Rock ’n’ roll’s great debate: Beatles versus Rolling Stones

Book delves into the intertwined lives of the cultural giants of the 1960s proves that all these years later, the beat still goes on

TORONTO, Ont. Jan. 5, 2017/ Troy Media/ – I’ve long opted out of the cultural debate of our times: Beatles versus Rolling Stones.

But John McMillian’s book [popup url=”″ height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]Beatles vs. Stones[/popup] (2013) has made me revisit the issue.

I opted out because I never viewed the Beatles as rock ’n’ roll music. It was sweet, innocent and morphed into British music hall camp. Moreover, I always thought that the Liverpool sound was really invented in Lubbock, Texas, by Buddy Holly, whose song rights Paul McCartney now owns.

As for the Stones, I was quite content with actual blues, rhythm and blues, and all that American stuff (Sam Cooke, The Chords, Motown, Booker T. & the MG’s, their Stax colleagues, etc.). I was also content with many American white cover versions by the Beach Boys, Johnny Rivers and Canadian groups such as the Crew Cuts, who popularized Sh-Boom. I didn’t need what musician Paul Shaffer called in his autobiography the British invasion selling America its own stuff.

But the debate and the beat goes on.

McMillian does a nice job in a couple of ways. He quotes extensively from the underground press of the time. So we read of the instant denunciation of either group when they didn’t appear to be onside with the youth quake. He also reveals just how friendly the two groups were, up to and including discussions about merging. They did use the same management at one time.

Oddly, it was the Beatles who were the ruffians and greasers and the Stones who were urbane. John Lennon always said that the Stones stole the Beatles’ original Hamburg black leather image. Meanwhile, the Stones were first pictured in ties, vests and blow-dried hair, imitating the Beatles’ next stage. But the Stones quickly abandoned that look.

The Stones’ sweet song As Tears Go By was penned just after McCartney’s Yesterday. Their Satanic Majesties Request followed the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Remarkably, John Lennon picked the year 1968 to record Revolution, denouncing the turmoil of the student strike in Paris, the cultural revolution in Beijing, Prague Spring and Vietnam war protests all over America. Then he morphed back and forth on the issue for a few years. Mick Jagger, meanwhile, followed with Street Fighting Man, which also questioned the protest movement. When asked for a donation to the cause by Yippie Abbie Hoffman, Jagger refused.

I think we knew that Lennon could be nasty, but the book reveals more than his bad behaviour with women and his heroin use. He stole things and may have urinated out a window on passing nuns.

Keith Richards turns out to be cut from a similar cloth, with his song Under my Thumb seemingly advocating an abusive relationship. Later, he denied paternity of his own daughter. And he may not have done all he could to warn the Beatles about crooked manager Allan Klein, who took both groups for a ride.

McMillian raises bigger mysteries and contradictions. Both groups were really on the sidelines of the cultural explosion of the time, rarely protesting or taking sides. They were more ink blot tests on which young people projected their own meanings. After all, many of the Beatles songs were impenetrable or gibberish (Ob-La-Di, indeed).

There’s a little of the counterfactual at the end of this fun read. The Stones did among their best work between 1968 and 1972 with Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. What if the Beatles had stayed together a few more years? What would the solo projects by each Beatle have sounded like with the others’ input and George Martin’s production values? Would they have toured?

Credit is due to the Stones longevity. Credit perhaps to the Beatles, who, like Buddy Holly, never got old.

And so the great cultural debate of our time continues.

Troy Media columnist Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted to a dozen heads of government, a dozen party leaders and 100 or so cabinet ministers on five continents over 30 years. He is the author of [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]Political Conventions the Art of Getting elected and Governing[/popup]. Allan is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

Looking for content for your publication or website?
[popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]Become a Troy Media subscriber[/popup].

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.

[popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]Submit a letter to the editor[/popup]

Troy Media Marketplace © 2016 – All Rights Reserved
Trusted editorial content provider to media outlets across Canada

You must be logged in to post a comment Login