Beatles vs. Stones: The '60s Rivalry or PR Stunt?

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Beatles vs. Stones
By John McMillian
Simon & Schuster, 288 pp., $25

"The Beatles want to hold your hand, but the Stones want to burn down your town"

-- Tom Wolfe

It was a simple question, really. But one that said (or supposedly said) a lot about your taste in music, sociological outlook, personality, and even dress: Were you a Beatles fan, or a Stones fan?

Though inherently absurd, the question was something of a musical line of demarcation. Purportedly, to show a preference for the Fabs meant you liked perfectly put-together melodic pop, clean-cut harmonies, and the status quo. To prefer the Glimmer Twins meant you were dangerous, rebellious, and preferred your music with a hard, bluesy edge.

After all, while the Beatles were accepting MBEs from the Queen in their smart suits, Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham (who, ironically, had done some earlier publicity work for the Beatles) was planting attention-grabbing stories in the press about his group's bad-boy behavior, with headlines like "Would You Let Your Daughter Marry a Rolling Stone?"

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But such comparisons were fraught with inconsistencies, exaggerations, and PR stunts. In reality, it was the Beatles who had the tougher upbringings and sweaty, leather-clad past in Liverpool while the Stones grew up more posh in the suburbs of London. Mick Jagger went to the London School of Economics, fer chrissakes!

In this dual biography, McMillian (Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America) tells the stories of both bands amid their friendship, rivalries, appreciations, and jealousies with each other, along with how their music, fashion, and images would also influence each other like a back-and-forth game of hot potato.

After all, without Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, there would be no Their Satanic Majesty's Request. And without "Helter Skelter," there might not have been "Brown Sugar." And Allen Klein?

Much of the biographical detail will be familiar to even casual fans of either group. But where McMillian digs deeper is putting the groups and their music in the context of the '60s.

And while it's interesting to ponder how the groups might have continued to exist in each other's orbit had the Beatles' lasted longer (or the Stones less), ultimately, the book champions the thesis that one needn't be either "Beatles" or "Stones" exclusively. You can be both.


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