Book review “Beatles vs. Stones”: I Want To Scold Your Band

B vs. S

During the British Invasion, some rabid fans naturally fought over the perceived superiority of either of Britain’s two biggest groups: the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. That fight subsided after the Beatles broke up and the Stones rolled on, but it’s revived here by author John McMillian in Beatles vs. Stones (Simon & Schuster, $25, due Oct. 29, 2013).

How much of this contention is justified, and how much is mere hype? McMillian makes a steady case for the former in his detailed survey of each band’s emergence as rock royalty. But he’s more persuasive citing ways the bands differed or were mirror images than fostering feuds beyond understandable artistic and commercial rivalries.

For me, comparisons of the bands are more intriguing than substantiations of the book’s premise. McMillian paints a potent portrait of how the Beatles scrambled their way to “overnight” fame by paying dues for years, unlike the Stones, who quickly ascended in their wake, and how the Beatles’ solidarity as a foursome (after adding Ringo Starr) contrasted with the bickering, splintered Stones, whose Brian Jones was a trouble-making monster.

An even richer ironic contrast is the way the Beatles, under manager Brian Epstein, morphed from Liverpool’s scruffy hellions to mannered, well-groomed lads who courted fans of all ages, while the Stones morphed from quieter, more privileged Londoners to — well, scruffy hellions, thumbing their noses at decorum to set themselves apart.

But beyond such differences and some petty squabbling between the groups, the fact remains that both bands made great, lasting music, and millions were — and still are — fans of each. So no one has to choose in a Beatles vs. Stones battle of the bands — except, say, an author with an ax to grind.

Not that I mind McMillian grinding away. He assembles well researched anecdotes of the Beatles’ and Stones’ evolution and crossing of paths, reminding us what a volatile musical maelstrom erupted in early ’60s England.

But really, who cares if the Beatles and Stones came to resent each other after their initial polite admiration? Any animosity or jealousy certainly had no effect on their music — and I’d argue that the rivalry is overblown.

Take the Stones’ obvious aping of Sgt. Pepper’s with Their Satanic Majesties Request, whose comparable album-cover montage included hidden images of the Beatles. That smacks of amiable affection to me, but McMillian, while mentioning it, sees no significance in it.

Sure, the bands chided each other from time to time. Even friends can do that, you know. But the important thing isn’t whether the Beatles hated or disdained the Stones, or vice versa. It’s that they existed.

I have all of both group’s albums — and I suspect, during their heydays, each band could say the same thing. All you need is love of each to gain immense satisfaction.

— Bruce Westbrook

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