The Rolling Stones vs. The Beatles

The Rolling Stones

No group nicknamed "the world's greatest rock-and-roll band" really needs my advocacy, but apparently this is still a case for debate. So here goes.

The Rolling Stones are a juggernaut with music that has remained relevant — and with members that are still active and touring together — for decades longer than anyone else in the business. Better yet, the Stones' relevancy is based on its own merits rather than as the pop-cultural end-all of a be-all generation clinging to its youth (as is the case with a certain other band named on this page).

It's telling to look at who the Rolling Stones wanted to be when they grew up: In the beginning, the band was a glorification of black Delta and Chicago blues masters and R&B royalty — no mere skiffle, here.

From there, the Stones evolved into a genre-melting rock innovator: They are in the elite class of music interpreters in popular music — no mere boy band that got traction because of high production values.

The Stones' leaps from "The Last Time" to "19th Nervous Breakdown" to "Paint It, Black" to "Sympathy for the Devil" to "Gimme Shelter" to "Wild Horses" in six years are staggering. What kind of Faustian deal was brokered that led to such output? Old Scratch got snookered.

You prefer albums? How about these four in succession in four years: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St. Four of the great albums of rock history, and this data just speaks to a particularly fertile period, not even touching upon the prior four and the following 37 years and counting of rock-and-roll.

The Rolling Stones defined for everybody else how rock stars should dress, act, tune their instruments, market themselves, and survive in an industry where breakup is virtually inevitable. The Stones are no mere frozen-in-amber pop sensation that didn't have to slog through ebbs in creativity, destructive personal habits, and soured celebrity status to continue making quality music. The Rolling Stones are a living, still-changing cultural institution, a little long in the tooth today but with the scars and faded tattoos to prove they've been there, done that.

Where was I when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show? Glad I wasn't born yet.

— Greg Akers

The Beatles

On the night of February 9, 1964, America met the Beatles. And things would never be the same.

That's a good thing.

That night, 74 million viewers (half of the country's population at the time) tuned in to see the Fab Four perform. It was the beginning of a pop-and-roll love affair that hasn't ended.

I know the arguments against the Beatles. They were a pre-fab band. They weren't the best musicians, on and on. And I agree. Mostly.

Listen, I love the Stones. I love the Stones a lot. There's no denying that they're one of the greatest rock-and-roll bands of all time. They came on strong. But they didn't stay strong. Listen to Goats Head Soup or Sticky Fingers, then pop in Bridges to Babylon and tell me that album is of the same caliber. Say yes and I'll call you a liar straight to your face.

The Beatles, on the other hand, evolved. They seduced us with their candy-coated pop and found enormous success. We were hooked. Then, things changed. The sugary, finger-popping songs slowly became longer. Ethereal. More political. Edgy, even. The radio-friendly Fab Four pushed the boundaries of what the music industry was comfortable with, and it worked. The same smiling lads that once wanted to hold our hands were now asking us to take a magical mystery tour, to meet Sergeant Pepper, to take the long and winding road, and gently weep along with a guitar. And we did. We still are.

If you're still not convinced, I have three words for you: The White Album.

The Beatles defined an era. They soaked in the cultural and social revolution happening all around them and handed it right back to us. And we loved them for it. We still do. To date, the band has sold more albums than any other band on earth. They released more than 40 albums, singles, and EPs that reached number one on the Billboard charts. They've sold billions of albums. They obviously did something right.

But forget the numbers. That's not what music is about anyway. Before you tell me the Beatles are overrated, go home, pop in "Hey Jude," and tell me you're not haunted by the gorgeous simplicity of it. Listen to "I Will." Listen to "Yesterday." Then tell me this band is overrated.

— Mary Helen Randall

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