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Book Review: The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Rivalry by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot

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Voyageur Press editor Dennis Pernu had a simple, yet novel, idea: hire two experienced rock critics to compare and contrast the two biggest bands in popular music history. The results would take the form of a spirited conversation, debating which band had the edge in a variety of categories. Were The Rolling Stones more capable musicians than The Beatles? Which band spawned the more interesting controversies? The transcribed dialogue, illustrated by a generous selection of photographs, was published as a hardcover coffee table book.

What I like most about The Beatles vs.The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Rivalry is that co-authors Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot each have respect and appreciation for both bands. The book doesn’t pit one rabid fan of each band against each other. DeRogatis and Kot make it clear from the start that they approached this project with the utmost respect for both bands. Obviously having devoted many hours listening to the music of each, they enthusiastically argue the bands’ respective strengths and weaknesses in an even-handed manner.

Individual chapters are fairly specific in terms of focus. There is a chapter devoted to the songwriting teams, pitting Mick Jagger and Keith Richards against John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Their relative skill as lead and harmony vocalists is examined as well. The instrumental elements of each band, such the drumming of Charlie Watts versus that of Ringo Starr, have designated chapters. A lively debate concerning each band’s double album, the Beatles’ self-titled “White Album” and the Stones’ Exile On Main St., makes for a lively section. DeRogatis and Kot decide in favor of one band or the other at each chapter’s conclusion. Sometimes the result is a draw.

Giving away who wins in each category would spoil the fun, but it’s safe to say the authors are usually quite diplomatic. Fans on either side of the fence will have plenty to debate amongst themselves. Does the Abbey Road song “Oh! Darling” really “suck,” as DeRogatis asserts? I’d say McCartney’s powerhouse vocal makes it more than worthy. Did 1978’s Some Girls mark the final great album statement by the Stones, as Kot concludes? There are quite a few Stones fans that would make a convincing case for 1981’s Tattoo You. That’s the kind of ammunition the book provides fans of both groups with, as they are bound to agree with certain points while taking issue with others.

Of course The Rolling Stones’ longevity makes the discussion a bit lopsided. In the authors’ view the Stones’ prime period ended in 1978, with highlights occurring sporadically thereafter. Having split in 1970, The Beatles have far fewer active years, making post-1970 comparison impossible. The solo careers of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison are taken into consideration late in the book. However, it remains highly speculative what they would’ve been doing collectively had The Beatles stayed together. A sidebar listing highlights of each solo career is impressively unpredictable. Lennon’s “Imagine” is boldly dismissed as “hippie hokum,” while McCartney is praised highly for his work from 2005 onward.

Although cultural influence is definitely part of the discussion, DeRogatis and Kot focus primarily on the music. Since neither author is quite old enough to have been a fan during the ’60s, their debate is clear-eyed and free of easy nostalgia. The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Rivalry will likely inspire many readers to give a fresh listen to albums they haven’t played in ages.

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About The Other Chad

Hi, I'm Chaz Lipp. An old co-worker of mine thought my name was Chad. Since we had two Chads working there at the time, I was "The Other Chad."
  • http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com Tom Degan

    Were we to do a reality show on Keith Richards, it would have to be called, “Survivor”. The fact that the guy still has a pulse is a testament to something, What that something is I’m not quite sure.

    With all due respect to the man, it has to be conceded that the Stones died decades ago. For the last twenty years they have been merely a “nostalgia band”, nothing more. The last great new tune I can remember from them was “Harlem Shuffle”. That was back in the eighties. I can’t think of anything since then. Nothing.

    They should have followed the example of the Beatles. The Fabs broke up in 1970 leaving the public wanting more. Begging for more in fact. The Rolling Stones just faded away. Sad.

    Tom Degan

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    Umm, I rather thought that “Harlem Shuffle” was a cover version, not a “great new tune” by the Stones.

    As to the premise of this article, were The Beatles a rock band? I tend to think not, which makes this book’s reason for existing fairly superfluous.

    Both bands produced some great music and some utter dreck but have both been left behind now.

    I almost never listen to The Beatles these days whereas The Stones tend to get played most months, especially classic stuff like “Sticky Fingers”, which is arguably one of the greatest albums ever.

    To my taste The Beatles peaked early in their career and then got worse, producing almost as much dreck as gold; The Stones continued making great music well into the 70s and even had some good new stuff in the 80s.

    Mind you, there is much more creative and exciting new music around these days thankfully.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/the-other-chad/ The Other Chad

    Christopher – the book is a comparison of two bands. Never mind the genre. They happen to have both been considered pioneering/leading bands during the time period very generally labeled “the rock era.”

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    Chad, I’ve never heard of the that time being referred to as the “rock era”, so I would consider that assertion as flawed as your idea that “Harlem Shuffle” is a Stones song.

    It is true that there was a certain rivalry between the bands but as I remember things it was largely a media notion rather than a genuine rivalry.

    They were indeed both pioneering bands for a few years…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/the-other-chad/ The Other Chad

    It wasn’t my idea to call “Harlem Shuffle” a Stones song. That was Tom Degan, comment 1.

    As for the “rock era”…you must not pay very much attention to writing/critique of popular music if you haven’t heard that term.

    Type “the rock era” into google and you will see many references by many people to the time period beginning circa 1955 to present.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    Chad, sorry, it was indeed Tom’s mistake, not yours.

    And, no, I don’t pay much attention to “writing/critique of popular music” as most such writing is lazy and banal, particularly these days.

    This is evidenced by your own last sentence because the “rock era” certainly didn’t begin in the 50s; that was rock’n’roll, a very different kind of music altogether.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/the-other-chad/ The Other Chad

    haha, oh boy…

    Are you truly missing my point or just trying to wind me up?

    I didn’t say the rock era began in 1955. I didn’t coin the term “the rock era,” nor claim to be able to definitively say what it represents.

    As I said previously – that very loose, general label has been applied to that time period by a great many commentators.

    This book I’ve reviewed calls it the “great rock’n’roll rivalry” – which led you to question whether the Beatles were rock band. To which I said, never mind the genre – the book compares two bands whose peak years roughly coincided with each other. Those years fall within a very broad time period commonly referred to as…”the rock era.”

    By the way – rock and rock’n’roll are a “very different kind of music altogether? I beg to differ. European classical music is very different from jazz. Rock and rock’n’roll have more similarities than differences.

  • REMF(MCH)

    Chris, Chad;

    You’re both wrong – the correct nomenclature was “Boogie Woogie” (with a soft “g”).

  • zingzing

    chris, you’re a heretic. although i must confess that i’ve been more into the early beatles rather than the late beatles as of late (like the past decade or so). their late stuff, no matter how technically (despite the ridiculously lo-fi conditions they recorded in for much of their career) awesome and thematically profound they are, lacks the fucking rush of their early stuff.

    fuck it, plastic ono band (the band and the albumS) has all the profundity AND the rush.

    but i must ask… why do you say the beatles aren’t a rock band? do you mean they’re a pop band? (and really, who cares?)

  • Nelson

    The Beatles were more innovative and influential on how you record music, songwriting etc. Even the early Beatles with their chord progression and amazing harmnonies made them sound different than early rock and roll. The Rolling Stones were more of a copycat band to be honest.