Who was better: The Beatles or Stones?

IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO Friday (6/1) Sgt. Pepper's Came Out

So I thought I'd pass along this debate from two Marquette University music experts.  Have a read and then chime in and tell us what you think. — compiled and edited by Christopher Stolarski

Beatles or Stones? The two bands from the British Invasion have been fan favorites for decades. But who was better? Who was more influential?

We turned to Marquette’s resident rock historians to debate: Bruce Cole, librarian for the Jean Cuje Milwaukee Music Collection in Raynor Memorial Libraries and longtime drummer, and Dr. Phil Naylor, professor of history, teacher of a course on the history of rock ’n’ roll and co-founder of Marquette’s own Western Civ Blues Band.

Bruce Cole: The Beatles

If the question is, “Who is the better band?” it’s difficult because they are different bands altogether.

But who has had more influence? Easy: the Beatles.

As a librarian, I can tell you that over the years, there have been thousands of books written about the Beatles and maybe a few hundred about the Rolling Stones.

Here at Marquette, for instance, we have about eight books related to the Stones and around 50 about the Beatles. Considering the Stones are still playing 50 years later and the Beatles wrapped it up in 1970, this is amazing.

The Beatles “hit” before the Stones, and in every book I’ve read and in every interview I’ve heard, fans and musicians alike generally describe the Beatles as “magical,” “different,” “amazing,” “like nothing I’ve heard before.”

The Stones, while lauded, have generally not received such descriptions. Also, if it weren’t for the Beatles setting the standard for writing their own material, the Stones might still be covering Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry.

Don’t forget: John Lennon and Paul McCartney gave the Stones I Want to be Your Man when they desperately needed a followup to their slightly successful first record (a Chuck Berry tune, of course).

The Beatles set the standard — a musical and a cultural standard — for the generations of musicians who followed. Perhaps they dropped the “roll” from rock ’n’ roll and replaced it with “pop,” combining for the first time rock and popular music in a unique fashion without losing rock’s primal, driving sound, thus paving the way for future branching genres.

Their music evolved and became more complex during the 10 years they existed as a band, but their records consistently charted in the top 10 from day one until the end. And each of them, John, Paul, Ringo and George, realized hugely successful albums of their own material in the decades to follow.

Perhaps the best example is Beatles tribute bands. As a local musician for nearly 50 years, I can tell you that Beatles bands have been many and Stones bands have been few and far between.

Variety bands today will include a Stones hit or two, but your local cover bands will have five to 10 Beatles songs ready to cover requests.

Dr. Phil Naylor: The Stones

“If you were a 60s kid, it had to be one or the other, never both: not Beatles and Stones, but Beatles vs. Stones.”

That’s what Greg Kot, a Marquette graduate and Chicago Tribune rock music critic, reflected in his book, The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ’n’ Roll Rivalry.

For many of us, the “rivalry” (actually more imagined than real — the Beatles and Stones were friends) was an existential “either/or” question dealing not only with personal choice but also self-perceived identity.

Although I dragged my Webcor tape recorder (which also served as my first amplifier) in front of the family television to tape The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, I found the group’s overwhelming popularity and commercialization alienating.

I refused to be caught up in the Beatlemania crowd like my classmates. Instead, I related more to the Dave Clark Five and eventually the Stones’ blues-based “harder” sound as I was hooked by the riffs of Satisfaction, Paint It Black and Jumping Jack Flash.

Later, Sympathy for the Devil provided a history lesson while Gimme Shelter offered apprehensive dread. When I have a stack of bluebooks to correct, I still play Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, as well as a favorite bootleg.

There is no other group, including my favorite (The Velvet Underground) that energizes me more than the Stones. I admired the band’s musicianship. I tolerated the band’s foray into glam and disco, since I knew that they would always return to a harder rock sound. Their rocking halftime performance at Super Bowl XL in 2006 surprised the vast viewing audience. Not me.

Over the years I became more appreciative of the Beatles, especially their collective courage as they transmuted from pop idols to more reflective rock ’n’ roll artists as evinced by Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Clubs Band, the White Album and Abbey Road.

For me it is no longer Beatles vs. Stones but Stones and Beatles. I appreciate each group’s discrete contributions to the history of rock ’n’ roll. They rhyme rather than rival.

I think I’ll go find my friend, Bruce Cole (also the drummer of the Western Civilization Blues Band), and listen to either the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. I’ll have him choose, because we know each group still matters.

Here's what life was like in the U.S. the day Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came out.

On the radio:

  • The number-one single was "Somethin’ Stupid" by Frank and Nancy Sinatra
  • The number-one album was More of The Monkees

The War Wagon, starring John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, was number-one at the box office. Other movies in theaters included Casino Royale (the comic spoof of James Bond starring Peter Sellers, David Niven and Woody Allen); A Guide to the Married Man (whose theme was sung by The Turtles); Two for the Road (Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney).

Bonanza was the most-watched series on TV. Highlights on this night: The Wild Wild West and Hogan's Heroes on CBS; The Time Tunnel and The Avengers on ABC; Tarzan and Laredo on NBC.

American jets attack the North Vietnamese port of Cam Pha while cannon fire strikes a Soviet ship in the harbor.

A battle on the Israel-Syria border leaves three soldiers dead, two from Israel, the other from Syria.

West Germany holds a ceremony honoring the U.S. for the 20th anniversary of the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild much of Europe.

Three days of rioting begin in Boston's predominantly black Roxbury neighborhood. 70 people are injured and 100 arrested with millions of dollars in property damage before order is restored.

Federal officials ordered any TV or radio station that airs cigarette commercial to also run anti-smoking messages.

In baseball, the Detroit Tigers were leading the American League, the Cincinnati Reds were on top of the National League.

  • The federal minimum wage was $1.40 an hour.
  • Gasoline averaged 33 cents a gallon.
  • Average price of a new house was $15,000.
  • Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States.

Gregory Jon

Gregory Jon

Gregory Jon has been a big part of the Milwaukee radio scene since 1991. Read more


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