LEGENDARY MUSICAL RIVALRY
History has shown us that the advent, acceptance, and subsequent proliferation of Rock and Roll Music has been a magical circumstance which has manifested a wealth of innovative artistic expression. It has given birth to a litany of counter-culture notions previously unexplored, and released pop cultural expression and dynamism. However, rock music is more than just a music genre that feeds revolutionary spirit. It’s bigger than that. It’s a form of expression that has influenced, molded, and changed the lives and influenced the souls of untold millions over multiple decades. Indeed, across the universe of music fans, from the casual listener, to the fanatically ardent, they all share in the universal understanding that rock and roll music has deep existential power. The fact that rock and roll music has been the steady life companion of millions of human beings around the earth, is proof of it’s unshakeable fidelity.
There is a simple saying regarding the power of music that speaks to a titanic truth. It was coined by the late great Dick Clark (American Bandstand / New Years Rockin Eve) and it goes as follows, “Music is the soundtrack of our lives.” Admittedly, on its face that quote might be mistaken as trite, even presumptuous, however, not only has this notion shown remarkable longevity, it has been reinforced by the truthful tenor of its cultural relevance over time. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the fanaticism involved with music appreciation, is often imbued with deep-rooted passions that run soul deep. Indeed, the enchantment of music is a personal experience. Music fans proudly represent their favorite genres, they support the bands that create them, and occasionally engage in hero-worship of the musicians that populate them. The natural rivalries that manifest represent a significant portion of the music experience, and serves as part of its enduring quality…
The musical rivalry between legendary groups The Rolling Stones and The Beatles has existed virtually since the clock struck midnight on jump street circa the mid 1960’s. It seems that these two bands were destined to have what would appear to be a naturally occurring rivalry. Interestingly, this is a rivalry conjured, created, and engaged in strictly among their fans. Both bands have monumental legions of fans that span 50 (+) years. This is of course, for reasons understandable to anyone who can appreciate just how influential and culturally consequential their musical legacy demands. In short, it can easily be argued that The Beatles were the greatest band in the storied, and illustrious history of rock music. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a true Beatles fan who wouldn’t stand by that assertion. Especially, if it the discussion was framed as an ‘A’ or ‘B’ question, with choice ‘B’ being … ‘The Rolling Stones’.
The Beatles George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon
The Rolling Stones Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, C. Watts
It would likely be a bridge too far to suggest that ‘Beatles fan‘ and ‘Stones fan’ actually hate each other. Frankly, I would be getting out over my ski’s to suggest that this rivalry has metastasized to the point of reaching critical mass, because honestly, it hasn’t. However, what I can state with full confidence and bedrock sincerity, is that there are three kinds of classic rock fans … ‘Casual music people’, ‘Beatles people’ and ‘Stones people’. The casual fan enjoys both bands equally and think this rivalry is dumb. However, the vast majority of the remaining two factions have long ago dug their respective foxholes. Although fans from both sides can appreciate and even really love one, three, or even 6 songs from the band on either side of the aisle, when push comes to shove (figuratively) neither fandom community will ever concede that the other band is the ‘Greatest of All-Time’. The best that ‘other band’ could ever do is #2.
COMMERCIAL TALE OF THE TAPE
OPENING ARGUMENTS: THE BEATLES
A. The Beatles stand as the most commercially successful rock band in the history of music. Full stop. Since 1960, and as of 2013, it is estimated that the Beatles have sold in excess of 800 million albums (digital/physical).
B. The Beatles hold the #1 Ranking by Rolling Stone Magazine as the Greatest Rock Music Act /Artists/Group of All-Time.
Upon comparative consideration of these bands, it immediately becomes clear that on paper, these two bands share significantly more in common than the masses of their largely partisan fans might be willing to concede. Both the Beatles and the Stones originate from your majesty’s Great Britain. Although their sounds are excellent, they are certainly divergent, yet the musical influences of their formative youth were virtually identical. Specifically, 1950’s American Rock & Roll … via vinyl/wax albums and those 45’s complete with plastic inner tab accessory.
Both bands covered early ‘taboo rock acts’ the likes of the great Chuck Berry, and to a lesser degree Jerry Lee Lewis, and later a bit of James Brown (to the extent that James Brown could be accurately covered). Beyond that however, their similarities hit a steep incline.
