Circus Left Town

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"Circus"
Eric Clapton Circus 1998.jpg
Single by Eric Clapton
from the album Pilgrim
ReleasedJune 1998 (1998-06)
FormatCD single
GenrePop rock
Length4:06
LabelReprise
Songwriter(s)Eric Clapton
Producer(s)Eric Clapton · Simon Climie
Eric Clapton singles chronology
"She's Gone"
(1998)
"Circus"
(1998)
"Born in Time"
(1998)

"Circus Left Town", also known as "Circus" is a ballad written by the British recording artist Eric Clapton. The rock musician wrote the song about the last night he spent with his then four-year-old son Conor.[1] Although Clapton played and recorded the song for his 1992 million seller live album Unplugged, he decided to release the title six years later as a re-recording for both his 1998 effort Pilgrim and as a single release. However, Clapton played the song live for his 1992 Eric Clapton World Tour, before it came out on any recording formats.[2]

Writing[edit]

Clapton wrote the song in the summer of 1991.[3] When it came time for Clapton to write the lyrics, the British rock musician wanted to put the last experience he had with his young son in the song. In a BBC interview from 1998 Clapton remembered: "The last night I spent with Conor, we went to the circus. We went to see one of those huge things that they do in America where they have three rings going on at the same time. You've got clowns and tigers and everything. They don't do anything in half measures. They just pile it all in. Plus, they're trying to sell you things at the same time. I mean it was an amazing thing. After the show, we were driving back to New York City and all he could remember, all he could talk about was this clown. He'd seen a clown with a knife, which I didn't see at all. Some clown was running around brandishing a knife, which was something quite frightening but he liked it – I mean it excited him. And so that is in the lyrics. But, and I suppose what I was doing, I was remembering, I mean paying tribute to this night with him and also seeing him as being the circus of my life. You know – that particular part of my life has now left town".[4]

Composition[edit]

"Circus Left Town" is written in a pop and rock music vein. It features styles of adult contemporary, adult rock and contemporary pop rock music.[5] Although the whole song is based around an A-major-7-harmony and chords structure, Clapton uses a lot of minor chords to give the song the sad atmosphere and emotion the British composer went through when hearing about his son's death.[6] For the recording, Clapton used a nylon string acoustic guitar he played with the Clawhammer technique, which he prefers to play on acoustic guitar.[7] The song's lyrics consist of three different parts. "Circus" starts out with a four-part verse, followed by the chorus. Afterwards, the second verse is sung by Clapton, leading with a double time repeat of the chorus to the end of the song. In the title, Clapton sings about his son's happy character and the fact, that this evening at the circus, will be his son's last ever. In the second verse, Clapton describes the happy and joyful heart his son has been given and tells his son Conor, what he would do with him, if he would be still alive. The chorus features the pain Clapton felt and Conor's friends, who would all gather one last time, since the circus left the town, New York City. In the song, Clapton expresses what a deep and personal connection the songwriter felt with his son as he uses declamatory descriptions like "eyes on fire".[8]

Release[edit]

The song was originally set out to be released with the Unplugged live album in 1992, but was dropped from the album track listing. However, "Circus" and "My Father's Eyes" – another song left out by Clapton for the 1992 release, were re-recorded and released in 1998 on the studio album Pilgrim.[9] In addition the album release, Clapton had the song released as a single in June 1998 for Reprise Records in Europe and the United States.[10] There were several types of singles released, including a promotional single, a maxi compact disc single as well as a limited edition maxi single, released on compact disc format. All of these single releases features different B-, C- and D-sides to them.[11] However, Clapton played the song along with his mega hit single "Tears in Heaven" for his 1992 World Tour during a small acoustic set.[12] Before the reworked version of "Circus Left Town" was officially released in 1998, many Clapton fans recorded the original version and published the song as bootleg recordings in 1992.[13] "Circus" was resurrected for the 6-night shows at the Nippon Budokan in 2016.

Chart performance[edit]

Unlinke many other singles released of the 1998 Pilgrim album, "Circus" was not so successful in the music charts. In the United Kingdom, the single peaked at number 39 on both the physical singles sales and combined singles sales chart, compiled by the Official Charts Company in June 1998 and as of 2018, remains his last top 40 hit in that country. In Poland, the single release reached its highest position, reaching number 33 on the Lista Przebojów Programu Trzeciego chart. In the Netherlands, "Circus" placed itself on rank 92 on the Single Top 100, compiled by the official Dutch MegaCharts. In Japan, the single effort reached number 99 on the Oricon Top 100 singles chart, selling 2,750 copies while on chart.[14]

Critical reception[edit]

