John Lennon’s relationship with The Rolling Stones is hard to pinpoint. On numerous occasions, he slammed the group for copying The Beatles. Despite that, he also was one of the few people alive who understood what life was like in their shoes and, occasionally, he let the mask slip in regards to enjoying their music.
In reality, the two bands were genuine enemies as it was widely reported at the time, and Lennon often tried his hardest to stoke the fire. Famously, George Harrison was the reason 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. So, he couldn’t have disliked the group too much, could he?
The truth about The Beatles and the Stones is that it wasn’t a rivalry built out of hatred for one another, it was quite the opposite, and the competitive element made both artists up their game. The two groups had such a strong history, sharing the limelight for a rock and roll boom. They had much more in common than they had to divide them, and in his heart of hearts, John Lennon was a Stones fan.
Lennon saw The Stones be dealt with the same blows by the music industry as he did, and one song by the group, in particular, he felt received an unfair reaction from critics. Although Lennon and The Stones are seen as arch enemies, they both witnessed how quickly it could take to go from a messiah to a so-called ‘has been’.
“Take Mick, for instance,” Lennon said to Rolling Stone in 1980. “Mick’s put out consistently good work for 20 years, and will they give him a break? Will they ever say, ‘Look at him, he’s No. 1, he’s 37, and he has a beautiful song, ‘Emotional Rescue,’ it’s up there? I enjoyed it, a lot of people enjoyed it.”
He added: “And God help Bruce Springsteen when they decide he’s no longer God. I haven’t seen him, but I’ve heard such good things about him. Right now his fans are happy. He’s told them about being drunk and chasing girls and cars and everything, and that’s about the level they enjoy.
“But when he gets down to facing his own success and growing older and having to produce it again and again, they’ll turn on him, and I hope he survives it. All he has to do is look at me or at Mick.”
The track is one that Jagger himself turned his back on years later and commented: “I wrote that on an electric piano in the studio, then Charlie and Woody and I cut it immediately, live,” Jagger said. “It was all done very quickly. I think the vocals could’ve been better.”
For John Lennon to describe ‘Emotional Rescue’ as beautiful shows how much respect he held for the track, and he never spoke in such glowing terms about any other Rolling Stones effort. Maybe he was a secret Stones superfan, after all?