John Lennon and Mick Jagger

Once upon a time, two British rock ‘n’ roll bands dominated the music scene: the boy-next-door Beatles and the born-to-be-wild Rolling Stones. Journalist Tom Wolfe wrote, “The Beatles want to hold your hand, but the Stones want to burn down your town.” In his new book, “Beatles vs. Stones,” John McMillian explores the myths behind their rivalry and offers revealing behind-the-scenes stories about the two groups.

John McMillian, assistant professor of history at Georgia State University and author of "Beatles vs. Stones" and "Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America"

  • Skip Conrad

    Can you discuss the Irish vs. English dichotomy, as the Beatles had mostly Irish Catholic working class backgrounds, while the Stones mostly English/Welch Protestant middle class backgrounds. Can you also discuss the Liverpool vs. London dichotomy – accents, access to markets/audience/influences, social class, etc.

    • Robert Thomas

      There were class conscious aspects of everything these WWII boys did, of course- how could there not have been?

      I think the Irish – English difference is more interesting. Another differentiation is the Young Male Musical Worshipfulness Orthodoxy of the period. Brian Jones was (as mentioned in this interview’s most insightful moment) a piece of work. His formidable post-adolescent worshipfulness was directed at American Blues Authenticity (a variety of worship not in short supply in the UK at the time). Lennon and McCartney admired a wider variety of American pop (Elvis Presley; Arthur Alexander; Carol King; Chet Atkins; Dave Brubeck; Meredith Wilson…) and ALSO English Music Hall and Lonnie Donegan and the Great Skiffle Orthodoxy. And the Teds and the Mods.

      Probably the greatest contrast between these groups of guys is in the ways in which the deaths of the forces of will dominating their formations – those of Brian Epstein and Brian Jones – affected their musical evolution.

      • Skip Conrad

        watch out for those Brians.

  • Douglas Sherman

    I like both bands but think that the Beatles were more creative musically. Best example is Come Together. Incredible sound. Also would appreciate to hear about any background to the song

    • Robert Thomas

      “Come Together” is a very slow-tempo re-creation of Chuck Berry’s song “You Can’t Catch Me”, with new lyrics but opening with a line from the original. There was a lawsuit filed about this in 1973 (startling in today”s world where musical samples and quotes are common) and Lennon recorded a (fine) straight version of “You Can’t Catch Me” for his _Rock ‘n’ Roll_ album in 1975.

      “Come Together, Join the Party” was a “campaign slogan” for Timothy Leary’s 1970 California gubernatorial bid.

      You can find all this easily on the net.

      “You Can’t Catch Me”:

      New Jersey Turnpike in the wee wee hours
      I was rollin’ slowly ’cause of drizzlin’ showers
      Here come a flat-top, he was movin’ up with me
      Then come wavin’ by me in a little’ old souped-up jitney

  • Mrs. Eccentric

    just listening to ‘Sympathy for the Devil” brought to mind the much more interesting and mysterious aspect to the Beatles ouevre vs. the pretty much one-dimensional head-banging songs of the Stones. Even though the lyrics say ‘…hope you guess my name’ for crying out loud it’s right there in the title (in case you’re too dumb or hammered to figure it out yourself – a little snobbery perhaps?).

    Compare that to “A Day in the Life”, “Norwegian Wood”, on and on….just one example, i’m quite interested in the occult and i didn’t even realize Aleister Crowley, The Great Beast Himself, is right there on the front of Sgt. Pepper’s until a couple of years ago! The Beatles continue to reward continued attention with furthers gems and insights even decades on. Just my take on this, it’s fun to hear all the listener’s e-mails and thoughts as well! steph

  • Valerie

    Beatles hands down better legacy. You very rarely — if ever — hear a Stones cover tune. Stones are and were very marginal musically especially after Jones was no longer in the picture. Individual members of the Beatles left way more for the common man; spiritually and politically. Stones are basically very limited on all levels while better formal education virtually no education when it come to actually considering others. Stones have consistently demonstrated distain for the common man–classic upper middle class brats.

  • Edward Sullivan

    The difference between the two bands can be summarized thusly: Turn on the Beatles for cooking; Turn on the Stones for drinking.

    • Harry

      Cooking is a slang term for having a really groovin’ beat.

    • Robert Thomas

      But for cooking, not “Yer Blues”. There’ll be blood all over the Viking.

  • Ehkzu

    I was a young adult when both bands came to the states, and loved both bands’ output. However, over the subsequent decades I got a little tired of the Beatles songs, all of which I’ve heard a zillion times, while I haven’t tired of the Stones’ songs despite similar exposure.

    It’s possible that the Beatles had greater musicianship and innovativeness. But that’s not enough in the long run. Ultimately the Stones’ music feels more authentic to me, while the Beatles’ music has a lot of aesthetic distance built into it. The Beatles are…pleasant.