The German music journalist Sabine Feickert of Rocktimes calls the song "ambivalent", noting it forced the listener to apply it automatically to subjective thoughts about what has happened to him or herself. However, Feickert also recalls the great melancholic and languorous melody, which seems to fit the song's motives perfect.[15] AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine thinks that Clapton's singing is "startlingly mannered" and does not suit this "emotionally turbulent number".[16] The reviewers of Ultimate Guitar think, that "Circus" is one of the best tracks of the Pilgrim studio release.[17] Journalist David Wild of Rolling Stone magazine calls the title "ultradelicate" and notes that Clapton's singing on the track seems to be "among the most convincing [singing performances] of his career".[18] Something Else critic Nick DeRiso calls the ballad a "moving rumination on lost love and lost moments".[19]

Track listing[edit]

CD Maxi single
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Circus"Eric Clapton4:06
2."Behind the Mask"Ryuichi Sakamoto4:46
3."Bad Love"Eric Clapton · Mick Jones5:12
4."Tearing Us Apart"Eric Clapton · Greg Phillinganes4:14
Total length:18:18

Chart positions[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (1998–1999) Peak
position
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[20] 92
Japan (Oricon)[14] 99
Poland (LP3)[21] 33
UK Physical Singles (OCC)[22] 39
UK Singles (OCC)[23] 39

Release history[edit]

Date Region Format Ref.
1998 Germany Compact disc [24]
Japan [25]
Netherlands [20]
South Africa [26]
United Kingdom [27]
United States [10]
1999 Poland [28]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Circus Left Town by Eric Clapton Songfacts". Songfacts. Songfacts, LLC. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  2. ^ "Eric Clapton Performances from the 1990s". Geetarz. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  3. ^ "It Was 20 Years Ago Today: MTV Unplugged With Eric Clapton". Where's Eric! The Eric Clapton Fan Club Magazine. January 16, 2012. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  4. ^ "Eric Clapton's Songs: The Backstories". Where's Eric! The Eric Clapton Fan Club Magazine. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  5. ^ "Circus – Eric Clapton | Song Info | AllMusic". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  6. ^ "Eric Clapton – (The Circus Left Town) –Tabs, Lyrics and Chords". Guitaretab. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  7. ^ "Eric Clapton & J.J. Cale Interview". Fairy Tales DVD. YouTube. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  8. ^ "The Circus Left Town Lyrics :: Eric Clapton – Absolute Lyrics". Absolute Lyrics. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  9. ^ "Songs inspired by Conor Clapton, Eric Clapton's son". Where's Eric! The Eric Clapton Fan Club Magazine. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  10. ^ a b "Eric Clapton – Circus at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  11. ^ "Eric Clapton – Circus – austriancharts.at". Ö3 Austria Top 40 (in German). Steffen Hung – Hung Medien. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  12. ^ "Eric Clapton - Hartford, Connecticut 05/06/92 (Full Concert)". John Roe. YouTube. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  13. ^ "Eric Clapton – The Circus Has Left Town (CD) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  14. ^ a b Tatsaku, Ren (2011). Oricon Sales Report (in Japanese). Tokyo: Oricon Style (Oricon).
  15. ^ Feickert, Sabine. "Eric Clapton / Unplugged Deluxe" (in German). Rocktimes. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  16. ^ "Pilgrim – Eric Clapton | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  17. ^ "Pilgrim Review | Eric Clapton | Compact Discs | Reviews @ Ultimate-Guitar.Com". Ultimate Guitar. June 11, 2007. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  18. ^ Wild, David (February 25, 1998). "Eric Clapton Pilgrim Album Review &#124". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  19. ^ DeRiso, Nick (November 10, 2014). "Eric Clapton – 'Pilgrim (Audio Fidelity Remaster)': Review". Something Else!. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  20. ^ a b "Dutchcharts.nl – Eric Clapton – Circus" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  21. ^ "Circus – Eric Clapton" (in Polish). Lista Przebojów Programu Trzeciego. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  22. ^ "Official Physical Singles Chart Top 100 | Official Charts Company". Official Charts. The Official UK Charts Company. June 28, 1998. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  23. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100 | Official Charts Company". Official Charts. The Official UK Charts Company. June 28, 1998. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  24. ^ "Eric Clapton – Circus Left Town (Germany)". Eil.com. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  25. ^ "Eric Clapton – Circus Left Town (Japan)". Eil.com. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  26. ^ "Eric Clapton – Circus Left Town (South Africa)". Eil.com. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  27. ^ "Eric Clapton – Circus Left Town (United Kingdom)". Eil.com. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  28. ^ "Lista Przebojów Trójki – Polskie Radio Online (#888)" (in Polish). Lista Przebojów Trójki. Retrieved October 6, 2015.