A history professor makes a case for a professional and artistic rivalry between the two bands but presents no new evidence and reaches no absolute verdict.
“Who wants yesterday’s papers?” Mick Jagger sang with the Rolling Stones and then answered his own question: “Nobody in the world.” The framing of this book’s title requires the analysis by McMillian (History/Georgia State Univ.; Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America, 2011) to end with the disbanding of the Beatles in 1970, before dismissing the Stones’ “outlandishly undignified” money grab as an oldies band and concluding abruptly with the murder of John Lennon. The author’s tone balances the academic (“Rock ’n’ roll had always been a popular and performative art”) with the colloquial (“At least the Beatles didn’t break up because they started to suck”). But what the author describes as “a joint biography” offers little except for occasionally misguided opinion and unsupported conjecture that far more exhaustive and deeply reported biographies of each band (and its individual members) have illuminated. Readers won’t be surprised to learn that the Beatles weren’t the lovable, cuddly mop tops of their popular image and that the Stones were more patrician than naughty in comparison with their purported rivals (who usually appeared to be pretty good friends, or at least foxhole buddies). It isn’t much of a critical stretch to show that the Stones often seemed to follow a Beatle template in terms of their creative progression. What skews the parallel analysis is that the Stones reached their peak as recording artists after (though not because of) the Beatles’ breakup, leading to speculation such as, “even if the Beatles had stayed together, some find it hard to imagine that their output in the very early 1970s would have matched what the Stones accomplished. Of course we’ll never know.”
Nothing new or particularly provocative in this retelling of well-known stories.