The Beatles versus the Rolling Stones

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Here’s something I wrote for my wife when she was fighting off some idiotic Stones lovers at work a year or so ago. I said in my “Satisfaction” post that I’d address why I don’t think the Stones are all that, so I thought rather than rewrite it, I’d just steal old material from myself.

Ask yourself this question: If either the Beatles or the Rolling Stones never existed, which would have the greatest impact on music? Had the Beatles not existed, the British Invasion would still have happened, but with one significant difference: Most bands would still primarily perform other people’s songs. The Beatles earliest contribution is simply that they did what Buddy Holly died too early to do: They made the songwriter and performer one. The Stones would still be a cover band if the Beatles hadn’t opened that door (although I’m not sure that would be such a bad thing). The Beatles more evident contribution came later as they turned rock n roll (a short and limited phase in music history) into ROCK. They expanded the boundaries with alternative instrumentation, creative production techniques, and a great variety of influences. Prior to Revolver, most rock n roll bands were simply playing a simple amalgamation of C&W and R&B that varied little from the records released in the mid 50s. The Stones never strayed far from this while the Beatles incorporated into this Indian, classical, cabaret, even ska at times. It elevated their music from the limited rock n roll that preceded them to a broad expansive art form. On the other hand, the Stones had only limited success when they got away from basic blues. While the Beatles took all these disparate influences and created cohesive albums, the Stones at best created cohesive songs (and not in a consistent manner). The only time the Stones could be relied on was when they stuck to the simple blues that they knew well.

To return to my initial question, the answer should be obvious. If there hadn’t been a Beatles, Rock may not have even happened, because simple blues-based rock n roll would have died for it’s inability to re-invent itself. If there had been no Rolling Stones, blues based rock would still exist, because the Yardbirds did it better and they gave us three of the real bastions of blues rock in Clapton, Beck and Page. Of course the Stones did set a standard for drugs and debauchery, but Led Zeppelin soon rewrote that standard without any influence from the Stones.

To those of you who would argue that the Stones are better simply because they’ve continued on 30 some years past the Beatles, I would reply simply that quantity is no substitute for quality. The Rolling Stones did put out a decent amount of good (not great) material in the 60s and most of that can be heard on the Hot Rocks best-of album. In the last 30 years though, the Stones have released very little that is better than bar-band quality music and even bar-bands can get a decent song or two out over time (see J Geils or 38 Special or Ratt or any other of a huge number of one- and two-hit wonders). This is exemplified in what are three of the best anthology records ever: the Beatles 1962-66, 1967-70 and the Rolling Stones Hot Rocks. While Hot Rocks will give you just about every important Stones song on two records, the four albums of 1962-66 and 1967-70 don’t even scratch the surface of the Beatles. You can get pretty much all the Stones you need on a single two-album set and there are NO must-buy regular-release Stones albums. However, the Beatles best-ofs are only a starting point. Their list of must-owns includes: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt Pepper, White Album, Abbey Road. These are absolute musts. They are earth-shaking albums that have few if any rivals anywhere. Beyond these, there are still plenty of Beatles albums that should be owned ahead of any Stones albums.

Just remember, without the Beatles, there would still have been a Rolling Stones, but they would have been long forgotten. Many of the Beatles contributions would likely not have come from any other source. Any of the Stones contributions (few as they are) can be reasonably attributed to other bands in their absence. You can like listening to the Stones more than Beatles. As misguided as I think that is, it is your opinion. However, the question of who is really the better band goes well beyond unsubstantiated opinion. The Beatles ARE better than the Rolling Stones. It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. It’s not the result of a public opinion poll, but the result of history.

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

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