It has been over 50 years since The Beatles and The Rolling Stones first hit the charts, and their stories have been told and retold in every possible way. There have been authorized biographies, unauthorized biographies, scandalous insider tell-alls, even business books about the two bands. With Beatles vs. Stones, John McMillian has done something I thought was no longer possible. He has written a book with a fresh perspective about these rock legends.
In the early ‘60s, a favorite topic of the teen magazines was to pit the two groups against each other in an endless battle of the bands. It is in tribute to those halcyon days that McMillian’s Beatles vs. Stones gets its title. Most of this type of coverage had been abandoned by the time the music got “serious,” with albums such as Revolver and Aftermath. The author’s inspired idea is to carry the notion of their “competition” all the way through, right up to the present day.
In the opening chapter, McMillian quotes Sean O’Mahoney, who published both The Beatles Monthly Book, and The Rolling Stones Book, the two band’s official fan club magazines. Many years later, O’Mahohney summed up his thoughts about the groups, “The Beatles were thugs who were put across as nice blokes, and the Rolling Stones were gentlemen who were made into thugs by Andrew [Loog Oldham].”
Although both The Beatles and the Stones took great pains to say that the “rivalry” was a press invention, it seems to have existed in many ways. As is illustrated throughout the book, the situation actually seems to have been a case of Mick Jagger coveting The Beatles position, and his desire to get the Rolling Stones to exist on their rarified level. Although McMillian takes great pains in the Introduction to claim neutrality in his reportage of the facts, he makes it pretty clear that the Stones never quite made it. They got close, and they are still together (sort of), but they never topped The Beatles.
The majority of Beatles vs. Stones takes place during the years 1963 – 1970, the period of time that the two bands were both active. There are certain stories from that period that have become part of the rock mythology, simply through repetition. The fact that they were erroneous in the first place has never seemed to enter in to it. Probably the biggest reason for a fan to buy this book is the many instances in which McMillian sets the record straight.
There were a number of surprises for me in Beatles vs. Stones, and I would hate to spoil those discoveries here in a review. In many cases, the truth is even stranger than the legend, and these are the parts that maintained my interest in the book, although it is a breezy, enjoyable read all the way through. There are also a few events that McMillian reports that I had never heard before, so it all balances out quite well. Beatles vs. Stones is a fun, and eye-opening account of those halcyon days. If you thought you knew everything there was to know about these two groups, think again. All in all, Beatles vs. Stones is one of the best rock biographies I have seen this year.