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.