May 16, 2010

Stones vs. Beatles

Unless you don't watch TV or hop on iTunes every now and then, you're probably aware that the Rolling Stones are rereleasing their 1972 magnum opus, "Exile on Main Street".  Everyone keeps referring to it as their "38 year-old album" - that can't be right, can it?  Holy smokes.

One of my Facebook friends uploaded a video of Keith Urban covering "Tumbling Dice" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon the other night, and when I watched it I was reminded how great the song was.  I never called myself a Keith Urban fan, but he did a fantastic job with the song.  Right after that, I started combing through iTunes and I downloaded some of my favorite Stones songs, of which there are many.

As I was indulging in my typical Sunday morning routine of coffee, English muffins and Entertainment Weekly, I read a review of the "Exile" rerelease - for the original album, they gave it an A+ (and the bonus material, a B).  I don't think I've ever seen an A+ given for anything in EW before; not for a TV show, not for a movie, not for a book - not anything.  So that's saying something.  Maybe it'll get more people to give the album a listen - like myself.

As I was developing my personal music taste around 11 or 12, I was introduced to the Beatles via "Sgt. Pepper's" by my Uncle Lou (he gave me his own copy on vinyl).  It is not an exaggeration to say that it changed the way I thought about music.  Here was an album so sonically perfect (to me, and to be fair, a zillion other people as well) that it made the current stuff on the radio pale in comparison.  I mean, how can you compare "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang to the Beatles?  They're like two different animals.  And thus began my tween musical snobbery (before you rally, I actually DO like "Celebration".  How can you not?  It's such a feel-good song!).

Growing up when I did, perhaps it's unfair to compare the Stones and the Beatles.  The Beatles broke up when I was a year and a half old.  The Stones kept charting until I was in my twenties!  Maybe it's like when a musician dies too early; do people revere Jim Morrison because he was a musical visionary (meh) or is it because he died tragically (and preventably) at 27?  Is it just me, or do other people sort of imagine that if he were to have lived, he'd be playing Vegas, bloated and washed up, a la Elvis?  Just a thought.

Well, maybe it was like that for the Beatles.  These guys quit, just up and quit, while they were still on top.  How many people have the cahones to do that?  The Stones, on the other hand, just kept going and going.  And maybe it's because I had to endure such hits as "Emotional Rescue" and the now-ubiquitous "Start me up" that I didn't think much of them.  Had they ended with "Exile", perhaps I would've seen a whole different side to them, but instead my Stones experience was clouded with their latter-day sins (to be fair, I LOVED "Undercover of the Night", which came out when I was a freshman in high school, in 1983 - isn't it weird that you could actually see the Stones on MTV back then?).

As it happens often with me, unrelated pop culture experiences make me change my mind.  Take the movie, "The Royal Tenenbaums", for example.  It's one of my favorites of all time.  I know a lot of people are divided on this movie, but you can't deny that it has an AMAZING soundtrack.  In a pivotal point in the movie, Margot (Gwenyth Paltrow) is playing some old Stones vinyl and reminiscing.  She plays the one-two punch of "She Smiled Sweetly" and "Ruby Tuesday", and I can't imagine two better songs for the scene.  It made me re-evaluate my attitude toward the Stones' place in my personal music collection (thankfully!).

Fifty years from now, when the Boomers are all gone; when my generation are octo- and nonogenarians and my 11- and 13 year-old nieces' grandchildren are musical scholars, I wonder how history will play out.  Will the Beatles and the Stones be lumped together, or *GASP* - worse yet, the Beatles, Stones and Elvis (horrors) be lumped together?  Will anyone care about the impact that all of this wonderful music made in the world?  I only wish I could be around to hear what they have to say.


  1. The Beatles, definitely. Although I did go through a Stones phase starting at age 18, when "Start Me Up" came out, that lasted about three years. Tumbling Dice was one of my favorite songs. In the 80's, Mick used a toned-down version of the first line (I'm not sure if he has in recent years), changing it to "People think I'm crazy", instead of, er, what the original "Exile" version says.

  2. Thanks for writing, Dave (I don't know why I'm only seeing this comment now - weird.). I have another friend (also named Dave) who really dislikes the Beatles. Really? I don't know how this is possible. Maybe all of the accolades they've gotten is a turn-off, but still - it's not like they were unearned; we're not talking about Brittney here! :D