When I think of the Beatles, what automatically comes to mind is the black-and-white Beatles’ performances on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” four stiff-legged, sharply pressed, mopped-topped teenagers who looked as frightened of the audience as they were surprised by the attention they were getting.
When I think of the Rolling Stones, I see a psychedelic, multicolored stage with sweater-clad musicians, Mick Jaggar doing his “walking on hot coals”-style of a dance with hair a mess, and Keith Richards with a perpetual smoking cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
There are obviously many parallels between the two bands. Both came from England, both came out in the early ’60s, both were part of the “British Invasion” of bands coming to America, both were brought up on American record albums and both changed the direction of American music history.
And as much as we know about these two iconic forces in music, there are a few interesting things about them I recently learned.
Greg Kot, the rock critic from the Chicago Tribune, and Jim DeRogatis, rock critic from the Chicago Sun-Times, co-host a hugely popular National Public Radio show called “SoundOpinions.” They brought their live, onstage debate presentation to my live venue, “Evanston Rocks.” The topic? “Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry,” which also happens to be the title of their best-selling book. It was a fabulous retrospective, and really got me thinking.
First of all, they pointed out the fact that the Beatles were a hard-edged group of relative troublemakers, started by Paul McCartney and John Lennon in school. But as their manager, Brian Epstein, prepared the boys for national touring with the promise of getting them to the states, he got them unique but similar haircuts, put them in respectable suits and cleaned up their act. The Beatles were actually “bad boys” in the beginning, but were packaged as clean-cut pop stars.
The Stones, on the other hand, were art students and more scholarly musically. They were already clean-cut and were huge fans of Chicago Blues. Their manager, Andrew Oldham, was a teenager himself. His strategy was to make the band “anti-Beatles” — rough, raw, and full of trouble. He would regularly use the question, “Would you let your sister go with a Rolling Stone?” as part of his advertising message.
After a long drive with the group, Oldham would pull over so they could relieve themselves on the side of a road. Then Oldham actually called the police on his own band just so they would get into “local” trouble, perpetuating the “bad boy” image!
So, the consensus seems to be the Beatles are more of a “pop” band and the Stones are more of a “rock” band. The irony is that both bands started as one thing, and had to transform into something else.
I personally am more of a Beatles fan. I love the Stones, don’t get me wrong. But the Beatles for me represent more of a pioneering band when it comes to American rock ‘n’ roll. And I know the solo careers of George Harrison, Paul, John and even Ringo Starr are tainting my preference a bit.
The Stones will always be a band, a huge “Rock Band.” The Beatles were only around about 10 years as a band. It is utterly amazing that the Rolling Stones are still at it, performing live shows to millions of people. But then again, so is Paul McCartney!
Beatles vs. Rolling Stones … you decide.
I can tell you, they will probably be around longer than any of us. I could say they are ageless, but as I looked at a recent picture of Mick and Keith, thank God their vocal chords and guitar fingers are what count.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.