Recently a half-century-old argument resurfaced when I heard someone say that he was more of a Rolling Stones fan than a Beatles fan. Preferring the Stones to the Beatles is fine except when someone dismisses the Beatles as a “pop” band rather than a true rock band like the Stones.
Don’t let prefabricated appearances deceive you. The Beatles were much more working-class Liverpulians whose black leather outfits were traded for mod suits by Brian Epstein to make them appear nice lads you could bring home to Mum, while the Stones, who were mostly from the London suburbs, were packaged as “bad boys” by their manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who created the headline, “Would you want your daughter to marry a Rolling Stone?” But the Stones started out with the same “mod” look as the Beatles and evolved into the rougher style to stand out from their rivals.
The Stones definitely took rock to the next raunchier level as a reaction to the Beatles dominating the “pop” charts but both bands started out playing the same rhythm and blues or rock and roll numbers. While the Stones imitated Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, the genius of the Beatles was to write and play blues songs as “pop” songs. If you look at the chords of many of their early tunes you see they were playing minors and sevenths but playing them with a rock and roll upbeat.
I’ve also noticed that those who prefer the Stones tend to be younger than those of us who were buying the records in the Sixties when they came out. When I ask Stones fans for their favorite album, almost invariably, they name Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main Street— all great albums but all released after the Beatles broke up. To put things in their proper perspective you have to compare the Stones and Beatles from 1962 to 1969.
The Stones first record was a cover of Chuck Berry’s Come On backed by Willie Dixon’s I Want to Be Loved, released in June 1963. Their second release in November 1963 was I Wanna Be Your Man— given to them as a “throwaway” song John and Paul had written for Ringo to sing, backed by Stoned, an instrumental attributed to Nanker Phelge, a pseudonym used for compositions by all five Stones (and sometimes sixth unofficial member Ian Stewart). Come On peaked at #21 on the British charts while the Lennon-McCartney penned I Wanna Be Your Man made it to #11. Neither song appeared on the American charts. That’s it for 1962-1963.
Not counting My Bonnie on which the Beatles were the backing band for Tony Sheridan, in 1962 the Beatles released the single Love Me Do backed with P.S. I Love You— two original songs that reached the #1 position on both the British and American charts. In 1963 they released Please Please Me/Ask Me Why; From Me to You/Thank You Girl; She Loves You/I’ll Get You; I Want to Hold Your Hand/This Boy; Roll Over Beethoven/Please Mr. Postman and I Saw Her Standing There. Nine original songs, all of which were #1 hits in Britain, Australia, Canada and/or the U.S. except their first Please Please Me, which only made it to #2. Their cover of Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven was #1 in Australia and #2 in Canada. The Beatles also released two albums in 1963, which contained eight additional original songs that weren’t released as singles: Misery; It Won’t Be Long; All I’ve Got to Do; Don’t Bother Me; Little Child; Hold Me Tight; Not a Second Time and I Wanna Be Your Man.
In 1964 the Beatles released All My Loving; Twist and Shout/There’s a Place; Can’t Buy Me Love/You Can’t Do That; Do You Want to Know a Secret; A Hard Day’s Night/Things We Said Today; I Should Have Known Better; I’ll Cry Instead/I’m Happy Just to Dance With You; And I Love Her/If I Fell; Matchbox/Slow Down; I Feel Fine/She’s a Woman and Tell Me Why plus six other songs from their Tony Sheridan days in Hamburg. 16 original songs, 11 of which went to #1. Their Isley Brothers cover of Twist and Shout reached #2 in the U.S. They also released two albums, which contained nine more original songs never released as singles: Any Time at All; When I Get Home; I’ll Be Back; No Reply; I’m a Loser; Baby’s in Black; I’ll Follow the Sun; Every Little Thing and What You’re Doing.
Their Ed Sullivan appearance on February 9, 1964, attracted an unprecedented 74 million viewers. During the week of April 4, 1964 The Beatles occupied the first five slots of the Billboard Hot 100— #1 Can’t Buy Me Love; #2 Twist and Shout; #3 She Loves You; #4 I Want to Hold Your Hand and #5 Please Please Me— the only group in rock and roll history to achieve this feat. That same week they also had another seven records in the Hot 100: I Saw Her Standing There at 31; From Me to You at 41; Do You Want to Know a Secret? at 46; All My Loving at 58; You Can’t Do That at 65; Roll Over Beethoven at 68. The Beatles had twelve songs on the charts that week, a feat never matched before or since. Four other songs written by Paul McCartney were hits for Peter & Gordon in 1964 including World Without Love, which reached the #1 spot.
