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 guitarists. 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.
DeRogatis 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.Powered by Sidelines