Stones and Beatles Smackdown

The Beatles or The Stones.

I’ve been asked that question in several interviews concerning The Black Jacket Symphony.

It also seems to come up in conversation.  Somebody (usually the “rebel”) will stand up and say, “Well, The Beatles are fine, but I’m a Rolling Stones guy”.

And google it.  There are actually books, online polls and countless other websites devoted to this “debate”.

Now, let’s get some things out-of-the-way here.  Yes…admittedly I’m an obsessed Beatle fan and…well, student.  But I’ve put about as much time and research into The Rolling Stones as well.  I freaking love them.

But here’s the point folks.  It’s a non-question.

Whether you like it or not, it’s like saying you enjoyed studying World War Two much more than The Revolutionary War.  That’s great!  You enjoy tanks more than muskets, or whatever.

But without the Revolutionary war THERE IS NO WORLD WAR TWO.

It’s hard now to understand just how dominating The Beatles were when they arrived.  They were a complete game changer.  In America in 1964 they released 4 full music albums that all went to number one.  In one year.

And  seven, that’s right, seven singles that went to number one.  All in one year.

Then they completely dominated the charts (albums and singles) until 1970.

But more than that they dominated the culture.  They were literally the torch bearers for an entire generation.

What they wore, what they said, where they went, it was all leading the charge.

So without The Beatles, there  is no real British invasion.  With no British invasion, no Rolling Stones.

See, The Beatles were the point of reference.  The yardstick to what everything else was measured.  As a Stones fan, you have to realize that they were purposely marketed as the “bad boy Beatles” where as Herman’s Hermits and The Dave Clark Five were “The good boy Beatles”.  But there was only one yardstick.

And it’s fair to say that The Beatles were lucky, or their timing was good.  Recording techniques were changing.  2-track to 4- track to 8 track recording and they pushed it all to it’s limit.  By the way….the only album The Beatles ever used 8 tracks for recording the whole record was….their last, “Abbey Road”.  A few tracks were recorded with an 8 track machine for The White Album, but for the most part it was the rest was all 4 track or less. But here is the catch…they were always up to not just meet the challenges and changes, but define them.

And with all the fashion and “mania” aside, can you really wrap your mind around the musical growth these four kids (all in their 20’s during The Beatles) were able to accomplish?  And the amount of material they put out?

Basically it’s this:  From 1963 until 1969, at least TWO albums a year with SEPERATE singles released (songs NOT from the albums) every time an album was released.  In other words, ‘Paperback Writer’ with the B-side ‘Rain was recorded during the album “Revolver” sessions, but released as a single before the album came out.   Basically advertising the album with singles NOT from the album…..

And for the growth.  In about a year they went from “Eight Days a Week” to “Eleanor Rigby” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”.   Six months after that they released “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane”.

The point being The Beatles got to be number one by being a cute boy band with a different kind of sound that they meshed from our own American rock and roll and British skiffle.

Then they were actually talented enough to kick everybody’s ass until they broke up.  They were relentless.  How COULD The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, or ANY American band keep up with that kind of artistic growth and output?  They couldn’t.

They could only try to follow the lead and veer slightly one way or another to get noticed.

And that….whether you like it or not, is the truth.  In a sports analogy, they were a true dynasty and everybody else was just seeing who could come in second or third while trying basically to look like they were not completely emulating the kings.

And if you will notice The Rolling Stones most fruitful period (to me anyway) was from December 1969 to the end 1971 when “Let it Bleed”, “Sticky Fingers”, and “Exile on Mianstreet” were released.  The Beatles were done.  They had released Abbey Road in September of 69, and the breakup began.  The best thing to happen to The Rolling Stones was…

The break up of The Beatles.  Now they didn’t have to release “Their Satanic Majesties Request” which was their darker version of “Pepper”.  Now they could just freakin’ be the greatest rock and roll band in the world.  The monkey was off their back. In 1978 they released their best selling album ‘Some Girls’.  By that time Lennon had retired for 5 years, sick of it all, and McCartney was in Wings.  The Stones could finally rule.

And by the way…

The Stones and The Beatles never had the same rivalry as these books and websites and drunken dinner party conversations.

They were much more friends than “rivals”.  They knew what the deal was.  They would try to make sure they didn’t release an album or single at the exact same time.  They would do cameo’s on each others albums (Lennon and McCartney did background vocals on “We love You”, the Stones version of “All you need is Love”  which Jagger was in the small audience singing along when THAT was recorded.)

All this to say, not only CAN you be both a Beatle person or a Stones person, but you should.

They were.

But there was only one revolutionary war.

beatles stones 1 Beatles stones 2

What's that above Paul's head?  Oh yeah, you can look at John and tell....

What’s that above Paul’s head? Oh yeah, you can look at John and tell….

Beatles stones 4 beatles stones 5 beatles stones 6 beatles and stones 7


5 responses

  1. Great breakdown, and I have to agree. The Beatles are probably the most important rock band of all time. They are certainly the most successful and influential. (“Importance” could be given to the bands that “started” and popularized rock n roll in the ’50s, but I digress.)

    When I hear the question “Beatles or Stones?” I take it as “What’s your preference?” I like the Stones better. The attitude (even if it was the “Bad Boy Beatles” at one time) and swagger the Stones carry, even to this day, just wins me over.

    Watching the 12-12-12 concert, I loved seeing Paul. I saw him in the ’90s at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati – absolute master musician, showman, and performer. The original song he played with the surviving members of Nirvana on 12-12-12 was more hard-rocking and had better hook than 99% of the new stuff out today. Amazing.

    But watching the Stones on 12-12-12, I was completely enthralled. Mick and Keith are the absolute definition of cool. I even posted to my Facebook “Keith F-ing Richards!” LOL! And he and Mick are going to be 70 years old this year!

    Anyway – I enjoyed the column, and wanted to share my thoughts.

    BTW – Is this column J. W. writing? Just curious.

    January 28, 2013 at 4:58 pm

  2. C.T.Britton III

    Great blog..right on target.

    January 28, 2013 at 5:17 pm


    Absolutely right, not better than, just different. The Beatles WERE the most important band in the history of music (other than Les Paul, George Fullerton and Leo Fender). NOW the Rolling Stones ARE the greatest Rock & Roll band in existence. And if a person doesn’t understand that, they need only watch the live concert from New Jersey on Dec 15, 2012. When a bunch of hexagenerians can still melt faces with their music and performance, there is no doubt who rules the current roost! (But the Beatles are still my personal favorite.)

    January 28, 2013 at 8:34 pm

  4. Greg Ellis

    I loved your commentary. G

    Sent from my iPad

    January 29, 2013 at 1:08 am

  5. Tres

    Excellent analysis. One thing I have always found interesting is how the Beatles, as a working band, were true “bad boys” birthed in the Hamburg red light district, whom Brian Epstein took under wing and presented as a clean “good boy” band (who just wanted to hold girls’ hands), while the Stones were mainly blues-obsessed (lower) middle class kids who were promoted as the “bad boys” of rock (who wanted to spend the night with the girls).

    February 19, 2013 at 2:38 am

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