Perhaps what affords the Beatles the incredible gravity of reverence, and musical respect is quite simply the fact that they blazed musical trails. The Beatles were always at the vanguard of rock music. With each successive album they were not afraid to experiment with exotic sounds and methods of delivery. They embraced the kinds of challenges that might have doomed bands of lesser talent, ability, and drive. To their eternal credit, they had the ‘midas touch’ for popular rock music. This fact never did change, nor dd they ever experience anything resembling a commercial ‘fall off’.
The worst that the Beatles can claim over the course of their 10-11 year run, was that they experienced a slight ‘leveling off’ commercially speaking, particularly after they stopped touring. To make the assertion that The Beatles were a global phenomenon is the textbook definition of an understatement. The Beatles changed how we listened to music, reshaped the tone and tenor of the existing music of the time, and influenced the future of music for good measure.
The term and concept of ‘Beatlemania’ cannot be overstated in terms of its global impact and remarkable reach, this is in addition to the previously unseen mania that this band would illicit … everywhere they went, and in every corner of the globe. In fact, in order for the ‘Elvis’ craze to compete, you’d need to multiply him by a factor of at least 10. The transcendent level and observable spectacle of ‘Beatlemania’ was perhaps best witnessed on February 7th of 1964. On that day the Beatles departed from London’s Heathrow Airport (reportedly with a group of fans in excess of 4,000 there to send them off). From the moment they landed at JFK Airport in New York City, it was every measure of pandemonium. In fact, there were over 3,000 screaming fans at JFK simply to witness the Beatles exit an airplane.
Two days later on February 9th 1964, the Beatles gave their first live performance on American television when they appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’. This episode of ‘Ed Sullivan’ would become a historic bench mark for television ratings. Specifically, because the Beatles attracted approximately 75 million American viewers across 23 million homes. Another way of conceptualizing that is 35% of America’s population were tuned in to witness the Beatles that night.
As a matter of factual record, the Beatles phenomenon had its beginnings in 1963. This legendary musical quartet dominated the world of popular rock music for the balance of the 1960’s. It was a steak of critical and commercial success that remains virtually unparalleled not only in the history of rock and roll music, but in the history of recorded music at large. The band retired from live performances and touring in 1966. Nevertheless, their albums continued to sell in record numbers.
Closing Argument: The Unparalleled Excellence of The Beatles
Over the course of their legendary run through music history, the Beatles trophy mantle is as vast as it is breathtakingly impressive. The Beatles were awarded with (7) Grammy Awards. (15) Ivor Novello Awards. The sheer volume of the Beatles albums sales include numbers that are so extraordinary, that they virtually border on thoughts of the absurd, if not the cartoonish. The Beatles have no less than (24) RIAA Certified Multi-Platinum Albums. (39) RIAA Certified Platinum Albums. (6) RIAA Certified Diamond Albums. (45) RIAA Certified Gold Albums. (Diamond’ Level Sales = 10 Million (+) Units sold)
The Beatles ‘White Album‘ was released on November 22nd 1968
In addition, and not surprisingly, the Beatles also dominated Europe as well as their nation of origin, the United Kingdom, where they achieved Four (4) Multi-Platinum Albums. Four (4) Platinum Albums. Eight (8) Gold Albums. One (1) Silver Album.
Any reasonably thoughtful music fan would certainly land safely within the borders sanity in voting for The Beatles as the Greatest Band of All-Time. Indeed, inconsideration of virtually every observable metric by which we judge rock and roll bands, The Beatles meet, and easily far exceed the mean/average. However, if there must be a criticism asserted, then perhaps the fact that 10-11 years of activity does not speak to exceptional longevity, comparatively speaking.
OPENING ARGUMENTS : THE ROLLING STONES
The Rolling Stones circa 1972
Throughout the vast majority of the 1960’s, The Rolling Stones, were a significant force, and for a time at the musical forefront during the so-called ‘British Invasion’ that proliferated during the decade. In fact, for successive annual stretches, the Rolling Stones were every bit as pop culture relevant as the Beatles. Specifically. very popular among the more committed members of the hard-core counter-culture movement. During other moments they were either in lock step, or right behind the Beatles in terms of influence and popularity. Moreover, the Rolling Stones began an extraordinary run of productivity and commercial success, which saw them swiftly release 4 studio albums during a period of 4 years (1968-1972). This period is widely considered by most rock music observers, not only as their prime years, but also contains the greatest work product examples of the Rolling Stone sound during their ‘Golden Age‘. Indeed, the Stones experienced a legendary run of commercial success that began with the release of ‘Beggars Banquet’ on December 6th of 1968, and continued on through the release of ‘Exile on Main’ on May 12th of 1972, along with hit albums ‘Let it Bleed’ (1969), and ‘Sticky Fingers’ (1971), to fill out the catalog.
