After reading some of the encyclopedic comments on this NPR site featuring author and professor John McMillian—who has written a new book on The Beatles vs. The Stones—and after hearing McMillan himself tell his “revealing, behind the scenes stories” in the interview below, I’m fairly certain we’re in good historical hands for a reappraisal of the two bands’ friendly rivalry. McMillan discusses their first meeting and earliest collaboration, the track above, 1963’s “I Wanna Be Your Man,” written by, and credited to, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The song was the result of a chance encounter, we learn from Stones historian Bill Janowitz: “[Stones manager Andrew Loog] Oldham had almost literally bumped into Lennon and McCartney as they stepped out of a cab.” Oldham brought The Beatles into the studio and the song was born from a McCartney fragment. The Stones had to this point only released American R&B or blues covers, though they also turned this track into a bluesy stomper. Hear The Beatles decidedly less gritty version of the song below, over a montage of their early sixties British comedy act that the Monkees stole so well. They released this three weeks later, giving the lead vocal to Ringo.
Despite Tom Wolfe’s quip that “The Beatles want to hold your hand but the Stones want to burn down your town,” the early sixties versions of both bands looked very much alike. Until the late sixties, the Stones were often a step behind The Beatles’ image. They appear on the cover of 1965’s Out of My Head in modish dress with modish haircuts looking almost exactly like their counterparts. 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request, for its occasional beauty, was an obvious and slightly ridiculous attempt to capitalize on Sgt. Pepper’s psychedelic success.
But even during those times, the bands diverged sharply in musical terms, and the Stones’ path led in a darker direction. The budding image of the band as arsonists may have contributed to their targeting by the authorities. After a 1967 drug bust, Lennon and McCartney came to their aid, then sang (uncredited) backing vocals for the Stones track “We Love You,” a song written to the band’s dedicated fans and to The Beatles. Purportedly, Allen Ginsberg sat in on the sessions. “They looked like little angels,“ he later wrote, “like Botticelli Graces singing together for the first time.”