Michael is a friend of Remnants, and has categorically decided who is greater, the Beatles or the Stones.
Michael and I went to a show with Mike Meyers, the Spy Who Shagged Me, at the NY Public Library a few years ago, that tried to answer the same question.
Michael’s approach here is a little more data driven than Mike’s (and his brother’s), and at the same time just as arbitrary as everyone else’s. The problem, I think, are the categories. Deriving anything from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is bound to get you in trouble.
What are the right categories? Off the top of my head?
Best Run of Albums
I don’t know. It’s hard not to shape the questions to fit the answer you want to give, though I think the answer is the Beatles, even though the Stones are my more favorite band.
Try going with my categories and Michaels and see if you can up with different answers?
It could easily be a tie.
I read Salfino’s article yesterday. Being a Beatle fan I was happy with the result. But I never really understood the Beatles vs. Stones thing. I love them both.
My sense is that there was a natural rivalry. They both developed at the same time in the 60s, trading back and forth with songs and comparisons and hits. The Beatles were the bigger band, but the Stones were big, too. And then the Beatles went away and the Stones became the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world. And did a good job of proving it.
Mike and I went to the Michael Meyers thing and it was kind of lame, because everybody loves both bands and because Michael Meyers didn’t know as much as he should have, but it was also kind of fun, because everybody loves both bands, so it became an evaluation and appreciation of both parts.
I mean, how many totally parallel and exemplary phenomenon warrant such comparison? Roth and Updike? Mays and Mantle? Sex Pistols and Clash? Friedan and Steinem? Choose your own. In my life? It was Commander Cody and Lost Planet Airmen versus the Flying Burrito Brothers. Hmm. I bet I could get a well-trafficked story out of that.
It’s that confluence of time and power and difference of style that makes the comparison one that’s worth discussing, even if coming to a conclusion is kind of lame. That’s the part I thought Mike handled well. Beatles win, Stones are awesome (and there is another interesting comparison to be made between the Beatles eight years, and the eight years of the Stones after the Beatles broke up). Which might be the six or so greatest years of any band ever.
They are both great. I don’t have to pick one. I want to say this though: neither band was particularly innovative. Almost everything that both bands did had been done, or was being done at the same time. The Beatles were hardly the first to multitrack, and if anyone invented country-rock – besides Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis – it was Bob Dylan with John Wesley Harding, or Gram Parsons (who taught Keith quite a bit). Both bands followed the trends as well as led them. The early Beatles didn’t sound very different than The Searchers, they were just better, and they wrote their own great songs. Same thing with the Stones and, say, The Pretty Things. They were both a part of music scenes, and both of those scenes were evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The real divide was between “How Much is That Doggie in the Window” and Little Richard, not between Little Richard and The Beatles, who after all covered his songs.
And they developed along with many others. It was utterly inevitable that rocknroll would incorporate weird instruments and new studio technology, and begin borrowing from jazz and classical music and Indian music and African music. And plenty of people were doing those things at the same time or before either band. Sgt. Pepper did not kick off Psychedelia, it joined in.
So where were both bands actually innovative? With the Beatles, even their harmonies and exotic chords were not new in themselves. The boys learned their trades and applied them to rocknroll. Others, like Gene Pitney, Phil Spector, Leslie Gore, Brian Wilson, and various Motown and Atlantic and independents, were all opening up new avenues for the Big Beat. The Beatles took it and showed us how it was done. What they added was basically the whole British Isles song and singing tradition. What is actually unique about the Beatles is they were the best.
Except for possibly the Stones. What did the Stones innovate? The opening riff to “Satisfaction” for one. For guitar and hard rock that was a whole new ballgame. The guitars on “Have You Seen Your Mother ” were certainly new to me, that record mesmerized me at age 11, but the public didn’t like it so much.
Beatles win backward masking, as far as I know. And sitars. Though Brian Jones brought the same exoticism to the Stones. And you’re right, the riffs for Satisfaction, Get off of my Cloud, Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, and even Mother’s Little Helper, redefine the pop landscape. Isn’t that what we’re talking about?
An important thing to note is the context. The Beatles and Stones and everyone else was trying to win the singles charts. How do you make a chart topping single? They were trying to figure it out, not how to make enduring rock songs. Which is why the endurance of the Beatles and Stones is so notable.
No Milk Today, a Herman’s Hermits classic, is not an enduring song, though it is catchy. The Beatles and Stones endure for a reason.
Agreed, except I would say they HELPED redefine the pop landscape, mostly by virtue of being the best at what they did. I wouldn’t say that the sitar was a quantum leap. It took the place of the “mouth organ.” And after a while it seemed like George was trying to SING like a sitar. Backward masking, OK, that can still sound pretty cool, and maybe they were the first to do it, but again it’s more like food coloring than roast beef.
I read somewhere that Keith thought Satisfaction was a demo, that they would go back and change the riff into a horn section. I don’t know, they had never used a horn section before and wouldn’t again for more than a year, which was a long time in 1965.
I think the Stones did the first really long song with “Going Home.” But again, to me this is evolution not revolution. The Beatles introduced the volume pedal with “I Need You” and “Yes It Is.” A bigger innovation that I THINK belongs to the Beatles is the power chord triplet (done on an acoustic guitar!) at the beginning and throughout “Things We Said Today.” A thousand bands stole that.
Another important thing that the Beatles did was change keys from minor to major at the drop of a pick, as they do in this song. I’m sure they weren’t the first to EVER do it, but I think it was new to rocknroll (not to pop because it was fairly standard in jazz and show tunes).