The Rolling Stones play live in Abu Dhabi tonight. Charles Whebell explains their evergreen appeal.
The Rolling Stones: their evergreen appeal and six top gigs
“It was the year of the Beatles it was the year of the Stones, a year after JFK.” – Paul Simon: The Late Great Johnny Ace
In dance halls, workplaces and schools all over the world in 1964, there was just one question being asked by young people: are you a Beatles fan or a Rolling Stones fan?
But was The Beatles versus The Rolling Stones a “real” rivalry? Did the two groups really dislike each other? Or was this rivalry just a ruse, one thought up by the group members themselves, to garner as much publicity as possible?
The Beatles had been around for a couple of years; the Stones had not long started out on their musical adventure – an adventure that continues to this day, more than 50 years on.
It was actually the same year as JFK was assassinated, 1963, that the Stones had their first hit – and it was with a song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The Stones had released just one song before I Wanna Be Your Man – a cover version of the Chuck Berry song Come On.
Their live act consisted exclusively of rhythm-and-blues cover versions. They were in need of an original.
A chance meeting between the then Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, and Lennon and McCartney resulted in the two Beatles meeting up with the Stones and offering them a song that they had just written.
A month later, in November 1963, I Wanna Be Your Man was recorded and went to No 12 in the British hit parade.
The Beatles did release the same song a month later, but not as a single. It was a track on their album With The Beatles.
Seventeen years later, Lennon revealed that the song “was a throwaway. The only two versions of the song were Ringo and The Rolling Stones. That shows how much importance we put on it: we weren’t going to give them anything great, right?” It put the Stones well and truly on the road to fame and fortune, regardless.
Watching Lennon and McCartney work as songwriters made a big impression on the young Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who decided that the only way forward was to write their own music. And the pair have written hundreds of songs that will live on forever.
The Beatles and the Stones were, to be honest, never really great rivals.
The Beatles were the nice, pretty boys. The majority of their songs, particularly in the early days, were love songs. They wore nice clothes, made little jokes when interviewed. Even your parents liked them.
The Rolling Stones? Long, scraggy hair, dirty looking, ugly and rock ’n’ roll. Your parents hated them.
The two bands actually became quite close friends and great admirers of each others’ music. To such an extent that, in 1967, the Stones released a song called We Love You – it reached No 8 in the British charts – written by Jagger and Richards. And the two singers on backing vocals? Lennon and McCartney.
But it appeared that both bands liked to keep their rivalry story in the public eye.
During an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 1971, Lennon described the Stones as “a lot of hype” and argued that everything that The Beatles did, the Stones imitated. McCartney revealed that Jagger used to call The Beatles “the four-headed monsters”.
It was a rivalry that kept the media happy –and both bands were happy enough to carry it on and garner as much publicity as possible.
The Rolling Stones’ lead guitarist, Brian Jones, died in July 1969, the year that The Beatles effectively broke up.
Enter Mick Taylor, formerly of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. At the time of Jones’s death, the Stones had already agreed to play a concert at London’s Hyde Park. It was three days after his death and 250,000 fans crowded into the park to watch doves released as a tribute to Jones – and to see Taylor play live with the Stones for the first time.
The band had found a guitarist that many Stones fans believed to be one of the best in the world. His musicianship was second to none, and even Jagger admitted that when it was just him and Taylor playing and singing “we just played together” noting his “smooth lyrical touch”.
But at the end of 1974, Taylor quit the band, stating that he had “just had enough”.
Ronnie Wood had already played with the Stones on and off leading up to Taylor’s departure, so it came as no real shock that he would eventually take over from him.
I first met Wood in Ireland in 1998. He was in the VIP bar at Goffs in County Kildare, watching one of his best friends, the snooker player Jimmy White, play in the Irish Masters. It was here that he showed me his caring side – a side a million miles away from the wild rock ’n’ roll demeanour that he’s associated with.
He told of how one evening White turned up at his home in Wimbledon, London. White was suffering physically and mentally and Wood recognised that his good friend needed help. White stayed at Wood’s house until the Rolling Stone had helped him to overcome his problems and return to his own home.
Wood is such a big fan of snooker that when he split from his wife Jo, he demanded that she not auction off his beloved snooker table. Indeed such is his – and the rest of the band’s – love for the game that while other superstars ask for their dressing room to be filled with flowers or pot plants or all sorts of drink and food, the Stones want a snooker table to while away the time with a frame or two before going on stage.
Whether or not there will be one fitted in their dressing room at the du Arena tonight remains to be seen – but the promoters should, nevertheless, be prepared.
Evenings during that Irish tournament in 1998 were spent in the hotel being used by players, officials and friends. Guitars were played and songs were sung – yes, even Beatles songs. It was a fun time.
Last year’s Rolling Stones tour was thought by many to be their last. Shows in the US and the UK, including the Glastonbury Festival, were hailed by some as brilliant, proving that the Stones are still the greatest rock ’n’ roll band of all time. To others, it showed that the old rockers really have left their best days long behind them.
Fans in the UAE will be able to make up their own minds tonight with the first show of the Rolling Stones’s 2014 On Fire tour. From Yas Island, they travel on to Japan for three shows, China for one, half a dozen in Australia and one in New Zealand.
Taylor, who made guest appearances in some of the UK shows last year, will be joining his old mates on stage in Abu Dhabi.
Whatever your views on The Beatles versus The Rolling Stones, there’s one indisputable fact – the Stones have kept rolling a lot longer than The Beatles.
Fifty years on from the year after JFK, prepare to be rocked by The Rolling Stones in Abu Dhabi.
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