  • Harry

    Re post Beatles influence: The Stones’ Start Me Up (1981) was played for years just before kickoff of most NFL games & was featured in the MS Windows 95 intro ad

  • trite

    Sexist lyrics! Look at this from the Beatles’ Run For your Life:

    I’d rather see you dead, little girl

    Than to be with another man

    You better keep your head, little girl

    Or you won’t know where I am

    You better run for your life if you can, little girl

    Hide your head in the sand little girl

    Catch you with another man

    That’s the end’a little girl

    • Harry

      There was no need to be politically correct back then

      • trite

        The point is that The Stones did not corner the market on misogynistic lyrics.

        • Robert Thomas

          Yeah, it’s a dumb idea.

    • Ehkzu

      Depiction is not the same thing as advocacy, just as correlation does not prove causation.

      • trite

        I don’t believe I suggested that it did. I was pointing out that the Beatles recorded “sexist” lyrics. Or would you not agree?

        • Roger Stewart

          Elvis did this song too

    • Chris OConnell

      That is pretty bad. Since it’s Beatles vs. Stones. I think of “Under My Thumb” as the Sontes’ version of this. Later on the Beatles said::
      “I used to be cruel to my woman
      I’d beat her and keep her apart from the things that she loved
      Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene
      And I’m doing the best that I can”

  • Triston

    The Beattles were cute, but no sex appeal, the stones, not as “attractive” but they oozed sex. I loved the Stones because they did more blues

  • Scott Vittorelli

    Ringo did not write Yellow Submarine

    • Harry

      He wrote Octopus’ Garden and Don’t Pass Me By

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Of course, the Beatles are the lovable intellectuals. They win hearts, while Jagger gets panties (from men and women) thrown at him. One notable achievement the Stones had was western twang music like ‘Wild Horses’. From ‘Dead Flowers’ to the Memory Motel, the stones did write many introspective yearning songs.
    Dead Flowers:

    • Harry

      Beatles recorded Act Naturally (a real country song) and What Goes On (Lennon–McCartney-Starkey/Rubber Soul), which has a country flair.

      • Robert Thomas

        The Beatles were originally judged by EMI A&R to be a “Country & Western group”. Listen also to “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”.

      • Fay Nissenbaum

        it’s a fine tune, Harry. Here ’tis:

  • Phil

    Is there any truth to the story that Ry Cooder did some recording with the Rolling Stones and taught Keith Richards how to play in open G tuning giving the band their characteristic “fat” guitar sound used on Brown Sugar, etc.?

    • Roger

      The album featuring Ry Cooder and Nicky Hopkins along with Mick, Charlie and Bill was “Jamming With Edward.” He also played a great slide guitar on “Memo From Turner,” from the movie “Performance” with Mick Jagger. There were other collaborations as well.

      • erictremont

        I think Cooder also performed on the “Let It Bleed” album.

  • Robert Thomas

    I remember more weighty conversations on this topic from 1970, when I was in the sixth grade.

  • Route Du Vin

    The Stones were playing catch up with with Beatles…but in the late 60’s & early 70’s no one was better on stage than the Rolling Sones. They were the iconic Rock n Roll band!

  • traduttor

    I kind of prefer The Who to both of them…..settles the debate inside my head!

  • Jim Noonan

    Keith himself said it best when he was asked who the best band in the world is/was: “It’s a different band every night.”

    That said, the Stones win easily just on longevity. Many of their best songs came after the Beatles had broken up (Exile, Sticky Fingers).

  • Chris OConnell

    There is something about the Beatles that seems almost superhuman. They are truly in a league of their own, and incomparable. They had a less than 7-year recording run that is almost incomprehensible (Feb. 1963-end of 1969).

  • Hunter Mann

    Why do so many people feel it’s necessary to compare two famous bands? This is not a high school football game folks, there is no “better” band. Today’s show reminded me of the silly topic of discussing who is “the greatest guitar player in the world.” Rockers will often say Carlos Santana, but there are hundreds of jazz & classical guitarists much better than him. Even Carlos himself would tell you who he thinks are the top ten guitarists, and I highly doubt he would include himself on that list.
    I once heard a radio interview with Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder. He was asked who his favorite band is. He said many people wrongly assume that Pearl Jam is his favorite, or some other grunge rock band from the 80’s. No way, his fave band is The Who. p.s. I highly doubt that Neil Young sits around all night listening to only Neil Young records.
    My point? Not sure, but I look forward to hearing less band comparisons on NPR, it is sooooo Rolling Stone magazine like!

    • benjamin david

      H.M. You might want to take a peak at my remarks which are different but are in a similar direction.

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