Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Beatles vs. The Stones

For an informative and lively read, have a look at this Beatles vs. Stones exchange between Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, two veteran Chicago-based music journalists and co-authors of the new book, The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock 'n' Roll Rivalry. Most of it focuses on the relative merits of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Their Satanic Majesties Request, which was, effectively, the Stones' response to Pepper.

But even if the lesser moments are not A-level Stones songs — "On with the Show" could be dismissed as hokey vaudeville, "Sing This All Together" is basically an acid campfire song, and Wyman's contribution of "In Another Land" is evidence of why he doesn't have more song credits on Stones albums — they are less offensive than "When I'm Sixty-Four" or "Lovely Rita" and the other weaker moments on "Sgt. Pepper's." Here we are at the epicenter of the youth-culture revolt, the high moment of "tune in, turn on, drop out," and Paul McCartney is romanticizing being an old geezer and giving us a love song to a cop! And it doesn't end there. In "She's Leaving Home," he sympathizes with Mom and Dad rather than the girl who's setting off on her own in the first full blush of independence. Again and again, McCartney sympathizes with the establishment on "Sgt. Pepper's" rather the counterculture. Meanwhile, John Lennon is tripping like a wildebeest, writing one brilliant song about a circus poster ("Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!") and another, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," full of hallucinatory images and bearing the convenient initials L-S-D. Otherwise, he's pretty much missing in action.

Much of what DeRogatis, in the above excerpt, sees as flaws, I actually see as virtues (albeit mild ones). I like that The Beatles didn't make of Sgt. Pepper's a full-on counter-cultural statement, but instead gave us a proper Beatles album, complete with goofy songs by Paul and other material that didn't necessarily speak to the times. In fact, those thirteen songs aren't anything like sonic documents of the youth-revolt moment. Had The Beatles gone in that direction, Pepper would probably be perceived as even more stale, even more fly-in-amber than some already think it is. And, contra DeRogatis, I admire that Paul stayed true to himself with songs like "When I'm Sixty-Four" and "She's Leaving Home," and didn't feel the need to pander to rebellious youngsters. It complicates The Beatles' relationship with that moment, which I find interesting. DeRogatis also fails to recognize Paul's sympathetic treatment of the teenage runaway in "She's Leaving Home," i.e., "She's leaving home after living alone for so many years." That Paul sees both sides could be taken as a sign of maturity. Finally, how does DeRogatis not acknowledge "A Day in the Life" when discussing John's contributions to Pepper?. That's a major, major oversight.

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