In the 1960s, the two biggest bands in the world — the lovable Beatles and the bad-boy Rolling Stones—waged an epic battle. “The Beatles want to hold your hand,” wrote Tom Wolfe, “but the Stones want to burn down your town.” Both groups liked to maintain that they weren’t really “rivals”— that was just a media myth, they politely said—but on both sides of the Atlantic, they plainly competed for commercial success and aesthetic credibility. In Beatles Vs. Stones (Simon & Schuster, 2013), John McMillian gets to the truth behind the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll debate.
•The Beatles and the Stones weren’t really “rivals” – that was just a media myth, concocted by sensationalizing journalists and naïve teenyboppers. In fact, the Beatles and the Stones were good friends.
It would be far more accurate to say that during most of the ’60s, the Beatles and the Stones were both friends and rivals. They clearly struck up a rapport, but that never stopped them from trying to outperform each other whenever and however they could. And as most people understand, emulous competition rarely nurtures a friendship; more often it breeds anxiety, suspicion, and envy.
•OK, but the Beatles and the Stones never fueled the rivalry narrative themselves; they wanted nothing to do with all that silliness! They were always “above the fray.”
Not always. It is true that members of both bands frequently maintained that they were friends, and that the idea of a “rivalry” was invented on press row. But sometimes the Beatles and the Stones simply could not help but act like rival bands.
In October 1963, John Lennon fulminated in Melody Maker magazine about groups that appeared to be “copying” the Beatles. He seemed particularly aggrieved at a newer, London-based rhythm & blues group, which was made up at least partly of students, whose members refused to attribute their hairstyles to the Beatles’ influence. Instead, they disingenuously maintained that they “just happen to have long hair.” Only one group fit the bill exactly: The Rolling Stones.
And when the Rolling Stones came to the United States for the first time, in May 1964, they enlisted a London-based PR firm to create the impression that they were rival with the Beatles. “Stones Set to Invade,” the press release said. “In the tracks of the Beatles, a second wave of sheep-dog looking, angry-acting, guitar-playing Britons is on the way….Of the Rolling Stones, one detractor has said, ‘They are dirtier, streakier and more disheveled than the Beatles, and in some places they are more popular than the Beatles.'”
•Ah! Well that’s because the Rolling Stones’ young and savvy manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, immediately recognized that his group would be more successful if they styled themselves as the anti-Beatles. So he toughened up their image, and he encouraged the Stones dress however they liked.
In fact, that idea came a bit later, and it was the opposite of what Oldham originally had in mind. One of his first moves, after he signed a managerial contract with the Stones, was to take them on a Carnaby Street shopping spree and buy them sets of matching outfits. Numerous early photos of the Stones show them looking every bit as amiable, dainty, and fashionable as the Liverpool groups that were currently in vogue.
•I see. At first, the Stones seemed like natural counterparts to the Beatles, not rivals. That’s probably why Decca’s A&R representative, Dick Rowe (aka “The Man Who Turned Down the Beatles”) raced off to sign the Stones just as soon he’d heard about them, from George Harrison.
It is true that when George Harrison and Dick Rowe were seated near each other at the jury table of a Liverpool talent contest, George recommended that Rowe check out the Stones. But Rowe did not, in fact, rush back to London to sign them (as has often been reported). He waited a few days, then he phoned the Stones’ managers, and then he made an appointment to see them perform. And although Rowe was impressed by the avid response of the groups’ fans, at first he thought the Stones might be too raw and unpolished to warrant a recording contract. After Rowe took the Stones’ audition tapes to his boss, Sir Edward Lewis, he was surprised to discover hat Lewis wanted to sign the Stones right away.
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