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Beatles vs. Stones: Whose side are you on?

By Bo Emerson
Cox Newspapers

ATLANTA To modern ears the Beatles and the Rolling Stones might seem like two sides of the same coin, the twin prongs of a British Invasion pincer attack.

But there was a time when the media and music fans used the Beatles and the Stones as a sorting hat to pigeonhole musical tastes.

If you fell in the Beatles camp you wanted music that was poppy, clean and harmonically sophisticated. You were a Stones follower? You loved blues, roots and the scruffy side.

While the Beatles played command performances for the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, the Stones were being arrested for public urination at a gas station.

“They are no longer considered dangerous, but young people forget how much the Stones were considered enemies of society,” said John McMillian, author of “Beatles vs. Stones,” a literate look at this Great Divide.

“Parents, especially in England, loathed the Rolling Stones.”

McMillian is a scholar of the ’60s underground press and assistant professor of history at Georgia State University.

To Nashville musician Bobby Bare Jr., the Stones are just a better party.

“In college I was more of a Who fan and an Elton John guy; it wasn’t until I started to play out that I found out that performing (Stones songs) is a lot more fun than just listening to them,” Bare said.

Plus, he added, the Stones have withstood the test of time, while the Beatles checked out early, never touring after 1966 and breaking up in 1970.

“We will never find out what the disco Beatles would have sounded like,” he said.

The conventional wisdom, that the Beatles were safe as houses and the Stones were juvenile delinquents, was off the mark, McMillian points out, since it was the Beatles who in general came from the working class and the Stones who were the well-educated toffs. Of course, each group had a hand in the making of these images.

He quotes Sean O’Mahony, who once published fan magazines for both bands, saying “The Beatles were thugs who were put across as nice blokes, and the Rolling Stones were gentlemen who were made into thugs.”

McMillian, 43, saw the Stones perform in 1994 during their Voodoo Lounge tour. He was studying for a master’s degree in history at Michigan State University, and remembers he spent $100 on the ticket. “That seemed astonishing at the time, it seemed a huge amount to spend.”

The irony of today’s corporately sponsored Stones, performing in Enormo-Domes for the fat cats who can score the $1,000-dollar tickets, is not lost on McMillian. Now, he said, it’s only parents, not teens, who can afford the cost of shows.

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