In 1964 the Rolling Stones released covers of Not Fade Away; It’s All Over Now; Time Is On My Side and Little Red Rooster. It’s All Over Now and Little Red Rooster made it to #1 in Britain only. Their only original tracks Tell Me and Heart of Stone failed to make the charts. They weren’t even the second most successful group to ride the British Invasion coattails of the Beatles. The Animals had a #1 hit in the U.S. and UK with House of the Rising Sun and Manfred Mann hit #1 on both charts with Do Wah Diddy Diddy. The Kinks had #1 hits in the UK with You Really Got Me and Tired of Waiting for You with All Day and All of the Night hitting #2. When the Stones first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on October 25, 1964 they had only hit #1 in Britain with It’s All Over Now and made it to #6 in the States with Time Is on My Side. They released two albums in 1964, which contained seven original songs: Now I’ve Got a Witness; Little By Little; Empty Heart; Good Times Bad Times; 2120 South Michigan Avenue; Congratulations and Grown Up Wrong— all derivative of Chuck Berry or Muddy Waters. More bluesy than Beatles tunes like And I Love Her or If I Fell but hardly of the same caliper and no more blues-based than You Can’t Do That or rock-based than A Hard Day’s Night.
In 1965 the Stones finally hit it big with original songs (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and Get Off My Cloud both reaching #1 in the UK and U.S. The Last Time made it to #1 in Britain, #9 in the U.S. and As Tears Go By made it to #2 on both charts. Satisfaction is without doubt one of the greatest rock songs of all time and the other three songs are also excellent songs with a blues-rock base. The rest of their original songs released on album were less memorable: What a Shame; Off the Hook; Surprise Surprise; The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man; Play With Fire; The Spider and the Fly; One More Try; The Singer Not the Song; I’m Free; Gotta Get Away and Blue Turns to Grey.
Meanwhile the Beatles had back-to-back #1 hits with Eight Days a Week/I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party; Ticket to Ride/Yes It Is; Help/I’m Down; Yesterday/Act Naturally and We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper. Additional original songs in 1965 were The Night Before; You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away; I Need You; Another Girl; It’s Only Love; You Like Me Too Much; Tell Me What You See; I’ve Just Seen a Face; Drive My Car; Norwegian Wood; You Won’t See Me; Think for Yourself; The Word; Michelle; Girl; I’m Looking Through You; In My Life; Wait; If I Needed Someone and Run for Your Life.
1966 was a good year for the Stones with Paint It Black reaching #1 in the U.S. and UK. 19th Nervous Breakdown made it to #2 on both charts. Mother’s Little Helper/Lady Jane, and Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadows broke the Top 10. Their Aftermath album was their first of all original songs containing: Stupid Girl; Under My Thumb; Doncha Bother Me; Goin’ Home; Flight 505; High and Dry; It’s Not Easy; I Am Waiting; Take It or Leave It; Think, and What To Do.
The Beatles still reigned supreme however with Nowhere Man/What Goes On; Paperback Writer/Rain; Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby all reaching the #1 spot and their album Revolver elevated rock music to an art form with Taxman; I’m Only Sleeping; Love You To; Here, There and Everywhere; She Said She Said; Good Day Sunshine; And Your Bird Can Sing; For No One; Doctor Robert; I Want to Tell You; Got to Get You Into My Life and Tomorrow Never Knows, which blew minds worldwide with its unique blend of Indian music, backwards loops and sounds never before introduced into popular music.
January 1967 the Stones released Let’s Spend the Night Together/Ruby Tuesday, which made it to #3 in the UK and only #55 in the U.S. but oddly enough when re-released as Ruby Tuesday /Let’s Spend the Night Together made it to #1 in the U.S.
Then in February 1967 the Beatles released Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever, which took the rock single to a new height— so far beyond what the listening public had ever heard on AM radio that it was kept from the #1 spot in Britain by Engelbert Humperdinck’s Release Me— their first single since 1962’s Please Please Me to only reach the #2 spot. It did hit #1 everywhere else in the world.
February 1967 was also the release date of the Stones Between the Buttons, which included twelve new songs written by Jagger and Richards including: Yesterday’s Papers; My Obsession; Back Street Girl; Connection; She Smiled Sweetly; Cool, Calm and Collected; All Sold Out; Please Go Home; Who’s Been Sleeping Here?; Complicated; Miss Amanda Jones and Something Happened to Me Yesterday. No hit songs here so the American release substituted the singles Let’s Spend the Night Together and Ruby Tuesday.
