Tea or coffee, sweet or savoury, The Beatles or The ‘Stones: these are questions that have entered our culture as the great dividers. Fortunately, they are usually dividers that prove far less nettlesome than some of the others that society seems to be endlessly tackling. However, there were times when even the supposed friends in the respective bands took a turn and things got rather thorny.
This was certainly the case in 1970 when John Lennon met up with Jann Wenner for a Rolling Stone interview. Not only did he discredit The Rolling Stones, but he also tackled Mick Jagger personally in a problematic way. “I think it’s a lot of hype,” he said.
Continuing: “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.”
Lennon was renowned for his mood swings and this interview certainly came at a stressful time as The Beatles parted ways and the pressures of a solo career loomed. What’s more, Lennon had also perceived recent comments by Jagger as “tarty” and he seemingly wanted to get his own back on the jiving frontman.
“I was always very respectful about Mick and the Stones,” Lennon stated, 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. 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.”
In truth, The Rolling Stones pretty much admitted to this in a roundabout way. As Paul McCartney cited: “I mean, we started to notice that whatever we did, The Stones sort of did it shortly thereafter… We did Sgt. Pepper; then The Stones did a sort of psychedelic album, there was a lot of that.” Of course, the album that McCartney is referring to is Their Satanic Majesties Request which is when The Beatles’ influence over The Stones was most apparent.
Keith Richards himself referenced this in a disparaging fashion in an interview with Esquire: “If you’re the Beatles in the ’60s, you just get carried away—you forget what it is you wanted to do. You’re starting to do Sgt. Pepper. Some people think it’s a genius album, but I think it’s a mishmash of rubbish, kind of like Satanic Majesties — ’Oh, if you can make a load of sh*t, so can we.’”
Later in his memoir, the guitarist claimed: “None of us wanted to make [Satanic Majesties], but it was time for another Stones album and Sgt. Pepper’s was coming out, so we thought basically we were doing a put-on.” He and his bandmates have claimed that they were simply so “strung out” from endless recording and touring in the period that they figured the easiest root would be to cruise on the backseat of a bandwagon.
Lennon took the similarities in their discography even further than that. “‘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. But they are not in the same class, music-wise or power-wise, never were,” he opined.
While this tiff might have been patched up and reopened many more times over the years, perhaps one of the most interesting and less nettlesome points to dissect is that Lennon was critical of Jagger’s on-stage performative ways. He was the only one to do this. “I don’t like people that jump around,” Bob Dylan once said. “When people think about Elvis moving around — he didn’t jump around. He moved with grace.”
For anyone thinking that he may have been poking a finger at the eponymous hot-footing frontman Mick Jagger, he also clarified that he didn’t intend for his condemning of any onstage jiving to come across in a meanspirited way. “I love Mick Jagger. I mean, I go back a long ways with him, and I always wish him the best,” he said. “But to see him jumping around like he does — I don’t give a shit in what age, from Altamont to RFK Stadium — you don’t have to do that, man.”