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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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Three subjects are not conducive for polite dinner conversation: politics, religion, and who is the better band: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Virtually no music fan holds a neutral opinion on this issue — in fact, it has been dubbed the ultimate rock smackdown. Chicago-based music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, cohosts of NPR’s Sound Opinions, enter the debate with The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, a coffee table book filled with photos, lists, and conversations discussing various aspects of the bands.

Each chapter focuses on different topics, such as vocalists, drummers, and The Beatlesguitarists. Other hot button issues include comparing the double albums (The White Album vs. Exile on Main St.), and debating which band best incorporated psychedelic elements in their music. Interspersed with the discussions, which are presented in transcription format, are fun lists that rank George Harrison’s best guitar solos, the groups’ best movies, Brian Jones’ best performances, and the bands’ most notorious scandals. Two fold-out pages provide a timeline of noteworthy Beatles and Stones events, but also include major news of each year. Full-color photographs adorn the pages; while some pictures have been reprinted many times, some rare photos emerge, such as images of John Lennon and Paul McCartney jamming between takes on the Help! set.

In his introduction, DeRogatis states that the book may entice readers to “curse one or the other of us as you consider hurling the book across the room.” Their often controversial conclusions definitely achieve that goal, as fans on both sides will find some of their statements outrageous. For example, DeRogatis posits that The Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties’ Request tops The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; Kot humorously responds by saying “I’d have to say you’re nuts.” Readers may find Kot’s description of the Stones as “the first postmodern blues or roots-rock band” dubious, as Kot and DeRogatis suggest that Mick Jagger’s vocals on blues like “Shake Your Hips” or country songs like “Dead Flowers” are self aware. In other words, Jagger knew he came from an upper-class British family, and so he delivers over-the-top performances to parody himself singing these gritty tracks. However, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones grew up on American blues and R&B, and both groups covered such artists as Smokey Robinson, Arthur Alexander, and Muddy Waters quite reverently. Suggesting that Jagger is “sneering at those styles and the originators of those sounds” seems far-fetched.

The Rolling StonesDeRogatis demonstrates a distinctly anti-McCartney bias, as he dismisses such tracks as “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” “Martha My Dear,” and “I Will” as lightweight fare. He also claims that “Oh Darling!,” (a tune that Lennon liked so much that he expressed regret that he did not sing lead on it) “just sucks.” Watch the book get hurled across the room! But both critics give just due to Brian Jones, a multi-instrumentalist who many consider the heart of the Stones. They also credit guitarist Mick Taylor with ushering in a creative renaissance for the group, with his guitar solo on “Honky Tonk Women” kicking off their most acclaimed period. Similarly, Ringo Starr receives just praise from DeRogatis and Kot, with the latter stating that Starr “wasn’t just playing the drums — he was orchestrating the emotions.”

Each chapter reaches a different conclusion — some end with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in a tie. Reading The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones is an interactive experience, as readers will find themselves arguing with various points, perhaps listening again to the albums and stellar songs from each band. The ultimate rock smackdown may provoke deep emotion, but DeRogatis and Kot’s book provides some interesting talking points if one chooses to participate in the controversial debate. At the very least, The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones prompts readers to reconsider — or reaffirm — their opinions of each band. Just expect dents in the wall from throwing the book against it in frustration.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • zoyelque

    @Don,There’s no cliches with the Beatles,they still are the greatest band in history period.

  • Don

    Beatles fans really are insufferable! Full of glib cliches and overstatements. Bit like their band, really…

  • No, I’ll have to check it out. It may have been DeRogatis and Kot’s regular NPR show “Sound Opinions.”

  • Joann

    I think NPR had a segment on this topic–or book–in the last week. Did anyone catch it?

  • Both bands had their moments, but both are also massively over-rated, except amongst people of a certain age, who really need to get over themselves…

  • BTW…
    I’d probably go with the Beatles because of the impact they had and still have… and they are not playing shows.

    The Stones maybe well known this day to young people, but that is because they are still playing and promoting… if the Beatles were doing that… imagine!!!

  • Well… this is a hotbed to say the least. The safe thing to say is that compare apples to oranges… they are both great in their own way. Beatles are the songwriters of the era, and the Stones are the image of the era… both have them, but one edges out the other. Beyond that… I could make an argument for both on any topic!
    Beatles had more hits and the Stones have the longevity.

    This Day in ROCK

  • Joe

    It’s simple, really.

    The Rolling Stones were a great band, especially in their heyday.

    The Beatles are and were the greatest band, ever.

  • steve hodges

    the rolling stones were ok a pretty good band.not much writing talent but they were better than most in the second tier of bands from england but to even try to write this comparison shows the author was only in it for the money..the stones were NEVER in the same league as The Beatles..not in position, power,talent,musical skills…everything the stones did was whatever The Beatles had already done 6 months earlier.thats the way it was and still is.its a fact of history…not even close..

  • It has to be the Beatles. The Stones were a great band, but the Beatles were the four lads who shook the world. Nothing was the same after them. Nothing. Their impact is still being felt. Stones fans have every reason to love their band, but everyone knows it’s the Beatles. Let it be!!

  • Beth Ann

    I love the idea that this topic is as divisive as politics and religion. There’s something about those Stones fans I just don’t trust.

  • The Caffeine-Free Herbal Infusion Party

    No question on this one … the Beatles broke the ground, the Stones followed in their wake. For raw rock’n’roll power, I’d go the Stones (40 years later, they’re still getting young kids going at parties).

    For sheer musical brilliance, it has to be the Beatles.

    It seems to me that that’s how they’re remembered, too.

    It did annoye me when I was young was that my parents quite liked the Beatles, and actually layed quite a lot of their early records, but not the Stones at the time they first hit their straps.

    My father’s view was that they were “dirty”. My mother said she liked Mick Jagger but not the rest.

    Eventually, when the Beatles started to experiment with mood-altering chemicals, they decided they didn’t like them either. And what a relief that was.

    They were suddenly cool again.

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    And we liked it that way! Hey – you kids get off my lawn!

  • Don Knutsen

    Well, in the first place there wasn’t a rivalry between the Beatles and the Stones. The Beatles started earlier, proved their worth before the Stones were even on the radar. They were friends behind all the hoopla and even collaborated attimes. Jonh came in to sing and help with We Love You on His Satanic Majestie’s request and Paul & John even handed them one of their earlier hits. Suffice to say taht so much of our modern music would’ve gone in different directions without both of these groups. The lead in to this article implies that Paul Revere and the Raiders were in the comparison. Hardly a serious comparison there I’d say. The stones can safely lay claim to the greatest Rock & Roll band by virtue of their longevity alone. They are still the best rock show avail, masters at what they do. As far as song writing ? thats a nuch harder comparison to make. I loved them both and still do. When I read smarmy comments from people too young to have been there, I feel sorry for them, it was a time when music stood up on its own, before the days of video’s and all the other crap that dilutes whats taken for modern music these days, techno-crap as far as I’m concerned that won’t last the test of time at all in comparison to these two groups.

  • Thanks, Gordon! Yes, Beatles vs. Stones debates can get pretty ugly! Gee, I can’t figure out which side you were on… 🙂

  • My brother and I grew up sharing the same room but holding allegiances to different sides of the rivalry. Suffice it to say that we would indeed be “hurling the book across the room” – especially during the defining battle between Sgt. Pepper and the sub-par Pepper wannabe Their Satanic Majesties’ Request. (Guess what side I was on).

    Thanks for the fun, well-written review, Kit.