Beatles v Stones. Stones v Beatles. That’s the question nobody’s really been asking since, ooh, 1969 or thereabouts. Still, it’s always nice to saunter down memory lane and recall a time when pop tribalism really mattered.
If you weren’t there in the 1960s, or don’t remember those heady days, here’s a helping hand. Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis co-host the US syndicated radio show Sound Opinions, and are each music critics and authors of some years standing. The Beatles Vs The Rolling Stones is written as a spirited dialogue between the pair, in which they go head-to-head to set forth their cases for one band over the other.
In the preface they make it clear that their true answer to the question is ‘both’, and they clearly have a great deal of respect for – not to mention knowledge of – each band, and there’s a lively time to be had as they put forth their opinions.
Various subjects are covered, from the best films and books by or about both acts, to their respective scandals, downfalls, tragedies, drug intake and sartorial elegance. But the music is never far away: the best frontman, guitarist, bassist and drummer are all discussed and evaluated, as well as more specific duels: Exile or The White Album, and the Stones in the 1970s versus The Beatles’ solo years.
The Beatles Vs The Rolling Stones is also illustrated with some truly fantastic pictures. In addition to some delicious archive shots of both bands – many of which are seldom seen – there are pictures of memorabilia, concert posters, picture sleeves from around the world and vintage advertisements. Some imagination has gone into the selection, whether it be production line workers at the EMI factory assembling copies of Rubber Soul, candid backstage shots of the Stones, or fans surrounded by paraphernalia depicting their idols.
There are also illustrated timelines that help with the context, although this has a North American bias: entries include race riots, baseball victories and US election outcomes, alongside the music.
Inevitably, given the subjective nature of the discussions, there’s plenty of room for disagreement. It’s lazy to dismiss Ian MacDonald’s Revolution In The Head as “a bit Marxist”, as is describing John Lennon’s Imagine as “hippie hokum”. Thankfully, though, whenever either writer gets too carried away with wayward opinions, the other is there to provide a counterpoint.
It’s all good-natured banter, and the authors’ passion and knowledge shines through. If the text occasionally feels like it was dictated over coffee and bagels one morning, their arguments are given authority by the depth and detail of the discussions. And if you disagree with their opinions, well, isn’t that the whole point?
The Beatles versus The Stones, then. Who’s the winner? Well, both of them, surely. Who knew that all these years later we’d still be discussing them, reading about them and buying their records? If you belong firmly in one particular camp, DeRogatis and Kot just might be able to convince you otherwise – or at least have a lot of fun in the process.