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Beatles or Stones—The Guys’ Guy’s Perspective on a Classic Rock Debate

Was Nolan Ryan a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax?

Okay, I’m dating myself, but Ryan’s twenty-year body of work on the Mets, Astros and Rangers dwarfed Koufax’s brief, unforgettable stint with the Dodgers. But Koufax left an indelible impression on any fan that had the opportunity to watch him pitch. He was an artist. That’s what we’re dealing with here. Debating The Beatles and The Rolling Stones is like comparing the beauty of a shooting star with a massive constellation. It’s subjective, but as a Guy’s Guy, I will do my best to be objective while taking on this thorny topic where everyone who loves music wins. Let’s break this down to its basic components.

Songwriting – John and Paul versus Mick and Keith. On sheer volume, The Stones clobber the Fab Four. That said, McCartney is our generation’s Cole Porter. He is the singular songwriting talent of our lifetime. Yesterday, Hey Jude, Blackbird, Let It Be, The Long and Winding Road, Eleanor Rigby, Michelle and And I Love Her, to name a few, are classic ballads frequently covered by other artists. Add John Lennon’s global vision and impetus with George Harrison’s spirituality and musical chops to the team and you’ve got a winning combination. For the most part, The Stones have relied on Keith’s riffs and Mick’s underrated and often ironic lyrics—Gimme Shelter, Angie (surprisingly their top selling song), Brown Sugar, Ruby Tuesday, Sympathy for the Devil, Paint It Black—the list goes on and on and on.

Innovation – The Stones excel in blues, rock, country and reggae. In six years, The Beatles broke new ground with every album released. They did what Miles Davis did for jazz in terms of pushing boundaries and creating new genres and sounds. Their producer, George Martin, is underappreciated. He was invaluable. That said, for the most part Mick and Keith, aka the Glimmer Twins, are responsible for the Stones’ production. They’ve had help, but they’ve driven the train for five decades. They have that unmistakable vibe driven by Keith’s crunching riffs and Jagger’s growl.

Live Act – The Beatles were a short-lived phenomena. A few appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium, and the Apple rooftop jam are all we have. The Stones are grounded in the blues and have been touring for fifty years and counting. They continue to rule the roost as the “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” for good reason.  Their shows draw from close to five hundred songs, feature the greatest guitar riffs in rock history and are backed by an amazing rhythm section led by a jazz drummer. And their lead singer is Mick Jagger, rock’s greatest front man, and at seventy, a consummate professional and uniquely talented performer that you cannot take your eyes off of.  Stones shows are visual spectacles that are not to be missed.

Cultural Impact – I’ll take the contrarian position here and give it to The Stones. Here’s why—The Beatles music is harmonious and ethereal with a sound that feels like it has been channeled from above. People of all ages all over the world love their music. That said, the Stones’ sound and message is more grounded and representative of how we live. The Stones spit their grit, gravitas and swagger at modern life. Shattered, Beast of Burden, Under My Thumb, Start Me Up, and Get Off of My Cloud tap into the everyday trials, tribulations and tumultuousness of our crazy world. And, over the past week they played in front of a half million fans at Glastonbury and Hyde Park.

The Verdict – Let’s call it a draw. The Beatles are like Mozart—musical, magical, and even mystical in their infectious allure. They are more popular and less polarizing than The Stones. But five decades later, The Rolling Stones are still touring to great reviews. After six years, The Beatles called it a day. The Stones took on punk, disco, glitter, grunge, boy bands, hip-hop, and whatever you’d call Mumford and Sons and withstood them all. Let’s raise both their hands in victory and keep both bands in heavy rotation on any Guys’ Guy playlist.

So which camp do you fall into—Beatles, Stones or none of the above?

This week’s Guy’s Guys of the Week are the surviving members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Thanks for bringing us the soundtrack to our lives.