June 1967 saw the release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Volumes have been written about its effect on the world of not only music but also popular culture. Originally planned as a double album, it was released as a single LP for the Summer of Love market, containing the tracks: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band; With a Little Help From My Friends; Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds; Getting Better; Fixing a Hole; She’s Leaving Home; Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite; Within You Without You; When I’m Sixty-Four; Lovely Rita; Good Morning, Good Morning; Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (Reprise) and A Day in the Life. The remaining songs were released as Magical Mystery Tour in November, as an EP in Britain containing Magical Mystery Tour; Your Mother Should Know; I Am the Walrus; The Fool on the Hill; Flying and Blue Jay Way. The American LP featured the additional tracks: Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane; plus the previously released singles Hello, Goodbye; Baby, You’re a Rich Man and All You Need Is Love, all of which reached #1 worldwide.
The Stones answer to these two masterpieces was Their Satanic Majesties Request released December 1967— probably their lamest effort to date. To be fair Jagger, Richards and Jones had all been busted for drugs and the band was parting from their long time producer Andrew Long Oldham at the time. Tracks include: Sing This All Together; Citadel; In Another Land; 2000 Man; Sing This All Together (See What Happens); She’s a Rainbow; The Lantern; Gomper; 2000 Light Years From Home and On With the Show.
Despite almost parting ways in 1968, the Beatles had their most prolific period. During the recording of their eponymous The Beatles (forever after known as “The White Album”) Ringo, then George left and returned. John who annoyed the other three by bringing Yoko into the studio daily also took a few prolonged absences. Yet in addition to the 30 tracks on the double album, they managed to release the singles Lady Madonna/The Inner Light and Hey Jude/Revolution, both of which reached #1 worldwide. I won’t list all 30 tracks on the LP but for those who choose to label the Beatles as a “pop” band I recommend listening again to Revolution 1, Helter Skelter, Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey, Yer Blues or Back in the U.S.S.R. The Beatles also recorded four additional songs between the Sgt. Pepper and White Album sessions: Hey Bulldog, All Together Now, Only a Northern Song and It’s All Too Much. These tracks appeared on the Yellow Submarine movie soundtrack released in January 1969.
Simultaneously, the Stones recorded one of their finest albums Beggars Banquet— Brian Jones last full contribution and their first with producer Jimmy Miller. Street Fighting Man— like the Beatles’ Revolution was released as a single in response to the cultural events of 1968— race riots and student war protests, the assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the riot at the Democratic Convention and the Tet Offensive which drove American forces out of Saigon and turned the tide of the Vietnam War. But Street Fighting Man only reached #48 on the American Billboard Hot 100 and didn’t chart at all in the UK. Another track recorded during these sessions though was Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Released only as a single, it hit #1 in America and #3 in Britain. Beggars Banquet also featured Sympathy for the Devil— classic Stones and one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
In January 1969 the Beatles began what was to be their Get Back album— a return to their rock and roll roots. Filming the sessions for a proposed television special proved to be their undoing with already flared tempers from the previous year put on ice by the unfamiliar and freezing cold Twickenham Studios and filming early in the morning when they had gotten used to late night recordings since Sgt. Pepper. Plus George Martin couldn’t produce the album since he was contractually bound to Abbey Road Studios. The Beatles were so displeased with the experience and the recordings that the whole project was scrapped and only resurrected a year later when Lennon gave the tapes to Phil Spector to “see what he could do with them.” The result was the Let It Be album released after the Beatles had dissolved as a band.
Despite this “failure” Get Back backed with Don’t Let Me Down was released as a single and went to #1 worldwide. Lennon and McCartney also recorded and released The Ballad of John and Yoko, backed by George’s Old Brown Shoe, which reached #1 in the UK but only peaked at #8 in the U.S. probably due to being banned by most American radio stations because of the lyric, “Christ, you know it ain’t easy, you know how hard it can be; The way things are going, they’re gonna crucify me.” (I remember hearing it on the radio at the time with the word “Christ” omitted, so there was a one beat blank space in the song.)
Not wanting to end on a sour note the Beatles went back to Abbey Road Studios with George Martin to record what they knew would be their final album. It became known as Abbey Road. Released in September 1969, it is considered by most critics to be the Beatles’ masterpiece (though I personally prefer Revolver). Known primarily for its medley of songs blended together on Side 2, which was unprecedented at the time, highlights of the album also include Come Together; I Want You (She’s So Heavy), which ends Side 1 abruptly, the stunningly beautiful vocal harmonies on Because and Harrison’s two contributions Here Comes the Sun and Something— his first single release and another #1 hit for the band. Come Together also reached #1.
