by Matt Conte
Everyone knows who the Beatles are: four guys who changed music and entertainment in ways that no one else ever has or ever will again, four little songwriters from Liverpool who rival Shakespeare in terms of cultural influence. They aren’t what this article is about though. Who wants to go to the prom with the clean-shaven, well-dressed parents dream of a date when you can go with just the opposite – the grungy, leather jacket-wearing, cigarette-smoking badass who your parents, his parents and most parents disapprove of?
The anti-Beatles would be, of course, the Rolling Stones. I don’t want to get into the age-old argument with myself of which band is better; I just want to illustrate how the two iconic bands are complete opposites. On one hand (left or right, doesn’t matter), we have the band that adorns matching suits, complete with ties and matching bowl-cuts, famous for songs like “All You Need Is Love,” “Here Comes The Sun,” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” On the other hand we’ve got the scraggly-haired rotating cast of cursing and spitting rockers, best known for songs like “Love In Vain,” “Sympathy For The Devil,” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You.”
We should probably skip back just a bit, though, to genre. The Beatles played skiffle-inspired pop music while their counterparts recorded jazz-influenced rock and roll. Later on, the Fab Four would experiment with psychedelic drugs and create other worldly and experimental sounds infused with lyrics calling for peace and love. The Stones were less into this genre, preferring good old-fashioned alcohol and marijuana. They were never as concerned with the philosophical and existential wanderings that Lennon and McCartney employed as they were with letting loose and getting their “Rocks Off.”
Widely regarded the greatest musical album ever, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club in 1967. The Stones’ answer? The mockingly titled and less known Their Satanic Majesty’s Request. They were sneering at the entire hippie movement that the Beatles were going through, while simultaneously recording their own creatively moving material.
There’s no question that, somewhere behind Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, George Martin is one of the greatest producers ever. He perfected every sound the Beatles ever played for him, and that is how they wanted it. They aimed for a picture-perfect recording on every album, with no loose ends or mistakes. They spent hours in the studio, recording and mixing, rerecording and remixing. The one mistake that they did leave has gained fame for being so – when Paul accidentally sang “Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face,” in “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” I mean no disrespect to Andrew Oldham by saying this though, because, in the earlier Stones albums, he captured just the sound that they were going for, as did Jimmy Miller in later years. That sound was a ragged, jagged, freewheeling one that gave listeners the impression of a bunch of guys rocking in their basement.
This shiny production on the songs that the Beatles churned out and the hours upon days upon weeks that they spent in the studio didn’t bode well for touring or performing live, something that the Stones focused almost solely on. Through the Stones epic shows, Mick Jagger has become one of the greatest showmen in the history of music; very rarely do we hear John, Paul or George sing with as much emotion that Mick puts into most songs. The Beatles played live shows for four years, from 1962 until 1966. The Rolling Stones have been playing live shows for five decades, and their shows have been historically remembered as better than the shows from those four Beatle years – this is a hard thing to judge though, because there aren’t too many people available to talk to who were at those shows, and those that are were not disappointed.
Don McLean’s “American Pie” references both bands, relating the Beatles to a dominant force – the kind that could play on a football field and no one would care if the game ever started up again. The reference to the Stones, though, displays an almost disdaining attitude, calling Mick Jagger the devil, and referencing a concert in San Francisco where the Stones’ security, Hell’s Angels, killed a man.
Without dark, we couldn’t appreciate the light. Without pain, we couldn’t appreciate pleasure. Just think of the Rolling Stones as rock history’s ying to the Beatles’ yang. For every “Let It Be,” there was a “Let It Bleed.” For every “Little Girl,” the perfect pop musicians doted on; there was a “Stupid Girl” that the wicked rockers were fed up with. For every “Taxman,” “Postman,” and “Rich Man,” that the Beatles created, there was a “Street Fighting Man” in the evil minds of the Stones.