The Rolling Stones and the Beatles will always be paired in
history. As the new HBO documentary makes clear, Stones early manager Andrew Oldham specifically chose the Stones to play “bad guys” to the Beatles’ “good guys” in current pop iconography. He was so thorough that one early member, Ian Stewart, was bounced from the band because he just didn’t look the part. By now, though, the biggest difference between the bands is sheer longevity. The Stones have now outlasted the Beatles by a whopping 42 years. Here are 5 good reasons why:
1) The Rolling Stones were built on a blues model, while the Beatles saw themselves as a pop group.
Famously, Ringo Starr once figured the Beatles might last a couple years, then he could retire to a life as a hairdresser. Just as famously, Mick Jagger once said he couldn’t see himself singing “Satisfaction” in his 60s. But there was something in the Stones’ original DNA that made them last.
Even when they were 20 year-olds, the Stones’ heroes – and models – were middle-aged black men: blues giants Muddy Waters, one of whose songs gave them their name, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and many more. A pantheon of heroes like that is a commitment to many things, but it’s not a commitment to having to be young forever. In face, the blues honors worldliness, experience. You could even say the Stones were at a disadvantage when they were at their youngest.
2) The Beatles were truly of the ’60s. The Stones never were.
The Beatles brought the love generation ethic, and its closely related movement, Psychedelia, into the mainstream. They not only were part of the ’60s, they largely defined it. To some degree, then, they were also limited by it.
For all their drug use, the Stones just never cut it as a psychedelic band. Psychedelia craved soft edges and lots of harmony. It also demanded a certain…shall we say, transcendental?…idealism. The Stones have always been about hard edges and rhythm. Drawing from their blues origins, their posture has always been one of seeing through ideals, including those of the ’60s.
3) John Lennon was actually more a rebel than any Stone, and Paul McCartney more button-down.
The troubled Lennon was notoriously difficult to confine to anyone else’s program, even his own. He was a natural bomb-thrower. Paul McCartney, meanwhile, was the consummate professional, and was seen by the other Beatles as a excessively perfectionist and almost a slave-driver. Put that combination together and the combustion can be exciting, but it probably never was meant to last.
4) The Stones were huge, but not Beatles huge.
The Stones had their movies, but they were “Easy Rider”-era rock documentaries. They weren’t “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!”- movies that were fully expected to be box office hits. The Queen didn’t hand the Stones highly prized awards. There was no Rolling Stones Saturday morning cartoon for the kiddies. There was no Rolling Stones lunchbox. In an important way, they were insulated from the brightest media glare, and had a very different set of expectations placed on them. There had to be enormous pressure on the Stones, but it almost certainly wasn’t the cauldron the Beatles faced.
5) The Stones went back on tour.
Once the Beatles played Shea Stadium, they were done with touring. Ahead of them lay years in the studio, where they could nurture their music – but also their neuroses and animosities. By contrast, the Stones got back out in front of their fans. They kept it live, kept it on the move. More than any single reason, this probably accounts for why they’re still with us today.