones concert looks like behind the scenes. It’s terrific footage, although the tape itself is a little muddy.
This playlist has all the essential parts of the show (there is a fifth part not included, but it’s just a couple minutes long and there’s nothing much on it). The first part has Cavett’s interviews with the fans outside. Parts 2 and 3 have an interview with Jagger and Wyman and then Jagger a second time. Part 4 has live performances of “Brown Sugar” and “Street Fighting Man.” Oh, and enjoy the Paul Lynde commercial and that one for Levis that wouldn’t look out of place in Yellow Submarine.