Few things have been more extensively documented in the history of rock ‘n’ roll than the original rivalry between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. It largely stems from their chart battles, but one interview would suggest things got a little nastier than many would have you believe. Speaking to Rolling Stone, John Lennon was brutal in his assessment of Mick Jagger, but were these just hyperbolic comments, or was the vitriol authentic?
The two bands were never truly enemies, but Lennon never got exceptionally cosy with Jagger. Famously, George Harrison was why The Rolling Stones secured their first record deal, and Lennon even formed a short-lived supergroup alongside Keith Richards called Dirty Mac for the Stones’ famous Rock and Roll Circus TV special.
Richards still speaks fondly about Lennon today, and the two of them built up a tight-knit friendship. The guitarist even agreed with Lennon’s criticism about The Stones copying Sgt Pepper’s with Satanic Majesties, although he did attest that he isn’t a fan of either record. However, Jagger and Lennon never shared a similar bond.
The most explanative reason for the hostility between the men is when Lennon unleashed an unwarranted personal tirade on the singer. He called Jagger “a joke” and used a disgusting homophobic slur while speaking to Rolling Stones in 1971.
“I think it’s a lot of hype. I like ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ but I think Mick’s a joke, with all that fag dancing, I always did. I enjoy it, I’ll probably go and see his films and all, like everybody else, but really, I think it’s a joke.
“We saw a bit of each other around when Allen was first coming in – I think Mick got jealous,” Lennon continued. “I was always very respectful about Mick and the Stones, but he said a lot of sort of tarty things about The Beatles, which I am hurt by, because you know, I can knock the Beatles, but don’t let Mick Jagger knock them.”
Lennon wasn’t done there, and his rant was far from done. He scornfully added: “I would like to just list what we did and what the Stones did two months after on every fuckin’ album. Every fuckin’ thing we did, Mick does exactly the same – he imitates us.
“And I would like one of you fuckin’ underground people to point it out, you know Satanic Majesties is Pepper, ‘We Love You’, it’s the most fuckin’ bullshit, that’s ‘All You Need Is Love’. I resent the implication that the Stones are like revolutionaries and that the Beatles weren’t. If the Stones were or are, the Beatles really were too.”
Lennon is free to say what he pleased about the music of The Rolling Stones, but the personal attack on Jagger suggests there was more than meets the eye in his comments.
Lennon concluded: “He’s obviously so upset by how big the Beatles are compared with him; he never got over it. Now he’s in his old age, and he is beginning to knock us, you know, and he keeps knocking. I resent it, because even his second fuckin’ record we wrote it for him. Mick said ‘Peace made money’. We didn’t make any money from Peace. You know.”
During the early days of both bands, there was some friendship between the two. The Beatles even gifted The Stones with one of their songs, which they wouldn’t have done if they didn’t like them as people. However, somewhere down the line, Lennon’s stance changed, and seemingly the two of them never got the chance to patch things up.
They were different people, and while hate is perhaps too strong for Lennon’s view on Jagger, there was certainly no love lost between the two men. Jagger did have the honour of inducting The Beatles into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, but whether this would have gone ahead on Lennon’s watch is another matter.
During his speech, The Stones leader movingly remarked: “We had a lot of rivalry in those early years, and a little bit of friction, but we always ended up friends. I like to think we still are, ’cause they were some of the greatest times of our lives, and I’m really proud to be the one that leads them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Jagger’s respect and admiration for Lennon as an artist is something that no one can question. Whether Lennon entirely replicated that love is a different question. While they hung out in the same places and with the same people during the early days, the two men’s friendship seemingly wasn’t strong enough to recover from the verbal beating that Lennon handed out.