December 1969 saw the release of the Stones second of four albums produced by Jimmy Miller titled Let It Bleed— an obvious play on words derived from the Beatles Let It Be, which had been recorded but not yet released. Considered by many to be the Stones best album, Let It Bleed featured the classics Gimme Shelter; Midnight Rambler and You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Along with the title track other songs include Country Honk; Live With Me; Monkey Man; You Got the Silver— Keith Richards first lead vocal— and a cover of Robert Johnson’s Love In Vain. A variation of Country Honk titled Honky Tonk Women, backed by You Can’t Always Get What You Want was released as a single in July 1969 and was a #1 hit in the UK and U.S.
Paul, George and Ringo met in the studio on January 3, 1970 to record I Me Mine, the last song recorded as “Beatles”. It plus the unreleased songs from the Get Back sessions from a year earlier were complied into the posthumous Let It Be album. By then the Beatles were recording as four individual artists and McCartney was especially displeased with Phil Spector’s production of his tracks. Regardless, the album went to #1 worldwide and the song Let It Be backed with You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) (undisputedly the Beatles worst recording) was a #1 hit in the U.S. as was the single The Long and Winding Road/For You Blue.
For the record, I also consider myself a Rolling Stones fan. Seeing them in 1972 was possibly the best rock and roll concert I’ve ever seen. (It’s a toss up with Led Zepplin in 1973.) But hopefully this “apples–to-apples” (no pun intended) comparison demonstrates to other Stones fans that the Beatles decline was directly proportional to (and responsible for) the Stones ascension. In the Seventies the Stones truly became The World’s Greatest Rock Band— but only after they were no longer in the shadow of the Beatles. Props should also be given to producer Jimmy Miller. It couldn’t have been coincidence that the four greatest Stones albums were under his direction.
Now one final note: in one of his post-Beatles interviews, John Lennon made the statement that the Stones always copied the Beatles about six months later. Despite the fact that Lennon was going through a deconstruction phase that he never got the chance to live past— putting down the Beatles, Stones, Dylan and everyone else— there is evidence to support his claim. Take a look at the following list of songs and album covers and check out the release dates.
Their Satanic Majesties Request released December 1967. The lenticular photo by Michael Cooper is similar to the Sgt. Pepper cover (also shot by Cooper) but also look at how similar the blue and white background is to Magical Mystery Tour.
Back-to-back song releases:
I Feel Fine—built around a riff with the first use of feedback, released December 1964.
I Can’t Get No Satisfaction—fuzz tone mirror opposite built around a riff, released February 1965.
Help— John Lennon wrote the lyrics of the song to express his stress after the Beatles’ quick rise to success, released July 1965.
Get Off of My Cloud— The Stones said that the song is written as a reaction to their sudden popularity after the success of “Satisfaction”, released September 1965.
19th Nervous Breakdown— The opening riff sounds “borrowed” from I Feel Fine, released November 1965.
Yesterday— opens with acoustic guitar, uses string quartet as a departure from the four-piece rock band, released September 1965.
As Tears Go By— opens with acoustic guitar, employs heavy string arrangement, released December 1965.
In My Life— George Martin on speeded up piano to sound like harpsichord, released December 1965.
Lady Jane— Brian Jones on dulcimer for Elizabethan sound, released July 1966.
Norwegian Wood— first use of sitar, released December 1965.
Paint It Black— uses sitar, released May 1966.
Eleanor Rigby— about a lonely spinster who “lives in a dream” and “dies in a church”, again using a string quartet, released August 1966.
Ruby Tuesday— about a woman who must “catch her dreams before they slip away” and is “dying all the time” fake quartet with Brian Jones playing recorder and piano, and double bass played jointly by Bill Wyman (pressing the strings against the fingerboard) with Keith Richards (bowing the strings), released January 1967.
Got to Get You Into My Life— made prominent use of a brass section, recorded June 1966.
Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?— first Stones recording to feature brass horns, released September 1966.
All You Need Is Love—features backing vocals by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, released July 1967.
We Love You—features backing vocals by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, released August 1967.
Revolution— addresses riots and protests in Sixties political landscape and offers a “solution”, released August 1968.
Street Fighting Man— addresses riots and protests in Sixties political landscape and offers a “compromise solution”, released August 1968.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want— Jagger said in 1969, “I liked the way the Beatles did that with ‘Hey Jude’. The orchestra was not just to cover everything up— it was something extra. We may do something like that on the next album.”
The Rolling Stones— World’s Second Greatest Rock Band. Case closed.