During this remarkable period of time, The Rolling Stones could do no wrong. To many observers, it was during this run that the Stones had finally, officially supplanted the king’s of rock and roll, the Beatles. For their part, the Beatles had stopped touring and doing live shows (1966), and by the end of 1970, the Beatles were no longer a band, period. It was at this time that fans and critics alike started calling the Rolling Stones ‘The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World’. So, if any of our readers were wondering about the how’s and why’s regarding the genesis of the rivalry-saga between the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, I would submit that since the 1960’s they were purposely managed and marketed as the anti-Beatles, while the Beatles were rolling through the world of music as if walking on water. Then in the years between 1968 and 1972, the Rolling Stones, learned the magic involved with the musical midas touch. In fact, the Stones 4 year run, which followed the Beatles incredible run, would manifest as the Rolling Stones musical rendition of The Empire Strikes Back’.
The Rolling Stones circa 1965
It has been expressed that the Rolling Stones worked just as hard as they played. That the Rolling Stones stayed rooted in the spirit and soul of their sound. A sound which was saturated, to the point of maximum humidity, with electrified rhythm and blues, while being masterfully laced with transitions of mellowed out, deep, and recognizable soul. This is a valid assertion to submit because history has shown us that it was during this run, that the Stones ‘absolutely killed it’. In fact their level of productivity, and quality of music, was rumored to have a ‘voodoo’, albeit, magical feel to it. Rumored to exist as an analogy of the fabled Disney character, ‘Rapunzel’ (a girl who could spin common hair into valuable gold).
‘Sticky Fingers’ Album 1971
Leaving their outsized 1970’s success to history, the Stones sailed into the decade of the 1980’s, now veterans of over 20 years of music creation, touring, and fame, it would be safe to assert that they were also leaving their prime musical years. That said, the Stones kept plugging away, until a band feud broke up the band for a 4-5 year period during the mid-1980’s. Then in 1989, they reunited and released the album ‘Steel Wheels’, which was a runaway hit, but not possessed of the transcendent quality of their 1970’s work. Nevertheless, the ‘Steel Wheels’ tour went on to become, for a time, among the most successful concert tour in the history of rock and roll music.
Closing Arguments: The Gravitational Effects of Gravity on Longevity & Legacy
To date the Rolling Stones have tallied record sales of approximately 250 million units. The Stones have enjoyed the historically rare blessing of longevity, having maintained relevancy, even during down years, and over 5decades in the game (Celebrated 50 years as a band in 2012). It would be near impossible to ignore the magnitude, raw attitude, and transcendent rock and roll guitar riff contained in what is arguably their signature hit single: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)
To date the Stones have released (120) Singles. (8) #1 Singles. (23) Top 10 Singles. (30) Studio Albums. Additionally, (23) Live/Concert Albums. The Stones went through a stretch in which they achieved an extraordinary (5) Consecutive #1 Albums in the United Kingdom, followed by a mind-blowing (8) Consecutive #1 Studio Albums in the United States.
As of 2008, the Stones held a ranking of #10 All-Time on Billboard Magazine’s Top 100 Artists list.
OfficialCharts.com, has ranked the Rolling Stones as the #4 Bestselling Rock Band of All-Time. The Rolling Stones have orchestrated 48 successful tours, of which three hold the distinction of being among the highest-grossing tours in history: ‘Bridges to Babylon’, ‘Voodoo Lounge’, and ‘A Bigger Bang’.
In 2013, Rolling Stone Magazine declared the ‘Rolling Stones’ as the “Most Definitive Band that Rock and Roll has ever produced”
In 1989 the Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2004 they were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. Lastly, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the Stones #4 of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”
VERDICT / SUMMARY
In all honesty the process and/or mental anguish involved with picking one of these bands over the other … frankly, doesn’t quite seem either fair, nor worth the required effort. At the end of the day, as with the vast majority of issues and concepts that this life is made of, most, if not all are driven by individual preference and taste.
It’s largely a subjective call that doesn’t carry any more weight or significance than the woman who prefers a ‘Tall, dark & handsome’ man, or the discerning ‘Gentleman who prefers blondes’. So, that’s the editorial moral of this particular story.
I’m willing to wager that although there will undoubtedly be those who do not agree with my final assessment, at all, and there will be those who will label me as ‘squishy’ for not choosing a side, my wager is that the overwhelming majority of people will understand the point I made about subjective reality. In this case the only reality that maters was that both of these bands have made the world that much better for untold millions, myself included, to have been witness.