Beatles vs. Stones: Rivalry or PR Stunt?

Categories: Beefs

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Beatles vs. Stones
By John McMillian
Simon & Schuster, 288 pp., $25

"The Beatles want to hold your hand, but the Stones want to burn down your town"

-- Tom Wolfe

It was a simple question, really. But one that said (or supposedly said) a lot about your taste in music, sociological outlook, personality, and even dress: Were you a Beatles fan, or a Stones fan?

See also: Top Five Beatles Songs Guaranteed Not To Top The iTunes Singles Chart Today

Though inherently absurd, the question was something of a musical line of demarcation. Purportedly, to show a preference for the Fabs meant you liked perfectly put-together melodic pop, clean-cut harmonies, and the status quo. To prefer the Glimmer Twins meant you were dangerous, rebellious, and preferred your music with a hard, bluesy edge.

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After all, while the Beatles were accepting MBEs from the Queen in their smart suits, Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham (who, ironically, had done some earlier publicity work for the Beatles) was planting attention-grabbing stories in the press about his group's bad-boy behavior, with headlines like "Would You Let Your Daughter Marry a Rolling Stone?"

But such comparisons were fraught with inconsistencies, exaggerations, and PR stunts. In reality, it was the Beatles who had the tougher upbringings and sweaty, leather-clad past in Liverpool while the Stones grew up more posh in the suburbs of London. Mick Jagger went to the London School of Economics, fer chrissakes!

In this dual biography, McMillian (Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America) tells the stories of both bands amid their friendship, rivalries, appreciations, and jealousies with each other, along with how their music, fashion, and images would also influence each other like a back-and-forth game of hot potato.

After all, without Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, there would be no Their Satanic Majesty's Request. And without "Helter Skelter," there might not have been "Brown Sugar." And Allen Klein?

Much of the biographical detail will be familiar to even casual fans of either group. But where McMillian digs deeper is putting the groups and their music in the context of the '60s.

See also: Live: David Johansen, Marianne Faithfull, And An All-Star Cast Pay Tribute To The Rolling Stones At Carnegie Hall

And while it's interesting to ponder how the groups might have continued to exist in each other's orbit had the Beatles' lasted longer (or the Stones less), ultimately, the book champions the thesis that one needn't be either "Beatles" or "Stones" exclusively. You can be both.

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13 comments
rewiredhogdog
rewiredhogdog

Coming of age in the Sixties, I really liked both bands. But my sentimental favorite would have to be The Beatles. I listened to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band after one of the black guys in the hooch turned me on to smoking Vietnam dope.  I was only two weeks into my tour of duty. So the Fab Four have a special place in my heart.  Silly, I know. But it's a true story.

Binkconn
Binkconn

Helter Skelter is a crap trainwreck; Brown Sugar is a dirty riff masterpiece. Who ever thought one inspired the other?

The book has nothing new to say that hasn't been said in a hundred other Beatles and Stones book (and he has a clear bias for the Beatles). The only interesting thing is his smart summary of the Allen Klein effect on both bands, swindling the Stones of their money and 60's song rights while destroying the last vestiges of solidarity in the Beatles once given the go-ahead by Lennon.

helenhelena206
helenhelena206

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epac666
epac666 topcommenter

"without Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, there would be no Their Satanic Majesty's Request."

Historical revisionism has stated that Majesties isn't all that bad. Um...yeah, it was. The critics got it right the first time. How often do you listen to it? Exactly.

Sgt. Peppers should be BLAMED for Majesties...that's the point.

Nichole875
Nichole875

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Stevart
Stevart

I prefer the Stones as I believe most people.  I've traveled abroad extensively with a guitar and it's the Stones that are loved despite the facts that everybody likes the Beatles.  Regarding your statement that without Pepper there would be no Majesty....well, I've always believed that the London upper-class Stones were "correcting" those two maudlin, Irish provincials from Liverpool.  Dittos for Let it Bleed contra Let it Be.  Perhaps if they had another producer other than Martin early on than who knows.  But the Stones grew quickly out of their producer(s) and evolved and stayed relatively at peace with each other.  The enmity amongst the Beatles was very evident VERY early on as they prematurely stopped being a touring band and focused on music that lost touch with their audience.  I find Pepper and the White album EXTREMELY schizoid and despite its avant garde pretensions, the arrangements rather cliche.  The Stones were NEVER covered by the Ray Coniff Singers or Brazil 66.  Schmultzy!  But NICE schumtlz.  
BTW, check out Pete Townsend's induction speech for the Stones at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of fame for more on the Beatles vs Stones.  AND PLEASE VV don't make this comment unavailable.  It's free speech and if Beatle fans can't deal with then that's too bad for them. 

damfino
damfino

Stevart - In "brief" dismissal of your claims: Majesty was no "correction" of Pepper - it's an extension of the attitude born out of Pepper, and the Stones were clearly tongue-and-cheeking things. "Gomper" is a correction of anything on Pepper? Seriously? BTW- John and Paul sang on "Sing This All Together." The Stones didn't "outgrow" their producers - Oldham quit in 67 because of their lack of focus and increased drug use. The Stones stayed at peace with each other? Brian Jones, Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg? Jones kicked out of the band in 69, soon found dead in his swimming pool? Hello! Let It Bleed was recorded in pieces over 68-69 - it couldn't have been a "correction" of Let It Be (which wasn't recorded until Jan. 69 and not released until 70). The Stones ALSO stopped touring in 66 (same time as the Beatles). Sales of Revolver to Abbey Road would indicate that the Beatles did not in fact lose touch with their audience. Emnity within the Beatles was NOT evident early on. They stopped touring becuase the music was becoming too complicated to recreate on stage with a 4-piece (and screaming fans who couldn't hear them anyway). Ray Coniff may have never covered the Stones, but what of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0lL_CvDNPo&feature=player_embedded

Binkconn
Binkconn

@epac666 SHe's A Rainbow and 2000 Light Years beat anything on Pepper baring a Day In The Life. Fact.

Binkconn
Binkconn

@damfino Majesties is dark and crabbed (Citadel, 2000 Light Years) where Pepper is happy joy joy. Plus 2000 Man predicts the Facebook lifestyle far beyond newspaper taxis or lovely meter maids.

Stevart
Stevart

@damfino The music was way TOO complicated which was a result of not touring and losing touch with their fans.  The two go hand-in-hand like the BeBop Jazz guys who self-destructed for the same reasons.  BTW the Stones were not covered as they can't be.  It's called paying tribute.  Look lad, you prefer the Beatles then that's your choice.  I find something maudlin and sentimental about their music that I just can't swallow.  NOT the same for their solo music I would add which I think is SUPERIOR!  Listen to Breakfast with the Beatles on Sunday mornings in NYC and people call up asking for prayers for their dad's gall bladder operation fer Christ's sake.  It's like Irish ballads filtered through psilocybin, like Eleanor Rigby, Let it Be and Penny Lane, that they were the tunes that the "cute" one wrote perhaps says alot.  The Stones' roots were SO different I can't imagine how anybody could think they copied each other.  Chicago/Harlem/Detroit/Memphis R & Blues-Country vs. Liverpool Merseybeat and The Rutles...  "Ooh, Ooh, Ooh, me thinks I'm in loove!"  It's a no brainer.  Have a nice day. 

epac666
epac666 topcommenter

We're all entitled to our opinions...in mine, "She's a Rainbow" is ok, but "Citadel" and "2000 Man" are the only other songs worth repeated listenings.

Sorry, but "2000 Light Years" should be arrested for trespassing on their various greatest hits albums.

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